I remember reading once that George Washington's plans for attacking
the British at Trenton are still classified by the US government as
Top Secret, and have never been released.
I'm not sure that story is true, but the mere fact that it could be is
a good indication of how difficult it is to unearth the history of
governments in wartime, especially when the topic is espionage.
From all indications, there was indeed a spy -- perhaps more than one
-- in the War Cabinet during parts of World War II. Top secret and
very high level material from the War Cabinet was leaked out to the
Germans as well as to the Japanese and the Russians. Some of the
leaks were reported to have been in German hands just hours after
decisions were made and documents were first created by the War
But whodunnit? One of the spies has been pretty clearly identified,
but as to any others, there is much less certainty.
Let's begin with Lord Hankey, a member of the War Cabinet in the early
years of the war:
Maurice Hankey, 1st Baron Hankey
"...Lord Hankey remained a respected figure and was often consulted by
ministers and civil servants for advice. In August 1939 he advised
Neville Chamberlain about the formation of a new War Cabinet and the
following month became another of Chamberlain's many non-party
political appointments when he was made Minister without Portfolio and
a member of the War Cabinet..."
What does Lord Hankey have to do with spying? His right hand man at
the time was John Cairncross, who was later fingered as the so-called
"Fifth Man" in one of Britain's worst modern spy scandals:
NEW BOOK SAYS USSR GOT FIRST A-BOMB SECRETS FROM BRITAIN, NOT U.S.
...John Cairncross, the Fifth Man in the Cambridge spy ring that
included Kim Philby, gave the Soviet Union the atomic secrets that
made a significant contribution to Moscow's atomic research. This is
one of the findings in a new book, The Crown Jewels, by British author
Nigel West and a former KGB officer, Oleg Tsarev
...Cairncross was the first to betray valuable information. At the end
of 1941, Cairncross gave his Soviet contacts a background report on
the work of the government's Uranium Committee, chaired by
Cairncross's boss, Lord Hankey. According to Soviet intelligence, this
served as the basis for Moscow's subsequent atomic research program.
Here's a bit more on Cairncross (no direct link is available to this
article, I'm afraid):
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
"...In 1940 Cairncross was appointed private secretary to the
chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster, Lord Hankey. Despite developing
an affectionate admiration for Hankey, from June 1941 he transmitted
cabinet papers and Foreign Office telegrams to his Soviet
and another mention:
"...[T]he pinnacle of [Cairncross'] KGB career was when he was
secretary to Lord Hankey, Minister without Portfolio in Churchill's
war cabinet. During this time, Cairncross handed the Russians details
of the British atomic weapons programme, giving Stalin the information
he needed to build a bomb."
For information about another possible spy in the War Cabinet, we can
turn to William Breur, a well-regarded historian and author who has
written extensively about World War II:
Unexplained Mysteries of World War II
William B. Breuer
One chapter of Breur's book is titled "Spy in the War Cabinet" and
includes this bit of information:
"...while Air Marshal Dowding had a figurative ear placed in Hermann
Goering's Luftwaffe headquarters, the Germans apparently had a
pipeline directly in the British War Cabinet...Aldolph Hitler and the
German high command were learning of top-level British governmental
decisions within hours after they were made..."
Breuer goes on to describe how US Naval intelligence had been
intercepting messages from the Japanese naval attache in Berlin, one
of which read;
"I have received from the German navy minutes of a meeting held by the
British War Cabinet on 15 August ..."
How were the Germans and Japanese receiving this information? This
remains one of the "Unexplained Mysteries" that is the title of the
However, Breuer speculates that one possible source was Tyler Kent, a
US State Department staffer of Ambassador Joseph Kennedy, and keeper
of the "Gray Code" used to transmit secret messages between Churchill
and Roosevelt. Though not a member of the War Cabinet, Kent was privy
to some of the most sensitive information coming out of the British
War Cabinet. He was arrested May 20, 1940 and eventually tried and
convicted of espionage.
And here, I have to end with a bit of an unexplained mystery of my
own. I was able to view some pages from Breurer's book using
amazon.com's "Search Inside the Book" feature (which is available to
any registered user at Amazon). The quote above comes from page 11 of
It is clear that Breurer's discussion of the "Spy in the War Cabinet"
continues on page 12, but I was not able to view this page, for some
reason. You may want to check a library or bookstore for a copy of
the book, as there may well be more useful information in the text.
And lastly, there's a bit more discussion of the leaked War Cabinet memo here:
about a third of the way down the page.
I trust the information above fully answers your question.
However, please don't rate this answer until you have everything you
need. If you would like any additional information, just post a
Request for Clarification to let me know how I can assist you further,
and I'm at your service.
All the best,
search strategy -- Searched Google, amazon.com and historical
databases for various combinations of the terms:
spy OR spies OR spying