Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Peter Wright (1916 - 1995) was a former MI5 counterintelligence officer noted for writing the controversial book Spycatcher (ISBN 0670820555), which was part memoir, part exposé of what Wright claimed to be serious institutional failings in MI5.
Peter Wright was the son of Maurice Wright , who was the Marconi Company's director of research, and one of the founders of signals intelligence during World War I. Despite showing an early aptitude for wireless work, during the Great Depression he was obliged to get work as a farm labourer to help make ends meet. During World War II, however, he joined the Admiralty's Research Laboratory, and afterward became a Marconi researcher. There, according to Spycatcher, he assisted the CIA determine the purpose of a covert listening device that had been found in a copy of the Great Seal of the United States presented to the US Ambassador in Moscow in 1952. The device contained no active electronic components, and there was some puzzlement as to what exactly it was until Wright realised that it was a cavity resonator which could be slightly detuned by impinging sound waves; it was intended to be operated by being irradiated with an external beam of microwaves, and the acoustic signal decoded from the way it reflected the beam. In 1954 Wright was recruited as principal scientific officer for MI5. According to his memoirs, he then was either responsible for, or intimately involved with, the development of some of the basic techniques of ELINT, for example:
- Operation ENGULF, acoustic cryptanalysis of Egyptian Hagelin cipher machines in 1956;
- Operation RAFTER remote detection of passive radio receivers used by Soviet agents through detecting emanations from the local oscillator, in 1958 (a technique now more commonly used to enforce payment of television licences); and
- Operation STOCKADE, analysis of compromising emanation from French cipher machines in 1960.
In addition Wright claimed that he was regularly involved in black bag jobs to illegally install bugs for the government, and that MI5 was so well organised for this they even had expert tradesmen on hand to rapidly and undetectably effect repairs in the event that someone bungled and made a mess whilst installing a bug.
However Wright's most controversial claims concerned a later rôle in pursuing what he believed to be a Soviet mole in MI5, and came to conclude was his own boss, Sir Roger Hollis. According to Wright, his suspicions were first raised by Hollis' seeming obstruction of any attempt to investigate information from several defectors that there was a mole in MI5, but he then discovered that Hollis had concealed relationships with a number of suspicious persons, including:
- a longstanding friendship with Claude Cockburn , a communist journalist who was at the time suspected of ties to Soviet intelligence;
- an acquaintance with Agnes Smedley whilst Hollis was in Shanghai, at a time Smedley was in a relationship with Richard Sorge, a proven Soviet spymaster.
Later he discovered that when Hollis went to Canada to interview defector Igor Gouzenko, Gouzenko had provided Hollis with clear information about Alan Nunn May's meetings with his handlers; all these meetings were immediately cancelled. Gouzenko hadn't known about Klaus Fuchs, but he had named a low level GRU agent, Israel Halperin . When the RCMP searched Halperin's lodgings, they found Fuchs' name in his addressbook. Fuchs immediately broke off contact with his handler, Harry Gold , and shortly afterward took a long vacation to Mexico.
In face of this circumstantial evidence, Wright became convinced that Hollis was a traitor.
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