Donald Maclean was one of the infamous British men of the 1950’s. Maclean was born into privilege but worked as a spy for the Soviet Union. Maclean was the son of a Cabinet minister but chose to betray his country during the Cold War. Few mourned his death in 1983.
Donald Maclean was born in 1913. He was privately educated at Gresham’s School and from here went to Trinity College, Cambridge in 1931. While at Cambridge, Maclean met Anthony Blunt, Kim Philby and Guy Burgess. All of them went on to betray their country and Maclean was almost certainly recruited to the KGB by Blunt while at Cambridge.
His work could have been stopped early. In 1939, a KGB agent called Walter Krivitsky defected to the West and informed MI5 that he knew of 61 agents in the UK who were working for the KGB. Though he did not know the names, he gave detailed descriptions of those he knew to be working for the KGB. One description clearly fitted the privileged background of Donald Maclean. However, MI5 doubted the integrity of Krivitsky and his testimony was never followed up.
In May 1940, Nazi Germany attacked Western Europe. The imminent fall of France led to the recall of all diplomatic staff in Paris and this included Maclean. In 1944, Maclean was posted to Washington DC. While working at the British Embassy he had access to highly sensitive nuclear secrets. These secrets were sent to Moscow by Maclean. While Maclean never had access to any technical detail, he did report to Moscow about progress and development. Armed with this information, the KGB could estimate the amount of uranium the USA had access to. From this it could also estimate with some accuracy the number of bombs the USA was able to build. Some historians believe that Stalin decided to initiate the Berlin Blockade (1948) and his support of North Korea during the Korean War because he knew, via the information sent to Moscow by Maclean, that America was not as powerful as it tried to make out was in terms of nuclear weapons.
After World War Two, Maclean worked in London before joining the diplomatic corps in Egypt. In 1950, he was sent back to London as a result of what was described as his “wild behaviour”. This was a euphemism for Maclean’s involvement in drunken orgies – behaviour that put him at great risk of blackmail.
Despite his less than successful progress in the diplomatic service, Maclean was appointed Head of the American Department at the Foreign Office.
However, his behaviour had attracted the attention of MI5. In 1950, Maclean, along with Guy Burgess, was warned that MI5 was about to interrogate them about their activities. Both men were spirited away to the USSR by a KGB handler called Yuri Modin.
Whereas Burgess totally failed to integrate into USSR society, Maclean made the effort, even becoming a Soviet citizen. The KGB rewarded his work by making him an honorary colonel in the KGB.
Doanld Maclean died of a heart attack in 1983.