Who Were the Cambridge Five?

By | November 23, 2018

[November 16, 2018]  It has been said that any war that is undertaken by a nation, cannot be won without spies.  Spies provide us with an in-depth understanding of the enemy and allow us to ferret out how the enemy attacks us covertly.  Today, I’ll highlight a small group of spies that penetrated the interworkings of British intelligence agencies; they are referred to as the Cambridge Five.

A number of spies, supported by the Soviet Union, have penetrated Western intelligence agencies and have done so remarkably well and undetected.  The Cambridge Five spy ring loosely refers to a number of spies recruited from Cambridge University in England. While there is debate over how many members were part of the ring, the ring is most known for five members.1

“Trust, but verify.” – Ronald Reagan, 40th President of the United States

Ronald Reagan understood that anything that was to be accomplished in the political realm would have to be verified.  He was showing a ‘trusting face’ to the Soviets because he understood they believed in respect but also in espionage.  Information about the Cambridge Five was given to Reagan by British PM Margaret Thatcher.

Spies break the important trust between individuals and their society.  That is why they are treated so harshly if caught and not treated well even by the country they spy for.  Several of the Cambridge Five members defected to the USSR but were subject to suspicion by their new “friends” in the Soviet Union and its intelligence agencies.

All of the five were convinced that the Marxism–Leninism of Soviet Communism was the best available political system, and especially the best defense against the rise of fascism. All pursued successful careers in branches of the British government. They passed large amounts of intelligence to the Soviet Union, so much so that the KGB became suspicious that at least some of it was false.

Perhaps as important as the intelligence they passed was the demoralizing effect to the British Establishment of their slow unmasking, and the mistrust in British security this caused in the United States.2


  1. Kim Philby, Guy Burgess, Don MacLean, Anthony Blunt, and John Cairncross.


Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article every day on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

16 thoughts on “Who Were the Cambridge Five?

  1. Ronny Fisher

    Yes, I agree that spies and traitors are not always the same but this is not the point of the article. More important was the ‘trust’ established and broken between the Brits and the Americans. Trust is required for success in the world and when the incidents established by the Camb 5 occurred, that is when distrust springs forth. Everyone have a great weekend.

  2. Bryan Lee

    What Gen. Satterfield’s article points out, as a primary theme, is the interconnectedness of various Western Intelligence agencies. When the Cambridge Five were uncovered (over a time), the damage it did to the British intell svcs was great but also damaged the US and Austrailian intell. Let’s not overlook this. Changes have been made in all of them that make them in each nation a better intell agency.

    1. Martin Shiell

      Well said. I also think these agencies have been rather careless. That is why the head of any large government agency has to be a really smart, experienced, innovative person. Else, this is what happens.

  3. Drew Dill

    The day after Thanksgiving and I”m still stuffed from all the turkey. But ‘turkey’ is what I call spies since I first learned about them in grade school. Everyone have a great holiday weekend.

  4. Nick Lighthouse

    Good historical stuff about traitors and there are, of course, many in recorded history. We should read about them, their motivations, and rewards/punishment. I like it when traitors are sent to the country they spy for and forever want to come back to the US. Benedict Arnold is a great example.

  5. Eric Coda

    If my last name was one of these (in footnote 1) and especially if I was a relative of one of them, I would change my name. That way and only that way, plus lying, would I be able to avoid the shame they have brought upon the family, town they are from, and nation.

    1. Lynn Pitts

      Yes, but that doesn’t work in a PC culture. Just take a look at social media and how many jump on anyone who attempts it. Personally, I believe ‘shame’ is a source of good to change people’s poor behavior.

  6. Doc Blackshear

    Thanks for the reminder that there are traitors in our mist. Those traitors – spies – don’t have to be the army private or entry-level govt contractor but can be a very senior person. Good job.

  7. Army Captain

    Another in your series on “Who is” … I like them. It presents a very short summary of someone that has done something unusual; usually not something good. We can learn what not to do by what others do.

  8. Dennis Mathes

    This is a pretty good article that again puts traitors on notice. You will be exposed. Your family will be shamed. Your friends will reject you. Your society will forever have your name as a blemish. Good!

    1. Janna Faulkner

      I’m thinking that being a traitor in the USA is actually makes you a “rock star” for many who are citizens. This began long ago but picked up steam with Jane Fonda who was the first celebrity traitor.

    2. Darryl Sitterly

      Or so I always thought until Hanoi Jane showed up.

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