Britain’s MI5’s Penetration by WWII German Agent

Article by Richard Norton-Taylor for The Guardian, February 16, 2012:

The treachery of the first German agent to penetrate MI5, a Dutchman who hoodwinked Britain’s security and intelligence throughout the second world war, is spelt out in the files released on Friday.

Folkert van Koutrik was taken on by MI6 before the war. He was subsequently recruited by Germany’s military intelligence service, the Abwehr, which gave him the codename Walbach.

On 9 November 1939, two MI6 officers, Richard Stevens and Sigismund Best, were called to a clandestine meeting at Venlo, on the Dutch-German border. They were expecting to meet German army officers plotting to get rid of Hitler. Instead, they were seized by the Gestapo.

Van Koutrik might have come under suspicion already as Wolfgang zu Putlitz, one of MI6’s German agents in The Hague, had already fled to Britain, warning that MI6’s network in the Netherlands had been breached.

After Germany invaded the Netherlands in May 1940, Van Koutrik left for Britain and approached MI5 for a job. So convincing was he that a British security official said: “His great success has been as an agent … he has always been very resourceful and I should say that he has always displayed perfectly genuine faithfulness.”

He later returned to work for MI6 at a refugee reception centre in the UK. He was soon out of favour with MI5 and MI6, not because he was suspected of being a double agent but because of his prickly and arrogant nature. He vehemently complained after he was made redundant. He asked if he could have a pistol to protect himself – the request was refused – and even asked to be considered for a postwar job with the British army on the Rhine.

His treachery was discovered after the war. The MI5 files reveal MI6 was reluctant to give Dutch officials evidence to try him: “It might have been impossible in law to present an agent of the British intelligence service for treachery … on Dutch soil, especially if the actions took place while Holland was still nominally neutral.”

In a memo from a senior MI6 officer named Valentine Vivian to MI5 dated February 2 1948 – more than three years after the end of the war and after Van Koutrik had been released by the Dutch authorities – reflected the depth of frustration and anger about the apparent inability to punish Van Koutrik.

Vivian described Van Koutrik’s request for a job with the British army as a “piece of brazen affrontery”. Vivian added: “It would be utterly grotesque if he were ever employed in any capacity by any British concern, governmental or private.”

Best and Stevens were imprisoned in Germany until the end of the war.

The historian Christopher Andrew says in his official history of MI5 that Van Koutrik penetrated the agency in London in May 1940, a month before it recruited the Soviet agent Anthony Blunt.

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