Behind Britain's lates efforts to allay concern about Soviet spying here is the legacy of the years before and during World War II. Stalinism was then regarded by many here as the economic hope of the future after a long period of depression in the West, and as a valuable ally against Nazi Germany.
Since the war, Britain has seen a string of key figures -- such as Guy Burgess, Donald Maclean, Kim Philby, George Blake, William Vassal, and more recently Anthony Blunt --unmasked as agents spying for the Russians.
Now, in the wake of new disclosures in a book published March 26, ("Their Trade is Treachery" by veteran journalist Chapman Pincher) the government is launching a new investigation to try to safeguard Britain's spy services today and in the future.
Speaking in the House of Commons and broadcast nationwide, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher tried to reassure the country the book contained nothing previously unknown to Britain's security services.
She stressed that the book's allegations dealt with events that happened many years ago, and she directly contradicted key statements by Mr. Pincher.
Accusations in the book began causing a national stir March 23 when the Daily Mail newspaper began to serialize them. The cental charge was that the man who headed M15 between 1956 and 1965, Sir Roger Hollis, was suspected of being a Soviet spy.
The book made it clear that Sir Roger, who died in 1973, had not been proved guilty. But it said that five years after he retired, he was called back for an interrogation lasting 48 hours. The book said that in 1974, after yet another inquiry lasting three weeks, a former Cabinet secretary, Lord Trend, named Sir Roger as a man likely to have penetrated M15 over many years. Mrs. Thatcher told the House of Commons this was wrong.
She said that Lord Trend, whom she had personally consulted, did not conclude that M15 had been penetrated by someone other than Philby or Blunt. She said Lord Trend had not named Sir Roger as the likeliest suspect. Nor had he regarded Sir Roger as a man who had recruited Soviet agents into M15.
(As published in the Daily Mail, Mr. Pincher wrote that Lord Trend named Sir Roger Hollis as "a likely suspect" -- not the "likeliest" one.)
On the contrary, Mrs. Thatcher said, Lord Trend concluded that although Sir Roger's innocence had not been proven 100 percent, there was no evidence to incriminate him.
She said that Lord Trend Had "agreed that none of the relevant leads identified Sir Roger Hollis as an agent" of the KGB. There had been no cover-up.
Mrs. Thatcher did not mention another dramatic allegation by Mr. Pincher -- that a former chairman of the Labour Party and a life peer, Tom Driberg, had been a double agent working for the KGB and M15.
Mr. Pincher wrote that Mr. Driberg, who died in 1976, "reported on the personal and political activities of his friends and colleagues in Parliament" to both the Soviet and British security services.
At this writing there had been no official comment on this charge. Mr. Driberg had been an extremely well-known figure in British public life since entering the House of Commons in 1942. Like others suspected of spying for the Russians, he was also widely known, although not publicly, as a homosexual.
There has been no investigation into security proceedures here for 20 years. Mrs. Thatcher is clearly hoping that his speech will reassure not only her own country, but the Americans as well. The US has regularly exchanged intelligence with Britain.
It is stressed here that between 1956 and 1965 when Sir Roger was head of M15 , the number of Soviet spies revealed here was impressive: the Portland naval spy ring, George Blake, Anthony Blunt (who confessed privately), William Vassall , and Philby. If Sir Roger had been a spy, were those diclosures bargaining chips yielded for Soviet gains?