Friday, February 03, 2012

Romeo Spy John Symonds

John Symonds in 1973
Romeo spies have been around for centuries (they still are), but it was only during the Cold War era that the Soviet security service KGB and especially the former East German foreign intelligence service HVA turned it into an extremely effective weapon of espionage.

Romeo spies were well trained intelligence officers. Charming and attentive, they seduced secretaries, working in the offices of important politicians, military headquarters or the industrie, and persuaded these women to provide them with classified information. All in the name of love.

Often, these women were recruited under a false flag by making them believe their lover worked for some Western intelligence agency. These operations were well prepared and supported, in order to convince their victims so well that the poor wives had no idea they were actually helping Soviet intelligence.

One such Romeo spy was the remarkable John Alexander Symonds. As a detective in London's Metropolitan Police (Scotland Yard), Symonds used unorthodox methods to persuade criminals to cooperate with the police. Meanwhile, many other police officers bluntly extorted people in the sex industry and received money in return for turning a blind eye. In 1969, he became targeted in a corruption investigation and subsequently fled England to avoid imprisonment. Ans so began a most unusual career.

Initially, Symonds worked as a mercenary in Africa. During his time in Africa, he meticulously wrote down all names and details of metropolitan police officers who were actively involved in corruption and extortion, believing that this information might be of use in the future. However, the KGB crossed Symonds' path and eventually persuaded him to work as a Romeo spy for the Soviets.

After an extensive training in all aspects of the art of Romeo spying (yes, also the erotic aspects) he began an eight year career as illegal agent, seducing wives and daughters of CIA officers all over the world. He excelled in this extraordinary job and provided Soviet intelligence with invaluable information, pilfered from ignorant wives.
 
In the 1980's, he decided to defect and returned to England, using his writings about the corruption in the Metropolitan Police department as a bargain in the negotiations with British security service MI5. He also told them about his eight year career as Romeo Spy and offered MI5 to reveal the modus operandi of KGB illegals. Unfortunately, MI5 consulted Scotland Yard, who told them that Symonds was a fantasist who tried to evade prosecution. Symonds was arrested and convicted spending three years in jail.
 
When Vasili Mitrokhin, senior archivist of the KGB's First Directorate (foreign intelligence) defected in 1992, he handed over a vast archive of copied top secret documents, straight from the KGB archives. During the subsequent debriefings and analysis of Mitrokhin's documents, British foreign intelligence service MI6 identified John Symonds as one of the KGB's top spies who carried out many successful spy operations.
 
They realised that John Symonds had told the truth about his extraordinary career and his accusations against Metropolitan Police. The publication of the Mitrokhin archive (see my book review) exposed the failure of the British security services to identify Symonds as a valuable source on KGB operations, resulting in a parliamentary enquiry. At the end, Symonds was never prosecuted for espionage and was offered immunity in relation to the police corruption enquiries.

The complete story is found on John Symonds' Romeo Spy website, where you can also download his book Romeo Spy. It's a stunning account of sex, lies and spies. There's also a great video from a talk about the famous Romeo spies Popov and Symonds, by Nigel West, the well known expert and author on espionage, recorded at the Raleigh Spy Conference 2009. A most interesting and amusing talk!

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