Maclean joined the diplomatic service in 1935 and three years later became Third Secretary in the British Embassy in Paris. During this period he was recruited as a Soviet agent.
In 1939 Walter Krivitsky, a senior Soviet intelligence officers, who had defected to the West, was brought to London to be interviewed by Dick White and Guy Liddell of MI5. Krivitsky gave details of 61 agents working in Britain. He did not know the names of these agents but described one as being a journalist who had worked for a British newspaper during the Spanish Civil War. Another was described as "a Scotsman of good family, educated at Eton and Oxford, and an idealist who worked for the Russians without payment." These descriptions fitted Kim Philby and Maclean. However, White and Liddle were not convinced by Krivitsky's testimony and his leads were not followed up.
When the German Army invaded France in May 1940 Maclean returned to England. In May 1944 he was given the post of First Secretary to the German Department of the British Embassy in Washington. While in this post he passed vital documents on nuclear planning to the Soviet Union.
Walter Krivitsky was found dead in the Bellevue Hotel in Washington on 10th February, 1941. At first it was claimed that Krivitsky had committed suicide. However, others claimed his hiding place had been disclosed by a Soviet mole working for MI5 and had been murdered by Soviet agents.
After the Second World War Maclean worked in London before holding a senior post in the British Embassy in Egypt. He returned to London in 1950 after being accused of wild behaviour. This included being involved in drunken orgies. Despite a poor record in the diplomatic service he became Head of the American Department of the Foreign Office.
In October 1950 Kim Philby warned Maclean and Guy Burgess that they were being investigated by MI5. In May 1951 Maclean defected with Burgess to the Soviet Union. He was joined by his wife and his children in 1953 (she was later to leave Maclean and marry Philby).
Maclean became a Soviet citizen and worked for the Foreign Ministry and the Institute of World Economic and International Relations. In 1970 Maclean published British Policy Since Suez.
Donald Maclean died in 1983.
(1) Leonard Forster, interviwed by Andrew Boyle for his book The Climate of Treason (1979)
I knew Donald Madean quite well during our first year (at university). We went to the same supervisor and often compared notes about our work. I found him a very flabby character, naive about many things yet also unwilling to budge even when proved wrong or ridiculous. I didn't like his immaturity. He read a good deal, seldom laughed because he was very earnest, and had no marked sense of humour.
Donald Maclean was sandy-haired, tall, with great latent physical strength, but fat and rather flabby. Meeting him, one was conscious of both amiability and weakness. He did not seem a political animal but resembled the clever, helpless youth in a Huxley novel, an outsize Cherubino intent on amorous experience but too shy and clumsy to succeed. The shadow of an august atmosphere lay heavy on him and he sought escape on the more impetuous and emancipated fringes of Bloomsbury and Chelsea.
What was common to both Burgess and Maclean at this time was their instability: both were able and ambitious young men of high intelligence and good connections who were somehow parodies of what they set out to be. Nobody could take them quite seriously: they were two characters in a late Russian novel.
(3) Cyril Connolly met Donald Maclean again during the Spanish Civil War. He wrote about him in The Missing Diplomats (1952)
A strong supporter of the Spanish Republic, Maclean seemed suddenly to have acquired a backbone, morally and physically. I remember some arguments with him. I had felt a strong sympathy for the Spanish anarchists, with whom he was extremely severe, as with other non-Communist factions, and I detected in his reproaches the familiar priggish tone of the Marxist, the resonance of the 'Father Found'. At the same time he could switch to a magisterial defence of Chamberlain's foreign policy and seemed able to hold the two self-righteous points of view simultaneously.
(4) Malcolm Muggeridge, interviwed by Andrew Boyle for his book The Climate of Treason (1979)
There's no doubt that Maclean knew his stuff. I found him a dull, humourless and rather pompous young man who tried a bit too hard to appear agreeable and relaxed.I can't say I ever warmed to Maclean. He was far too much of a cold fish beneath the polished surface charm. Nevertheless, during a bad period when the Americans were obviously determined to carry on in their own semi-isolationist way - Cold War or no Cold War - I couldn't but admire Maclean's astute appreciation of day-to-day diplomatic difficulties. He never struck a wrong note in public. He never lowered his guard.
Taking the line that it was almost inconceivable that anyone like Burgess, who courted the limelight instead of avoiding it, and was generally notorious for indiscretion, could have been a secret agent, let alone a Soviet agent from whom strictest security standards would be required. I did not expect this line to be in any way convincing as to the facts of the case; but I hoped it would give the impression that I was implicitly defending myself against the unspoken charge that I, a trained counter-espionage officer, had been completely fooled by Burgess. Of Maclean, I disclaimed all knowledge.... As I had only met him twice, for about half an hour in all and both times on a conspiratorial basis, since 1937, I felt that I could safely indulge in this slight distortion of the truth.
The security authorities were, of course, aware of leakage of information from the Foreign Office to the Soviet Government. They knew of this in January, 1949, but the information was so vague that it could not be traced to any individual. Highly secret investigations at a level which would be over the head of the Foreign Secretary and known only to the Prime Minister had begun, and by mid-April, when I had been Foreign Secretary for a month, the suspicion was focused on two or three officials. A fortnight later Maclean was regarded as the principal suspect, and on 25 May I sanctioned a proposal that Maclean should be questioned. Within a few hours Maclean, accompanied by Burgess, was making for France.
The coincidence was an alarming one, and at first suggested that there must have been some leakage in the security organization in that the sanction for questioning was known only to its personnel, myself and one or two very high officers of the Foreign Office, with no one else in the Foreign Office being involved. Possibly, however, it was a coincidence. Maclean could have noticed that he was no longer receiving as many secret papers as previously or the observation on his movements may have been detected by him.
Maclean's record of service had been satisfactory from 1935 until 1950, when he was guilty of bad conduct in Cairo, this being put down to overwork and excessive drinking. His subsequent appointment to the American Department was a comparatively easy job, chosen as such for a convalescent man, and incidentally not one where dangerous secrets often came his way. His comparative unimportance was a reason why I never medium officially on business, though I had met him formally at a Foreign Office social gathering.
Sent to Washington, his behaviour both on a personal plane and as regards carelessness with confidential papers had resulted in the Ambassador requesting his removal. The personal records of the two men did not reach me until after their escape. They should have been fired at the time of their transgressions.
(7) Donald Maclean, statement (24th May, 1951)
I am haunted and burdened by what I know of official secrets, especially by the content of high-level Anglo-American conversations. The British Government, whom I have served, have betrayed the realm to Americans ... I wish to enable my beloved country to escape from the snare which faithless politicians have set ... I have decided that I can discharge my duty to my country only through prompt disclosure of this material to Stalin.
He (Donald Maclean) never liked spying. Philby and Burgess were attracted to the adventure and the secrecy of belonging to a small group of people with inside knowledge and they enjoyed the small amount of danger. Maclean didn't like that, but he felt he should do it as that was how he was of most use.