Nigel West’s Keynote Speech - Raleigh Spy
Conference 27 March 2009
Nigel West's keynote at the Raleigh Spy Conference 2009 from Nigel West on Vimeo.
section related to John Symonds
… I guess the other case that springs to
mind that is also quite recent is again one of the most extraordinary, not
completely documented in my Historical Dictionary of Sexpionage because I
know that he’s going to be writing his own book.
This is a man who
I’ve got to know really quite well, and his story in terms of the KGB and
Soviet espionage is one of the most astonishing that I have ever come
across, and believe me I have come across a few.
In 1972 ex-Detective
Sergeant John Symonds was about to appear at the Old Bailey to be charged
with corruption. Now John Symonds had been an Army officer in a short
military career and then he had joined the Metropolitan Police. He had
worked first of all as a bobby on the beat, then he had joined the Criminal
Investigation Division, and he had been assigned at one stage to Scotland
Yard where he had acted as a driver for the Commander in charge of what was
called the “dirty squad”, but actually it was the Obscene Publications
Squad, and their role was to arrest pornographers, to control the strip
clubs in Soho and to deal with the dirty magazine shops.
“dirty squad” had a bit of a reputation and John Symonds was the driver to
the Commander of that squad, but only for about six months. He subsequently
was promoted and he became a Detective Sergeant in Peckham, which is in
South-East London, and he was arrested on a charge of corruption. And it is
what he described as “noble cause corruption”. His method, as he had been
taught by older colleagues within the CID, was to recruit informants in
effect by coercing them.
He would have a suspect in the back of his
car, he would hand them a stick of dynamite, and naturally any
self-respecting criminal would take one look at the dynamite and try not to
touch it, but if he’s handed it he would touch it and hand it straight back
again, and that was the cue for John Symonds to make his pitch: ‘your
fingerprints are now on that stick of gelignite. Unless you assist me, and
you become my informant (or my ‘snout” in the jargon) then at the very next
safe-cracking case that stick of dynamite is going to be found right beside
the safe, and believe me juries are always hugely impressed by those
forensic experts who say - yes the defendant’s fingerprints were found on
that stick of gelignite. And even if you’ve got a cast-iron alibi, any jury
is going to convict you and you’re going to go to jail for a long stretch’.
Well, that’s the kind of pressure that works in South-East London on the
criminal fraternity, and John Symonds used this system, and he called it
“noble cause corruption”. It was to get results. But eventually he was
caught out. There was a complaint about his methods. A newspaper was able to
entrap him doing exactly this job, and he and his partner were arrested.
Now he was able, through some pretty shrewd lawyering, to be able to
separate his trial from his partner. His partner went to the Old Bailey, was
convicted of corruption, and John Symonds was appalled to see his brother
officer being sent down for seven years. He went to prison and John Symonds
decided to leave the country.
So, immediately after the conviction of
his partner, not wishing to face trial himself, he left the country and he
did so on a false passport, and he went to Morocco. He tried to get work as
a mercenary, but on one of his first jobs in West Africa he fell ill with
malaria. He came back to Morocco and in Tangiers, because he was having to
spend a lot of time recovering from malaria, he decided to write an account
of his corrupt work within the Metropolitan Police Force, and in particular
he concentrated on the detectives at Scotland Yard that he had encountered,
those in the “dirty squad” who had run a protection racket in Soho. They had
been extracting money from some of the strip joints, some of the clip
joints, some of the dirty magazine shops.
So in effect the Obscene
Publications Squad was sort of licensing some of these sites to operate and
anybody who didn’t pay off the Police would be closed down. And John Symonds
over a period wrote a very detailed account of everything that he could
remember, every corrupt Police officer that he ever encountered, and at that
time in the mid to late 1960s in the Metropolitan Police there were a very
So John Symonds produced this extraordinary dossier,
and news of its existence reached the KGB Rezidentura in Tangiers, and a man
came to see John Symonds when he was still recovering from his malaria and
claimed to be some kind of a publication agent who would be interested in
getting access to the manuscript that John had written.
Symonds felt that this was really his only insurance policy to prevent him
from going to jail. He felt that one day when he went back to London to face
the music he might have some kind of bargaining chip with this manuscript,
really detailing the dates and places of the corrupt actions that he had
But undeterred, this Soviet officer asked John Symonds
whether he had any knowledge of a particular Soviet defector Oleg Lyalin,
who had defected in London at the end of August 1972, and one of those
strange chances John Symonds did know a Special Branch officer who had been
the personal protection officer assigned to the job of guarding Oleg Lyalin,
and he said ‘yes I know plenty of detectives, I know many people in the
Metropolitan Police Special Branch, and yes indeed I happen to know somebody
who’s in contact with Lyalin’.
The KGB officer, as he then declared
himself to be, said would you be willing to go back to England and
assassinate Oleg Lyalin for us, and John Symonds drew the line at that. He
said ‘I’ve been a mercenary, I’ve been a corrupt Police officer, but I am
not going to be engaged in assassination or murder, and I’m certainly not
going to work against British interests’.
But undeterred, the KGB
Rezident invited him to continue his recuperation from malaria at a resort
on the Black Sea coast in Bulgaria. So John Symonds, now pretty low on
funds, agreed that he would be delighted to accept this invitation.
He went to Bulgaria, and he was a tall good-looking man, well-spoken, he was
pretty fit, he had really enjoyed skiing, and he was sort of at the prime of
his life, and this tragedy that had befallen him had of course ruined his
career and made it almost impossible for him to go back to the United
So, while he was in Bulgaria he encountered a beautiful
German girl on the beach, and one thing led to another, and the German girl
disclosed, after a night of frenzied passionate love, that she was married,
that she felt pretty bad about this relationship, and John very casually
asked her what her husband did, and she explained that her husband was a
senior official in the German Chancellery in Bonn and that he had been
unable to accompany her on her vacation because he was engaged at that very
moment on an important investigation.
John asked a little bit more
and she revealed that there was a German in the Chancellor’s office who was
suspected of espionage, and it was her husband who was about to identify the
Now John Symonds never received the name of Gunter Guillaume,
but that is indeed the mole who was in the Chancellor’s office, and when
Viktor Budanov, who was his handler, his case officer in Bulgaria, when he
next met him for a drink he explained that he had met this beautiful German
girl, that he had developed a relationship with her, and that the only way
that he could repay the KGB for their generosity was to give them this tip
that if they had a mole or some kind of a spy was about to be arrested in
the German Chancellery.
Well, the KGB tried to act on it, we don’t
know what happened, but Gunter Guillaume was arrested and clearly the
warning didn’t reach Gunter Guillaume or the KGB in time. But this
demonstrated, to the KGB at least, that John Symonds was a willing, pliable
individual. He was then taken to Moscow and he was made the most
The offer was this: that if he agreed to become
a Soviet illegal working for the KGB he would have all his travel funded, he
would be paid a large amount of money, and there was only one serious
disadvantage to the task that had been assigned to him. His task was to
travel around the world and seduce the wives and daughters of CIA officers.
Now John is a very remarkable man, but he’s a sort of typical Brit, and
doesn’t know a great deal about the fairer sex, and he’s always embarrassed
and slightly fumbling in any kind of “rumpy pumpy” that he’d been involved
with in the past. So John said that, whilst he would be delighted to take on
this task, he would under no circumstances work against British interests,
but he didn’t mind too much about working against the Americans, but that
most of his sexual experience had really been behind the bike sheds at his
secondary school, and he wasn’t entirely sure that he was up to the task.
So the KGB produced two of the most beautiful Moscow hookers, who worked
permanently for the KGB, usually for the Second Chief Directorate, involved
in honeytraps, and they were classic swallows. These were the girls who
worked sometimes in embassies, sometimes as domestic staff in the private
residences, often time they would be involved in honeytrap operations in
hotels, and these two girls, for three months taught John Symonds all the
skills that the ladies ever wanted.
Now, I don’t want to go into
detail, and … well I do but I’m not allowed to. I was told at Chapel Hill
when I was first being interviewed for a pre-interview for a radio
interview, when I wanted to give an account of the particular skills that
John Symonds had acquired, the word orgasm just passed my lips, and even
though we were talking down a telephone line, I could hear my interviewer
blush. And it was explained to me that that is a word that is unacceptable
on national public radio. So, I had to think of alternatives.
John didn’t think of alternatives. He was quite happy for the real thing and
these two hookers taught John really extraordinary skills, and I don’t want
to embarrass the ladies, but you know what lousy lovers most men are, don’t
you? You know that, you don’t have to be told that. They’re selfish, they
don’t think of the girl’s needs, and you know girls have different needs,
and these two hookers explained everything to John, and John told me that
after three months he was completely exhausted.
On the other hand, he
learnt a very great deal, and he became I think it’s reasonable to say one
of the world’s great lovers, and for the next eight years John Symonds
travelled the world. His cover was that he was the manager of a safari park
in East Africa, that he was on vacation, that he was a white hunter, that he
had great skills with a rifle, and indeed with other instruments, and that
he was assigned by the KGB to go to particular places where he would be
guided by the KGB to a target and these invariably were the wives or
daughters, usually of Americans, working under business cover in various
different parts of the world, and they were suspected, for instance, the Pan
Am manager in Dar es Salaam, was suspected by the KGB to be a CIA officer
operating under non-official cover, and John was given a very detailed
brief. The wife of this Pan Am manager collects sea shells and she will be
on the beach most afternoons collecting her shells and that will be an
opportunity for you to bump into her, and then the rest is up to you, and
John developed these skills. He exploited the ridiculous accent that many
Brits have and that seem to be appreciated by Americans, and one way or
another he was able to worm his way into the affections of these
So they were daughters and they were wives of
CIA officers, and his task was to pleasure the ladies and to ensure that
they had a really good time, and that in the aftermath and the pillow talk
that would follow, the issue of the husband or the father’s secret career
would be disclosed, and that is what John did for eight years. He operated
in India. He operated right across Africa. He operated in Japan, and he
really was one of the most extraordinary spies of all time. He was very
effective for the KGB. He would come back from time to time to Moscow where
he would be given a new assignment, and occasionally he would be given a bit
of an update by the two hookers, just in case he had lost his touch.
They kept him up to scratch, but after eight years I have to say that John
was absolutely exhausted, and he really felt that enough was enough, and he
also believed that sufficient time had passed that he would be able to go
back to England and negotiate some kind of a deal with MI5, the British
Security Service, because he had acquired all this knowledge over the past
eight years of the KGB, and of course he had his secret insurance policy,
which was the manuscript that he had written and developed which was an
expose of corruption of the Metropolitan Police, and after eight years of
continuous oral sex he had really had enough.
So he returned to
London, he made contact with his lawyer, his lawyer made contact with MI5,
and the suggestion, the pitch, was this: my client has been working for the
KGB as a spy all over the world, he has valuable information about the
rezidenturas both legal and illegal that he has operated with in Australia,
in India, and Japan and right across Africa. He has very valuable
information about the personalities, about the methodology, and much of this
information of course may be of huge interest to the CIA. He insisted that
he had never operated against British interests, although there was actually
one secretary at the British Embassy in Moscow who gave a slightly different
version of events, but we will leave that aside.
That was the pitch
that was made by John Symonds’s lawyers to the Security Service. Well what
do you think the Security Service did? They went straight round to Scotland
Yard and said we have ex-Detective Sergeant John Symonds, who is making a
pitch to us. He’s telling us that he’s been a Soviet spy for the last eight
years and he also tells us that there are a large number of corrupt Police
officers in Scotland Yard and he has all the details. What do you think?
Well, here’s a surprise. Scotland Yard said he’s a fantasist, he’s made
it all up, it couldn’t be true. There are no corrupt Police officers in the
Metropolitan Police, and the chances are that he’s made up a cock and bull
story to try and reduce the sentence that he’s going to get.
rejected John Symonds’s offer. He was convicted. He then went to prison. He
served only three years of a prison sentence, and he came out of prison a
broken man. He came out of prison a broken man because of course Police
officers are not popular in Her majesty’s prisons, and nor are corrupt
Police officers. So he had a very rough time.
And it wasn’t until
1999 that his life was absolutely transformed, because in 1999 a KGB
defector named Vasili Mitrokhin revealed that he had defected seven years
earlier, and that in 1992 he had been ex-filtrated from the Soviet Union
through Riga, had come to the United Kingdom, his son and his wife had also
been ex-filtrated, and most importantly of all, he had brought with him
copies of documents that he had made while he had been the KGB archivist.
He had worked as the archivist in the First Chief Directorate, and also
in the Illegal’s Directorate of the KGB and he left behind under his dacha
just outside Moscow a vast archive that he had collected over a period of 15
years, of files that he had purloined or copied in the KGB Headquarters at
Now, when Vasili Mitrokhin arrived in England, in
conditions of very great secrecy in 1992, MI5 and the British Secret
Intelligence Service of course asked him straight away are there any current
spies, who are the most important spies that you are aware of. We need to
look at your files, and identify any existing spies, and of course to their
amazement, according to Vasili Mitrokhin, the top Soviet spy who was British
was codenamed SKOT, and SKOT he revealed was a former corrupt Police
officer, Detective Sergeant John Symonds.
So it wasn’t for a further
seven years, until the Mitrokhin Archives were published in London, that
SKOT was identified and this whole story of John Symonds travelling around
the world, and seducing the wives and daughters of CIA officers, was
revealed for the first time. And of course, it followed, that because he had
been rejected by MI5 as a fantasist in the first place, they had also
rejected the proposition that there had been a large number of corrupt
Police officers in the Metropolitan Police CID and in Scotland Yard.
So, John Symond’s life started again in 1999 when he was vindicated, and the
evidence supporting John Symonds is very clear indeed. As soon as the
Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee discovered that a spy
codenamed SKOT was arguably one of the most important spies, British spies,
that had acted for the KGB, the Intelligence and Security Committee tried to
find out why it was that John Symonds had never been interviewed by MI5. And
then they learned that of course Scotland Yard had said the man is a
fantasist, it’s all nonsense, but in those documents that came from the
Illegal’s Directorate, from the archive, there was page after page
describing each girl and each lady that had been seduced by John, some of
the techniques that he had used, really pretty lurid stuff, and the results.
So John was finally vindicated. He was exposed of course in the
Mitrokhin Archives as somebody who had not exactly betrayed his country, but
certainly had betrayed Western interests. He received subsequently an
immunity from prosecution in return for a very detailed account of the
various different CIA officers that he had compromised.
And so I hope
that in the next year or two John Symonds will be able to write his own
book. He’s virtually completed the manuscript, and I have to tell you it is
not for the faint hearted. I’m not saying there is a lot of gynaecological
detail in there, but it is pretty tough stuff. This is “R rated”, I believe
is the expression.
So, John Symonds was a remarkable man, and he is
determined to publish his book, and I very much hope that we can persuade
Bernie to arrange for John Symonds to come to a future Spy Conference, so
that he can give some of the male audience a few clues.
gentlemen, thank you all very much indeed for allowing me to address you.
Q: So what is the state of John Symonds’s health right
A: John Symonds has lost all his teeth, but apart from that,
we’re not entirely sure how, but he’s not in great shape is the answer. He
had a very rough time in prison. He is certainly down on his luck, but you
know Bernie pays usually about $20,000 to each of his speakers at these
conferences. So the money would be welcome for him.
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