John Cairncross

John Cairncross

John Cairncross spied for the USSR at Bletchley Park in World War Two. In 1979 it was claimed that he was the ‘Fifth man’ in the Cambridge Five spy ring.

John Cairncross was born on 25 July 1913 in Lesmahagow, Scotland. He studied at the University of Glasgow, the Sorbonne and Trinity College, Cambridge. After graduating with a degree in French and German, he joined the Foreign Office in 1936.

During World War Two, Cairncross worked at Bletchley Park. He stole documents deciphered by the Colossus computer and gave them to the Soviet secret service. In 1944 he moved to the headquarters of MI6. Cairncross claimed that he stopped working for the Soviets after the war when he joined the Treasury, but this is disputed.

In 1951 Opens internal link in current windowGuy Burgess fled Britain for the USSR. Cairncross was linked to Burgess through a note that was found at Burgess’ flat. He confessed but was not prosecuted. Old Soviet files show that Cairncross passed nearly 6,000 documents to the USSR between 1941 and 1945.

Cairncross moved to America, where he worked in academic, specialising in French literature. Later, he worked for the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization.

In December 1979, Cairncross was named publicly as the ‘Fifth man’ in the Cambridge spy ring. In 1990 the Soviet defector Oleg Gordievsky backed up this identification.

Cairncross later moved to France, staying there until 1995 when he returned to Britain. He died of a stroke on 8 October 1995, aged 82. The Enigma Spy, his autobiography, was published posthumously in 1997.

See also: Donald Maclean 

MLA Citation/Reference

"John Cairncross". 2023. Web.

Key facts

Name: John Cairncross
Birth Date: 25 July 1913, Lesmahagow, Scotland
Death: 8 October 1995 (aged 82), Herefordshire, UK
Nationality: British
  • Hamilton Academy
  • University of Glasgow
  • The Sorbonne
  • Trinity College, Cambridge
Key events:
  • Joined the civil service