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17 September

On September 17, 1953, the wife and three children of British diplomat Donald Maclean, who himself had disappeared in the summer of 1951, vanished from Geneva. It was not until three years later that the British intelligence had acknowledged that Maclean had been working for the Soviet secret service and had escaped with his family to Moscow.

When Melinda Maclean and her children did not return from a weekend away with friends in Montreux, her mother Mrs. Dunbar notified the police. A search began, and several days later Melinda’s car was found in a garage at Lausanne, Switzerland.

By the following day inquiries had established that she and the children had gone by train to Zurich and from there drove to Schwarzach St. Veit in Austria. There they had been met by a man and never spotted again. By then there were no doubts that Melinda had gone to join her husband Donald behind the Iron Curtain, but it was not officially confirmed until 1956.

Born in London, Donald Maclean was part of an espionage group that included fellow Communist supporters Guy Burgess, Anthony Blunt, John Cairncross and Kim Philby. All five men had been recruited as Soviet spies while they were undergraduates at Cambridge University in the 1930s. They would eventually become known by the KGB as the “magnificent five” but were better known in Britain as the Cambridge spy ring.

Maclean and his friends moved into jobs in British Intelligence and the Foreign Office where they had access to highly classified information. Throughout the years of World War Two and the Cold War it is believed Maclean had passed valuable information to the KGB on the development of the atomic bomb, documents related to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and top secret Anglo-American exchanges on Korean War policy. In 1950, MI5 had begun to investigate Maclean, suspecting him of espionage. However, he disappeared before he could be interrogated.

Some historians believe that Joseph Stalin decided to initiate the Berlin Blockade (1948) and his support of North Korea during the Korean War because he knew, going by the information sent to Moscow by Maclean, that America was not as powerful in terms of nuclear weapons as they had made themselves out to be.

In 1956, Maclean reappeared in Moscow. Together with Burgess he gave a statement to representatives of the foreign press. Both denied being Soviet agents, claiming they had come to the USSR to “work for the aim of better understanding between the Soviet Union and the West.” However Maclean did admit that his family joined him in Moscow.

Maclean integrated well into Soviet society, working for the Soviet Foreign Ministry and the Institute of World Economic and International Relations, and lived fully in accord with his Communist principles. He was awarded the Order of the Red Banner of Labor and the Order of Combat. His Soviet name was Mark Petrovich Maclean. Maclean and his wife separated in 1966.