Alexander Foote

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'Rote Drei' agent files

Alexander Foote (KV 2/1611-1616)

Foote was the only British agent in the Rote Drei Soviet spy ring. Born in Derbyshire in 1905, he volunteered to fight in the Spanish Civil War, and after his return was sent by Russian Military Intelligence to Switzerland, where he worked as a radio operator until arrested by the Swiss authorities in 1943. Following his release, he became disillusioned with Communism, and he handed himself in to the British authorities in Germany, providing them with details of the work of the Rote Drei. An account by Foote of his exploits, Handbook for Spies, was published in 1949. These files mainly concern actions following Foote's decision to hand himself over to the British.

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KV 2/1611 (1936-1947) begins with notes gathered about Foote as a volunteer in the Spanish Civil War, and continues with details subsequent to his arrest in Switzerland. As information emerged from sources in Switzerland, Foote was linked to Rado's network, and the Security Service gathered as much detail as it could about him, which is on file. Included is a copy of his birth certificate, and notes on investigations of others who served in Spain alongside him. He was believed to have left Switzerland for France after the war, so it emerges as a surprise on the file when he handed himself over to the British authorities in Germany in 1947. This file contains records of his first interviews with the British, and the subsequent hand-written brief for his interrogation by Michael Serpell, during which Foote outlined his activities after leaving Spain. The file encloses photographs of various Rote Drei suspects shown to Foote, including Rado and Rachel Duebendorfer.

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KV 2/1612 continues the story with further interview reports detailing Foote's activities, and shows leads provided by him being followed up. The file includes a detailed interim case summary, a copy of Foote's false German passport with a photograph, and a false British Army Pay Book made out in the name of A J Forde, created to give Foote cover for his return to Britain.

The need for the false pay book emerges on KV 2/1613, where it becomes clear the Security Service had acted to disguise the fact that Foote had returned to Britain via RAF Northolt, and had instead tried to lay a trail seeming to take him through a Channel port, so that his defection might not be suspected by the Russians. The file contains further reports of his interviews, including that with his sister Margaret Powell, in September 1947. The file also contains Foote's RAF service record, and a photostat of his passport papers. The file notes the first comments about Foote's perilous financial condition and his inability to support himself.

KV 2/1614 continues the story from 1947 into 1948, including the final interview with Foote (this by William Skardon). It includes the original of Foote's letter pleading for funds in November 1947 and the Service's considerations about what steps to take for him, which include their efforts to get his account of his activities published and so produce some income for Foote. The file also notes that Foote was approached by a fellow member of the Rote Drei, Jean Pierre Vigier, for a meeting - and it was considered that the Russians might still not be aware that he had been 'blown'. The file includes details revealed by the Home Office Warrant against his sister's house in Forest Row, East Sussex, which continue into KV 2/1615 (1948-1949). This file also notes Foote's declining health, concerns about the various payments made to him, the Service's efforts to get his book published and the results of an examination of Foote's luggage when it was sent to him by Herzel Swiatzky. Photographs of pages from his notebook and other documents in the luggage are included in the file.

KV 2/1616 covers 1949-1952, effectively the period from the publication of Handbook for Spies. Among many press clippings relating to the publication, the file contains reports of further interviews with Foote arising from new leads thrown up by the publication, and requests from the FBI. A minute note indicates that the book is 'substantially true', and correspondence makes clear that the head of SIS had read and cleared the book for publication. The file contains two photographs of Foote. It also contains photographs of players in the Katz case, which Foote had been shown but was not able to identify.