- Associated Press - Friday, October 26, 2012

LONDON (AP) — Overstaffed, overconfident and all too often over here.

That’s how a top British spymaster saw his American counterparts at the FBI and CIA, according to newly declassified diaries from the years after World War II.

Friction between British spies and their American colleagues is a recurring theme in journals kept by Guy Liddell, the postwar deputy director of Britain's domestic intelligence agency, MI5.

The diaries, published for the first time Friday by Britain’s National Archives, show Liddell was frustrated by FBI boss J. Edgar Hoover — “a cross between a political gangster and a prima donna” — and skeptical of the brand-new U.S. espionage service, the CIA.


“In the course of time … they may produce something of value,” Liddell wrote of the CIA in September 1947 after a meeting with its deputy director, Edwin Kennedy Wright.

“There is a great deal of ‘dissemination, evaluation and coordination,’ but of course the thing that really matters is whether they have anything that is worth disseminating, evaluating, or coordinating,” Liddell said.

Liddell also noted that Wright had told British intelligence officials that “in an American organization 500 people were employed to do what 50 people would do over here.”

Archives historian Stephen Twigge said the trans-Atlantic relationship was marked by “a certain friction towards what the British might think of as the Johnny-come-latelies in the CIA.”

Britain and the U.S. were staunch wartime and Cold War allies, but the intelligence-sharing relationship was sometimes troubled. It reached a low ebb after the conviction in 1950 of Klaus Fuchs, a German-British nuclear scientist charged with passing atomic weapons secrets to the Soviet Union.

Hoover, outraged by the security lapse and angered that Britain would not let the Americans interview Fuchs in prison, threatened to cut off intelligence cooperation.

Liddell accused Hoover of “unscrupulous” behavior.

Hoover, finding himself in something of a jam, is obviously taking British security for a ride … Hoover’s next move was to go before some other committee and say that the British made a muck of the Fuchs case,” he wrote.

Liddell called the American attitude “wholly wrong, stupid and unreasonable.”

“It merely shows how utterly incapable they are of seeing anybody’s point of view except their own, and that they are quite ready to cut off their noses to spite their faces!”

Twigge, however, said the Americans had a point — “half the British secret service turns out to have been penetrated by Soviet intelligence.”

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