August 2, 2012

Sidney Reilly - Great Spooks


On a more interesting note the first in this blog's series of "Great Spooks of History" is Sidney Reilly.

Reilly (1874?-1925) was a Russian-born adventurer who worked for British Secret Intelligence Service (commonly known as MI6) for a time. His legend grew after his death and Ian Fleming used him as a model for James Bond.

Reilly told various tales about his origins. Apparently the most widespread version is that he was born Georgi Rosenblum in Odessa, (former) Russian Empire, on March 24, 1874.

According to himself, he was arrested as a young man for carrying messages for a "radical" group called Friends of Enlightenment. When he was released, he was told that his mother was dead and that his real father was actually her Jewish doctor Rosenblum. Newly "christened" as Sigmund Rosenblum, he hid as a stowaway in a British ship on its way to South America.

In Brazil he adopted the name Pedro. He worked in odd jobs and in 1895 became a cook for a British intelligence expedition and saved the life of his group when angry natives attacked them but did not eat them. Appropriately for such a story, British agent Major Fothergill gave him £1500 and arranged him a passport and a trip to Britain where he adopted the name Sidney Rosenblum.

He began to work for MI1c, forerunner of MI6, was briefly trained and sent to Russia. After a successful mission he received British citizenship to become an official agent. Later he adopted the Irish surname "Reilly", which was the surname of his first wife's father.

He also told various tales - about how he:

- earned and lost several fortunes in his lifetime
- had many wives and numerous mistresses
- during the Boer War he had disguised himself as a Russian arms merchant to spy on Dutch weapons shipments to Boers
- procured Persian (Iraqi/Iranian) oil concessions for the British
- reported on the Russian fleet in Port Arthur in the disguise of a timber company owner
- spied on the Krupp armaments plant in Germany
- seduced a wife of Russian minister of marine to find out German weapons shipments to Russia
- sat in on a meeting with a German high command in German officer's uniform during World War I
- saved diplomats from South America
- and how he attempted to engineer the downfall of the Russian Bolshevik government.

He must have been a hero yet he was disliked and distrusted by his British employers because he was (theoretically) Jewish and therefore not of "gentle" birth.

Reilly was sent to Moscow in 1918, by his own account to assassinate Lenin or attempt to overthrow the Bolsheviks. He had to escape after Cheka unraveled the so-called Lockhart Plot against the Bolsheviks.

In September, 1925 agents of OGPU, Cheka's successor, lured him to Russia ostensibly to meet the supposed members of "The Trust" - an OGPU front organisation designed to entrap anti-communists (who in Lenin's Russia must have been truely suicidal and stupid)

After Reilly crossed the Finnish border, the Soviets captured him and brutally interrogated him at Lubyanka Prison. Afterwards the Soviets claimed that Reilly had been shot trying to cross the Finnish border.
In fact, he was shot in a forest near Moscow on November 5, 1925.

Unlike most spooks Reilly has been remembered. In 1983, a superb television series, Reilly, Ace of Spies, was made about his adventures, in which he was portrayed by Australian (actually an ex Kiwi) Sam Neill.

The US has no such equivalent - maybe Elliot Ness - but he was really a cop rather than a "robber"