Elizabeth Mary Julia Pirie
Born (1918-07-08)8 July 1918
Died 2 September 2008(2008-09-02) (aged 90)
Nationality British
Other names Julia Pirie
Occupation Spy
Known for Espionage

Julia Pirie (8 July 1918, Harbury, Warwickshire, England   –   2 September 2008) was a British spy who spent two decades as an MI5 agent at the heart of the Communist Party of Great Britain, most of it as personal assistant to the party's general secretary.

Early years and MI5 recruitment[edit | edit source]

Pirie's father died in 1923 of wounds sustained in World War I, and Pirie's mother moved to India, where Pirie was raised.

On the outbreak of war in 1939, Pirie returned to Britain and joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS), the women's section of the British Army, where she worked as a driver in England and later in Europe.

She then went to work as secretary and personal assistant to the Duchess of Atholl. The duchess was chairman of the British League for European Freedom and was a committed opponent of Soviet control of Eastern Europe. During this time Pirie joined the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (FANY). During the war FANY had provided female agents for the Special Operations Executive and may have continued to act as a source for agents. In any case, Julia was approached soon afterwards by MI5, and asked to infiltrate the Communist Party of Great Britain as a typist.[1]

Inside the Communist Party[edit | edit source]

Although she was a dedicated and effective secret agent, Pirie gave the appearance of being a harmless maiden lady, and she was able to work her way into the inner circles of the party, working directly under party secretary John Gollan. This put her in a position to pass regular reports and photocopied documents from Gollan's office to her MI5 handlers.[1]

Peter Wright, a former senior MI5 officer, in his book Spycatcher described two important MI5 investigations of the party for which her information was probably crucial.[2]

In 1978 Pirie retired from the Party. By this time it had been much weakened by the Soviet intervention in Hungary in 1956 and the suppression of the Czechoslovak Prague Spring in 1968. The Party, not suspecting her, paid her pension until she died.[1]

Later assignments and retirement[edit | edit source]

Although she had left the Communist Party, Pirie did not retire from MI5, and her next assignment was against the Provisional IRA. She travelled to various European countries playing the role of a tourist but in fact collecting information about them. On one occasion, still playing a tourist, she rented a flat in Barcelona - just below an IRA safe flat. All went well until the authorities became concerned about the wireless emissions of her equipment. They raided her flat. Although the authorities were satisfied, there was a risk of the IRA having noticed and MI5 pulled her out.

After retiring from active operations in the 1990s, she lectured to groups of MI5 trainees and the police before becoming a genuine tourist in: Russia, Europe, Africa, Australia, the Caribbean and the United States.

Although unmarried, Julia Pirie maintained close and warm links with her family. The pressure of being a secret agent while simultaneously playing the role of an unworldly spinster did not stop that. She enjoyed cricket and was a skilled bridge player.[1]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Daily Telegraph (29 October 2008), Page 31 Obituary, Accessed 15 September 2010.
  2. Wright, Peter (1967). Spycatcher. Heinemann (Australia), Penguin Viking (USA). ISBN 0-670-82055-5. 

External links[edit | edit source]

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