REVEALED: How the cold war’s most brazen betrayal saw a British traitor to Queen and country send postcards of Her Majesty to her handlers saying she needed more money
Nicholas Barbee used his access to UK military air bases to provide intelligence
It was perhaps the cold war’s most brazen betrayal of queen and country.
A British traitor sent Elizabeth II postcards to her handlers behind the Iron Curtain when she needed more cash – and how much she wanted.
Nicholas Barbee pocketed more than £20,000 by using his special access to UK military air bases and air force communications to provide the Czechoslovaks and Soviets with intelligence about technology and the war preparations of the RAF and US jets, a Mail investigation has found.
He was even on emergency standby to provide details of NATO aircraft movements to the enemy when World War III broke out.
Codenamed Agent Aeronaut, for nearly a decade Barbie criss-crossed Europe using Day of the Jackal-style fake identities for secret meetings with her spymasters, smuggling dossiers through customs in false bottoms of briefcases and collecting messages and money left behind by dead-letters. . Home County Park.
Nicholas Barby pocketed more than £20,000 by using his special access to UK military air bases and air force communications to provide intelligence.
Codenamed Agent Aeronaut, for nearly a decade Barbie criss-crossed Europe using a Day of the Jackal-style fake identity for secret meetings with her spymasters.
But his most daring tradecraft was a system of open signals using codes on postcard images that he sent from a letterbox near his home in Richmond, south-west London, to an imaginary friend named Josef Taurek in a Prague safe house run by the Czechoslovak STB spy agency. .
An extensive file on Aeronaut leaked by mail and now released by the Czech state security service outlines how the cipher worked.
His Royal Enigma
Message in the Mail: A postcard from Nick Barbie
‘Agent Aeronaut’ Nick Barbee sent coded postcards to an address in Czechoslovakia to signal his communist spymasters.
The messages were hiding both images and handwritten dates. Rani’s photo was a request for advance payment. Barbie’s required sum, illustrated, was the second digit of the date to be multiplied by £100. In a card dated 24/04/82, he asked for £400.
Spies at the Czech Embassy in London would leave cash in containers hidden in dead drops in parks in the capital and the Home Counties. Drop sites include the entrance to Richmond Park and between two chestnut trees near the Thames.
Images of a lake or sea indicated that he faced the risk of exposure, a civilian plane meant to him ‘important material that he must pass’, and buildings included a code for when he would travel to Vienna for a meeting with his handlers. Postcards with pictures of the Royal Family meant the agent was ‘requesting advance payment’.
He addressed the cards to ‘Joe’, signed them ‘Bill’ and included anodyne messages about the British weather or stamp collecting.
Barbie was an unemployed 22-year-old living with her grandparents when she began her extraordinary double life after writing to the military attaché at the Communist embassy in London offering to sell her pictures of NATO jets in exchange for cash.
An avid photographer of fighter planes, he ran a military aviation club with his aeronautical engineer father. The club organized visits to aerodromes, including annual tours of US Air Force bases.
A Czech agent working in the UK met and recruited Barbie in April 1980 under diplomatic cover.
Spy chiefs later said: ‘He is ambitious, brilliant, can influence and nurture.’ They particularly valued its ability to monitor RAF and US air bases to ‘detect signs of surprise attack’.
Barbie signed a pledge to cooperate with Czechoslovak intelligence, pledging to ‘fulfill all tasks assigned to me’ and to maintain ‘absolute secrecy’ about her role.
Barbie was sometimes given special code phrases for meetings, including asking her acquaintance: ‘Do you have a light? I lost my cigarette lighter.’ The Czech agent will reply: ‘I didn’t bring cigarettes today.’
His UK handlers included Major Vlastimil Natolicki, one of three Czech diplomats expelled from the UK by Margaret Thatcher in 1988 for espionage.
Barbie’s only incentive was cash and he received a monthly salary that eventually rose to more than £4,000 a year, the files say. Much of the information was rated ‘valuable’ by Czech intelligence chiefs, who praised him for ‘carrying out his tasks very well’.
He was regularly thanked and rewarded with cash bonuses for a ‘job well done’, the files show.
Now married, but still living in her late grandparents’ home in Richmond, Barbee declined to comment when contacted by the Mail.
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