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Ethel Elizabeth Gee
|Service branch||Portland Spy Ring|
The daughter of a blacksmith, Ethel Gee lived on the Isle of Portland, England. She left school at 15 to go to work. In October 1950 she became a filing clerk at the Admiralty Underwater Weapons Establishment at Portland. She thus handled top secret documents on Britain's underwater warfare work and HMS Dreadnought, the Royal Navy's first nuclear submarine. A spinster, Gee had little social life, since her spare time was spent looking after aging relatives, including her mother, aunt and uncle.
Life as a spy
In 1958, Gee met Harry Houghton, a former sailor who had become a civil service clerk. Houghton was an alcoholic and his marriage was about to collapse. She began an affair with Houghton, and would pose as his wife when they booked into hotels.
Houghton had been supplying military secrets to spies from PR Poland and the USSR for some time. Through Gee, he gained access to more classified material. In July 1960, Houghton introduced Gee to a man whom she claimed she only knew as "Alex Johnson", allegedly a commander in the United States Navy. "Johnson" wanted to know how the British handled confidential information provided them by the Americans.
Houghton and Gee were already under surveillance by the British Security Service MI5. A Soviet mole, subsequently identified as the defector, Michael Goleniewski, had warned Western intelligence that information was being leaked from Portland. Houghton's extravagance, which went far beyond his salary, made him an obvious suspect.
MI5 identified "Johnson" as Gordon Lonsdale, a Canadian businessman. (It would only be much later, upon his return to Russia, that he would be named as Konon Trofimovich Molody, a Soviet KGB agent.) Gee provided classified material to Houghton, who would photograph it and pass it to Lonsdale in London. On 6 January 1961, Gee left the naval base with pamphlets that contained details of an ASDIC (sonar) device used to detect submarines.
The following day Houghton and Gee were arrested in London by Special Branch detectives. Also arrested were Lonsdale and Peter and Helen Kroger (alias Morris and Lona Cohen) — all professional spies working for the Soviets. They were the core members of the Portland Spy Ring.
Gee at first protested her innocence, maintaining her claim that she believed that Lonsdale was an American. In the course of the trial, however, she finally admitted: "In the light of what transpires now, I have done something terribly wrong, but at that time I did not think I had done anything criminal."
Houghton and Gee were both sentenced to 15 years in prison on 22 March 1961. The professional spies were given longer sentences but were exchanged early on for captured British agents and citizens. Gee and Houghton served nine years and were released on 12 May 1970; they married in 1971. Ethel Houghton died in obscurity in Poole, Dorset, in 1984.
- "MI5 man broke island spy ring". Bournemouth Echo.
- "5 Sentenced As Spies By British Court". Meriden Journal. 22 March 1961 – via Google News Archive Search.
- "Houghton drives out in a taxi". Evening Times. 12 May 1970 – via Google News Archive Search.
- "ETHEL GEE (Hansard, 4 December 1969)". hansard.millbanksystems.com.
- Reunited, Genes. "Ethel Gee – England & Wales Marriages 1837-2008  - Genes Reunited". www.genesreunited.co.uk.
- "Ethel Elizabeth Houghton – Ancestry.co.uk". search.ancestry.co.uk.
- Soviet Spy Ring, by Arthur Tietjen, published by Pan Books, (1961)