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Harry Houghton (born 1906 - died before 1992) was a spy for the People's Republic of Poland and the USSR during the Cold War. He was part of the Portland Spy Ring.


Early life

Henry Frederick Houghton was born in Lincoln, England. He left school at 14 to become an errand boy. He later joined the Royal Navy. By the end of World War II, he was a master-at-arms, one of the highest ranks for non-commissioned officers.

After the war, he joined the civil service and in 1951 was attached to the staff of the naval attaché of the British Embassy in Warsaw, Poland. Houghton dabbled in the black market, starting with coffee and moving on to medical drugs. This made him money and acquaintances but also led him to heavy drinking and the attention of the Polish Secret Police.

Houghton's heavy drinking did get him into trouble. His wife complained of domestic abuse and there were concerns that he was mixing with the wrong people. In 1952 he was ordered home.

Although some considered him a security risk, Houghton was appointed to the Admiralty Underwater Weapons Establishment at Portland where the Royal Navy would test equipment for undersea warfare. He lived in a caravan. Houghton and his wife separated in 1956 and later divorced. He then began an affair with Ethel Elizabeth Gee, a filing clerk who also worked at the base.

His former wife warned that he was a security risk and had brought secrets home, but the claims were taken as resentment for the way he had treated her.

Spying career

By 1956 it is believed that Houghton was passing secrets over Polish spies, who sent them to the Soviets. These included details on submarine warfare. Gee had access to secrets. She would make them available to him and he would photograph them. On the first Saturday of each month Houghton would go to London, sometimes with Gee, and exchange packages with a contact.

Houghton's drinking did not stop, and he was living far beyond his salary. He bought a house and car and would buy rounds at the pub. This brought him under suspicion, and MI5 placed him under surveillance. This led them to other members of what was to be called the Portland Spy Ring.

In his book Spycatcher, Peter Wright claims Harry Houghton first came to MI5's attention when a Polish mole (codenamed Sniper) reported he had information about a Russian spy in the British Navy. According to Wright, Sniper did not know the name of the spy, but said it sounded like Huiton. Additionally, Sniper obtained documents that had been sent by the spy, helping MI5 to determine who had access to the documents.

Houghton and Gee were among five spies arrested in London by Special Branch detectives on 7 January 1961. The others were Gordon Lonsdale, Morris and Lona Cohen, all professional spies.

Houghton claimed at his trial that he had been blackmailed by the Poles and the Russians into spying for them. While in Poland, he had had an affair with a woman black marketeer and was told that she would go to prison if he did not provide secrets. Threats were also made about Gee and his former wife, and he claimed he was twice attacked by thugs. Houghton claimed that the information he gave them were newspaper cuttings and matters already in the public knowledge.

These claims were most likely ploys by Houghton to portray himself as a reluctant spy, in hopes for a lesser sentence. They were also attempts to minimize Gee's involvement in the spy ring.

Later life

Houghton and Gee were both sentenced to fifteen years in prison. They married soon after their release in 1970 and changed their names. According to research, Houghton died sometime between 1981 and 1992.[1]


  • Soviet Spy Ring, by Arthur Tietjen, published by Pan Books, (1961)
  • Spy Book The Encyclopedia of Espionage, by Norman Polmar and Thomas B. Allen, published by Greenhill Books, ISBN 1-85367-278-5 (1997)


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