Yuri Modin, friend of the Cambridge Five

Yuri Ivanovich Modin (1922−2007), Soviet intelligence officer, colonel of state security, acting head of the London Station

Yuri Modin was born on 8 November 1922 in the ancient Russian city of Suzdal. His father fought in the Civil War, served as a regiment commissar, and stayed on with the Red Army after the war. Following the family tradition, he was committed to becoming an army officer, and after completing secondary school in 1940 he entered the Higher Naval School of Engineering in Leningrad. That is where he was when Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union. Yuri survived the worst winter of the siege of Leningrad in 1941−1942, but only because his school was evacuated when Lake Ladoga froze via the "Road of Life," first to Yaroslavl, and then to Kostroma.

However, Modin did not enlist in the navy. His talent for foreign languages was

noticed, and at the end of 1942 he was selected for work in state security. After intense language training at the Higher School of the NKVD, Yuri Modin enrolled in the English department of the First Directorate of the People’s Commissariat of State Security (in 1943, the NKGB, which included the foreign intelligence service, was split off from the NKVD).

A capable recruit with excellent command of the English language, Modin quickly made a name for himself among his superiors. He was entrusted with supervising especially valuable agents who provided information of strategic importance. He initially came to know the members of the famous Cambridge Five from a distance, as a translator working on the documents they provided, which he then sorted by topic and reported up the chain of command.

Later Modin recalled that he "… studied the art of intelligence not in some school, not theoretically, but in practice, under exceptional circumstances … Reading the reports of our agents, I began to think of them as close friends." Shortly after, they met in person.

For six years, from June 1947 to May 1953, Yuri Modin was posted at the London Station where he met with the members of the Cambridge Five. Formally, he worked as a liaison. But despite the modest title, he was not merely passing information on from one person to another. Later in life, Yuri Modin wrote a book about his intelligence career for which he chose the revealing title, A Life in Intelligence: My Cambridge Friends. They were indeed bonded by sincere friendship between like-minded people, who faithfully served the cause they chose to dedicate their lives to.

In May 1953, Yuri Modin’s mission to London ended. However, he returned in 1955, on the eve of the official visit of Nikita Khrushchev and Nikolai Bulganin to the United Kingdom. Modin went to London on a special mission and stayed there until

May 1958 as the Station’s acting head ("rezident").

Recalling his collaboration with the Cambridge Five, Yuri Modin wrote: "There

could be no failures in our work — such things could not be forgiven. And I am very proud that none of them ended up in jail. That is the greatest achievement of my career."