John Cairncross, RASCLS and a Reassessment of His Motives

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In 1990, John Cairncross was identified as the ‘fifth man’ of the Cambridge Ring of Five. Historians have provided various motivations for Cairncross’ decision to spy for the Soviet Union. Yet, after three decades, he remains poorly understood. Proposed espionage motives have ranged from ideological Communism, an impoverished upbringing in Lanarkshire, and proto-Popular Frontism. Generally, however, it has been assumed that the former, ideological Communism, best explain Cairncross’ actions. This article uses Cialdini’s model of psychological influence to demonstrate the significance of Cairncross’ attitude to British socio-cultural-political norms in rendering him susceptible to NKVD recruitment.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)526-540
Number of pages15
JournalIntelligence and National Security
Issue number4
Early online date25 Apr 2022
Publication statusPublished - 7 Jun 2022

Bibliographical note

This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (,
which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


  • History
  • Political Science and International Relations


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