An Oxford academic spent years handing over nuclear intelligence in clandestine meetings with communist spies, a Daily Mail investigation reveals today.
Professor Jirina Stone, who is still a leading nuclear scientist, briefed agents from her native Czechoslovakia on sensitive British and American research after emigrating here in the mid-1980s, according to a dossier of newly declassified files from the Security Services archive in Prague.
She even snooped on her unknowing British husband – another Oxford academic and eminent nuclear scientist who married her after leaving his wife and three children – by copying some of his confidential documents to pass to her Czech spymasters, the documents claim.
Codenamed Marta, she was highly rated by her handlers as she used code words and clandestine rendezvous – including in fashion chain Miss Selfridge – to hide her role as a ‘secret collaborator’ from colleagues.
Materials she passed on and information she told them about included plans for third-generation US nuclear weapons, reports on UK radar and other nuclear research, and materials previously unknown or unavailable behind the Iron Curtain, the files allege.
She was also tasked with obtaining information requested by ‘our Soviet friends’.
She told her handlers about a US professor who had worked on the weapons programme at the top-secret Los Alamos Laboratory in New Mexico, where the world’s first atomic bombs were developed, according to her files.
Oxford academic Professor Jirina Stone briefed Czech agents on British and American research
Having kept her Cold War role secret since the collapse of communism, Professor Stone – formerly Rikovska – remains a highly respected and active nuclear scientist, who published her most recent paper in January this year. She is still a visiting researcher at Oxford University (pictured)
Codenamed Marta, Stone was highly rated by her handlers as she used code words and clandestine rendezvous – including in fashion chain Miss Selfridge – to hide her role as a ‘secret collaborator’ from colleagues. Pictured: Stone’s Czech security file
Having kept her Cold War role secret since the collapse of communism, Professor Stone – formerly Rikovska – remains a highly respected and active nuclear scientist, who published her most recent paper in January this year.
Now 82, she is still a visiting researcher at Oxford University and an Adjunct Professor of Physics at the University of Tennessee, where she moved after retirement from Oxford.
She is also listed on the US government’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory, which specialises in nuclear research.
When contacted by the Mail, she admitted attending the meetings and passing on some information to the communist Security Services – but said this was necessary for her own safety and to stop retribution against her children, who she had left in Czechoslovakia.
She emphatically denied being a spy and said she successfully ‘played’ the agents by giving them only inconsequential ‘flannel’ that posed no security risk.
Her husband, who was unaware of her meetings until contacted by the Mail, passionately defended his wife, saying she had done nothing ‘sinful or reprehensible’ and had been a victim of the Cold War.
But Professor Anthony Glees, an intelligence and security expert from the University of Buckingham, described her explanations as ‘piffle’ and the ‘same textbook excuses’ used by other collaborators on being unmasked. He warned that the revelations of her ‘betrayal’ had caused the UK’s national security to be ‘seriously breached on several key fronts’, adding: ‘Had she been outed prior to 1989 I believe she’d have stood trial.’
Moving to Oxford from Czechoslovakia
Stone, who was described by her handlers as an ‘internationally renowned scientist in the field of nuclear research’, started her career at the Technical University of Prague and travelled widely, including to Moscow, for her work.
After splitting from her second husband, the mother of two visited Oxford for what was meant to be a six-month placement after being sponsored by Nicholas Stone, a physics professor at the university, who she had met on a previous work trip to the UK and started a relationship with.
Without the authority of the Czech government, she stayed in the UK after her placement ended and married Professor Stone in November 1985.
The couple lived together in a flat owned by St Edmund Hall, her new husband’s Oxford college, in the city’s prestigious Park Town area, a short walk from the university’s Clarendon Laboratory, where they both worked on nuclear research.
But unbeknown to her husband and employer, before she departed Czechoslovakia she had left a letter with a friend to be delivered to the Ministry of the Interior after her departure saying she was leaving because of personal rather than ideological reasons and offering ‘her services for Czechoslovakia’.
It followed a long history as a ‘very active member and functionary of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia’, which she joined on her 18th birthday, the files say.
She was leader of the Communist Party group at her Prague university department and headed an evening study tutor group for Marxist philosophy.
She was selected by the Czech Security Services as a ‘candidate for a secret collaborator’ from its pool of interns going abroad in March 1983.
‘She turned out to have a very positive relationship toward the Ministry of the Interior authorities and spoke willingly and earnestly about everything,’ her file says.
‘She has a very good source: Her Husband’
After a meeting following her arrival in the UK, Czech agents in Britain reported: ‘She said she was willing to supply information of any kind to Czechoslovakia and thus ensure she would be able to return and ‘clear her name’ in front of her friends and the Communist Party.’
They added that she had joined the Communist Party from conviction, and ‘this conviction has stayed with her even after emigration’. She was not paid for her role.
There were personal motivations too, including the hope of seeing her younger daughter, who had stayed in Prague with her ex-husband, the archives show.
Stone even snooped on her unknowing British husband (pictured) – another Oxford academic and eminent nuclear scientist who married her after leaving his wife and three children – by copying some of his confidential documents to pass to her Czech spymasters, the documents claim
It was also an insurance policy, the files allege, as ‘she is hoping that were she to fall out with her present husband, she could return to Czechoslovakia’. Stone now denies telling the Czech spies this.
A document from 1986 notes: ‘She wants secret cooperation without her husband’s knowledge because she is currently totally dependent on him.’
This proved an ideal scenario for her handlers, who included Lieutenant Rudolf Kasparovsky, officially a ‘technical adviser’ at the Czech embassy.
He was one of four diplomats later expelled from Britain in 1989 accused of spying.
The files note: ‘She is currently in a very good position to gather information that is of interest to us and also to create opportunities to infiltrate other fields that are of interest to us.
‘She has a very good source, and cover, in her present husband.’
The Czech documents noted how, as a member of the nuclear board of the Science and Engineering Research Council (Serc), then the UK agency in charge of publicly funded scientific research, her husband ‘has access to secret materials on British nuclear physics and research’ which his wife ‘can supply us with… immediately’.
As well as these confidential materials, her handlers noted that she would also be able to provide all nuclear energy and nuclear physics materials from the Clarendon Laboratory, nuclear fusion, materials from a Nato project she was working on and information about civil defence in Oxford.
She was a member of the Nicole workgroup, an international association for nuclear research. She could also be used for espionage in America, where on previous trips she was ‘free to roam the laboratories’ unchecked.
Stone told her handlers she believed this was because she was ‘married to a British scientist and therefore treated the same as a British subject when it comes to freedom of movement’, the files show.
Clandestine meetings in clothes shops
To ensure secrecy, her handler called at work at times when her husband was in the university cafeteria having lunch.
He would pretend to be from her former university in Prague and say he was bringing ‘regards from Lida’, to which she would respond: ‘Has she sent a parcel by any chance?’ For added security, face-to-face meetings were conducted away from Oxford, including at Miss Selfridge in London’s Oxford Street, and in Beaconsfield and Reading. Code words included asking to borrow a pen – but it had to be a black one.
At one point her handler considered holding meetings at Blenheim Palace – the birthplace of Winston Churchill just outside Oxford – but after checking it out he decided against the location because it was ‘teeming with tourists’.
Later, amid concerns that the British Intelligence were on to them, they met in Hungary, where she confirmed she would ‘like to carry on with her intelligence work’, and made plans to meet in Austria, where she was instructed to carry a blue handbag as a warning if she was worried she’d been exposed.
Information about US nuclear research
Stone’s handlers praised their ‘smart and bright’ collaborator’s ‘excellent’ cooperation.
A document from March 1986 noted she was ‘calm and collected’ dealing with agents, and ‘appears to be honest and her efforts to help her country sincere’. Another cable from February 1988 said: ‘During meetings, Marta is calm, reacts in a calculated manner.’
‘It was just flannel, I don’t regret it’ – How she confessed to Mail
When confronted about the information she handed to Czech spies, Professor Jirina Stone admitted the meetings but claimed she had given the agents only ‘flannel’.
Strongly denying she was a spy, she said she only cooperated to protect herself and her children and ex-husband back in Czechoslovakia.
She said she never believed in communism but had to join the party and take part in events to be allowed to pursue her academic career as ‘one of the hoops you had to go through’.
Stone could not recall telling her handlers about any military research or being asked to help the Soviets, but admitted telling the Czech Security Services some inconsequential things to get her ‘off the hook’.
She told the Mail: ‘It was in my interest to keep in loose contact with them, because it was a security for me and my husband. It was no harm done.
‘I do not regret it because I think it was the best I could do for both of us, for everybody.’
But Professor Anthony Glees, an intelligence and security expert, said: ‘It was the Czech security services who decided what was important to them.
‘If they weren’t interested in what she was saying they would have told her.’
It added: ‘Despite her short collaboration, Marta can point out the important things extremely well and direct her initiative that way… She carries out [her handlers’] instructions perfectly and completes the set tasks.’
Her contact continued until the very end of communism, with a file from November 1989 – the month the Berlin Wall came down – noting she ‘has proven intelligence-gathering opportunities’ and ‘has produced intelligence information relating to nuclear energy’.
It added: ‘At our last meeting in August 1989, she informed us of her possibilities regarding superdeformation [nuclear physics], which the USA are hoping to use in the development of third-generation nuclear weapons. She expressed her willingness to help in relation to this.’
Over the years this produced a slew of information, the files suggest. From her husband, as an initial test for her handlers, she copied two Serc reports from the Nuclear Physics Board Nuclear Structure Committee, both marked ‘confidential’, research documents into ‘Royal Signals and Radar Establishment’, and details of research on lasers. She later told them about a US professor who found out that ‘he’d been working on military research for some time, in the arms programme at Los Alamos’, according to the files.
The files suggest the plan was to use him to gather information when he was on a planned placement to the Clarendon Laboratory, but in the end the trip was cancelled.
She was also asked to supply information about superconductivity research for her handlers at the request of ‘our Soviet friends’. A 1988 file said she had suppled scientific materials and information ‘not available’ and previously ‘unknown’ in Czechoslovakia.
It said: ‘She can supply us with practically everything that is being worked on in Cern’ (the European Organisation for Nuclear Research). In the late 1980s Stone began to split her time between Oxford and Oak Ridge, Tennessee, where the files say she offered to research details of a new accelerator being developed there.
She also told her handlers how US researchers were using lasers to ‘figure out a military use’ for atomic nuclei and drafted them a copy of her theoretical work into aspects of it.
Approved to become ‘a full agent’
She was so successful that, apparently without her knowledge, her handlers approved her for secret enrolment as a full agent, noting: ‘Judging from her involvement so far, it can be assumed without any doubt that she is willing to cooperate.’
Another file from May 1988 said: ‘We have not mentioned the words intelligence, secret service, state security at the meetings so far but Marta 99 per cent knows and therefore isn’t asking questions.’
It seems her full enrolment to agent did not appear to have happened before the collapse of communism after being postponed due to concerns she might be under British intelligence surveillance.
Her security service files were archived in June 1991. She is listed under her maiden name in the category ‘confidant’ in the registry of the secret police in Prague.
Stone became a British citizen in 1992 and remained in her post at Oxford until her retirement in 2005, when she moved to the US to continue her research.
She retains her home in Oxford and a position at the university. She is an author of more than 150 papers in refereed journals and is a frequent invited speaker at conferences, workshops and schools.
Oxford University declined to comment.