Kenneth Benton was born in Wolverhampton, England, in 1909 and, after a period teaching in Vienna, was recruited to MI6 in the Vienna Passport Control Office in 1937; working as a Passport Control Officer (PCO), a common cover for British intelligence agents abroad, much of his work was in translating and interpreting covert messages. After the Anschluss, Kenneth and his wife Peggie Benton (also working for the Foreign Office) were relocated to Riga, Latvia, until the Soviet occupation of the Baltic states in 1940.
From 1941 to 1944 Kenneth served in Madrid as head of counter espionage, section V, indentifying and tracking German spies passing through Spain on their way to the United States and Great Britain. He was the only person in Spain or Portugal licensed to read the secret German messages transmitted from Bletchley Park through the breaking of the Enigma Codes. Peggie played an important role in the recruitment and running of the many agents required to carry out this task.
Kenneth appears in Ben Macintyre’s best-selling Double Cross: The True Story of The D-Day Spies (Bloomsbury, 2012), working with MI5 to handle the double-agents ‘TREASURE’ and ‘ARTIST’.
Kenneth worked for a time under Kim Philby in Madrid; after Philby defected to the Soviet Union, Kenneth was ‘blown’ as an MI6 officer and could no longer operate covertly and run double agents. He continued to serve MI6, in Rome, Spain, England (as Recruiting Officer), Peru and Brazil (as Deputy Director of Latin America), retiring in 1968.
Benton then applied his mastery of most of the European languages and knowledge of exotic places to develop a second career as a writer of crime and espionage novels, leading to a spell as chairman of the Crime Writers’ Association in 1974–5. He died in Chichester in 1999.
About Dan Benton
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