Notorious British traitor George Blake has died half a century at the age of 98 after claiming 600 agents acted as double agents to Russians during the Cold War, Russian intelligence said today.
The 98-year-old spy had lived in Moscow since escaping from Wormwood Scrubs in 1966.
"The bitter news has come – the legendary George Blake has disappeared," said Sergey Ivanov, spokesman for the SVR foreign intelligence service, formerly KGB. "He died of old age, his heart stopped."
Blake was sentenced to a record 42 years in London in 1961 for spilling MI6 secrets in the Soviet Union and sending dozens of Western agents to their deaths.
George Blake (pictured) has died at the age of 98. The spy had lived in Moscow since escaping Wormwood Scrubs in 1966
He went on the run after climbing the London prison wall in 1966, shortly after England won the World Cup.
Later it went to East Berlin and into the hands of its grateful Soviet spy masters.
Blake celebrated his 98th birthday last month with a message from spy master Sergey Naryshkin, who said, "From the bosses of SVR and myself, please accept warm and sincere wishes."
When he died, he was the oldest KGB veteran.
In his final years visually impaired, he continued to "spy" on Britain by tune into the BBC radio, friends said.
The British traitor was hiding in his dacha country house near Moscow, a gift from the KGB to protect him from coronavirus.
Blake was sentenced to a record 42 years in London in 1961 for spilling MI6 secrets in the Soviet Union and sending dozens of Western agents to their deaths
Although he has been a refugee from the UK justice system since 1966, he kept in touch with the three sons he had left when he fled to Moscow via East Berlin.
Earlier this year, Ivanov had said: “George Blake walks a lot in the fresh air, listens to his favorite classical music, communicates regularly with relatives and friends on the phone and consults his doctors from a distance …
"The SVR is in constant remote contact with him and his relatives and provides health surveillance for this honored person."
During the Soviet era, Dutch-born Blake was awarded the Order of Lenin and the Red Banner.
Rossiyskaya Gazeta said his last honor from Moscow was as "the patriarch of Russian foreign intelligence".
In Russian he was known as Colonel Georgiy Ivanovich Bleyk. Until the end, Blake insisted that he didn't regret it and show no remorse.
He was extolled in an official portrait.
During the Soviet era, the Dutch-born Blake (picture 2001) was awarded the Order of Lenin and the Red Banner
Despite the fact that at least 40 British agents are known to have been executed in Russia as a result of his betrayal, Blake had always maintained that this was not the case and that no one died under the circumstances.
In a U-turn in 1991, Blake said he regretted the deaths of the agents he betrayed.
He also insisted that he not consider himself a traitor as he had never "felt" himself British.
“To betray, you have to belong first. I never belonged, ”he said.
Blake, whose life story reads like a spy thriller, never showed remorse for his activities.
He once praised communism: “I think it is never wrong to give your life to a noble ideal. And a noble experiment, even if it doesn't succeed. & # 39;
Despite his protests, Blake is always viewed by Britain and the West in general as a man who, by betraying him, has done more harm to the security of the free world than any other person of his generation.
George Blake was born on November 11, 1922 in Rotterdam as George Behar, named after George V.
His father, a Turkish Jew, was a naturalized British citizen, which made his son a British citizen.
As a teenager he was a runner for the Dutch resistance to the Nazis. He was briefly detained but released because of his age.
It was supposed to be rededicated on his 18th birthday, but fled to London disguised as a monk. Then he changed his name to Blake.
He joined the Royal Navy and after a break in submarine training was asked to join British intelligence after a series of meetings.
"I was very honored," said Blake.
He worked in London in close contact with the Dutch secret service and also translated Nazi documents.
When the war was over, Blake played a role in dismantling the Dutch agent network.
After his brief return to Great Britain, he was sent to Germany to spy on Soviet forces in East Germany.
Blake was in the Navy at the time, recruiting former German officers for information on Soviet military activities.
He later said, “I seem to have done very well because I was then selected to be sent to Cambridge to learn Russian. I did that and, in a certain way, shaped another stage in my development towards communism, towards my desire to work for the Soviet Union. & # 39;
Blake's next big assignment for British intelligence was in Korea during the Korean War.
He was stationed at the British embassy in Seoul but was captured by the invading North Koreans.
During his three years imprisonment he read the works of Karl Max and converted to Marxism.
But his conversion was mainly the result of the "relentless" bombing of American flying forts, which he viewed as defenseless people in North Korea.
It "embarrassed" Blake, who at that point felt he was working for the wrong side.
“That's why I decided to switch sides. I felt it would be better for humanity if the communist system prevailed, that it would put an end to war, wars. & # 39;
He found it relatively easy to get close to the Russians and read "their books".
Back in London, he had regular meetings with his new Soviet masters and gave them films and other information.
At the height of the Cold War he was brought back to Berlin. There he revealed to the Soviet Union a secret tunnel that the West – mainly the British and Americans – had built to open up Soviet communications.
This was a great coup, but it led to its downfall.
He was exposed to the British as a Soviet agent and arrested by a Polish defector, Michael Goleniewski.
His 1961 trial of Old Bailey, which was kept secret, was divided into three periods charged as separate offenses under the Official Secrets Act.
He was sentenced to 14 years' imprisonment for each consecutive run, namely 42 years.
It was the longest sentence passed by any UK court at the time, aside from life sentences.
Five years later, with the help of people inside and outside the prison, he escaped Wormwood Scrubs by climbing up and over a wall with the help of an externally overturned rope.
Blake hid for two months before being driven across Europe to East Berlin in a wooden box under a car.
Blake lived in a government apartment in central Moscow and presumably had a villa outside of the city. He lived on a KGB pension.
In 1990 he published his autobiography No Other Choice, for which his UK publishers paid him £ 60,000 until the UK government stepped in to prevent him from profiting from the sale.
He later accused the UK government of human rights abuses for having confiscated money from him. He received £ 5,000 in compensation.
In Moscow he started a new family and married a girl named Ida whom he met on a boat on the Volga.
He had said publicly that he agreed with Vladimir Putin, who had been a KGB agent in East Germany.
Even in his old age, Blake continued to show an interest in intelligence and spent years in Russia giving master classes in espionage.
He said: "The years I've spent in Russia have been the happiest of my life and the most important thing for me is that I feel at home among the Russians."
On Blake's 95th birthday in 2017, the head of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), Sergei Naryshkin, congratulated him and said the spy was a role model for the agency's officials.
In a statement by the same agency, Blake claimed that SVR spies "had to save the world in a situation where the danger of nuclear war and the resulting self-destruction of mankind were once again put on the agenda by irresponsible politicians".
The grave digger of the British Secret Service: Author STEVE VOGEL on the MI6 double agent George Blake
George Blake spent a decade sharing Western secrets with the KGB, a deluge of information including the unforgivable names of men and women who work behind the Iron Curtain for British Secret Service.
The Soviets, code-named Agent Diomid, considered Blake so valuable that even the head of the KGB in London, the "Rezident", knew nothing of his activities.
For five years I went through previously unseen documents in British, American and German archives and interviewed dozens of key people, including Blake himself.
And what comes out of it is not just the enormous scope of his espionage and depth of engagement, but also the extraordinary damage he has done to Britain and the West.
Blake was particularly good at spying.
Career of treason: George Blake sits in the kitchen of his dacha
The son of a Dutch woman and a Turkish citizen who fought for the British Empire, he had a cosmopolitan background, experience in dangerous situations and an institution for languages such as Russian, German, French and Dutch.
After the Nazi German conquest of the Netherlands in 1940, Blake, who was still a student, served heroically and conveyed messages for the resistance.
In 1942 he made a daring escape from occupied Europe through France and Spain before reaching England, where he joined the Royal Navy – and where his potential was discovered by the Secret Intelligence Services (SIS), also known as MI6.
In 1949 Blake was transferred to Korea to spy on the Soviets in the Far East.
However, the following year he was captured by the Russian-backed North Korean Army, which invaded the south and involved the peninsula in war.
And during his three years in captivity, he made a monumental decision: Blake offered his services to the Soviet Union for reasons that he would always describe as purely ideological. The effects would be devastating.
Blake's career as a traitor began on September 1, 1953 in London in a Georgian mansion at 2 Carlton Gardens near St. James & # 39; s Park.
He had been assigned to work in a special department of the secret service that was set up to exploit the potential of penetrating the Soviet Union by wiretapping their landlines.
The project needed a surrogate who spoke Russian well, and Blake fit the bill. His KGB controllers must have been delighted because the role placed him at the center of many of the top secret operations that were being carried out in Europe at the time.
Blake's approach was surprisingly straightforward: he took photos of what documents he could and then passed them on to his Russian dealer at a meeting point near the underground stations in north London or on the upper deck of double-decker buses.
He'd been given a small Minox camera to snap photos of interesting documents that ended up on his desk – and many did.
He waited for the secretaries next to his office to have lunch, or he stayed a long time and left the door of his office open so he could immediately hear if anyone was walking outside.
For larger reports, it was sometimes easier for him to just take the entire document away. The elderly security guard at the door never checked anyone's briefcase.
Every now and then he saw his handler for quick “brush passes” who wordlessly handed over undeveloped films or documents as they drove by on narrow streets. Every three or four weeks they met to talk.
Blake was so productive that he helped achieve what the Russians in 1953-1955 called the "complete elimination" of western espionage networks in East Germany.
In April 1955 he came to Berlin on a new SIS assignment, in front of his British wife Gillian, who had no idea that she was married to a Soviet spy.
His new official assignment was also extremely delicate: to penetrate the KGB headquarters there.
Blake was given the task of contacting Russians in East Berlin, especially Soviet intelligence officers, with the aim of recruiting them as agents. But his real work was for the Soviets, and it wasn't just documents that George Blake gave to the KGB.
There were names too – the identities of the agents who work for SIS. Most of them were East Germans, although they included Soviet and other nationalities. As with the documents, Blake couldn't tell how many agents he'd betrayed.
"I can't say, but it must have been 500, 600," he said later.
By 1960, Blake had had enough. Hoping to leave spying behind, he was given a post in Lebanon to learn Arabic – but it was too late.
After years of betrayal, he himself had been exposed by a Polish defector. Blake was lured back to London in 1961, arrested and confessed during interrogation.
His wife, Gillian, was appalled by the incredible news that this man, to whom I have been so happily married for almost seven years, was in prison awaiting trial as a Russian spy.
Blake pleaded guilty to five charges of violating the Official Secrets Act at the Old Bailey and expected a maximum sentence of 14 years, but Lord Parker, Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, had an unpleasant surprise in store.
"Your conduct in many other countries would undoubtedly result in the death penalty," he said.
"In our law, however, I have no choice but to sentence you to imprisonment, and there must be a very heavy sentence for your treasonous conduct spanning so many years."
Parker imposed a penalty of 14 years for each count, three consecutive and two at the same time, for a total of 42 years.
But by 1966 he had fled. He was eventually smuggled across the canal in a mobile home, then through northern Europe and through western Germany to the border crossing. In East Germany he identified himself to the border guards and ended his escape to Russia.
He arrived in Moscow in January 1967. Two months after his arrival, he found out that Gillian had been divorced in his absence.
Life improved noticeably when, in the spring of 1968, on a Volga river cruise, he met Ida, a Russian who worked as a French translator for an economic institution.
The two settled together in a spacious apartment organized by the KGB, and Blake received privileges and medical benefits similar to those of a military general.
After their son Misha was born in 1971, he was given a dacha, a holiday home in the countryside around Moscow.
For over 30 years he worked at the Institute for World Economy and International Relations, a leading Moscow think tank.
© Steve Vogel, 2019
- Treason in Berlin by Steve Vogel was published by John Murray at a price of £ 25.
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