George Blake, who died in Russia on Saturday at the age of 98, was the last in a series of British spies whose secret work for the Soviet Union humiliated the intelligence service when it was discovered at the height of the Cold War.
Britain says he revealed the identities of hundreds of Western agents throughout Eastern Europe in the 1950s, some of whom were executed as a result of his treason.
His fall was among the most infamous during the Cold War, alongside a separate ring of British double agents called the Cambridge Five.
Dewormed as a Soviet spy in 1961, Blake was sentenced to 42 years in London’s Wormwood Scrubs prison. In a classic mantle and dagger story, he fled in 1966 with the help of other prisoners and two peace activists and was smuggled out of Britain in a motorhome. He came undiscovered through Western Europe and crossed the Iron Curtain to East Berlin.
He spent the rest of his life in the Soviet Union and then Russia, where he became exhausted as a hero.
Reflecting on his life in an interview with Reuters in Moscow in 1991, Blake said he had believed the world was facing communism.
“It was an ideal that, if it could have been achieved, would have been worth it,” he said.
“I thought it could be, and I did what I could to help it, to build such a society. It has not proved possible. But I think it is a noble idea and I think humanity will return to the.”
To become a committed communist
Blake was born in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, on November 11, 1922, to a Dutch mother and an Egyptian Jewish father who was a naturalized Briton.
He fled the Netherlands during World War II after joining the Dutch resistance as a courier and reached Britain in January 1943. After joining the British Navy, he began working for the British Secret Intelligence Service, MI6, 1944.
After the war, Blake served briefly in the German city of Hamburg, studying Russian at Cambridge University before being sent to Seoul in 1948, where he collected intelligence on Communist North Korea, Communist China, and the Soviet Union.
Ex Soviet spy, #GeorgeBlake dog in Moscow, 98 years. Blakes is one of the most extraordinary stories from the 1960s after the Cold War: spied on the MI6 & KGB, imprisoned by Britain as a double agent, escaped from wormwood scrub, appeared in Moscow.
He was captured and imprisoned when North Korean troops took Seoul after the Korean War began in 1950. It was during his time in a North Korean prison that he became a committed communist, read Karl Marx’s works and felt outraged by the heavy American bombing of North Korea.
After his release in 1953, he returned to Britain and was sent by MI6 to Berlin in 1955, where he gathered information about Soviet spies but also sent secrets to Moscow about British and American operations.
“I met a Soviet comrade about once a month,” he said in a 2012 interview published by the Russian government newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta.
Blake described how, for these meetings, he had traveled to the Soviet-ruled sector in Berlin with a railroad that joined various parts of the divided city. His contact would wait for him in a car and they would go to a safe house.
“I handed over movies and we chatted. Sometimes we had a glass of Tsimlyansk champagne (Soviet sparkling wine).”
Blake was eventually exposed by a Polish defector and taken home to Britain, where he was convicted and imprisoned.
When he escaped from the wormhole, he left his wife, Gillian, and three children. After Gillian divorced him, Blake married a Soviet woman, Ida, with whom he had a son, Misha. He worked at a foreign affairs institute before retiring with her to a dacha, or farm outside Moscow.
Sipping martini with Philby
Blake, who went by the Russian name Georgy Ivanovich, was awarded a medal by Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2007 and held the rank of lieutenant colonel in the former KGB security service, from which he retired.
“These are the happiest years of my life and the most peaceful,” Blake said in a 2012 interview to celebrate his 90th birthday. He then said that his vision failed and that he was “almost blind”. He did not express remorse over his past.
“When I look back on my life, everything seems logical and natural,” he said, describing himself as happy and happy.
Although he worked separately from the Cambridge Five – a spy of former Cambridge students who provided information to the Soviet Union – Blake said that during his retirement he got to know two of them, Donald Maclean and Kim Philby.
He recalled drinking martini, the preferred cocktail of the fictional British spy James Bond, with Philby but said he was closer to Maclean.
Maclean died in Russia in 1983 and Philby in 1988. Of the rest of the Cambridge Five, Guy Burgess died in Russia in 1963 and Anthony Blunt in London in 1983.
John Cairncross, the last to be publicly identified by investigative journalists and former Soviet intelligence officials, died in England in 1995.