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George Blake, British Spy Who Betrayed the West, Dies at 98

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Retreating to Britain, he changed his name to Blake, joined the Royal Navy, trained in submarines and was recruited by Britain’s wartime Secret Service as a novice agent. Fluent in Dutch, German, Arabic and Hebrew as well as English, he translated German documents and interrogated German prisoners.

After the war he studied Russian at Cambridge — by then, Philby, Burgess and Maclean had graduated into spy tradecraft — and his teacher, a native of pre-Revolutionary Petersburg, inspired in him a love of Russian language and culture, a step in his conversion. He was then sent to Germany to build a network of British spies in Berlin and Hamburg. Using the cover of a naval attaché, he recruited scores of agents.

Just before the Korean War began in 1950, Blake was sent to Seoul, South Korea’s capital, under diplomatic cover to organize another spy network. But he was captured by invading North Korean forces. Held for three years in North Korea, he was subjected to communist indoctrination.

Blake later denied that it influenced his conversion to communism, insisting that the American bombing of North Korea had been the prime factor. “The relentless bombing of small Korean villages by enormous American flying fortresses” killing “women and children and old people” horrified him, he said. “It made me feel ashamed” he added. “I felt I was committed to the wrong side.”

Blake said he met with a K.G.B. officer in North Korea, agreed to become a Soviet agent and immediately began disclosing secrets. He wanted no pay, and to avoid suspicion insisted on being given no privileges and released with other captive diplomats. As the Korean War wound down in 1953, he was repatriated to Britain and received as a national hero.

In 1955, he was sent to Berlin to recruit Soviet officers as double agents. Instead, he began passing British and American secrets to the Soviets, including the identities of some 400 spies and details of many Western espionage operations, including two of the most productive intelligence sources of the Cold War — tunnels in Berlin and Vienna that were used to tap K.G.B. and Soviet military telephones.

Blake’s double life was exposed in 1961 by a Polish intelligence defector, Michael Goleniewski. Tried in closed court, he was given three consecutive 14-year terms. But in 1966, with outside help from three men he had met in prison, he escaped with a rope ladder thrown over the wall. A waiting car sped him to a hide-out, and he was smuggled out of the country and fled to Moscow.


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