This year, 26 years after his death in 1983, the embargoed manuscript memoir of Anthony Blunt is being reviewed more generously than the man deserves.
Blunt tells how and why he became a spy for the Soviet Union – recruited at Cambridge by Guy Burgess who, he says, persuaded him not to join the Communist party but to spy for the NKVD, forerunner of the KGB.
Blunt says his hatred of fascism motivated him to spy for Stalin against his own country. He joined MI5, Britain’s security service, and betrayed it from within as a “talent scout” for the NKVD.
As Surveyor of the Queens’ Pictures, Blunt was knighted. When exposed as a spy and disgraced, his knighthood was rescinded, but he was never prosecuted.
Margaret Thatcher, then Britain’s PM, reviled Blunt but exonerated another suspect Soviet mole – Sir Roger Hollis, Director of MI5 from 1956-65. Hollis died under a cloud of suspicion. Former MI5 agent, Peter Wright, wrote a book, Spycatcher, which claimed Hollis was a Soviet agent, and which Mrs. Thatcher tried but failed to prevent from being published.
For some, the jury remains out on Hollis – but not for me.
Igor Gouzenko, who escaped in 1945 from the Soviet embassy in Ottawa with documents that showed a massive Soviet spy ring, asked in 1972 if I’d accompany him to a meeting with British intelligence officers.
Gouzenko had been debriefed by the British in 1945, and was wary about meeting them in 1972. He feared they might try to assassinate him, and he wanted a friendly witness.
I told him I’d be as welcome as a polecat at a garden party. He said he had no intention of committing suicide, as Czechoslovakia’s Jan Masaryk supposedly did in 1948 when Soviet agents threw him out a window in Prague. If he were to die, Gouzenko wanted it seen as murder, not suicide.
After the meeting, we met again and Gouzenko was indignant. The Brits had shown him his original debriefing. “It was fabricated,” he said. “It was such nonsense that the person who interviewed me had to be a Soviet agent. The interview had me talking of British spies in the Kremlin. There were no British spies in the Kremlin.”
“Why didn’t you say something at the time, in 1945?” I asked.
“I wanted to check the transcript for corrections, but since I didn’t have security clearance, I wasn’t allowed to see what they had written.”
I chuckled – typical, I thought, of bureaucracy.
“Who was the British agent who interviewed you?” I asked.
“I don’t know. They wouldn’t tell me. But he was a Soviet agent.”
As it turned out, it was Roger Hollis – apparently sent by Kim Philby (whom Blunt apparently later tipped off that he was about to be arrested).
Ever since, I’ve had no doubt that Hollis was a Soviet mole.
In the early 1990s I appeared on a British TV program, The Trial of Roger Hollis, to tell Gouzenko’s story, since he had died. Then, as before, TV prosecutors weren’t interested in the possibility of Hollis’ guilt and ignored Gouzenko’s 1972 interview with British intelligence.
Part of the reason for covering up may be that by acknowledging Hollis’ guilt, many honorable careers in British intelligence would have been diminished into nothing.
If the KGB had a pipeline into MI5 and MI6, better to ignore treason and espionage, than to admit your loyalty and patriotism were betrayed.