George Blake, notorious cold war double agent, dies aged 98

Former MI6 spy exposed hundreds of western agents and settled in Soviet Union after escape from jail

The former British spy and Soviet Union double agent George Blake has died at the age of 98.

The RIA news agency reported that Blake died in Russia, citing the country’s SVR foreign intelligence agency. “We received some bitter news – the legendary George Blake passed away,” it said.

Blake was the last in a line of British spies to operate secretly for the Soviet Union, exposing the identities of hundreds of western agents across eastern Europe in the 1950s and humiliating the intelligence establishment when his work was discovered at the height of the cold war.

Some of the agents Blake exposed were executed as a result of his treason, making him one of the most notorious double agents of the era, alongside the ring of double agents known as the Cambridge Five.

When Blake’s cover was blown in 1961, he was sentenced to 42 years’ imprisonment in London’s Wormwood Scrubs. He escaped in 1966 with the help of other inmates and two activists, and was smuggled out of the UK in a camper van.

Blake, right, pictured in Moscow with the fellow double agent Kim Philby.
Blake, right, pictured in Moscow with the fellow double agent Kim Philby. Photograph: Daily Mail/Rex/Shutterstock

After making it across the iron curtain into East Berlin undiscovered, he spent the rest of his life in the Soviet Union, now Russia, where he was feted as a hero.

In an interview with Reuters in Moscow in 1991, Blake said he had believed communism was “an ideal which, if it could have been achieved, would have been well worth it. 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 it.”

Born in Rotterdam in the Netherlands in 1922 to a Dutch mother and an Egyptian Jewish father who was a naturalised Briton, he escaped from the Netherlands in the second world war and reached Britain in January 1943. After joining the British navy, he started working for the British Secret Intelligence Service, MI6, in 1944.

After the war, Blake read Russian at Cambridge University before being sent in 1948 to Seoul where he gathered intelligence on communist North Korea, China and the Soviet far east.

He was captured and imprisoned when North Korean troops took Seoul after the Korean war began in 1950, becoming a committed communist during his imprisonment.

Blake, Philby and their respective wives in 1975
Blake, Philby and their respective wives in 1975. Photograph: ANL/Rex/Shutterstock

After his release in 1953 he returned to the UK, and in 1955 he was sent by MI6 to Berlin, where he collected information on Soviet spies but also passed secrets to Moscow about British and US operations.

Blake, who went by the Russian name Georgy Ivanovich, was awarded a medal by the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, in 2007 and received a pension from the former KGB security service.

“These are the happiest years of my life, and the most peaceful,” Blake said in the 2012 interview marking his 90th birthday.

He did not express regret about his past. “Looking back on my life, everything seems logical and natural,” he said, describing himself as happy and lucky.

Contributor

Jedidajah Otte and agencies

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
George Blake exemplified the desolation, waste and treachery of the cold war | Stephen Dorril
The intelligence officer turned KGB agent who has died at 98 never belonged to Kim Philby’s elite traitors’ club

Stephen Dorril

27, Dec, 2020 @7:15 AM

Article image
George Blake obituary
British double agent who betrayed hundreds of western spies to the Soviet Union, where he lived after escaping from jail

Richard Norton-Taylor

26, Dec, 2020 @3:22 PM

Article image
Spy who got the cold shoulder: how the west abandoned its star defector
Michal Goleniewski exposed Soviet agents in the UK, but the CIA airbrushed him from history, says author

Donna Ferguson

23, May, 2021 @9:30 AM

Article image
Sergei Skripal: does revenge for treason lie behind harm to ex-spy?
Observers note ominous pattern of ‘bad luck’ befalling family of pardoned Russian colonel

Luke Harding

06, Mar, 2018 @5:06 PM

Article image
George Blake: Russian spies must save world from nuclear hell
On the eve of his 95th birthday, former KGB double agent says SVR officers are heroes of modern battle between good and evil

Ian Cobain

11, Nov, 2017 @5:00 AM

Article image
Suspected Skripal poisoning: who might have ordered it and why?
Theory explored that the Russian state targeted ‘traitorous’ spy to demonstrate risks of links with foreign intelligence agencies

Shaun Walker

07, Mar, 2018 @5:00 AM

Article image
Russia tested nerve agent on door handles before Skripal attack, UK dossier claims
Previously classified intelligence about poisoning of former Russian spy sent to Nato

Ewen MacAskill Intelligence correspondent

13, Apr, 2018 @12:00 PM

Article image
‘No regrets’ says man who aided double agent George Blake to escape
Spy who worked for Soviet Union while at MI6 climbed the wall at Wormwood Scrubs in 1966 with help of three former inmates

Richard Norton-Taylor

21, Oct, 2016 @11:10 PM

MI6 cold war spy revealed as 'big fish' double agent
· Russian unknowingly betrayed UK for 15 years
· Then he did it on purpose for another 15 years

Luke Harding in Moscow

03, Apr, 2007 @10:55 PM

Article image
Kim Philby ‘tipped off USSR’ as FBI closed in on nuclear physicist
New book reveals role of British double agent in Bruno Pontecorvo’s defection to Moscow

Dalya Alberge

31, Jan, 2015 @2:03 PM