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 You are in: Special Report: 1999: 09/99: Britain betrayed
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Monday, 20 December, 1999, 15:34 GMT
Spying scandal spreads

Melita Norwood Melita Norwood: The spy who came in from the garden


Although no prosecutions will take place, the UK media has been ablaze in 1999 with revelations about Cold War spies.

Britain Betrayed
The former secret agents appeared to be coming in not just from the cold, but from the House of Commons, local colleges and police stations.

In the case of Melita Norwood, they even appeared to be coming in from the rose garden, giving the story more than a hint of Miss Marple rather than Smiley's People.

Spy who really did come in from the cold

The rash of cases stemmed from the work of a former KGB agent, Vasily Mitrokhin, who became disillusioned with the Soviet system in the 1970s and 1980s.


Vasily Mitrokhin Mitrokhin: His archive is responsible
He copied thousands of KGB files and when the USSR collapsed in 1992, he decided to defect to the West. Rejected by the Americans, he ended up in the UK and told the intelligence services about the secrets hidden under his floorboards.

MI6 sent an agent, Richard Tomlinson, who brought back six trunkloads of files. It is this material which has resulted in the rash of alleged spying cases.

The revelations have not appeared as a result of the security services bringing prosecutions, however, but because the then Conservative government decided to make the archive public. Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind allowed Cambridge historian Christopher Andrew access to write a book with Mr Mitrokhin.

My granny, the spy

There has also been a BBC Two series, The Spying Game, on the same subject. To general astonishment, this revealed that an 87-year-old great-grandmother from London's southern suburbs, Melita Norwood, had been a Soviet spy for nearly 40 years.

Mrs Norwood admitted that her memory was not what it had been, but confessed to stealing nuclear secrets because she thought they would be useful in keeping the USSR up with the West.

It emerged that in her capacity as a secretary at the British Non-Ferrous Metals Research Association in London, she had photographed documents on the British atom bomb and passed them on to the KGB.

Failing though her memory might be, Mrs Norwood cannot fail to remember that no-one from the security services has interviewed her about her treachery.

This is one area which continues to rankle in many quarters. Mrs Norwood's activities were known about in 1992, but nothing was done - apparently because the security services did not want to disturb other investigations.

That inactivity has been criticised by politicians, placing pressure on Home Secretary Jack Straw to act - pressure he has ignored.

Further revelations

With the public still digesting the Norwood case, other spies started to be named.


John Symonds Symonds - enjoyed some aspects of his training
John Symonds, a corrupt former Scotland Yard detective, was identified in the Mitrokhin archive as a "Romeo spy". His speciality was to seduce women working at Western embassies in an attempt to worm secrets out of them.

Among Mr Symonds' claims was that he had been specially trained in the art of love-making by two KGB agents - part of the training he said he enjoyed very much.

That case was followed by those of two former Labour MPs, both now dead.

Tom Driberg had long been rumoured to have been a spy and the Mitrokhin documents confirmed what was well known in Westminster circles.

His homosexuality and appetite for picking up men in public toilets had apparently made him an easy mark for KGB agents.

More of a surprise was Raymond Fletcher, who was thought to be a moderate.

University spying hotbeds

Most of those people recently exposed as alleged spies have been academics.

Vic Allen not only admitted his crime, but remains proud of his activities. "I have no shame... My only regret is that we didn't succeed," he told The Spying Game.

A former economics professor at Leeds University, Mr Allen was also a leading member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and ran for the leadership in 1985.

Exposed at the same time was Dick Clements, former editor of The Tribune left-wing newspaper and adviser to former Labour leader Neil Kinnock.

He admitted meeting Soviet agents, but denied being controlled by them. Mr Kinnock called the accusations "inventiveness".


Robin Pearson Robin Pearson: Expert in German history and spying
Back in the world of academia, Robin Pearson, an economics and social history lecturer at Hull University, was shown by The Spying Game to have been an agent for the East German secret police, the Stasi.

Another lecturer, Gwyneth Edwards of Loughborough University, was reported by the Independent on Sunday to have been recruited by the same organisation, but she has denied this.

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