Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: UK
Front Page 
Northern Ireland 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

The BBC's Jon SIlverman
"At the outbreak of war she was more highly valued than Kim Philby"
 real 28k

Melita Norwood
She explains why she worked for the KGB during the 1940s
 real 28k

Journalist David Rose
"The people that she lives among have not a clue as to her past"
 real 28k

Monday, 20 September, 1999, 08:28 GMT
Grandmother: I was right to spy

Melita Norwood Melita Norwood: "Thought information might be useful to Russia"

Britain Betrayed
An 87-year-old great-grandmother unmasked as the KGB's longest serving spy in Britain has defiantly defended her actions.

Melita Norwood says she passed secrets about developments in Britain's atom bomb technology to the KGB.

Speaking outside her home in Bexleyheath, south-east London, lifelong communist Mrs Norwood said money was not the reason she had worked for the Russians.

She said she thought some of the information she had access to "might be useful in helping Russia keep abreast of Britain, America and Germany".

She added: "In general I do not agree with spying against one's country."

Mrs Norwood, who said her late husband Hilary was opposed to her actions, was considered among the most successful spies of the Cold War era.

She began passing information to the Russians while working as personal assistant to the director of the British Non-Ferrous Metals Research Association, which was developing Britain's nuclear technology.

But she said: "I only worked in the general office and I was not technical."

Mrs Norwood said she wanted to help Russia's "new system".

She said: "I did what I did not to make money but to help prevent the defeat of a new system which had at great cost given ordinary people food and fares which they could afford, good education and a health service."

Mrs Norwood's extraordinary story was uncovered by a team working on the BBC documentary The Spying Game.

Nuclear acceleration

She admitted to the programme's journalists that she began providing information to the KGB in the 1930s, and continued until she retired in 1972.

Mrs Norwood secretly joined the Communist Party in the 1930s and was recruited by Soviet intelligence in about 1937.

The secrets that her job gave her access to were well-received in Moscow. She became the most important female agent ever recruited by the USSR.

Mrs Norwood told the BBC that during the war she had handed over documents about Britain's atom bomb project to the KGB.

This material helped the Soviets to build an exact replica, speeding up the development of the Soviet nuclear weapons programme.

'Little old lady'

The files she passed on meant that Stalin was better briefed on the construction of the British bomb than some Cabinet ministers, who were not trusted with the secrets by the then Prime Minister Clement Attlee.

Mrs Norwood's role was revealed by a KGB archivist, Vasili Mitrokhin, who defected to the West in 1992.

Nobody else, apart from her late husband, had known about Mrs Norwood's secret life, and journalist David Rose said nobody would have guessed at it.

"She potters about in her garden and she grows apples and she makes jam," he said. "She's a little old lady".

The Spying Game will be broadcast on BBC Two at 2000 BST on Sunday 19 September. It will include an exclusive interview with KGB defector, Vasili Mitrokhin.
Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console

See also:
11 Sep 99 |  UK
Q&A: A spy revealed
16 Sep 99 |  UK
How they found the spy of the century
13 Sep 99 |  UK
Melita Norwood: A secret life
13 Sep 99 |  Britain betrayed
The Cambridge spy ring
22 Jun 99 |  UK Politics
'Spies need scrutiny'
22 Jan 98 |  UK
Spy secrets come in from the cold
14 May 99 |  UK
Who's being spied on?
11 Sep 99 |  UK
'More KGB revelations to come'

Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites
Links to other UK stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more UK stories