BRITAIN’s oldest traitor George Blake who claimed to have betrayed 600 agents to the Russians has died aged 98 in Moscow.
The turncoat who defected to the Soviet Union had been living in Russia since he escaped from Wormwood Scrubs prison in 1966.
Blake was sentenced to a record 42-year jail sentence in London in 1961 for spilling British secrets, sending dozens of Western agents to their deaths.
He himself claimed to have betrayed up to 600 of his comrades to the Soviets during the Cold War.
The traitor went on the run after climbing over Wormwood Scrubs’ prison wall in 1966, soon after England won the World Cup.
In a dash across Europe, he then crossed into East Berlin and into the hands of his grateful Soviet spymasters.
“The bitter news has come – the legendary George Blake is gone,” Sergey Ivanov, spokesman for the SVR foreign intelligence agency, formerly the KGB, announced on Boxing Day.
“He died of old age, his heart stopped.”
Blake marked his 98th birthday last month with a message from spymaster Sergey Naryshkin who sent him Russia’s “warm and sincere wishes”.
At his death, he was the oldest KGB veteran.
Pals said while visually impaired in his latter years, he continued to “spy” on Britain by tuning into BBC radio.
I think that the word ‘traitor’ can be applied in describing me – but there are reasons which can justify what I’ve done
The spook had been holed up at his dacha – country house – near Moscow which was a gift from the KGB amid efforts to keep him safe from coronavirus.
“I think that the word ‘traitor’ can be applied in describing me – but there are reasons which can justify what I’ve done,” he once said.
Despite being a fugitive from justice in Britain since 1966, he kept in contact with the three sons who he deserted when he fled to Moscow.
Earlier this year Ivanov had said: “George Blake walks a lot in the fresh air, listens to his favourite classical music, regularly communicates with relatives and friends on the phone, and consults his physicians remotely…
“The SVR is in constant remote contact with him and his relatives, and provides health monitoring for this honoured person.”
In Soviet times, Dutch-born Blake was awarded with the Order of Lenin and Order of the Red Banner.
Rossiyskaya Gazeta said his latest honour from Moscow was as “patriarch of Russian foreign intelligence”.
In Russian, he was known as Colonel Georgiy Ivanovich Bleyk.
To the end Blake insisted he had “no regrets” and showed no remorse as he was eulogized in an official portrait by artist Alexander Shilov in 2008.
Shilov described him as someone who was “polite, humble and warming” – but masking a “man of iron”.
Blake betrayed Britain after becoming a Communist and defecting to the KGB while being held prisoner during the Korean War.
He served in the Royal Navy before being recruited by MI6 in 1944, working with them interrogating captured captains of Nazi U-boats in World War 2.
The spy was then taken prisoner in 1950 at the outbreak of the Korean War which split the country into North and South Korea.
While a prisoner he read the works of Communist thinker Karl Marx and was appalled by the West’s bombing campaign against North Korea.
Some 600,000 tons of bombs were dropped on the country, killing an estimated 3million North Koreans – and almost every town and city was firebombed with napalm.
Blake told the Soviets he wanted to defect and was eventually released, returning to Britain as a hero in 1953.
The traitor then began to inform on British and American operations – including an attempt to tap Soviet phonelines known as Operation Gold.
He is believed to have betrayed at least 40 MI6 agents to the KGB and had immeasurable impacts on Britain’s intelligence efforts in the Cold War.
“I don’t know what I handed over because it was so much,” he said in 2009.
He naively believed the KGB when they told him they never shot anyone. “I believed they kept their word.”
Blake spent nine years informing on Western activities before he was eventually found out and sentenced to 42 years in prison.
It was the longest sentence ever handed down by a British court, until the jailing of Nezar Hindawi for the attempted bombing a El Al airliner at London Heathrow in 1986.
Blake managed to escape Wormwood Scrubs with aid from pals he made inside prison, and managed to make it back to East Germany after being smuggled out of the UK in a camper van.
Blake had three children – Anthony, James and Patrick – with his wife Gillian Allan, an MI6 secretary, who he all deserted when he absconded from prison.
As adults, they all travelled to Moscow for reunions with their father – but as children his identity was hidden from him.
“The story of how Blake got back in contact with them, and made his peace with his boys, is a great untold aspect of his life, and he is very proud of it,” said a Russian source who knew the spy.
Yet it is also believed that the sons went through considerable angst and soul-searching over their father’s deadly espionage.
Blake said of his meeting with James, the first son to track him down in Moscow: “We got on well….I explained the whole situation to him, why I’d done it and how I’d done it, and we talked for a very long time.
“He went back and must have given a favourable account, and then the others came out.”
The agent also had a Russian son Mikhail, now in his 40s, who became a lecturer in high finance, an irony given Blake’s commitment to long-gone communism.
Blake continued to take an active role in Russian intelligence even after the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
He was awarded the Order of Friendship on his 85th birthday by Vladimir Putin in 2007.
Tony Blair as prime minister refused an attempt to permit Blake – probably Britain’s longest fugitive from justice – to visit the UK to meet his grandchildren.
Blake was told that should he travel to Britain or another Western country he would face immediate arrest over the unserved 37 years of his sentence.
When asked in 2006 what made him defect, Blake said: “It was the relentless bombing of small Korean villages by enormous American Flying Fortresses.
“Women and children and old people, because the young men were in the army. We might have been victims ourselves.
“It made me feel ashamed of belonging to these overpowering, technically superior countries fighting against what seemed to me defenceless people.
“I felt I was on the wrong side.”