LONDON -- Attention former Soviet spies: Gotcha!
That was the message delivered yesterday by the historian at the center of Britain's growing espionage scandal as he said thousands of former Soviet agents worldwide faced exposure by revelations contained in smuggled papers from the heart of the former Soviet Union's intelligence agency, the KGB.
"Nobody who spied for Russia between the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 and the dawn of the Gorbachev revolution in the 1980s can be certain their secret is safe," said Christopher Andrew, a Cambridge academic who wrote a new book with Vasili Mitrokhin, a retired KGB archivist.
The Cold War tales that feature Romeo spies, turncoat politicians and a great-grandmother who came in from the cold, have sent shivers through the heart of the intelligence community. It all turns on information supplied by Mitrokhin, who studiously gathered notes while working in the KGB archive from 1972 to 1984.
In 1992, Mitrokhin tried to defect to the United States, but the Americans weren't interested in his cache. So he turned to the British, bringing with him six trunkloads of notes and material copied from the archive.
The archive's existence was revealed in stunning fashion last week with the revelation that 87-year-old great-grandmother Melita Norwood was once a valued KGB spy who for decades furnished the Soviet Union with documents from Britain's nuclear weapons program.
"She was the longest-serving of all Soviet spies in British history," Andrew said.
Since then, juicy intelligence tidbits have been doled out by The Times of London, which is serializing Mitrokhin and Andrew's forthcoming book. It is being published as "The Mitrokhin Archive" by Penguin in Britain and as "The Sword and the Shield" by Basic Books in the United States.
There are anecdotes about a former British policeman recruited by the Russians to work as a "Romeo agent," seducing women working in British embassies. And there are claims that two former Labor Party members of Parliament -- Tom Driberg, who died in 1976, and Raymond Fletcher, who died in 1991 -- served as Soviet spies.
According to the book, the KGB fabricated evidence allegedly linking the CIA to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, then passed the material to conspiracy theorists.
The book details alleged plans of sabotage in the United States; a smear campaign against the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.; bugging operations against such targets as the president's plane; and unsuccessful attempts to recruit diplomats, including Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance and national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski.
Much of the British news media has portrayed the revelations as a scandal for the British intelligence services, known as MI-5 and MI-6. But in this case, Andrew says, the Russians have sustained the most damage.
"This is a desperate day for the current Russian intelligence service," Andrew said. "The current consequences for them are enormous. No intelligence service in the world can recruit new agents and retain loyalty of old agents if their secrets are not kept."
But the book will likely create domestic political problems for British Prime Minister Tony Blair, with daily newspaper revelations fanning the scandal. Many of the incidents occurred before Blair was born, let alone in power.
Home Secretary Jack Straw ordered yesterday an inquiry into MI-5's handling of the case surrounding Norwood, the great-grandmother who worked as a secretary for Britain's nuclear research program, the British Non-Ferrous Metals Research Association.
Though unmasked as a spy, Norwood might never be prosecuted.
Straw acknowledged being told last December that Norwood had been a Soviet agent for decades. But he said the security services decided in 1992 that information brought by Mitrokhin could not be placed in evidence before the courts. Government ministers of the day were not consulted, Straw said. This year, a British attorney general said 1992 provided the "last opportunity" for a prosecution of Norwood.
"I will accept whatever decision the government makes about taking this matter further," Norwood said yesterday. "I reiterate again, I did what I did for the best intentions."
Pub Date: 9/14/99