In the dim light of the Wormwood Scrubs arc lamps, George Blake saw a rope ladder sail over the wall toward him.
The slender rungs twisted for a moment before the ladder set down and remained motionless.
Handmade from knitting needles and pieces of nylon clothing line, it looked fragile but, as Blake himself would say later: & # 39; The moment I saw it, I knew that nothing would stop me now. & # 39;
Blake was a fertile Cold War traitor and was sentenced to 42 years in prison, the longest term in modern British history, with no prospect of early release.
ESCAPE: Blake in the sixties. Blake, a fertile Cold War traitor, was sentenced to 42 years in prison, the longest term in modern British history, with no prospect of early release.
But now, just five years after entering & # 39; The Scrubs & # 39 ;, he made a notorious escape.
On October 22, 1966, when his fellow prisoners had finished watching a movie, Blake slid out of the main building through a carefully prepared hole in a window, climbed into a drain pipe, and hid in the darkness of a niche.
Then, with no patrols in sight, he grabbed the thin ladder and climbed the perimeter wall for freedom.
George Blake spent a decade passing Western secrets to the KGB, a flood of information including, unforgivably, the names of men and women working for British intelligence behind the Iron Curtain.
Code-named Agent Diomid, the Soviets considered Blake so valuable that even the head of the KGB in London, the & # 39; rezident & # 39 ;, knew nothing of his activities.
For five years I searched unseen documents in British, American and German archives, conducted interviews with dozens of key figures, including Blake himself.
And what emerges is not only the enormous size of his espionage and the depth of his efforts, but the extraordinary damage he has done to Britain and the West.
Blake was particularly well suited for spying.
The son of a Dutch woman and a Turkish citizen who fought for the British Empire had a cosmopolitan background, experience in dangerous situations and a facility for languages, including Russian, German, French and Dutch.
After the German Nazi conquest of the Netherlands in 1940, Blake, still a schoolboy, served heroically and brought messages for the resistance.
In 1942 he made a daring escape from occupied Europe by France and Spain before reaching England, where he joined the Royal Navy – and where his potential was noticed by the Secret Intelligence Services (SIS), also known as MI6.
Blake was posted to Korea in 1949, his mission to spy on the Soviets in the Far East.
The following year, however, he was taken prisoner by the North Korean-backed North Korean army that invaded the south and waged the peninsula at war.
And it was during his three years in captivity that he made a monumental decision: for reasons he would always describe as purely ideological, Blake offered his services to the Soviet Union. The effects would be devastating.
Blake & # 39; s betrayal career began on September 1, 1953 in London in a Georgian mansion in 2 Carlton Gardens near St James & # 39; s Park.
He was appointed to work in a special section of the secret intelligence service, set up to exploit the potential of penetration into the Soviet Union by tapping landlines.
CAREER OF INFRINGEMENT: George Blake sitting in the kitchen of his dacha
The project needed a delegate who spoke Russian well and Blake adjusted the bill. His KGB controllers must have been very pleased, because the role has put him at the heart of many top-secret operations that were going on in Europe at the time.
Blake & # 39; s modus operandi was surprisingly simple: he photographed what documents he could and then passed them on to his Russian handler at meetings near subway stations North London or on the upper deck of double-deckers.
He had received a small Minox camera to take photos of interesting documents on his desk – and many did.
He waited for the secretaries next to his office to have lunch, or he would stay late, leaving the door of his office open so that he could immediately hear if someone was entering the outside room.
Occasionally, with larger reports, he found it easier to simply remove the entire document. The older guard at the door has never checked anyone's briefcase.
Occasionally he saw his handler for fast & # 39; brush passes & # 39; handing undeveloped film or documents without words while walking down narrow streets. They would meet every three or four weeks to talk.
Blake was so productive that he helped bring about what the Russians have the & # 39; full elimination & # 39; of the Western espionage networks in East Germany in the years 1953 to 1955.
In April 1955 he arrived in Berlin for a new SIS broadcast, for his British wife Gillian who had no idea she was married to a Soviet spy.
His new official assignment was also very sensitive: entering the KGB headquarters there.
Blake was given the task of contacting Russians in East Berlin, in particular Soviet intelligence officers, with the aim of recruiting them as agents. But his real work was for the Soviets, and it wasn't just documents that George Blake handed over to the KGB.
They were also names – the identity of agents who work for SIS. Most of them were East Germans, although they included Soviets and other nationalities. As with the documents, Blake could not state a number on how many agents he had betrayed.
& # 39; I can't say it, but it may have been 500, 600, & # 39; he said later.
Blake had had enough of it by 1960. Hoping to leave espionage behind, he got a post to Lebanon to learn Arabic – but it was too late.
After years of treason, he himself was exposed by a Polish defector. Lured back to London in 1961, Blake was arrested and, during his interrogation, known.
His wife, Gillian, was shocked, she said, about the incredible news that this man, with whom I have been married so happily for nearly seven years, was in jail awaiting trial as a Russian spy. & # 39 ;
Blake pleaded guilty to five allegations of violating the Official Secrets Act on Old Bailey and expected a maximum sentence of 14 years, but Lord Parker, the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, had an unpleasant surprise in store.
& # 39; Your conduct in many other countries would undoubtedly entail the death penalty, & # 39; he said.
& # 39; In our law, however, I have no choice but to condemn you to imprisonment, and for your insidious behavior that extends over so many years, there must be a very severe punishment. & # 39;
Parker imposed a penalty of 14 years for each count, three consecutive and two at the same time, 42 years in total. There were audible bites in the courtroom.
Escape came naturally to Blake. During his 1000-mile journey through Europe during the war, he had jumped off a moving train in Belgium to dodge German soldiers and pulled across the snow-covered Pyrenees on a mule trail.
By 1965 he finally realized that the KGB would not get him out of the grubby Victorian boundaries of Wormwood Scrubs.
If he were to be freed, he needed people who were still on the inside but would soon be released, who could coordinate a plan.
He settled on Sean Aloyisious Bourke, an Irishman with an anti-authoritarian tendency serving an eight-year prison sentence for attempting to kill a police officer.
He also enlisted the help of Pat Pottle and Michael Randle, two idealistic anti-nuclear campaigners he had met in the music appreciation class of the prison.
Bourke was planning to make a rope ladder to scale the 20-foot wall, but wooden rungs would make it heavy and noisy, so Randle's wife Anne suggested making rungs with knitting needles.
A size 13 needle made of steel and covered with plastic would be strong enough to carry a man and still add little weight, she suggested.
Bourke bought nylon clothing line from Woolworths and then went to a nearby store to buy the needles. & # 39; I have 30, & # 39; he said to the sales clerk.
Incredibly, she raised her eyebrows and said: & # 39; Your wife must knit a lot. & # 39; Bourke prepared at the last minute and bought a second-hand television that he could use to follow the news and some clothing that Blake could wear.
The escape took place on the evening of Saturday, October 22, when the other prisoners would watch a movie and far away from D Hall, the block in which Blake is housed.
A few days in advance, another prisoner – an expert in breaking and entering – had detached two glass panes from the high gothic-style window that occupied much of the outer wall, and Blake now had a walkie-talkie that went in. was smuggled for him so that he could talk to the newly released Bourke.
When darkness fell, Blake slipped through the window to the edge of the roof and dropped to the floor. He told Bourke via radio that he was ready for the ladder.
But Bourke sounded agitated.
& # 39; Hold on, & # 39; he replied. & # 39; I'm dealing with an unexpected snag. & # 39; A guard in a van drove down the road and apparently thought something suspicious was going on with a car parked so close to the prison wall – Bourke's.
He stopped his van and got out, with a large Alsatian watchdog on the line. He stared at Bourke and made no attempt to hide his suspicions.
Bourke started in shock. But after he had driven a circuit, he returned to see that the van was gone and finally sent Blake a radio.
Bourke could hear great fear in Blake & # 39; s voice. & # 39; Well, I am already out of the hall and waiting for that ladder! The men are back from the cinema. The patrol can come any time. Hurry! & # 39;
Bourke pulled the ladder out of the trunk. He climbed onto the roof of his car, swung the folded ladder three times with his right arm, and then threw it over the wall.
Blake tumbled awkwardly and hit his head on the gravel as he pulled it over the wall, but Bourke dragged him to the car, opened the back door, and pushed him into the back seat.
It was raining on the car as it drove away. Bourke put his foot down.
Blake & # 39; s forehead was bleeding, his left wrist was broken and bent at an ugly angle, but he was too excited to feel much pain.
A huge manhunt could not find him. While the country's ports were viewed and his photo was shown on television and the front pages, Blake lay low in a nearby bed.
He was eventually smuggled across the Channel in a motor home by Randle, then through Northern Europe and through West Germany to the border crossing. In East Germany, he identified himself with the border guards and completed his escape to Russia.
When he arrived in Moscow in January 1967, Blake did not long acknowledge that communism in the Soviet Union was a complete failure. The hardships of The Scrubs made him well prepared for the endless shortages.
Two months after his arrival, he discovered that Gillian had been divorced in his absence.
Blake first stayed in a spacious KGB apartment with a housekeeper to prepare his meals.
He spent his days writing long memos for the authorities, gathering information he could not have passed on before his arrest, as well as details about how the British had interrogated him.
Life improved considerably when on a Volga riverboat cruise in the spring of 1968 he met Ida, a Russian woman who worked as a French translator for an economic institution.
The two settled together in a spacious apartment organized by the KGB and Blake received privileges and medical benefits comparable to a military general.
After the birth of their son, Mischa, in 1971, he was offered a dacha, a holiday home, in the countryside around Moscow.
He worked for more than 30 years at the Institute of World Economy and International Relations, a leading think tank in Moscow.
When the Berlin Wall fell and the Cold War ended, Blake seemed to think he would be forgiven at home. He was quickly eliminated.
According to Markus Wolfe, the head of the former East German spy agency, the Iron Curtain only served to further reduce Blake & # 39; s world.
He was left to live a withdrawn life in an adopted country that had left his business.
Today, at the age of 96, his eyesight has faded to the point that he is almost blind. Many former KGB officers have dachas in the area and the neighbors are protective.
Blake's wooden house stands on a corner lot behind a high fence and is guarded by a friendly concierge with a beret and a small white schnauzer, Plushka.
In the dacha with four bedrooms the decor is simple and it is kept cozy throughout the year by central heating.
Blake is still on the road with Ida, 13 years younger, bent over and holding her arm.
Because his eyesight is so bad, he can no longer watch the BBC via satellite, so Ida reads it to him.
In addition to Mischa, Blake occasionally sees his three English sons, who went to visit their father with Gillian & # 39; s blessing in the 1980s and are now close to him.
Blake is an honored figure in Russia, decorated with medals for his espionage, including the Order of Friendship medal in 2007, presented by his admirer, President Putin.
He is praised by the Russian press, who made him the & # 39; serious count of British intelligence & # 39; mentions, and gives occasional statements about the state of the world, usually done during annual birthday interviews with official organs.
& # 39; The American empire will disappear because everyone who lives with the sword dies from the sword & # 39 ;, he told Izvestia, the official government newspaper, in 2010.
Blake & # 39; s 90th birthday, on November 11, 2012, was a big event attended by all his children.
In the afternoon, a congratulation call came from Putin, who greeted Blake for his & # 39; s huge contribution to maintaining peace & # 39; in which he stated that the spy had earned a place in the & # 39; constellation of strong and courageous men & # 39 ;.
Yet Putin's praise is a source of discomfort for Blake. He has told friends that he hates the Russian president and the cynical and violent authoritarian regime he has imposed.
Today, when describing his espionage, Blake holds on to the imaginative idea that none of the hundreds he has betrayed has ever suffered serious damage. & # 39; I challenge everyone. . . to name someone who has been executed, & he wrote.
But according to KGB General Oleg Kalugin, who oversaw Blake in Moscow, he has an & # 39; innocent spirit & # 39 ;. Kalugin recalled that Blake had told him several times that the KGB had promised that none of him had been shot.
& # 39; He naively clung to that belief and I didn't have the heart to tell him that his work led directly to the death of dozens of agents behind the Iron Curtain, & # 39; Kalugin wrote.
Thanks to the astonishing magnitude of the betrayal of George Blake, the Soviets received invaluable information about Western intelligence, the organization, and the people who worked for it.
And thanks to Blake, they knew from the start of the daring plan to build a clandestine Berlin spy tunnel right under the feet of our Cold War opponents – a remarkable story to be told in next week's Mail.
© Steve Vogel, 2019
- Betrayal In Berlin by Steve Vogel, John Murray will publish on Tuesday for £ 25. Offer price £ 20 (20 percent off) until October 15. Call 01603 648155 or go to mailshop.co.uk to order.
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