One who is called the last of the ideological penetrations of MI-6 (British Foreign Intelligence) by the Soviet Union’s KGB (Ministry of State Security), George Blake has died at the age of 98 in Moscow, Russia. He is one of the most damaging of insiders gone bad in the history of the early post-World War II era, and operated effectively for the KGB for 9 and a half years until his arrest in 1961.

Blake’s relationship with the Soviets began following his release from a North Korean prisoner of war camp. He was held there following his capture when Seoul was overrun by the North Korean forces. A plethora of books have described his ideological transformation during his period of incarceration.

Blake the MI-6 insider

Blake, as an MI-6 insider, operated for years undetected, providing to the KGB identities of more than 400 individuals – staff officers and assets of the Western Services, resulting in many of the individuals being executed by the Soviets. One piece of information which he shared with the KGB was a list of MI-6 targets for assessment and possible recruitment in Warsaw, Poland. This document was shared by the KGB with the Polish UB (Polish security service) circa 1958.

An insider within the Polish UB, identified as Col. Michael Goleniewski, provided the list to the U.S. via an unsolicited letter mailed to the U.S. Embassy in Bern. Goleniewski was volunteering information to the West via a series of 14 anonymous letters which provided counterintelligence tidbits on KGB activities. Goleniewski was not known as the source until his own defection to the West in late-1960.

When the U.S. shared the list with the British, MI-6 told the U.S. interlocutor they thought it a fabrication. Subsequently, an operational analyst within the CIA‘s Eastern European division remembered seeing the identical list in a liaison communication from MI-6 (perhaps for deconfliction or counterintelligence purposes). It was then confirmed that the secret list had an MI-6 provenance, and therefore there was a benevolent insider within MI-6 providing the KGB secret documents – the hunt led to George Blake

Repeatedly throughout his later years, when asked how helpful he was to the KGB, he would respond that he gave the KGB everything his fingers touched. He always referenced his compromise of the Berlin Tunnel as his greatest singular accomplishment.  He measured success by his betrayals.

Operation Gold

Blake is known most infamously as the individual who compromised the Berlin Tunnel Project, aka Operation Gold (U.S.) or Operation Stopwatch (UK) which was a grand scale intercept of Russian military communications traffic in/out of Berlin. The audacious operation run jointly by the U.S. and UK was compromised to the KGB from the get-go by Blake. The Russians, in order to protect Blake, allowed the tunnel to appear to be undetected 11 months and 11 days, when following a rain storm in April 1956 the Russian/East Germans actively engaged in trouble shooting “damaged circuits.” This activity was their cover-for action in neutralizing Operation Gold.

History tells us that the tunnel operation was a source of thousands of pieces of Russian disinformation mixed with authentic feed materials so as to provide the illusion of success for the Western intelligence services efforts.

The after-action damage assessment compiled by the CIA’s PBJOINTLY staff in August 1956 (PBJOINTLY was the cryptonym used within the CIA) ran some 100 pages. The document, well worth a read from a historical optic, describes the actions on that rainy day in April 1956. The lightly redacted document, declassified in 2007, highlights the “successes of the operation” and the reporting derived from the operation. The disseminated material was designated to have originated from source, REGAL, and at the time was believed to be providing unique reporting on the following topics:

  • Political – Soviet Union intentions in Berlin
  • Military – Establishment of East German Army, Re-org of Soviet Ministry of Defense, identification of thousands of Soviet military personnel
  • Scientific – identification of individuals associated with Soviet Atomic Energy program
  • Operational – identification of several hundred Soviet Intelligence personas

Operation Gold’s REGAL material received accolades galore from the Army, Air Force and CIA for the value of the information obtained.

Blake arrest, trial, imprisonment, and escape to Moscow

Following the connecting of the dots by MI-6 of their document finding its way to the Polish UB, Blake was recalled from the Middle East, confronted, arrested and stood trial, albeit a closed-door secret trial. He was sentenced to 42 years in prison for his espionage. In the U.S., life sentences for those committing espionage against the United States is not unheard of (Ames, Hanssen, Walker). In the U.K., the sentence was abnormally long. Blake went to Wormwood Scrubs prison in London.

In October 1966, Blake escaped in a manner worthy of an Hollywood screenplay (and detailed in the book “The Springing of George Blake”). He broke a window in the cell block, climbed out, ran to the wall and climbed over using a rope ladder made of rope and knitting needles. When he landed on the outside of the wall, he broke his arm. He was spirited away by his accomplice (Sean Bourke – a criminal from Limerick, Ireland who was a prison-mate of Blake) and smuggled out of the country to Berlin. Once in Berlin he made his way to an East German checkpoint and identified himself to a Russian officer. He was taken to Moscow.

Blake’s selfish and self-preservationist nature was exemplified by his attempt to get the Russians to accommodate Bourke. Which they did, to some degree, but it didn’t work out, as Bourke had no ideological connection and wanted out. When Blake’s suggestions that Bourke stay in Moscow were rejected, Blake suggested to the KGB Bourke be killed. The KGB ignored the request and sent Bourke out of Moscow to Ireland.

Resettled in the Soviet Union

Blake would remain in the Soviet Union and Russia for the remainder of his days. During that time he was given the rank of colonel in the KGB and a pension which accompanies that rank. He also was provided an auto, an apartment in Moscow and a “modest dacha” on the outskirts of Moscow. His British wife divorced him while he was in prison, and shortly after assimilating into Moscow, he met his wife, Ida. In 2007, Vladimir Putin awarded Blake with the Order of Friendship. Blake had previously having been awarded the Order of Lenin.

Blake took the name, Georgy Ivanovich and occasionally socialized with two members of the equally infamous, yet operationally unrelated Cambridge Five – Kim Philby and Donald MacLean. He is also known to met with Konon Molody, known to the West as Gordon Lonsdale, a Soviet illegal intelligence officer, who also was imprisoned in Wormwood Scrubs, prior to his return to Moscow.

Throughout his time in the Soviet Union and the Russian Federation, Blake continued to provide lectures and commentary on intelligence matters to the KGB and following the KGB split, to the FSB and SVR.  He also wrote two books, the one published in the West saw its royalties seized by the British authorities, much like those most recently in the U.S. of Snowden.

When asked how he seemed to have settled into his life in Russia better than others (defectors) he noted that he always felt that the was a person without roots until he arrived in Russia.

He characterized himself as a “A foreign car which had adapted to Russian roads.”

Others characterize him, equally accurately, as a traitor to the United Kingdom and a successful Soviet penetration of MI-6.

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Christopher Burgess (@burgessct) is an author and speaker on the topic of security strategy. Christopher, served 30+ years within the Central Intelligence Agency. He lived and worked in South Asia, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Central Europe, and Latin America. Upon his retirement, the CIA awarded him the Career Distinguished Intelligence Medal, the highest level of career recognition. Christopher co-authored the book, “Secrets Stolen, Fortunes Lost, Preventing Intellectual Property Theft and Economic Espionage in the 21st Century” (Syngress, March 2008). He is the founder of