By Marco Giannangeli
Sunday Express – 28 April 2019
Up to 100 Britons who helped spy for the Soviet Union are still at large and living unaffected lives despite their identities being known by the intelligence services. The warning comes as a film based on the life of KGB agent Melita Norwood is shown in cinemas and calls grow to prosecute the traitors.
The great-grandmother, 87, admitted she had been the USSR's longest-serving agent in 1999, just before she was "outed" by former KGB archivist Vasili Mitrokhin. To the amazement of neighbours and even her own daughter, it emerged she had been Moscow's star asset after stealing state secrets which gave the USSR the keys to its own nuclear bomb.
Her betrayal was doubled because "Agent Hola", as she was known to her KGB handlers, had been a vocal campaigner for CND.
Trevor Nunn's movie, Red Joan, is inspired by Granny Norwood. But, while protagonist Joan Stanley, played in later years by Dame Judi Dench, is portrayed as a dithering do-gooder who wanted to redress inequality between the USSR and the West, the truth was very different. In reality Norwood, who was recruited by Russia in the Second World War, was more prized by the Kremlin than the Cambridge Five.
A secretary at the innocuous-sounding Non-Ferrous Metals Research Association in London (actually part of a US weapons research project) her drip feed of information allowed the Soviet Union to advance its nuclear development programme by between two and five years. However, like Cambridge spy Anthony Blunt before her, she was never prosecuted because MI5 had been aware of their activities for years and sat on the information.
Another 15 Britons were included in the Mitrokhin list but their identities have never been revealed. In the same year another list emerged, of British assets for East Germany's notorious Stasi. They included academics such as Prof. (then Dr) Robin Pearson, an economist at Hull University who talent-spotted recruits. Codenamed "Armin", he is thought to have been recruited while studying in Leipzig. By 1989 East German intelligence had 90,000 officers and up to 170,000 agents handled by 3,819 Stasi officers.
Pearson's handler, Berhart Kartheus, said later that the East Germans recruited one in 10 of the British exchange students approached during the Cold War. Analysts in 1999 said this could mean there were around 20 still living in the UK. Pearson's 12-year involvement was uncovered by fellow academic Anthony Glees trawling East German archives. There were another four names whose activities made them suitable for prosecution. In 1999 then home secretary Jack Straw said this group of five had "revealed many leads in cases involving the investigation of more than 100 individuals".
Though interviewed by MI5, Pearson's only sanction was to be suspended for five terms. He continues to work at Hull today. Other names emerged, such as recently deceased Lib Dem peer Lord Roper and Professor Vic Allen, lecturer in trade unionism at Leeds University. Like Norwood, Allen was unrepentant, saying:
"I have no shame. I feel no regrets."
Last night calls continued for any foreign agent known by British intelligence to be prosecuted. Dr Julian Lewis MP, whose opposition to CND made him a target of Stasi spies, said:
"It was a time when the West had won and it was perceived that the Soviets had lost but my inclination would be to say that these people were complete traitors and deserved to be prosecuted."
Vladimir Putin last night branded an 18-month sentence for a Russian agent jailed in the US "an outrage". Maria Butina, 30, was found guilty of conspiring to infiltrate a gun rights group and influence right-wing activists.