"The following is a complete, unedited, unverified interview, portions
of which were utilized in the Red Files PBS broadcast. Statements therein are the sole opinion of the interviewee, and do not reflect the views of PBS, DDE or Series and Web Site producer Abamedia, which are not Responsible for the interview content."

Interview with George Blake
British KGB Spy

George Blake in his interview for the filmInterviewer: Tell me a little bit about your own personal family background.

George Blake: I come from rather an international, or in other words, a cosmopolitan background. My father was a Spanish Jew who came from the Middle East or the Near East. He fought in the British Army during the First World War and was very seriously wounded. He received high decorations, the Military Cross and the French. Immediately after the war he was in Holland, where he met my mother. Now my mother came from a Dutch middle-class, Protestant background. My father had a business in Holland which wasn't very successful, and he died in 1934, when I was twelve, from the results of his wounds during the war, and I got a Dutch Protestant upbringing. Dutch is my native tongue. After the death of my father, my mother was left in rather strange circumstances. My father had a sister in Cairo, who was a wife of a very rich banker. They said they would take me and look after my education, give me a good education, and that would relieve my mother as I also had two sisters. At the age of thirteen I went to Cairo, and lived with my uncle and aunt, in a very large house, and there I met my two cousins, who were ten years older than I was. Both of them had very decided left wing views; they didn't want to succeed their father in a banking business. Especially the younger of my two cousins who had a great influence on me. He was, by that time, a Communist and he talked a lot with me. Of course his views had a great influence on me, but I resisted them, because I was a very religious boy. It was my intention to become a minister in the Dutch Reform Church, but later on, in life, things changed. Many of his views acted as a time bomb, and the results under the affect of events shaped my further views.

Interviewer: You worked in the Dutch resistance. How did that influence you?

George Blake: It is very hot in Cairo, and they were very rich. In the summer they went to Europe, and in the summer I went to Holland to be with my mother and sisters. I was just about to return to Egypt when the war broke out in September of 1939. My mother decided that we should stay together in such a dangerous period. So I remained in Holland. I was staying with my grandmother in Rotterdam, on the 10th of May, when the Germans invaded Holland and they advanced around the dam and bombed it. I couldn't leave. After about a week things settled down, the German's occupied the whole of Holland and there was no longer any fighting. I returned home to the Hague, where we lived, and found that my mother and my sisters had been evacuated to England, as they were British subjects as a result of my father having served in the British army.

So I was stranded in Holland. I didn't know they'd gone. They thought I would have been evacuated from Rotterdam, but that was quite impossible. So we were separated. I was then interned for a short time, by the Germans in Holland, but they were absolutely certain that by September they would also invade England and occupy it. France had just surrendered, so they released all the French people and English people who were under military age, and over military age. I was seventeen then, so I was released. By November, when I was eighteen, the War hadn't finished, and they hadn't occupied Britain. I then ran the danger of being again interned, and so I had to go underground. With the help of my Dutch relatives I got false papers and I lived an illegal existence that made it possible for me to join the underground. The first groups had been formed, and I was, of course, against the Germans, against Nazis because of my background. I was a British subject; I was half Jewish, so there was every reason for me, and the country of my mother had been occupied, brutally occupied. I was very anti-German and had every incentive to do everything I could to resist them. I was very young looking, although I was by then eighteen, I looked more, maybe like a boy of fourteen or something. Therefore I was very suitable to act as a courier, and I traveled through Holland with illegal newspapers and also with messages -- intelligence messages on the German Army, which the underground collected to be sent to England. That's how I lived for nearly two years. Then I decided that I wanted to do more active work, and I wanted to join the forces in Great Britain. I decided to try and escape to Britain, and I succeeded in that. It took me six months to travel from Holland, through Belgium, France, and Spain. In Spain I was arrested and put in prison for three months, but then the bleak situation in North Africa changed, and the attitude of Spanish government towards the Allies changed. I was released with others and sent to Gibraltar and from there by convoy to Britain.

Interviewer: And you joined the British forces?

George Blake: In Britain I found, in the first place, my mother and sisters. After several months I wasn't called up. I thought I was going to be called up, so I decided to volunteer. I volunteered for the Royal Naval, you know, the Voluntary Reserve, then I was called up. I was given officers training.

Interviewer: How did you get involved in British intelligence?

George Blake: I was just coming to that. The officers course ended. Someone came down from the Admiralty and said well, now, you know, there's various kinds of arms you serve in, cruisers, submarines, high speed boats and so on. Then at the end of it, he said there is also something which you can join called Special Service. I can't tell you what it is, and we don't hear from those people anymore, but if we do hear from them, they usually have high decorations.

I thought -- well that would be an agent. That's what I wanted to do. I thought I'd be a trained agent, and I would be able to join the underground and do some very useful work. So I put my name down for that. We were sent on a short leave, and to my horror, I got a letter to say that I had to report at submarine headquarters in Portsmouth. It was Special Service. I was not being dropped as an agent, but working in a two-man submarine, training in a two-man submarine. I had no choice. I started training, but fortunately, after a while, it turned out that I wasn't quite suitable for that, because at certain depths people suffer from oxygen poisoning, certain people, because they breath oxygen all the time. I fainted, and I was hauled up from Portsmouth Harbour, and that was the end of my training for two-man submarines.

Interviewer: So tell me, briefly, how you came to join British intelligence?

George Blake: Well, after my training in two-man submarines, I asked for a short-time officer of the watch at submarine headquarters. The commander, who obviously rather liked me, must have communicated with certain people in London. Anyway, I suddenly got a call to report to an office in London, which I thought was the Admiralty. I was interviewed there, and then I was sent back to Portsmouth. A week later I was interviewed again, and then I was called for commission. When I was told to report the following Monday at this particular building in Broadway, I didn't know what it was. I thought it was the Admiralty. On the first morning, the man who was going to be my boss, a Colonel in the Royal Marines, who informed me that I had been accepted for the British Secret Service, saw me. I felt very honoured and very excited, and I thought, well, now I'm going to be sent to Holland as an agent, which is what I so much wanted. It turned out I wasn't, because they only sent Dutch subjects to Holland, not British subjects.

Interviewer: So what did you do?

George Blake: For internal political reasons in Holland, I became what was called a conducting officer. I had to accompany Dutch agents in their training. Very soon they realised that I spoke Dutch very, very well, the language, so I was kept in the office working on the material which we received from Holland by telegram. Which was very often encoded, very often mutilated, and you had to know Dutch very well to make out what was in the telegram. We also worked very closely with the Dutch Secret Service, and I did a certain amount of liaison work with them. Until the end of the war, when I was sent to Holland first when we sort of liquidated the Dutch agent network which had been created with the help of people who were recommended for decorations -- I worked in that. In September of 1945, I returned for a short time to England, to London, and then I was sent to Germany to start spying on the Soviet forces in East Germany.

Interviewer: You were gathering military intelligence there?

George Blake: Any intelligence we could get on the situation in East Germany, on the Soviet forces. I was in the Navy; I had Navy cover, and we tried to use former German naval officers who were in difficult situation after the war and were glad to earn some extra money, and use their men, their contacts in East Germany to establish a network. I did this very well apparently, because I was then selected to be sent to Cambridge to learn Russian. That's what I did, and, in a way, shaped another stage in my development towards Communism, towards my desire to work for the Soviet Union.

The professor there was an English woman, but her mother was Russian, and she came from what was known as Petersburg, English who lived in Petersburg, before the revolution. Her mother was Russian, and she was Orthodox; she had a great love for Russia, not for Communism, but for Russia. She inspired her students with that love for Russia and Russian things. She took us to the services in the Orthodox Church, and I happened to be one of her favourite pupils. Her influence in that respect was of great importance, because it changed my attitude towards Russia, and Russian things. Inspired me with a great attraction towards Russia. Maybe I was a little bit naïve, or a little bit romantic, but still, there it was.

Interviewer: The next major assignment with British intelligence, you were sent to Korea, during the Korean War?

George Blake: As soon as I finished the Russian course, I was sent to Korea with the task of trying to establish an agent network, a network in the so called maritime provinces. It was a very unrealistic task, because there was no direct communication between that area and South Korea. The only thing on the map was Seoul; it was nearest to the area. In Seoul there was the British Consulate, a Nato British Embassy, that was the obvious place from which to try and penetrate the Soviet Union from the east. In fact it wasn't, as I say, because there's absolutely no connection. Still I tried to. It took me time to find all that out and I tried to also to penetrate into North Korea. Of course, I got to know the political situation in the South. The Korean President was really in my view kind of a Fascist and people he had around him were, in my view, Fascist. So, I had a certain sympathy for the North, knowing very little about things -- knowing very little about it.

Interviewer: Sort of like what you saw in the South?

George Blake: Well, I did like what I thought I saw in South Korea, and then the war broke out, quite suddenly. Now, the point is that we had been sent to North Korea, and my men who assisted me and the Minister himself, Captain Hoo, had been sent to see me with the idea that very likely a war would be break out between the North and South, that it was confidently expected that the North would win and occupy the whole country. Therefore, the legation in Seoul would be a very suitable observation post from which to see what was going to develop. Our instructions were to remain in place if the war broke out. So when it did break out, the American's offered to evacuate us, but we didn't because we had the instruction not to go. The French were in the same position. The French consulate also stayed, and a number of British missionaries, including an Anglican Bishop stayed, because they didn't want to leave their flocks. When the North Koreans occupied Seoul, we were interred, because, in the meantime, the Americans had organised the United Nations, and all the western European countries joined them. Apart from the Soviet Union, which had no voice, because they had excluded themselves from the Security Council. They were able to pass this resolution and British, French, Turkish, and all kinds of military contingencies were sent to Korea. We, for being neutral, were sent into villages and interred by the North Korean authorities.

Interviewer: It's often been said that it's while you were a captive of the North Koreans that you were brain-washed into working for the Russians.

George Blake: No, I was never brain-washed at all. Well, you see we were then a small group of diplomats, and at first we were together with the missionaries. There were many missionaries: French missionaries, Irish nuns, and all kinds of people. At a certain point we were, the diplomats, were separated from them. It would have been very difficult for the North Koreans, in the situation they were in, to find people who were sufficiently, what should I say, intelligent? But, to influence people like us, I mean they might have influence with a young American soldier, but people like us, that would be very difficult.

Interviewer: Is there one incident that triggered your decision to effectively change sides?

George Blake: No, nothing acted on me as a catalyst. It was what I saw happening in North Korea. The relentless bombing of small Korean villages by enormous, em, American flying fortresses. People, women and children, and old people, because the young men were in the army. I saw this from my eyes, and we might have been victims ourselves. It made me feel ashamed. Made me feel ashamed of belonging to these overpowering, technical superior countries fighting against what seemed to me quite defenseless people.

Interviewer: Any particular incident that sticks in your mind?

George Blake: Well, the bombing took place continually, and they happened all the time. I had seen the devastation in Germany after the war, but it was nothing, absolutely nothing, I could assure you, compared with the devastation in North Korea. That act, that feeling of shame, together with all the other things, which I have already spoken about, and the other stages of my development made me decide -- made me feel that I was fighting on the wrong side, because I wasn't a neutral person. I was engaged in intelligence work against the Communist world, against the Socialist world. I was engaged I was committed, and I felt I was committed on the wrong side. And that's what made me decide to -- to change sides. I felt that it would be better for humanity if the Communist system prevailed, that it would put an end to war, to wars. I didn't go too much into the rights and wrongs of the beginning of the Korean War. It was very difficult from the position I was in to decide exactly what started it, but now I realise that it was the North who started it. Still it was the experience of that war, which acted as a catalyst, and made me decide to join the other side.

Interviewer: How did you approach them?

George Blake: It was done, in a way, quite easily. I wrote a little note in Russian -- you must remember that we had been in a small group of diplomats, French and British, and I used my Russian. We had been writing constantly to the Soviet Embassy in Pen Yang, asking them, telling them that we had considered our captivity was unjust and against international law, and protesting. The Soviet Embassy sent us books, including Marx's Capital, which we read in Russian many times. That was also an influence on me. So there had been a certain amount of correspondence with the Soviet Embassy in Phenyang, which was conducted by giving a letter to the chief guard, of the men who guarded us.

Interviewer: So you wrote them a note?

George Blake: I wrote them a note. That's right.

Interviewer: How -- how did they respond?

George Blake: They responded about a month later, I don't remember exactly the time. Months later, I was called up to go to this nearby town, which was absolutely in ruins, only two houses standing. In one of those houses I met this Russian man; I talked to him and explained the situation. Then I said, if he wanted to continue to work, he would have to call up the other people as well, because we were three British and four French. If I, alone, was called up; that would cause suspicion, and this would be very strange. So they then organized it very well. Every person in turn was called up; there were discussions about the rights and wrongs of the Korean War. There was then the Stockholm Appeal, which they were asked to sign. They were just kept talking, as it were, to fill the day. Then every time my turn came, I talked to this person, who turned out to be a colonel in the KGB, and with whom I made arrangements for my further work. I think that at first they must have been very suspicious of me. I think they suspected that it was a put up job by the Minister, Captain Hoo, but still they continued with it, or they realised that it wasn't.

Interviewer: Did you take an oath or anything of allegiance, or did they make any promises to you about how they'd look after you?

George Blake: No, I made myself four stipulations. I think, if I remember well. One was that I should not accept any money and shouldn't be offered any money. The other was that I shouldn't receive any privileges, while I was in captivity with the others. One reason -- the question of security, another was I felt a comradeship to my fellow captives. The third was that I shouldn't be released before the others which, again, was elementary security. I think that -- that those were the three conditions. Then they naturally agreed to that.

Interviewer: So they never said anything to you like, you're one of us, we're gonna look after you?

George Blake: No, they didn't say anything like that, and I didn't expect them to say anything.

Interviewer: So you moved back to England, and you had your first meeting with your case officer. Can you describe that meeting?

George Blake: Yes, I can. The point is that I had lived in Holland, I had worked with the underground before, and I felt of course, the first meeting is a rather dangerous experience. Well, you think it is a dangerous experience. I felt somehow that I would feel more at ease in the Hague, in my surroundings to which I was used. I could feel the atmosphere better there than I could in London. After all, I'd been five years away from London. I asked if the first meeting could be arranged in Holland. I was given leave when I arrived in England, three months leave, and I was staying with my relatives in Holland. One day I went to the Hague. The day had been appointed and there we met in a small square in the Hague. He was sitting on a bench, we discussed our further meetings. I first thought that we would continue to meet in Holland, but he pointed out to me that if I continually went to Holland that would also be strange, that it'd be easier for all of us if we met in London. So we met; we made the arrangement for our first meeting. I think it was in October. I knew by then that I had been given a new appointment in Section Y, as a deputy head of that section, which was a special section working on processing of the material obtained by telephone tapping operations in Vienna.

Interviewer: So what was the first meeting with Sergei?

George Blake: I had, I think, one or two meetings with someone else, and then Sergei turned up. He was then, as I was, much younger. But he hasn't changed all that much. We usually met after office hours in one of the London suburbs. We met each other, came from different directions, and we walked for about half an hour through the crowded streets, and we discussed operation material. He gave me new films. I gave him the films which I had taken, so we met regularly, every month or every three weeks.

Interviewer: Can you tell me about the Vienna operation?

George Blake: Now, I must make it clear that for several years these Vienna operations have been going, and the material obtained from those taps, which was being processed in London, was then analyzed and compiled into monthly intelligence reports of about fifty pages, sometimes thirty, sometimes sixty. This report had been regularly sent to Washington as barter material. Know that intelligence services amongst themselves barter material. And of course, through my offices, it had also been sent to Moscow. So Washington and Moscow were aware of the possibility of what these kind of tapping operations could produce. Of course the great advantage of tapping operations is that the material is absolutely genuine. You don't have to question your source. What happened then was the occupation of Europe, of Austria finished. The two sides withdrew their forces from Austria. So there was nobody left to tap. The man who had been responsible for thinking up and organising these Vienna taps was Peter Land, who was a very experienced and very skillful intelligence officer, for whom I have the greatest admiration. He was a man you wouldn't notice him in a crowd. He was very slight and talked with a lisp. But he was extremely effective and he was from Vienna when this operation goes down. He was sent as head of the station to Berlin. Naturally, having so successfully operated telephone taps in Vienna, his first thought was how can we find a place where we can tap either the East German telephone lines the official lines or the Soviet lines? Through his sources in the Berlin telephone office, he discovered these three cables which went along at a distance of about twelve hundred feet from the American sector boundary. So it was clear. He knew that these cables, of which there were twelve hundred communications, were used by the Soviet forces in East Germany, by the Soviet administration and Embassy in East Berlin. So it was a very -- would be a very promising target. But of course, the British couldn't just start digging a tunnel from the American sector. They had to bring the Americans in, which had a very further advantage because the Americans had lots of money. The British didn't have adequate funds, so they made an arrangement with the Americans if they agreed to pay for most of it. Well, as the Americans had been receiving this material from Vienna and realised how useful and important it was. Then a high level delegation came to London, and there was a meeting. I was the secretary, as it were, the one who was taking the minutes of the meeting. As a result I knew about the plan, and how it was going to be done. I realized, of course, how important this was. When I meet Sergei the next time, a routine meeting, I handed him a copy of the minutes from that meeting and a very small sketch, which I drew myself, of how that cable would run -- how a tunnel would run and which cables it would carry.

Interviewer: How did you make the copy of those minutes?

George Blake: As I was the secretary of the meeting and -- and I had to make a certain number of copies anyway. It wasn't very difficult to make an additional copy.

Interviewer: An additional carbon copy?

George Blake: An additional carbon copy.

Interviewer: Do you remember Sergei's reaction when you handed him the document?

George Blake: No, I don't remember, but I think he was very interested. I mean, maybe that it was a short meeting. The usual length of them was about half an hour or maybe a bit longer. I don't think I realised at that particular moment the full implication of the information I handed to him, but he was obviously very interested. Only later, when he got back to the Embassy, he would have read it, and then he realised how important it was.

Interviewer: Were you in any way privy to the decision by the KGB to, as it were, disclose the tunnel and shut it down?

George Blake: No, I wasn't. The tunnel operated for exactly eleven months and, I think, fifteen days. That is quite a long period. I wasn't asked about whether it should be discovered or not discovered, but I was told that it would be discovered within the near future. So I was warned. It didn't come as a surprise for me. Of course, I was apprehensive, naturally. Because the first question when the tunnel is discovered will be how did the Soviets discover it? Why? Now I must say that it was done extremely skillfully. Apart from the political considerations, the tap was discovered after several days of very heavy rainfall. It was discovered by, apparently, ordinary Soviet troops, who were looking for faults in the cable, which was perfectly natural thing for them to do. Because the Americans were watching all the time as they had a watchtower, what was going on in the Soviet sector, in the Soviet zone or in the vicinity of the cables. When the cable was discovered and a whole scandal blew up quite naturally, the Americans and the British set up a commission to study why the cable had been discovered. After about a month, I learned that they'd unanimously come to the conclusion that it was a technical fault in the line caused by the heavy rain. So I felt very relieved, obviously, and from then on, I just continued to work, and I was not under suspicion.

Interviewer: Well after the tunnel operation, were you able to provide a lot more information to the Soviets? Or was it more counter intelligence information you were giving, or more active intelligence?

George Blake: I gave a lot of information first on the Secret Service. What they wanted to know, politically, militarily, economically, about East Germany, about the Soviet Union as a whole. That was very important information for them, so that they could protect these targets. Em, and then of course, I could get information on the Service. They got a good inside view how it operated, and of course, very important from their point of view, was to know the targets which the Soviets proposed to attack. Not only in Germany, all over the world, and particularly in the Soviet Union. Though I must say, that, at that time, it was extremely difficult, both for the British Secret Service and for the American Secret Service to get access to Soviet information in Russia.

Interviewer: Now, after a few years you were arrested. The operation crumbled. What was it that led to the collapse of your operation and another operation in the UK?

George Blake: Mainly what led to the collapse was the defection of a man, I think his name was Konyevski. A Polish official, who was, either head or deputy head of the Polish secret service, with his mistress, fled to Berlin, where he presented himself to the Americans and brought with him a great deal of information. Now among that information was a particular document, which originated from Berlin -- he knew that, and which affected Polish-Soviet relations as far as I remember, and also Polish economic situation, and which was a very highly secret document which had very restricted circulation. With a result that the British Secret Service became aware of the fact that someone in the Berlin station, or had been in the Berlin station, had given secrets away. It was then, their principle aim to discover who, and they set up a small commission which worked for several months, and that was one result of the defection of Konyevski. The other one was that he knew that the Soviets had recruited the clerk of the British Naval Attaché in Warsaw, a petty officer in the Navy, called Holton. Holton had been recruited by the Soviets, and after that word came in Portsmouth he was in Portland, this experimental station, and who provided very important information about technical developments in the Royal Navy.

Interviewer: What kind of developments? Submarine developments?

George Blake: I think it was connected to submarine developments, mainly, yes. I think it was also maybe mines, maybe torpedoes, that sort of thing.

Interviewer: So one defector led to the arrest, not only of yourself, but also of the Krogers?

George Blake: Yes, it led in the first place to the arrest of course of Holton. Holton was followed to a meeting which he had with Lonsdale, who was an illegal resident in London. After that, they followed Lonsdale, and they came to the Krogers who lived in Ruislip, in a cottage there and then they were arrested too. First Lonsdale was arrested, then they were arrested. They discovered radio equipment in the cellar of or in the kitchen -- the cellar under the kitchen of their house. The Krogers were then arrested, and they were sentenced. Lonsdale was sentenced to twenty-five years imprisonment and Kroger and his wife, let's say Morris Cohen and Lona, were sentenced to twenty years.

Interviewer: Tell me about your own sentence.

George Blake: I still was then living in Lebanon, studying Arabic. They were sentenced sometime in January or February. In April, the following April, I was recalled to London. I decided to go, but I wasn't altogether sure of the reasons why I was recalled. However, I was recalled, and at once presented with the accusation that I had been working for the Soviets.

Interviewer: And you stood trial?

George Blake: I stood trial, and I thought I would get fourteen years, which was the highest sentence for passing official secrets in peace time. The British Secret Service and the British government obviously thought that wasn't enough for what I had done, and they simply took various periods of my service in different countries, in London, Germany and Milan, and gave me fourteen years for each of these periods. That added up to forty-two years. Now as I've said, I had been expecting fourteen years. I had been hoping it might be less, but fourteen years is a very long period, if you can visualise it. When the Judge said forty-two years, it didn't really mean anything. I mean it had no affect on me, because it sounded so fantastic. It was so unreal. Nobody would know what might happen in forty-two years. I must say now, that, in a way, I'm grateful to the judge, when he gave me such a long sentence, because it made my position in prison very much easier. I became a rather unusual person, let's say.

Interviewer: Did people feel sorry for you?

George Blake: I think there were a lot of people who felt sorry for me.

Interviewer: And wanted to help you?

George Blake: As a result I found people who were willing to help me. For the reason that they thought that it was inhuman -- that kind of sentence was inhuman and unusual. And they did help me, and I did get out. There were both people inside prison who helped me and people outside the prison, and without their help of course, that couldn't have happened. If I had been given fourteen years, I'm quite sure I would have had to serve the full sentence.

Interviewer: Instead of you escaped.

George Blake: Instead of which I escaped.

Interviewer: Which prison was it by the way?

George Blake: Wormwood Scrubbs.

Interviewer: Whom did you meet in Wormwood Scrubbs?

George Blake: In Wormwood Scrubbs I met, of course, many people; one of them was Morris Cohen. In the first place, I met Lonsdale. I met Cohen only twice, on the occasion that he was in Wormwood Scrubbs to have an operation. He was in fact, detained in another prison, but I don't remember the name just now.

Interviewer: Could we maybe do the two meetings separately, so they don't get muddled up? So first of all, tell me about meeting Lonsdale. What did you say to each other?

George Blake: I met Lonsdale very early on in my sentence, one of the first days that I was in Wormwood Scrubbs, due to a bureaucratic mix up. Usually, of course, spies shouldn't meet each other and shouldn't be able to communicate with each other. Such an instruction was given by the MI5 to the prison administration, which is a different department of the Home Office. The instruction was that we should be put on special watch. Now, in MI5, they probably didn't realise that special watch in prison means that you are put only on what they call the escape list. This is for people who had escaped from prison and had been caught again, or people who are suspected of wanting to escape. And then you get a large patch, several uniforms, and you have to change cells every night, and you are kept together as a small group. As a result of these instructions, instead of keeping us apart, we were put together in this small group of people. When we exercised in the yard, all the prisoners would go around in one big circle, and we were in a small inner circle going in the other direction. A group of about eight people who were on special watch, and so we had every opportunity of talking together for twenty minutes or half an hour, as long as the exercise lasted.

Interviewer: What did you talk about?

George Blake: We talked about life in general we didn't give details about each others work. We felt great sympathy for each other, and we struck up a friendship. He was a very easy person to get on with. He was very cheerful. He was always full of anecdotes and laughing, we often laughed out very loudly and people, the other prisoners came round to circle and they thought, well what have these people to laugh about. One of them has just got twenty-five years and the other forty-two years. Still that's how it was. One of the things he said to me, he was very optimistic person and I didn't believe in him, was 'you know, George that on the fiftieth anniversary of the October revolution, which will be in sixty-seven,' it was then sixty-one, 'you and I will be in Red Square in Moscow, celebrating'. I replied 'well I hope so, but I doubt it very much'. The funny thing is that he turned out to be right. We were both in Moscow in May in 1967, the anniversary of the October revolution, and we did celebrate.

Interviewer: Now you also met Morris Cohen at the jail.

George Blake: I also met Morris Cohen, but I didn't have so much opportunity then of getting to know him, because he was in Wormwood Scrubbs for an operation. You probably know that Wormwood Scrubbs is situated immediately next to Hammersmith Hospital. Any persons in prison in England who are suffering from an ailment which required an operation are often sent to Wormwood Scrubbs prison, Wormwood Scrubbs prison hospital, and then transferred to the Hammersmith Hospital. Morris had trouble with his hands they were going together. I don't know exactly what they cramped and then he couldn't open them, and they had to be operated on. These operations were done in two parts, first on one hand and then some months later on the other, and so I met him on two occasions.

Interviewer: Were you able to talk?

George Blake: We were able to talk, but not very much, just in passing.

Interviewer: What kind of things did you say?

George Blake: Well we just exchanged friendly remarks but there was no detailed conversation like I had with Lonsdale, there simply wasn't the opportunity.

Interviewer: What kind of remarks, because you were both fellow agents.

George Blake: Yes, we just felt sympathy for each other being in the same position, there wasn't that contact then which there had been with Lonsdale. Simply because it wasn't possible.

Interviewer: How did you come to meet Morris Cohen again?

George Blake: When I went to Gloucester, in 1966, I met him by accident. My mother had come by then to live near Moscow for a short while. I was married and she stayed with me, this is sometime 1967, I think. They had just been released, or maybe it was even later. I don't quite remember.

Interviewer: Just tell me how you met.

George Blake: I just met him in the street. Which turned out later to be quite near where he lived, and he'd been shopping. It was summer and he was walking with his shopping bag and I was walking with my mother we saw each other, and recognised each other. It was very nice to see each other. For reasons which I can guess, it wasn't at that time thought desirable that we should continue our contact, and so I didn't see him again, he didn't contact me, I gave him my telephone number. I did see him again for it must have been, nearly ten years. I was asked by somebody in the service if I would make contact with Morris and Lona, so that they could have a friend. They had many friends, but some people had very much in common with them, who'd been in British prison with them. I was asked to because I had adapted myself very easily, although the first years were difficult, to Soviet life. Perhaps they thought in the service that I could be of assistance in helping people who had a harder time. I would say that Morris and Lona didn't find it easy, but they were much older, they were at least ten years older than I and they had no children. So it was thought that it might be a good thing if we met and if we established a friendship, and that's what happened. I first went to see them, and we got on very well together and of course, we had shared memories, about our prison life mainly. And of course a very important thing was, and that shows what kind people they were, that my escape had a very detrimental affect on them. Before they were kept in you know prison, Lona was in an open women's prison, and Morris was in closed prison, but a normal prison. After my escape, on the very night of my escape, they were both transferred to closed prison and Morris was taken to the Isle of White. He was put in a high security wing, with train robbers and all the other very dangerous and serious criminals. The conditions of his detention became very much stricter and more severe, and a very important thing from that point of view was, they were people that had no children, and they were very much in love with each other. That their love was strengthened by the fact that they were both serving a cause in which they very much believed and that cemented their love, perhaps the hardest thing for them was their separation. Under the prison rules, as man and wife they were able to meet once a month. That's quite an operation from the British point of view, because they had to be taken each to a prison which was somewhere in the middle between where they prisons were. They met then in a separate room and were given tea and biscuits and of course for them those meetings were great events. After my escape, they had new conditions, they were only allowed to meet once every three months, because it was such an operation to, to bring them together from a security point of view. That of course hit them rather hard.

Interviewer: The thing is you got to know them

George Blake: They never complained to me and they never resented it. That I had been the reason for the, for the very serious change in their condition.

Interviewer: As you got to know them, you must have learnt a little bit about their passed lives and their careers. Did Morris ever talk about the Spanish civil war and why that?

George Blake: Yes indeed, very often he did, very often. That was one of the high moments of his life.

Interviewer: What influence did the Spanish civil war have on Morris Cohen?

George Blake: I think it had very great influence, because Morris was in this anti-fascist, anti-nazi movement in America, and there of course were many people with Communist views and socialist views, and anarchist views indeed. When the war in Spain broke out, they felt tha he was a young man, to go and fight in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade and the International Brigade, what we called the American part of it was called the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, so he volunteered. They went to Spain and he told me an interesting story how they had been passed on from Paris to the Pyenese. Then they marched through the mountains to the point where they crossed the Spanish frontier. There, before their eyes, spread Spain and without any prior agreement, they stood there and they all sang the international and that was a very moving moment in their lives. Then he fought in Spain and he was wounded and in hospitalised. That was the end of his fight in the Spanish War and it was also the end of the Spanish War. Then he returned to America.

Interviewer: Did he ever say when he started to work for the KGB?

George Blake: He never told me exactly the circumstances of his recruitment, but, I think Morris started working actively for the Soviet Union after his return to America from Spain.

Interviewer: Do we know what he was doing?

George Blake: I don't know.

Interviewer: How did he meet Lona?

George Blake: He met Lona in the same circumstances, very much in the same circumstances. He was a member of the Communist party and she was a member of the Communist party and they met at a meeting. Then he asked her to come and have a cup coffee with him. He liked her very much and she liked him, and he thought that she would be a supper wife for him, because he had to consider that he needed a wife who would help him and assist him and who would agree with his views and activities. He soon discovered that she was that kind of person, and so he proposed to her and she accepted and at the same time, she accepted to become his assistant, as it were.

Interviewer: As, as a spy?

George Blake: As a spy. But later on, who was the assistant? And who was the main actor? It was a bit more difficult to decide, because she was a very, very resolute woman, very determined and he was a rather retiring person. Very kind with a very good heart, good-hearted and not in the least aggressive.

Interviewer: So, in a way she became the more dominant of the two?

George Blake: I sometimes suspect that certain periods of their career she was sort of the leading person.

Interviewer: Did she ever talk to you about her work, her espionage work at Los Alamos?

George Blake: No, they never talked about that. No.

Interviewer: Did she ever talk about what she felt they'd achieved by helping their small part in helping the Soviet Union build the bomb?

George Blake: I think they felt proud.

Interviewer: Did they ever say this to you themselves?

George Blake: Yes.

Interviewer: What did they actually say to you?

George Blake: What did they actually say to me? I don't think they said anything specifically, which I could say well this sentence expresses their, their views. I think they felt what many of us felt, and what Donald McClain felt who was more open about his part in the passing of secrets on the atomic bomb. By helping the Soviet Union to achieve the manufacture of the bomb more quickly, because of course, I think they would have manufactured it anyway, but it would have taken much longer. By helping them, they were re-establishing the balance and they were saving the World from an atomic catastrophe. Although they didn't put it so, as I say it, I think that was the thought behind it, and that they helped the World, to save the World from an atomic war, and I fully shared their views in that respect.

Interviewer: Now, did Lona ever talk to you about missing her family and not having children?

George Blake: They missed their family and they had no contact with their family, or very little. Just before she died in hospital of cancer, the Russian intelligence service made it possible for her sister, with whom she'd been very close, to come to Moscow and to see her in hospital. She was here for a week I think and shortly after her sisters visit, Lona died. I never asked them the question directly. It was a delicate question to ask, I'm almost sure that they very much missed not having children, and they both were very, very fond of children. They had many friends and neighbours, both in Britain and in Russia, with whom they had close contact with, because they were people who had the gift of friendship, they always were very interested in these peoples children. I think the great sacrifice they made for the cause in which they believed, was not having children, because they felt that it wouldn't be right to bring up children in the conditions in which they had to live.

Interviewer: How about yourself. I mean, you lived all these years under, what must have been extraordinary pressure. What did it do to your first marriage?

George Blake: Well it didn't do any harm to my marriage as such, I mean to my relations with my wife, but I feel guilt towards my wife and my children. I was already committed to working for the Soviet Union before I met her. I was put before the dilemma, I either had to tell her about it, or to deceive her, or to find some reason why I shouldn't marry her. Well I realised that I couldn't tell her about it, because that would make her, an accessory to the crime. I also realised that I would be putting a very, very heavy burden on her, because she was a person of conservative views, who had a conventional English upbringing and all this would have been completely alien to her, so I realised I couldn't tell her about it. At the same time, I couldn't give her a good reason why I shouldn't marry her, because our relationship was developing in such a way that the natural result of it would be marriage. I tried various ways to put her off, but I couldn't and so I married her, and I think I shouldn't have done that. I should have, in fact, not have married anybody, not only her, but nobody, and I shouldn't have had any children, but, I had them. In a way I have been extraordinarily lucky because I have not lost contact with my children, I have three sons in England and they come a visit me regularly, I have very good contact with them. I didn't see them for nearly twenty years, but when they were grown up, they expressed a wish to get to know me. My wife didn't put any obstacles in the way, as she could have done and they came, and of course it was a very emotional. In a way, it was a very difficult moment, because I had to explain to them my whole story.

Interviewer: You said that you'd felt guilty that you'd married. How did you feel when you discovered your wife was pregnant?

George Blake: The point is that once you're in that situation, which I found myself, I had by then been working for the KGB for several years, one just had to go on with it. I couldn't retire, that wouldn't have been any help to anybody, and one always hopes for the best. And I hoped that I would be able to go on working for a long time, even though that might be improbable. Perhaps I hoped somewhere that I, one day, would be able to explain the situation to her. As time went along, I realised that was not possible.

Interviewer: How could you live this life?

George Blake: You have to have a split mind, one part of your mind has the ordinary life, everyday life which everybody leads, and the other part of your mind is the mind which works as the agent for the Soviet Union, or rather any other country, but you have to have somewhere inside you that separation. Otherwise, you couldn't possibly do it. That is my explanation.

Interviewer: Did you sometimes almost forget you were a KGB agent?

George Blake: Yes, I think I forgot it. I mean in the beginning, when I started work, of course one is apprehensive. I was apprehensive at the first meeting. One is apprehensive when one takes the first photographs, but gradually, like all things, one gets used to it. It just becomes routine and you don't even think about it anymore. Unless there are any signs of danger, you just go on normally.

Interviewer: How frightened did you get at times?

George Blake: Well I can't remember any time that I was that I would call frightened. Nothing happened that gave me reason to be frightened over those years, except the very last moment when I realised that the British knew about it. That was of course a very unpleasant moment.

Interviewer: I bet. Now you've lived long enough to ask yourself I would imagine fairly fundamental questions. The World's changed a lot since then. What did you believe you were doing? How did you justify what you were doing in your mind at the time?

George Blake: I justified it in my mind by believing that I was helping, in a small way, in building a new society. In which there would be equality, social justice, no longer any War, no longer any national conflict, that was my dream as it were.

Interviewer: And do you still believe in that new society?

George Blake: I believe that sometime in the very far future, humanity will live that way. That nations will come together, I see it already happening coming more and more together. When you think of the Wars between France and Britain and the Wars between France and Germany and now they've almost forming one state and nobody thinks of the possibility of a War. I think it's quite conceivable that in time, all nations will live in that kind of World. I believe then that what was going on in the Soviet Union was a positive step in that direction, and that was not to the detriment of Britain, not to the detriment of any country, but on the contrary, would in the end be beneficial to them all.

Interviewer: Do you believe that the political doctrine you serve, you know faithfully, has succeeded or failed?

George Blake: Well, obviously it has failed. It has not been possible to build that society. It set very high standards, because not only would life in the Soviet Union or in any other country which adopted that system, have to be just as good as in the Capitalist world, it would have to be better. So that other peoples, other nations would want to join it, and obviously we have failed in that. There can be no question about it.

The reason I have worked out for myself is that a Communist society is in a way a perfect society, and we are not perfect people. And imperfect people cannot build a perfect society. People have to change a great deal still and it will take many, many, many generations and perhaps thousands and thousands of years before we can build such a society. I also think that it is a very noble experience, which deserves experiment, which deserved to be successful. But which wasn't successful, because of human frailty.

Interviewer: But does that make you wonder whether your giving your life to this cause was worthwhile?

George Blake: Yes, because I think it is never wrong to give your life to a noble ideal, and to a noble experiment, even if it doesn't succeed.

Interviewer: Is that how the Cohen's felt.

George Blake: I'm sure that's how they felt. That's how Donald Maclean felt. That's how Philby felt. That's how we all felt. That's how many, I think, Soviet people feel, it wasn't wrong, the idea was very noble, is still very noble, but at this stage in human history, unattainable.

Return to KGB Interviews

horizontal line

© 1999 Abamedia, unless otherwise indicated.