Britain considered him the biggest double-crosser ever. Russia loved him. Now, he’s dead.
George Blake had been self-isolating from the coronavirus near Moscow — his country home was a gift from the KGB — when he died Saturday at the age of 98, the Sun reported.
“I think that the word ‘traitor’ can be applied in describing me — but there are reasons which can justify what I’ve done,” he once said.
Russians mourned the Dutch-born Blake and described the man who they called Col. Georgiy Ivanovich Bleyk as the KGB’s oldest veteran.
“The bitter news has come — the legendary George Blake is gone,” said Sergey Ivanov of the SVR, the renamed KGB. “He died of old age, his heart stopped.”
Blake had been living in Russia since he defected to the former Soviet Union more than a half-century ago after escaping from a British prison, where he had been serving a 42-year prison sentence — a record — for espionage.
The Brit’s spy work led to the deaths of dozens of Western agents. He once claimed he had exposed 600 of his colleagues during the early days of the Cold War.
“I don’t know what I handed over because it was so much,” he said in 2009.
George Blake in 1966PA Images/Sipa USA
Even in his last years, Blake spied on Britain by listening to BBC broadcasts, his friends told the Sun.
For his birthday last month, Russia’s top spymaster Sergey Naryshkin told Blake that his adopted country sent him “warm and sincere wishes”.
Blake started working for MI6 in 1944 after serving in the Royal Navy during World War II. His first assignment was interrogating captured captains of Nazi U-boats.
Then, Britain sent Blake to Seoul, just before the onset of the Korean War in 1950, to spy on North Korea, China and the Soviet Far East, Reuters reported.
Invading North Korean soldiers captured Blake — and schooled him on communism. Later in life, though, he denied the indoctrination and attributed his conversion to America’s heavy bombing of North Korea.
During his three years as a prisoner of war, Blake met a KGB officer and accepted an offer to work for the Soviet Union after his release.
Britain welcomed Blake back, hailing him as a hero. Then, he went off to his next posting in Berlin, where he settled into his KGB work for nearly a decade — until MI6 found him out.
The traitor deserted his wife, MI6 secretary Gillian Blake, and their three sons — Anthony, James and Patrick — when he fled to Russia. He also had a son named Mikhail, by an unidentified Russian woman.
George Blake gestures as he speaks at a presentation in Moscow in 2001.Reuters
As men, Blake’s British sons all visited him in Moscow. James was the first son to track down his father.
“I explained the whole situation to him, why I’d done it and how I’d done it, and we talked for a very long time,” Blake once said. “He went back and must have given a favorable account, and then the others came out.”