The former British spy and Soviet Union double agent George Blake has died at the age of 98.
The RIA news agency reported that Blake died in Russia, citing the country’s SVR foreign intelligence agency. “We received some bitter news – the legendary George Blake passed away,” it said.
Blake was the last in a line of British spies to operate secretly for the Soviet Union, exposing the identities of hundreds of western agents across eastern Europe in the 1950s and humiliating the intelligence establishment when his work was discovered at the height of the cold war.
Some of the agents Blake exposed were executed as a result of his treason, making him one of the most notorious double agents of the era, alongside the ring of double agents known as the Cambridge Five.
When Blake’s cover was blown in 1961, he was sentenced to 42 years’ imprisonment in London’s Wormwood Scrubs. He escaped in 1966 with the help of other inmates and two activists, and was smuggled out of the UK in a camper van.
Blake, right, pictured in Moscow with the fellow double agent Kim Philby. Photograph: Daily Mail/Rex/Shutterstock
After making it across the iron curtain into East Berlin undiscovered, he spent the rest of his life in the Soviet Union, now Russia, where he was feted as a hero.
In an interview with Reuters in Moscow in 1991, Blake said he had believed communism was “an ideal which, if it could have been achieved, would have been well worth it. I thought it could be, and I did what I could to help it, to build such a society. It has not proved possible. But I think it is a noble idea and I think humanity will return to it.”
Born in Rotterdam in the Netherlands in 1922 to a Dutch mother and an Egyptian Jewish father who was a naturalised Briton, he escaped from the Netherlands in the second world war and reached Britain in January 1943. After joining the British navy, he started working for the British Secret Intelligence Service, MI6, in 1944.
After the war, Blake read Russian at Cambridge University before being sent in 1948 to Seoul where he gathered intelligence on communist North Korea, China and the Soviet far east.
He was captured and imprisoned when North Korean troops took Seoul after the Korean war began in 1950, becoming a committed communist during his imprisonment.
Blake, Philby and their respective wives in 1975. Photograph: ANL/Rex/Shutterstock
After his release in 1953 he returned to the UK, and in 1955 he was sent by MI6 to Berlin, where he collected information on Soviet spies but also passed secrets to Moscow about British and US operations.
Blake, who went by the Russian name Georgy Ivanovich, was awarded a medal by the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, in 2007 and received a pension from the former KGB security service.
“These are the happiest years of my life, and the most peaceful,” Blake said in the 2012 interview marking his 90th birthday.
He did not express regret about his past. “Looking back on my life, everything seems logical and natural,” he said, describing himself as happy and lucky.