They were two of Britain’s most notorious double agents, responsible for passing on some of this country’s most sensitive secrets to the Russians, but documents reveal that Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean were viewed in an unflattering light by their Soviet masters.
Among thousands of typed Russian documents in the Mitrokhin archive, open to public inspection for the first time this week, they describe how Burgess, who was “constantly drunk”, horrified his KGB controllers by staggering out of a pub one evening and dropping stolen Foreign Office documents on the pavement. Moscow was also kept informed about Donald Maclean’s alcoholic binges and loose tongue.
It emerges that the spy they valued most was the remarkable Melita Norwood, nicknamed “The Spy Who Came in From the Co-op”, who died in 2005 aged 93. She was never prosecuted and would never have been exposed but for the archive of Vasili Mitrokhin, a senior officer in the Soviet political police who brought the documents to Britain after he defected.
When she was uncovered in 1999, she was living quietly in Bexleyheath and flatly refused to apologise for her past. From 1937 to 1971, she passed to the Soviet Union information she picked up as the personal assistant to the head of the British Association for Non-Ferrous Metals Research, which was working on nuclear technology. For 11 years, the Soviets paid her £20 a month. They offered to reward her when she visited the USSR in 1979, but she declined.
Another exceptionally valuable spy kept so well out of sight that his or her name is still unknown.
Russia possesses an amazing collection believed to contain every Foreign Office cable sent to or from any major British embassy between 1924 and 1936. The Mitrokhin archive reveals they were passed to Soviet intelligence by an unnamed cipher clerk working in the Rome embassy.