7 Jul 2014

Constantly drunk, can’t keep secrets: KGB on Cambridge spies

New KGB files reveal what Soviets thought about two of the UK’s most famous double-agents Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean – and they were not very impressed.

The newly revealed files from the Soviet archives contain thousands of pages of documents about the Brits who spied for the Soviet Union.

The Mitrokhin Archive, which opens to the public for the first time, has been described by the FBI as the most complete intelligence ever received from any source. And the intelligence files do not paint two of the five Cambridge spies, recruited while at university in the 1930s, in the most flattering light.

A short passage buried among more than 100 pages of intelligence, describes Guy Burgess as a man “constantly under the influence of alcohol”.

Once on his way out of a pub, he managed to drop one of the files of documents he had taken from the Foreign Office KGB on Burgess

Written in Russian retells an occasion when Burgess drunkenly risked exposing his double identity: “Once on his way out of a pub, he managed to drop one of the files of documents he had taken from the Foreign Office on the pavement,” translator Svetlana Lokhova explained.

When it comes to Maclean, the files describes him as a man who was “not very good at keeping secrets”.

It was believed that he had told one of his lovers and his brother about his work as a Soviet agent while he was the worse for wear, the file adds.

Similarly to Burges, the notes detailed alcohol binges and added that he was “constantly drunk”.

The Cambridge five

The Mitrokhin Archive has on Monday been opened to the public for the first time after being kept at a secret location for more than 20 years.

Major Vasili Mitrokhin smuggled the information out of Soviet archives during 12 years working for the KGB before defecting to Britain in 1992.

Among the thousands of pages of documents are profiles outlining the characteristics of Britons who spied for the Soviet Union. More than 200 names of British people who contributed to Soviet intelligence in some way are listed in the document’s appendix.

But it wasn’t all hopeless: the notes also provide an insight into the extent of the group’s activity as they helped the KGB penetrate the UK’s intelligence network at the highest level.

They describe how Burgess alone handed over 389 top secret documents to the KGB in the first six months of 1945, along with a further 168 in December 1949.

Along with Kim Philby, Anthony Blunt and a fifth man, widely believed to be John Cairncross, the Cambridge five passed information about the UK to the Soviet Union throughout the Second World War and into at least the 1950s.

After being recruited during their studies, the group went on to occupy positions within the Foreign Office, MI5 and the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS).