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Spy Scandal: Cold War club welcomes a new member

TO ABSENT friends they raised their glasses: to George Blake, who sent greetings from Moscow, and then to the pensioner whose name they didn't know, unmasked as one of their own for more than 40 years.

Yesterday, the retired agents of the CIA, KGB, MI5 and other sinister acronyms, gathered together for a convention at the former Nato listening station on Teufelsberg, near Berlin.

They cheerfully swapped anecdotes about the good old days. There were tales about a dead-letter drop in the powder room of the US ambassador's residence, stories about tunnelling mishaps, like the time the CIA accidentally burrowed into a Communist cesspit, and solemn recollections of the personal dangers encountered.

But most talk was of the mysterious pensioner in Bexleyheath, revealed as a Soviet spy, a discovery which in Teufelsberg created a frisson of excitement but not a great deal of surprise.

"I never had heard of this lady before," Major General Oleg Kalugin, formerly of the KGB and latterly engaged in the creation of a computer game called Spycraft, informed the Independent on Sunday."But I knew from some sources that there was a lady involved in atomic espionage."

Maj-Gen Kalugin was looking very smug. All morning he had listened to US and British agents bragging about the people they had "turned", to whom, if we are to believe them, the Free World owes its freedom.

"I think there is a tendency here to overstate the efficiency of Western intelligence, and underestimate the achievements of the KGB," he said. "Certainly in the late 1940s, we were the best outfit in the world. We had dozens of agents in Britain in those days, and in the US we had 200."

Soviet penetration of Britain, Blake's former controller added, was given a high priority.

"Stalin himself was perhaps more conscious of the British viciousness, because in their methods they were very similar to the NKVD [the forerunner of the KGB]," Maj-Gen Kalugin added. "He was obsessed with the British."

In contrast, the US intelligence community was held in low esteem at the Lubyanka. "The Americans were rookies in this game," he added. "They only got going in 1947, and even then they could only set up their intelligence organisation with the help of our agent Kim Philby."

Maj-Gen Kalugin, who was drummed out of the KGB in 1989 because of his critical political stance, thought that there were other superannuated spies still living in Britain.

Like agent "Hola", they will probably reveal themselves, because they want to talk. With past divisions fading, and espionage focusing on industry and commerce, the class of 1961 is finally able to unburden itself.

This weekend's spy convention will be followed by others, and next time maybe Hola will be there to tell them how she helped bring the Soviet Union into the nuclear age. And maybe "Karla" will be allowed to come out of his dacha. Then they will be one big happy family.