Tell-tale spy the British want to keep in the cold

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The Independent Online
AT 9.45am on Tuesday a group of Russian and British archivists and historians will gather in room K123 at the Foreign Office in Whitehall. The agenda for the day-long seminar: the rewriting of history.

One man who will not be making any contribution to the discussion is Oleg Tsarev, a former colonel in the KGB. This is a shame, because he is one cause of the meeting.

Tsarev, now a private citizen, is a historical consultant to the Russian Intelligence Service, the KGB's successor. With the British historian John Costello he has written a new book billed as the first history of Soviet spying produced with direct access to official KGB archives.

The book, Deadly Illusions, due out this month, has sent a chill down the backs of some of the hardiest Cold War warriors.

It is the first of a series of books on Soviet espionage and the West due to be published in an exclusive deal between the Russian Intelligence Service and the US publishing company Random House.

Random House is coy about details of the deal struck with the RIS. Officially, the company has paid the Russians a 'surprisingly modest' advance fee - widely rumoured to be worth dollars 1m - and a share of the profits. The money will go towards improving the cataloguing of the RIS archives. The publishers do reveal that other titles being prepared cover the Cuban missile crisis, the 1961 Berlin crisis and KGB penetration of Britain and the US.

Costello and Tsarev's account deals with the Soviet spy chief Alexander Orlov, the mastermind behind three of the most successful espionage networks of the century. These included the notorious Cambridge spy ring in Britain, into which Orlov recruited Guy Burgess, Kim Philby, Donald Maclean and Anthony Blunt, and an identical Oxford ring which escaped detection.

Orlov fled to the United States in 1938 fearing that Stalin, the Soviet leader, was planning to kill him, and was believed by the West to be a genuine defector. The truth, according to documents in the KGB archives, was that despite being interrogated by CIA and FBI officials, the former KGB employee never revealed the existence of Soviet spy networks which operated against US and British interests during and after the Second World War - including penetration of the West's atomic bomb secrets.

In fact Orlov managed to live in America for several years without the FBI knowing he was there. The head of the FBI, J Edgar Hoover, discovered that a KGB general was living under his nose only when it was published on the front cover of Life magazine: his reaction was described as a 'mixture of incredulity, horror and wrath'.

Many of the documents described in the book as KGB archive material have been authenticated by US and British intelligence specialists, and existing declassified documents also support it. The result, according to Costello, is a unique opportunity to rewrite history. 'Access to the KGB archival records, controlled and selective though it has to be, nevertheless has now opened a new door to intelligence history, based on a wide range of primary Soviet sources.'

He described the new information as 'highly significant material which touches raw nerves' - so raw that Tsarev has been refused entry to Britain, and he will be unable to attend the Foreign Office Records Policy seminar when it meets in the Durbar Conference Room, as room K123 is better known, to discuss the question of the Soviet archives.

The Foreign Office has invited the Russians to the seminar on Tuesday 'to show them how it's done', according to Costello - control by selective release.

Tsarev's publishers allege that British diplomats have appealed to the Russians to stem the flood of secrets from their archives, and that they have urged them to cease co-operation with Tsarev and Costello. When their appeals failed, Britain made its displeasure felt through an informal approach directly to Boris Yeltsin, the Russian President.

The publishers have written to John Major urging him to intervene on Tsarev's behalf. Rupert Allason, MP and espionage writer, who knows Tsarev, appealed to the Foreign Secretary last week to grant him a visa.

Elizabeth Sich, of Random House, commented: 'It is a matter of record that Mr Tsarev was never declared persona non grata during the many years he worked in Britain as a Soviet journalist, and it would appear he is being singled out for unfair and discriminatory treatment.

'Other former members of the KGB who were asked to leave the country - including, most notably, Mikhail Lubimov - have twice been granted a visa to visit Britain.'

Tsarev was refused a visa to enter Britain in 1991, as a spokesman for the RIS, to talk about Costello's book on Rudolf Hess. He was told by the Government that a visa would not be granted to somebody who had knowingly deceived them in the past. Tsarev worked as a journalist in Britain from 1975-80 while actually working for the KGB. Tsarev points out it was the British who pioneered the idea of using the job of journalists as a cover for spies.

He is disappointed by the Government's stance and says he has no idea why this has happened. He recognises that the issue of declassifying and publishing intelligence information is a difficult one for the British.

'It is much easier for us to do this because we have cut with our past and we are writing the history in order not to make the same mistakes. I think it is much harder for the British ruling classes, because they see a continuity of policy. I think they feel the responsibility for what has been done in the past and the unpleasant events that have occurred. Maybe I am wrong. I would like to hear from them on this.'

Costello believes that the real reason Tsarev's visa has been refused (despite the fact he has been allowed to travel to the US and Germany) lies in British sensitivity to the disclosure of intelligence information. 'It is a sad irony that since the ending of the Cold War, Russia has realised what can be gained from opening up historic intelligence files and has taken the lead,' he said.

'America has responded by trying to catch up. Britain's response is to do absolutely nothing, and even try to keep America back by blocking the release of intelligence obtained by Britain and shared with the US.'

'Deadly Illusions', John Costello and Oleg Tsarev. Century pounds 18.99.

(Photographs omitted)