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

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)

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher A specialist primary school i...

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links