Oleg Gordievsky, the former KGB double agent, is a difficult man to pin down.
In the Sunday Times yesterday, he and six other former KGB officers claimed that in the Sixties the KGB had regarded Michael Foot as one of its "agents of influence". They maintained that a number of small cash payments had been made to help to fund Tribune, the left-wing newspaper Mr Foot then edited.
Yet in 1992, Mr Gordievksy told the Independent that in the early Eighties, when Mr Foot was party leader and a potential prime minister, that the Soviet Union had no "particularly helpful friends" among Labour leaders.
So which Gordievsky are we to believe? After all, he was a Soviet spy for 12 years and then a double agent for MI6 for 11. His trade was treachery and dissimulation. Now retired, he is writing books attempting to set in stone his view of the Cold War, and make money.
In 1984, Mr Gordievsky, described as "London's Kim Philby", helped to secure the conviction of an MI5 officer, Michael Bettaney, for passing secrets to the Soviet embassy. A year later, as acting head of the KGB's London station, he defected and was given a substantial Surrey stockbroker- belt house by MI6 with a pension said to be worth about £20,000 a year. He went into hiding and assumed a disguise, fearful of attack from KGB colleagues whom he had betrayed. With the collapse of Communism in Moscow, he began to relax and make contacts with British journalists.
Late last year, the Spectator, relying on Mr Gordievsky's testimony, outed the Guardian's former literary editor, Richard Gott, as "an agent of influence". Mr Gordievsky then promptly announced he had a list of 24 "establishment" figures who had also been recruited as "agents of influence".
Their identities, he said, would be revealed in his forthcoming autobiography, A Spy in London, serialisation rights of which have been bought by the Sunday Times. Yesterday that paper published Mr Gordi- evsky's allegations against Mr Foot and claimed nine other distinguished Labour and trade union leaders had also been KGB targets. Five of these (Lord Briginshaw, Bob Edwards, Jim Slater, Ian Mikardo and Lord Brockway) are dead, three (Jack Jones, Ray Buckton and Ron Brown) yesterday denied all charges of impropriety. The fourth (Fred Halliday, alleged to be an "unwitting" target) was uncontactable.
In 1992, Mr Gordievsky told the Independent that the Soviet Union had "no particularly helpful" friends among Labour Party leaders or MPs in the 1980s. He added: "Diplomatically or politically, none of them committed any blunder or mistake. I think they were impeccable. There are no revelations to come."
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