Blair Government Under Fire Over Spy Row

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:07 PM EDT

London ( - Britain's opposition Conservatives are calling on Tony Blair's government to issue a statement on the state of the country's intelligence services, as the media continues to name alleged former spies for communist regimes.

For more than a week, the names of alleged British agents recruited by the Soviet KGB and East German Stasi agencies have been published, in what Conservative lawmaker Anne Widdecombe says has become a "spy a day" farce.

The charges are contained in a new book published by an academic, based on secret documents made available by Vasili Mitrokhin, a KGB operative who defected to Britain towards the end of the Cold War.

Those named as agents include an 87-year-old great grandmother living in south London, still openly sympathetic to communism, who has not denied passing highly sensitive information to the Soviets while working as a secretary for a body researching non-ferrous metals.

Others were professors at British universities, Labor lawmakers, civil servants, and an anti-nuclear campaigner. Several have denied the charges, while others have declined to comment. Some of those named are dead.

Widdecombe, the Tory spokesperson on the department overseeing the security services, has demanded a full statement from Home Secretary Jack Straw.

Straw's department announced in a statement over the weekend it would be "grossly irresponsible" for it to make public the results of its inquiries into spying allegations.

"The security service's record may be perfectly defensible," responded Widdecombe, "but we can't know that without a proper statement.

"We either have these names of spies dripped out through the media or we have a comprehensive statement from the Home Office. Jack Straw appears to think we should be finding out through the press."

She vowed to press Straw for a full statement when parliament ends its current recess.

With more names expected to be disclosed this week, the London Times reports Monday that the security services have since 1994 been investigated cases of alleged Stasi infiltration.

Britons who spied for the East Germans may still face criminal charges, it said. It has been noted that, although she was identified as a spy years ago, the 87-year old, Melita Norwood, was never prosecuted.

Meanwhile MI5 and MI6, Britain's domestic and foreign intelligence services respectively, are facing growing pressure.

A cross-party parliamentary committee commissioned to investigate the allegations contained in the Mitrokhin archives will now widen its focus to look into overall procedures adopted by the two services.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow