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World - Europe

British great-grandmother was unlikely KGB spy for decades

Norwood spied for the Soviet Union for 45 years  

September 13, 1999
Web posted at: 10:44 p.m. EDT (0244 GMT)

From Correspondent Margaret Lowrie

LONDON (CNN) -- When you think of Cold War-era espionage, images of high-tech gadgets and James Bond usually come to mind.

Melita Norwood, 87, is probably the last person you'd suspect of spying for the KGB.

The British great-grandmother and lifelong Communist, code-named "Hola," spied for the Soviet Union for 45 years and has no regrets.

Norwood says she was motivated by ideology.

"I did what I did not to make money, but to help prevent the defeat of a new system which had -- at great cost -- given ordinary people food and fares which they could afford, good education and a health service," Norwood said.

As a secretary at the British Non-Ferrous Metals Research Association, Norwood had access to Britain's atomic secrets. She passed those documents on to the Soviet Union's then- Stalinist regime.

She was unmasked by KGB archivist Vasili Mitrokhin, who sneaked KGB files out of Russia in 1992 when he defected.

Mitrokhin used those files to write a book, scheduled for publication this week, with Cambridge University Professor Christopher Andrew.

"It means that there is absolutely nobody who spied for the Soviet Union between the Bolshevik Revolution and the mid- 1980s who can be absolutely certain that his or her secrets are safe," Andrew said.

The book also names a corrupt former Scotland Yard police official who worked as a Russian agent for approximately 10 years.

Other KGB spies named in the book include now-deceased British politicians and civil servants, as well as agents working under deep cover in the United States and other countries.

"If these files are as full as people say, they are going to get more names and so it's become a large public issue," said Hugo Young of The Guardian.

Norwood's daughter, Anita Ferguson, said her mother should be investigated but not prosecuted, because she did what she thought was "right for mankind."

"She's still sure what she did was right at the time, and so she has no regrets ... " Ferguson said.

The British government may not agree.

British intelligence has known about Norwood and the others since Mitrokhin's 1992 defection, and Britain's home secretary has been aware for nearly a year. It may have to be public disclosure that forces some kind of government action against the great-grandmother spy.


The Sunday Times in London
The Times in London
Library of Congress Soviet Archives Exhibit
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