The British Spying Game

A clutch of academics, an anti-nuclear campaigner, a few old communists whose faith not even the Berlin Wall's collapse could shake: all are in Britain's newly revealed collection of Cold War spies.

These agents -- identified in a new book based on documents stolen from the KGB and the Stasi, communist East Germany's spy agency -- appear to be safe from the resounding calls for their prosecution.

Compared to famed traitors such as Kim Philby and Guy Burgess (the Cambridge-educated spies who gave the Kremlin top British secrets), most of them don't seem to have mattered much.

Former Stasi chief Markus Wolf said Tuesday he can't recall a single one of the spies who allegedly reported to his now-defunct agency.

"My memory, I think, is good enough, and the most important cases I know," Wolf said in a British Broadcasting Corp. radio interview.

Lawmakers opposed to Prime Minister Tony Blair's Labor Party government have demanded to know why prosecutions weren't launched against the alleged agents after KGB archivist Vasili Mitrokhin fled to Britain in 1992 with thousands of documents.

The Home Office, the government department responsible for security, defends the intelligence agency MI5, which did not initiate prosecutions against the suspects. It says the agency's work would be compromised by publicity about spy investigations.

To many Britons, though, it all seems so long ago -- intriguing like a spy novel, but somewhat irrelevant 11 years after the Berlin Wall fell.

"We've been reminded that reading about spying is a great British hobby, second only to gardening," commented Oxford historian Timothy Garton Ash, who has researched the Stasi's methods of spying on German nationals.

"But the quality of the spies is hardly impressive," said Garton Ash, writing in The Independent, a London daily.

The Sun tabloid, meanwhile, made lighthearted comparisons with characters from James Bond and other spy movies.

Melita Norwood, a former secretary and now an 87-year-old suburban great-grandmother who unabashedly acknowledges passing atomic secrets to the Kremlin, was featured alongside Honey Rider from the Bond move Dr. No. The headline: "Goldeneye versus Oldenspy."

One name surfacing in The Spying Game, from Stasi files, was Robin Pearson, 44, an economics lecturer who still teaches at the University of Hull in northern England.

For 12 years starting in 1977, Pearson assiduously met his East German handlers -- who praised him on the TV program -- and passed on names of likely recruits, as well as pinpointing former students with jobs at NATO and therefore likely targets for Soviet bloc agents.

David Gosling, a nuclear physicist who also taught at Hull, says he was drugged and robbed at his hotel in Poland while attending an academic conference in the late 1970s, and now suspects Pearson was to blame.

In a letter to London's Daily Telegraph on Tuesday, he urged that Pearson be prosecuted. Gosling described himself as possibly "the only academic left in Britain who does not regard spying as a romantic pastime."

Here is a list of the alleged British spies cited in KGB and Stasi papers:

  • MELITA NORWOOD: Former secretary, 87, acknowledges supplying British atomic secrets to the Kremlin.

  • JOHN SYMONDS: Former London policeman, 64, admits spying for Soviets by seducing women.

  • RAYMOND FLETCHER: Late British legislator cited as Russian agent in KGB papers. His widow denies it.

  • ROBIN PEARSON: University lecturer, 44, cited in TV documentary on Stasi papers as spying for East Germany until 1989. Pearson says there is "a story," but won't elaborate.

  • VICTOR ALLEN: Retired economics professor, 77, acknowledges giving East Germans information about British anti-nuclear activists.

  • RICHARD CLEMENS: Former editor of left-wing newspaper Tribune, 71, denies spying. Says his name appeared in KGB files probably because Soviet agents were padding expenses.

  • FIONA HOULDING: Cited in Stasi files as trained in mid-1980s. Denies any spying activities.

  • GWYNETH EDWARDS: Former university lecturer in German, cited in news reports of Stasi papers. Has not responded.