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Soviets thought Cambridge spies were drunks: archive

Members of the “Cambridge Five” ring of spies were regarded by their Soviet minders as hopeless drunks who could not keep secrets, espionage files released Monday showed.

Details on the five men recruited while studying at the University of Cambridge during the 1930s, including Donald Duart Maclean and Guy Burgess, have been released to the public for the first time.

The documents from the Mitrokhin Archive were unveiled by the Churchill Archive Centre in Cambridge, eastern England, after 20 years stored in a secret location.

Major Vasili Mitrokhin was a senior archivist in the KGB’s foreign intelligence archive from 1972 until his retirement in 1984, and, disillusioned with domestic Soviet oppression, secretly copied information by hand, before defecting to Britain with it in 1992.

The thousands of documents include profiles detailing the characteristics of Britons who spied for the Soviet Union. The names of more than 200 people who contributed to Moscow’s intelligence are listed in the appendix.

The Cambridge Five passed information about Britain to Moscow throughout World War II and into at least the Cold War of the 1950s.

Burgess was described as being “constantly under the influence of alcohol” and the KGB files recount one occasion where he risked exposing his treachery.

“Once on his way out of a pub, he managed to drop one of the files of documents he had taken from the Foreign Office on the pavement,” explained researcher Svetlana Lokhova from the archive centre.

Meanwhile the notes describe Maclean as “not very good at keeping secrets”, and “constantly drunk”.

It was thought he had told one of his lovers and his brother about his work as a Soviet agent while intoxicated, the file adds.

– Secret arms caches in West –

The FBI considers Mitrokhin’s material as the most complete intelligence ever received from any source on the subject.

Professor Christopher Andrew is the only historian to date to go through the archive.

“The inner workings of the KGB, its foreign intelligence operations and the foreign policy of Soviet-era Russia all lie within this extraordinary collection; the scale and nature of which gives unprecedented insight into the KGB’s activities throughout much of the Cold War,” he said.

Dressed in rags, Mitrokhin turned up in an unnamed Baltic city carrying the files in a suitcase full of dirty underwear.

Deterred by long queues at the US embassy, according to Andrew, he went to the British embassy, where he was welcomed in and offered a cup of tea.

A further 25,000 pages of files were recovered from his home and the defector’s family were exfiltrated to Britain.

The papers include notes on how pope John Paul II was closely monitored in Poland before being elected to the papacy.

They also give precise details of Soviet weapons caches hidden across the world during the Cold War.

The stores, which would have contained light arms and communications equipment, were intended for use by agents operating abroad should tensions escalate into a conflict.

Andrew said the caches were dotted around most major cities. Some have since been uncovered but many are likely to remain in place.

Mitrokhin died in 2004 aged 81 and wanted his files made available to the public. His family owns the documents and worked with the Churchill Archive Centre — which holds the papers of prime ministers Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher — to do so.

The major’s handwritten notes, made in school notebooks, remain classified and some information has been redacted.

However, 19 out of 33 box files containing his typewritten compilations of the original notes, all in Russian, can be accessed by visitors on appointment.