Anthony Blunt was finally unmasked as a traitor to the West. (The Times/Getty)


Spies?  I’ve known a few


Spies?  I’ve known a few. Start with this one: As a student in London, I was at lectures given by Anthony Blunt, then known to the public as a leading art historian and Surveyor of the Queen’s Pictures.

He was an Englishman smooth in the ways of Cambridge-educated homosexuals, particularly brilliant on French Baroque painting. He was also known to have a determination to make every woman in the lectures break down in tears at least once.

Yet Blunt was secretly known to the British security service as a Soviet spy from the 1930s to at least the early 1950s. After confessing his role to MI5 in 1964 – and this remains extraordinary – his crimes were kept secret. He was given immunity, kept his knighthood and was allowed to continue at the University of London and Buckingham Palace.

That was until 1979 when then-UK prime minister Margaret Thatcher had had enough of the chummy concealment and blew Blunt’s cover in the House of Commons.

This past week end even more crimes were alleged against Blunt. The British Sunday Times disclosed evidence that the spy had also leaked intelligence to the Nazi regime.

Blunt wanted to slow down the Allied advance across the Netherlands to give the Soviets time to reach Berlin. Thousands of Allied soldiers died in Operation Market Garden because Blunt had apparently warned the Germans of the attack.

Blunt was number four in a group of five traitors who all came from Cambridge University. After he was exposed, the question was asked: who was the last of the Cambridge Five?

As it happens, I was working with one of the family of the fifth man after that story broke. Innocent, kind and intelligent, he was burdened with the name of a spy-traitor. Because of that, I will not mention his name here.

Any more spies?

Only two. First, I was too thick to realise a friend’s American stepfather, who was doing something “interesting” in Beirut, was actually the head CIA man there. That came out later.

Then there was the American Embassy official I came across at a Dublin diplomatic drinks party. He was new in town, he said, there to observe negotiations for the Peace Talks in Northern Ireland.

Trouble was, when I tried to talk to him about various points, he seemed vague on details.

After a while, I went over to a veteran US State Department official across the room.

Bad, I said, that the State Department does not brief its men better. “Is that what he told you?,” asked my veteran friend. Small pause, small laugh. He added: “He is CIA and he is in Ireland to track the Arabs who are here having flying lessons.”

This was before 9/11.

What did I learn from my personal band of spies? That they did what they did either through ideology or as a patriotic profession.

I hate the Communist ideology that drove Blunt. He recruited the infamous British spies Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean, whose activities caused the deaths of unknown numbers of resistance fighters. They all had the deadly arrogance to imagine they were acting as leading “anti-fascists”.

As for the CIA spies, they were acting in effect as information soldiers. I have no problem with that generation of professional espionage agents.

Now, though, we have other kinds of spies, lately so many that one must wonder: “Why are there so many?” More, one must also wonder: “Just how many more are there that we do not know about yet?”

And: “Why are they doing it?”

On the morning of April 23, the German police in Dresden arrested a man who worked on the staff of a leading MEP, claiming that the man spied for China. The Public Prosecutor released a statement that a man identified in the usual manner by German authorities only as Jian G “is an employee of the Chinese secret service”.

“In January 2024, the accused repeatedly passed on information about negotiations and decisions in the European Parliament to his intelligence service client. He also spied on Chinese opposition members in Germany for the intelligence service,” alleged a report by CNN.

More to the point, Jian G was on the staff of Maximilian Krah, the leading candidate for the right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) party in the European Parliament elections in June.

This is where politics hots-up the spying.

The German interior minister Nancy Faeser, of the left-wing Social Democratic Party, immediately insisted that “whoever employs such a person is responsible”. Anything to smash an AfD politician.

For those of us with long spy-memories, that outburst could be seen as a tactical mistake.

One of the previous giant figures from Faeser’s party, Chancellor Willy Brandt, was forced to resign in 1974 after it became known that one of his personal assistants was a spy for the East German state.

I doubt Faeser would say it was all Brandt’s fault that the Stasi state landed a spy in the Chancellor’s office.

Nor was it likely to be Krah’s fault if the Chinese slid a spy onto his staff. Chinese intelligence is hardly likely to be crass in its approach to employment applications.

Jian G is not the only alleged Chinese spy who has surfaced.

On April 21, three German nationals were also arrested. CNN reported on a statement from the Public Prosecutor’s Office: “Thomas R acted as an agent for a Chinese Ministry of State Security employee, gathering information on German military technologies. He used the two other suspects – Herwig F and Ina F, who operate a Düsseldorf-based company – to establish connections within the German scientific community.”

Elsewhere, in Britain this week two men, one a parliamentary aide at Westminster, have been charged under the Official Secrets Act. On April 26, they will appear at Westminster magistrate’s court to face charges of providing prejudicial information to a foreign State.

Foreign State being China.

The two accused men, Christopher Berry, 32, and Christopher Cash, 29, both lived and taught in China. Berry returned to the UK with a Chinese wife.

If they did spy, why would they? One could ask the same question of the Germans who have been charged as well.

Was it for money? Maybe.

Certainly, one hopes none of those charged in Germany or Britain is ideologically aligned with a Chinese regime that, just for starters, keeps a million Uyghurs in the terror of forced labour, forced sterilisations and mass internments in Xinjiang.

Spying for money is slimy but spying to support such Chinese totalitarianism is revolting.

Which is it?

Before anyone is convicted, we need to keep one more possibility in mind. Go back to my line, “Berry returned with a Chinese wife.”

One must ask if any of her family in China are under threat from the Beijing Government. Come back to Britain with one wife but that is leaving behind as hostages two parents and maybe brothers and sisters.

We do not know.

All we know is that China is planting spies in the West and sometimes they are discovered. How they were planted here, what the motives of the spies are, we do not yet know.

Just remember that, in this generation of spies, while ideology could as ever be the cause, or money, now one must add the blackmail of torture for families left behind.