Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Spy Blake Emerges From Shadows

Secret agent George Blake — to Russia a legendary hero, to Britain a notorious traitor — emerged from the shadows on Thursday to extol departed colleagues and lament lost passions.

Blake, who escaped from a British jail in 1966 while serving a 42-year sentence for passing secrets to the Soviets, turned up at a Moscow news conference to unveil a book of prison letters — mostly love letters — by three other famous spies.

"These were people who deeply believed in the ideals of communism," Blake said. "When you read their correspondence, you will feel how it breathes with love. They had two characteristics that stand out: their love for each other and their loyalty to the ideals to which they gave their lives. I believe it was their love that gave them the strength to carry out their work."

Blake wrote the introduction to the book, "From Her Majesty's Prisons," which collects letters by the Americans Morris and Lona Cohen, who operated in Britain under the names Peter and Helen Kroger, and their cell chief, Soviet spy mastermind Konon Molody, who posed as Canadian businessman Gordon Lonsdale.

At the time, Blake was a high-level British intelligence officer who told Moscow, among other secrets, of a tunnel that the Americans and British dug under Berlin to tap Soviet cables. Britain arrested the Cohens, Molody and Blake in 1961.

A year after Blake's escape, the Cohens and Molody were freed in a prisoner swap. Molody died shortly after, but the Cohens, who had relayed secrets about the U.S. nuclear bomb project to Moscow, joined Blake among the small group of foreign ex-spies living out their retirement in Moscow.

It took two more decades for the couple to meet Blake and become friends.

The Cohens died in the early 1990s. President Boris Yeltsin posthumously named them heroes of Russia, the country's highest honor, for helping Moscow to develop the nuclear bomb.

Blake said he and the Cohens watched the Soviet Union fall with sadness, but had no regrets about their spying, convinced they had helped avert nuclear Armageddon by strengthening Moscow and building a Cold War balance of power.

"We were disappointed that our dream to build a communist society would not be realized," Blake said. "It turned out that you cannot build a perfect society with imperfect people."

There was an air of nostalgia at the book launch as former spies acknowledged Moscow can no longer draw on eager legions of communist believers around the world.

"If you take the first 20 years after World War II, people used to come to us voluntarily because they believed the Soviet Union was building the future of humanity," said Sergei Kondrashyov, head of disinformation activity for Soviet intelligence during that era. "Now we are living in a different era … but there are still contradictions in national interests, and that means we always need to gather information."

Secrets are unlikely to emerge from the book: The letters have already been scanned by British authorities.

Now 78, Blake says he enjoys "a very interesting life" working at a Moscow international affairs school and spending summers hiking and swimming at a country house outside the city.

He left three children behind in Britain, but has a new family in Russia.

"I am happily married. I've got a son and daughter-in-law and a small grandchild whom I am very fond of. And so my life has many facets, and I think I have been very lucky the way it has all worked out."