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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Spy Agency Honors Blake at 85

ReutersBlake giving an interview on his 85th birthday in Moscow on Saturday.
The Foreign Intelligence Service has honored double agent George Blake at a special gala for his 85th birthday.

Blake, reviled in Britain as a traitor, said he had lived a "full and happy life." He turned 85 on Sunday.

Blake's greatest coup was to tip off the Soviets in the 1950s about a tunnel the British and Americans had dug into communist East Berlin to tap into Soviet military communications. The Soviets used it to feed phony information to the West for nearly a year.

He also unmasked dozens -- if not hundreds -- of intelligence agents to the Soviets.

The Foreign Intelligence Service, or SVR, feted Blake at a special gala at its headquarters on Monday evening. SVR director Mikhail Fradkov decorated Blake with the Friendship Order and read out telegrams from the country's leadership, SVR spokesman Sergei Ivanov said.

"It is namely thanks to Blake that the Soviet Union avoided very serious military and political damage that the United States and Britain could have inflicted on it if they had succeeded in the large-scale operation now widely known as The Berlin Tunnel," Ivanov said.

"I never realized that," Blake said by telephone, commenting on the SVR's praise.

"But it's very difficult to see things like that [the Berlin tunnel] in the general picture."

The accolade on Monday for Blake and the Nov. 2 awarding of the nation's highest medal to another prominent Soviet spy, George Koval, who infiltrated secret U.S. nuclear facilities in the 1940s, appear aimed at boosting patriotism as the country heads into State Duma elections Dec. 2.

It was unclear whether the tributes were connected to Queen Elizabeth II's decision five months ago to honor Oleg Gordievsky, a senior KGB agent who defected to Britain in 1985.

Blake was a British secret agent from 1944 to 1961, when he was jailed for 42 years after pleading guilty to spying for the Soviet Union. Aided by sympathizers, he escaped from a London prison in 1966 and has lived in Moscow since. He was made a KGB colonel and wrote two memoirs.

These days, Blake swims, does yoga and travels in Russia, Ivanov said.

"He reads a lot, he likes classical music and he also loves walking," he said.

Asked whether attitudes toward him in present-day Russia were any different from in Soviet times, Blake said, "Oh no, no, not in the least."

After the Soviet collapse, President Boris Yeltsin tried to erase the memory of the Soviet past. "Hotheads" in the government considered expelling Blake, and "he lived through several unpleasant months" until authorities dropped the idea, Rossiiskaya Gazeta reported Monday.

Blake left three children behind in Britain and started a new family in Moscow. He said, "I feel very lucky to have lived to my age and to be in good health, and to have had a very interesting and very full and, in the end, a happy life."

Reuters, AP