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  1. Wealth
July 23, 2009

Blunt blamed

By Spear's

Blunt would remain deeply ashamed of the way he had manipulated him and abused his trust. That was probably the only remorse he ever showed.

Accompanied by much media interest, the short manuscript of Anthony Blunt’s memoirs has been released by the British Library where it was deposited after his death in March 1983 from a heart attack. It contains no surprises, does not incriminate any unknown conspirators, and offers no hints to the identity of other Soviet moles.

Just before the war Blunt gained a territorial army commission after the intervention of his brother Christopher, and he would remain deeply ashamed of the way he had manipulated him and abused his trust. That was probably the only remorse he ever showed.

When the British Expeditionary Force went to France, Blunt was part of a Field Security Section which patrolled Boulogne and censored the letters of troops.

In June 1940, after the evacuation from Dunkirk, Blunt was recommended to MI5 by Victor Rothschild and spent the rest of the war based at the organisation’s London headquarters, fulfilling various roles, including personal assistant to Guy Liddell, MI5’s director of counter-espionage, and supervising the highly sensitive TRIPLEX programme which intercepted and copied the contents of diplomatic pouches sent home by neutral missions in London.

Blunt proudly betrayed every secret that crossed his desk until May 1945 when, to his surprise, his NKVD controller raised no objection when he announced he wanted to leave MI5 and return to academic life. This episode would later be interpreted by molehunters as evidence that the Soviets must have had at least one other high-level penetration of the Security Service because otherwise they would have been reluctant to let him give up his access.

In the autumn of 1945 Blunt completed one final mission for MI5 in Rome, and then settled down in the Courtauld Institute which he transformed into a photocopying facility for his friend and co-conspirator Guy Burgess, then still employed in the Foreign Office. After Burgess’s defection in May 1951 Blunt performed a further service by removing some incriminating latters from his flat that would have implicated Kim Philby.

In April 1964, after thirteen interrogations over the previous decade, Blunt accepted an immunity from prosecution offered by the attorney-general, John Hobson. Crucially, the offer did not include a promise of confidentiality, but Blunt believed that was implicit, a miscalculation he would regret in November 1979 when he was publicly exposed by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Professor Sir Anthony Blunt was stripped of his knighthood, resigned from his clubs and endured public humiliation, having considered and rejected suicide.

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Now, with the release of his manuscript, the final chapter of the Blunt saga can be closed, although new disclosures relating to TRIPLEX are to follow in September 2009 with the declassification of more files from the KGB archive. Anyone seeking revelations from the Blunt manuscript will be disappointed, but apart from Leo Long, whom he recruited and ran personally during and immediately after the war, he was never in the business of betraying other Soviet spies.

Indeed, his principal MI5 interrogator, Peter Wright, concluded that Blunt had never compromised anyone who had not already fallen under suspicion. Wright finally accepted that he had been duped by Blunt, although this is not an impression gained by reading SpyCatcher, his memoirs ghosted by Paul Greengrasss, the distinguished film director who as then a producer at Granada Television.

Although Blunt effectively neutralised much of MI5’s operations when he was privy to its secrets, he only ever acknowledged having been responsible for the death of one British agent, an SIS agent known as “Gibby’s spy” who had given his handler, Harold Gibson, huge amounts of valuable information over many years. As soon as Blunt learned his true identity, he gave the details to the NKVD, thereby signing his death warrant.

Always unrepentant, Blunt was wrongly considered the beneficiary of an establishment cover-up. Certainly his arrest would have been embarrassing for many, but there was never any admissible evidence against him, so the offer of immunity had been considered a brilliant coup at the time, a view based on the misconception that the traitor would cooperate fully with him interrogators. In fact, he never did. 

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