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By Reed Irvine
December 15, 1994

In the first act of what portends to be a major political scandal, London’s Fleet Street has been rocked by the revelation that a leading British journalist was recruited by the Soviet KGB to spy on his colleagues and politicians.

Richard Gott, longtime foreign reporter and features editor of The Guardian, resigned in the wake of the disclosure by The Spectator. Gott, 56, denied any wrongdoing but admitted that he took 600 pounds (about $935) for “travel expenses” so he could meet Soviet officials outside of England.

In a resignation letter published in The Guardian, a far-left newspaper, Gott wrote, “I have to admit that I took red gold, even if it was only in the form of expenses for myself and my partner. That, in the circumstances, was culpable stupidity, though at the time it seemed more like an enjoyable joke.”

But according to KGB sources cited by The Spectator, Gott’s activities went far beyond the bounds of an “enjoyable joke.” In an editorial accompanying Gott’s unveiling, The Spectator stated, “Mr. Gott’s commitment to supporting ‘liberation’ movements in the Third World, his attacks on Britain’s institutions and defense of communist governments, read very differently once his true allegiance is known.” The Spectator article was written by Alasdair Palmer, who collaborated with defected KGB officer Oleg Gorievsky on a forthcoming book on Soviet intelligence activities in Britain.

Another London newspaper, The Sunday Times, later reported that Gordievsky’s book will name 24 Britons whom the KGB recruited as agents in the 1970s and 1980s. Gordievsky said that Gott received more than 10,000 pounds ($15,000) and that he “was loyal, friendly, supportive and cooperative to the KGB.”

The British intelligence agencies MI-5 and MI-6 are said to be pressuring Gordievsky to delete the names from his book. Gordievsky carries impressive credentials as a source. In 1974 he became a “defector in place” for MI-6, the British foreign intelligence service, and passed information until 1985, when he sought sanctuary. His last posting was as KGB rezident in London. He is the coauthor of three earlier books on Soviet intelligence, including “KGB: The Inside Story,” written with the British historian Christopher Andrew.

By The Spectator’s account, Gott was so eager to work for the KGB in the late 1970s that he excited suspicion. Palmer wrote, “Some KGB officers thought he was a ‘dangle’ - KGB slang for an MI-6 plant. He was too good to be true. How could anyone be so eager to work for the KGB? It made no sense. But the majority view was that no one could fake Gott’s degree of sincerity or enthusiasm. So contacts started.”

Palmer reported that one of Gott’s first controllers was Igor Tritov, who would be expelled from Britain in 1983 for “activities incompatible with his diplomatic status,” a euphemism for spying. After 14 months of inactivity, the KGB renewed contact with Gott. The Spectator reported: “It was decided that Gott would need a ‘welcome back’ payment of 600 pounds, since money had changed hands at earlier meetings.” The two KGB men debated on how to make the payment, finally deciding to give Gott a wallet stuffed with pounds notes. “That assured that no one saw how much Gott was being paid, or even if he was being paid at all,” Palmer wrote. His acceptance of the “KGB money guaranteed the organization’s power over him. From now on, he could if necessary, be blackmailed.” According to The Spectator, Gott was paid an average of 300 pounds at each subsequent meeting.

But as an agent “Gott seems to have been a serious disappointment,” Palmer wrote. “He had no significant contacts within the British government, and no secret information to impart.” There was talk of him recruiting a relative, a civil servant, who might have secrets but nothing came of it. The Spectator reported, “Gott was useful to the KGB only in one respect. He passed on the names of other Guardian journalists he thought might be recruited by the organization.”

In a front-page letter in The Guardian, Gott simultaneously announced his resignation and denied any wrongdoing. Saying that he enjoyed the “cloak-and-dagger atmosphere,” he perhaps and unwittingly admitted to the thin line that separates a leftist journalist from being an agent-of-influence: “I assumed, through my absolutely transparent presentation of myself as an incorrigible leftist, no harm could come from lunching with these folk. And, as I say, I enjoyed it.” He admitted that The Spectator article “verged on the truth” in that “the Russians did pay my fare and my hotel to got to Vienna, Athens and Nicosia to meet their man.”

Gott offered no explanation as to why he met the Russian outside of London. But Henry S.A. Becket, in his 1996 book “The Dictionary of Espionage: Spookspeak into English,” stated that the KGB, for reasons of security, insists on holding meetings with its covert agents in other than their home countries.

Which brings us to a question: Have KGB defectors given FBI and CIA names of American journalists who, as did Gott, took “red gold?” And if so, shouldn’t the public be told their names?

Reed Irvine can be reached at ri@AIM.org.