£10 notes slipped into his pocket, lunches in the Gay Hus­sar with shady Rus­sians, a 450-page folder with the co­de­name ‘Boot’. Michael Foot went to his grave protest­ing his in­no­cence, but is this the ev­i­dence that ex­poses him as a liar – or worse?

The Mail on Sunday - - News - BY GUY WAL­TERS

ON THE af­ter­noon of Fri­day, July 7, 1995, the for­mer leader of the Labour Party, Michael Foot, emerged from the High Court in Lon­don with a broad smile on his face. A few min­utes be­fore, he had just learned that he had won a land­mark li­bel case against The Sun­day Times, which had ac­cused him of hav­ing been an agent for the KGB – op­er­at­ing un­der the co­de­name of ‘Boot’.

Awarded ‘sub­stan­tial’ dam­ages as well as his le­gal costs – which to­gether amounted to the equiv­a­lent of £250,000 to­day – Foot was adamant the story was hog­wash.

‘What The Sun­day Times said was so se­ri­ous – that I was a spy who had served one of the most wicked or­gan­i­sa­tions that has ex­isted this cen­tury – I thought it had to be wiped clear,’ Foot said, be­fore head­ing off to cel­e­brate at his favourite restau­rant, the Gay Hus­sar, the Hun­gar­ian restau­rant in Soho where it was said that Foot had met his KGB han­dlers.

Ever since then, the world has be­lieved that Foot was in­no­cent, with many pre­dictable voices on the left dis­miss­ing the ac­cu­sa­tions as a ‘smear’ by the ‘Right-wing press’.

How­ever, yes­ter­day it sen­sa­tion­ally emerged that the Se­cret In­tel­li­gence Ser­vice – bet­ter known as MI6 – cer­tainly be­lieved that the Labour leader was a Soviet source, and was even pre­pared to tell the Queen if Foot be­came Prime Min­is­ter.

Had Margaret Thatcher lost the Falk­lands War in 1982, then that un­think­able sit­u­a­tion might well have hap­pened – a Soviet agent ris­ing to the high­est of­fice in the land, with ac­cess to the deep­est state se­crets.

The rev­e­la­tion has been made in a forth­com­ing book called The Spy And The Traitor by Ben Mac­in­tyre, in which it also emerges that Foot re­ceived to­day’s equiv­a­lent of nearly £ 40,000 for the in­for­ma­tion that he sup­plied the Soviet Union.

In short, the sug­ges­tion is that back in 1995, Michael Foot was ly­ing. He had in­deed served the KGB, and he took that ter­ri­ble se­cret to his grave in 2010.

So how on earth was Foot re­cruited as ‘Agent Boot’? How long did he serve the KGB? What did he tell them? And how, in the murky world of es­pi­onage, can we be sure that the lat­est al­le­ga­tions are true?


TO GET to the bot­tom of this murky tale of high pol­i­tics and low treach­ery, we need to step into the Lon­don of the 1960s, and en­ter into a grey and smoke-filled world more akin to the pages of a John le Carré novel than the colour­ful vi­brancy of the swing­ing cap­i­tal.

In par­tic­u­lar, we need to en­ter the of­fices of Tri­bune, a so­cial­ist mag­a­zine for which Michael Foot had been editor through­out much of the 1950s. Af­ter be­ing elected as MP for Blae­nau Gwent in 1960, Foot stepped down as editor, but con­tin­ued to write for the mag­a­zine and spent much time there. One day in the early 1960s – and we are not sure pre­cisely when – some Rus­sians de­scrib­ing them­selves as ‘diplo­mats’ met with Foot at the mag­a­zine’s of­fices. The men chat­ted eas­ily, and the visi­tors said that they were ap­pre­cia­tive of Tri­bune’s pro- Rus­sian stance. Foot, mean­while, moaned that the mag­a­zine was per­ma­nently short of cash. The Rus­sians got the hint, and at the end of the meet­ing, slipped a £ 10 note into Foot’s jacket pocket. Worth some £250 to­day, this would be the first of some ten to 14 do­na­tions made to Foot, which would to­tal the equiv­a­lent of £37,000 in 2018.

Although it is un­clear ex­actly what Foot did with the money, it is sup­posed that he gave much of it to the mag­a­zine. The Rus­sians were not of course diplo­mats, but they were mem­bers of the KGB, the no­to­ri­ous and bru­tal Soviet in­tel­li­gence ser­vice. In fact, the or­gan­i­sa­tion had had its eye on Foot since the 1940s, recog­nis­ing him as a ‘pro­gres­sive’ – in other words, sym­pa­thetic to the Soviet regime and its mass-mur­der­ing dic­ta­tor, Josef Stalin.

If Foot did not know that the men were mem­bers of the KGB, then at the very best, he was be­ing ab­surdly naive. But they truly were, be­cause back in Moscow, a file had been opened deep in the heart of the head­quar­ters of the KGB – the dreaded Lubyanka.


THE first page of that file could not be more damn­ing. It con­sisted of a short, typed note.

‘ I, se­nior op­er­a­tional of­fi­cer Ma­jor Petrov, Ivan Alex­eye­vich,

here­with open a file on the agent Michael Foot, cit­i­zen of the UK, giv­ing him the pseu­do­nym Boot.’

The KGB of­fi­cer clearly liked a play on words with his choice of co­de­name, but what is re­mark­able is the use of the word ‘agent’, which leaves lit­tle room for doubt as to the na­ture of the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the Soviet Union and a Bri­tish par­lia­men­tar­ian who would come chill­ingly close to be­com­ing Prime Min­is­ter. Through­out the 1960s, Foot met with his KGB con­tacts about once a month, of­ten for lunch at the Gay Hus­sar.

Ac­cord­ing to the file, these meet­ings were ar­ranged three days in ad­vance, with an agenda also agreed. What made them more ex­tra­or­di­nary is that these lunches were not clan­des­tine, and were far re­moved from se­cret en­coun­ters on park benches in ob­scure parks.

Per­haps brazenly hid­ing in plain sight was the best op­tion. Foot was, af­ter all, a high-pro­file MP, and he could al­ways claim that he was quite le­git­i­mately din­ing with Rus­sian diplo­mats. Af­ter all, like Jeremy Cor­byn, Foot made no se­cret of his Leftism or his af­fec­tion for coun­tries that most or­di­nary cit­i­zens would have re­garded as be­ing be­yond the pale.

What ex­actly did Foot tell his KGB con­tacts? As he had no ac­cess to state se­crets, it would be wrong to claim that Foot was a traitor in the mould of a Philby, Burgess or Ma­clean. How­ever, the Rus­sians would have cer­tainly val­ued what­ever Foot could have told them about think­ing in the Labour Party and the Left in gen­eral and also, of course, any parliamentary gos­sip.

What­ever it was Foot told them, it was clearly con­sid­ered valu­able enough by the KGB to keep pay­ing him, and his file to run to some two fold­ers con­tain­ing around 450 pages. How­ever, by the end of the 1960s, it ap­pears that the re­la­tion­ship started to peter out, largely be­cause – to his credit – Foot was hi ghly cri t i cal of t he bru­tal Rus­sian re­pres­sion of the 1968 Prague Spring. The meet­ings were to stop tak­ing place by the time that Foot be­came Labour leader in Novem­ber 1980.

While Foot started his spar­ring with Margaret Thatcher across the despatch boxes, he doubt­less hoped that his dirty lit­tle se­cret would never see the light of day.

What he never reck­oned upon was that there was a traitor work­ing in the depths of the KGB, a man who would soon ex­pose Foot’s se­cret to Bri­tish in­tel­li­gence.


IN JAN­UARY 1966, at around the same time that Michael Foot was reg­u­larly meet­ing his Rus­sian con- tacts, one of their fel­low KGB of­fi­cers was ar­riv­ing in Copen­hagen to take up his top se­cret role run­ning Soviet spies in Den­mark.

The of­fi­cer’s name was Oleg Gordievsky, a 27- year- old high­flyer who was ac­com­pa­nied by his wife Ye­lena.

Al­most as soon as he had ar­rived, Gordievsky was struck by the lib­er­al­ism and the sense of plenty in the West.

He was par­tic­u­larly fas­ci­nated by the Danes’ sex­ual tol­er­ance, and at one point he even went to a sex shop and bought some gay porno­graphic mag­a­zines to show to his wife.

What Gordievsky did not know – but prob­a­bly guessed – was that he was be­ing mon­i­tored by Dan­ish i ntel­li­gence, who shared with their al­lies, such as the Bri­tish, the fact that Gordievsky might be se­cretly gay.

Of course, a clos­eted ho­mo­sex­ual in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cer is par­tic­u­larly vul­ner­a­ble to black­mail, and the Danes tried to en­snare the Rus­sian with a gay honeytrap. The plan failed as Gordievsky was ac­tu­ally het­ero­sex­ual.

How­ever, Gordievsky was dis­en­chanted with the Soviet sys­tem.

His feel­ings were picked up on by MI6, when a de­fec­tor in­formed them that Gordievsky had shown ‘clear signs of po­lit­i­cal dis­il­lu­sion­ment’.

The Bri­tish de­cided to try to re­cruit him, and the job fell to an MI6 of­fi­cer called Richard Brom­head, who ap­proached Gordievsky when he was play­ing his morn­ing game of badminton with a fe­male mem­ber of the Young Dan­ish Com­mu­nists.

Brom­head sug­gested a lunch, and Gordievsky agreed so read­ily that the MI6 of­fi­cer was suspi-

cious. Those sus­pi­cions proved un­founded, be­cause Gordievsky would be­come what Ben Mac­in­tyre calls ‘Bri­tain’ s great­est spy ’, and for good rea­son.


THE Bri­tish couldn’t be­lieve their luck, be­cause i n 1982, Gordievsky was posted to the Rus­sian Em­bassy in Lon­don, where he would soon be made the ‘res­i­dent’ – the head of the KGB in Bri­tain.

This was a huge coup for MI6, as Gordievsky clearly would know the iden­ti­ties of those the Sovi­ets had re­cruited.

Even more cru­cially, Gordievsky was able to pro­vide the Bri­tish and their in­tel­li­gence part­ners – the United States, Canada, New Zealand and Aus­tralia – deep in­sights into Soviet think­ing dur­ing a very crit­i­cal pe­riod of the Cold War.

Thanks to Gordievsky, what be­came clear was that the Sovi­ets, who were con­duct­ing a huge in­tel­li­gence gath­er­ing ex­er­cise called Op­er­a­tion Ryan, were des­per­ate to prove that the West was about to launch a pre- emp­tive nu­clear at­tack on Rus­sia.

Things re­ally did come close to Ar­maged­don when Nato car­ried out a huge mil­i­tary ex­er­cise in 1983 called Able Archer, which the para­noid Sovi­ets strongly sus­pected was a cover for an ac­tual at­tack.

The ex­er­cise could not have come at a worse time, be­cause as Mac­in­tyre ob­serves, ‘Nato be­gan to sim­u­late a re­al­is­tic nu­clear as­sault at the very mo­ment the KGB was at­tempt­ing to de­tect one.’

It was partly thanks to Gordievsky warn­ing the Bri­tish and the Amer­i­cans of the Soviet think­ing that a Third World War was averted. One top se­cret CIA doc­u­ment even states that the KGB of­fi­cer’s re­ports were an ‘epiphany’ for a hawk­ish Ron­ald Rea­gan and were a ‘timely warn­ing to Wash­ing­ton via MI6 [that] kept things from go­ing too far’.

But as well as sav­ing the world, Gordievsky had also seen and read a lot of files which were of im­mense in­ter­est to the Bri­tish.

And one of those files was la­belled with one sim­ple word: ‘Boot’.

It was, of course, the file on Michael Foot, and what Gordievsky told his MI6 han­dlers as­ton­ished them.

Although a se­nior MI6 of­fi­cer thought that Foot ‘had been used only for “dis­in­for­ma­tion pur­poses”,’ there was no doubt that rev­e­la­tion was im­mensely po­lit­i­cally sen­si­tive, and could de­stroy Foot’s ca­reer.

MI6 de­cided to keep the in­for­ma­tion within a very tight cir­cle.

It in­formed MI5, which in turn passed on the rev­e­la­tion to the Cab­i­net Sec­re­tary, Sir Robin Arm­strong. The se­nior civil ser­vant thought that in­for­ma­tion was just too ‘in­cen­di­ary’, and he is said by Mac­in­tyre to have qui­etly pock­eted the note, hop­ing that the prob­lem would go away if and when Foot lost the next Gen­eral Elec­tion.

How­ever, if Foot was to win, then it was agreed that the Queen – who meets with the Prime Min­is­ter once a week – would have to be in­formed that Foot was a for­mer Soviet agent.

The mind bog­gles at how Her Majesty would have re­acted.

As it turned out, partly thanks to the vic­tory in the Falk­lands, Margaret Thatcher won the 1983 Elec­tion with a land­slide ma­jor­ity of 144.

A cou­ple of years later, Gordievsky de­fected to Bri­tain, where he still lives qui­etly with his fam­ily.

Michael Foot had been buried, and so too had his se­cret – un­til now.

CON­TACT: Michael Foot first met the Rus­sian ‘diplo­mats’ at the of­fices of the Left-wing mag­a­zine Tri­bune


IN­TRIGUE: Rus­sian agent Oleg Gordievsky told MI6 of the ‘Agent Boot’ file

BRAZEN: Foot met his KGB con­tacts once a month at the Gay Hus­sar restau­rant in Soho

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