International Papers

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Grandma

As spy fever once again gripped Britain after the confession of an 87-year-old great-grandmother that she had given British nuclear secrets to the Russians, the Times of India said Monday that “[l]ike diamonds, it seems, spies are forever.” The paper said in an editorial: “Any hope of some respite for the world from the brigade of ‘trench-coats and snoopers,’ especially after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, have been dashed. The world’s secret service agencies have apparently merely shifted their emphasis to the new ‘growth area’ of industrial spying.” It quoted Pierre Marion, a former head of the French secret service agency, as saying, “Post-Cold War spying is happy spying–no ideology is involved.”

In Britain, however, it was back to the Cold War as the press raked over new revelations of Communist treachery. They came thick and fast, starting Saturday in the Times of London, which disclosed that Melita Norwood (code name “Hola”) had passed atomic secrets to the Soviet Union for 40 years while she worked as a secretary for the Tube Alloys project, a deliberately anodyne term for Britain’s nuclear weapons program. The Times linked her to the notorious “Cambridge coven” of five male spies–Kim Philby, Donald Maclean, Guy Burgess, Anthony Blunt, and John Cairncross. “The ‘sixth man,’ we now know, was a woman,” it said.

On Sunday its sister paper, the Sunday Times, revealed that a former Scotland Yard officer–John Symonds, 64 (code name “Scot”)–had been paid by the KGB to seduce and recruit women working for Western embassies. Symonds had been hired in Morocco, where he fled in 1969 after being named as part of a ring of corrupt metropolitan police officers who had taken bribes. The Sunday Telegraph’s spy scoops: The KGB ran a “dirty tricks” campaign to persuade Americans that President John F. Kennedy was murdered by the CIA; the agency planned to maim Russian ballet dancers Rudolf Nureyev and Natalya Makarova for defecting to the West; it launched a series of plots against Pope John Paul II; and it planted KGB agents as assistants to three successive secretaries-general of the United Nations. All this information was contained in “the Mitrokhin archive”–a vast haul of documents smuggled out of Russia by Vasili Mitrokhin, 77, a former KGB archivist who defected to Britain in 1992. His book The Mitrokhin Archive: The KGB in Europe and the West is being serialized in the Times this week.

The main question in British press editorials was whether Melita Norwood should be prosecuted for her treachery. The liberal Observer wrestled Sunday with the logic of applauding the arrest of 83-year-old Chilean Gen. Augusto Pinochet (as the paper had done) while objecting to the imprisonment of an 87-year-old woman. But it said that “Mrs. Norwood’s betrayal is more than 50 years old and was conducted in a paranoid Cold War world whose ideological extremism now seems antique and all but incomprehensible.” Furthermore, she “killed nobody” and “was fired by ideological commitment rather than malevolence.” It went on: “Memories of Pinochet’s mass killings and tortures, by contrast, are all too fresh, and the precedent of his arrest has international ramifications.” Monday’s Daily Telegraph, however, ridiculed the “predictably forgiving” opinion of the Observer. “Now that Mrs Norwood … has confessed, without remorse, her betrayal of her country to the century’s most brutal dictator (’Old Joe’), should she be tried, condemned and jailed?” it asked. “Of course, and the sooner the better.”

But in most of the British press, as around the world, the main story Monday was Indonesia’s capitulation to international pressure by agreeing to allow a foreign peacekeeping force into East Timor. This was generally welcomed, but with qualifications. The Independent of London said the West had responded too slowly. “Not until torching and killing had spread throughout East Timor did President Clinton act,” it said in an editorial. “As for Tony Blair, crusader for universal values, theologian of the just war in Kosovo, he has been conspicuous by his silence.” In Paris, Le Figaro said Monday that the U.N. peacekeepers would arrive so late in East Timor that they wouldn’t be firemen–just gravediggers.

The Jakarta Post focused on the proposed establishment of an international tribunal to investigate “the alleged involvement of the Indonesian military in very serious human rights violations in East Timor.” It quoted Mary Robinson, the U.N. commissioner for human rights, as saying that the international community must hold Indonesia accountable for atrocities committed there. In an editorial, the Jakarta Post called the international outcry against Indonesia justified. “The Indonesian government, which has been entrusted with the task of maintaining peace and order, did virtually nothing as pro-Indonesia militias in East Timor launched a massive terror campaign against their own populace, killing pro-independence supporters, forcing hundreds of thousands to leave their homes, and destroying buildings and other property,” the paper said. In Australia, the Sydney Morning Herald warned, “[T]he evil that is done in East Timor cannot be hidden, at least not for long” and that “ultimately there will be a calling to account for the rape of East Timor.”

In New Zealand, where world leaders have been discussing the crisis at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, the Press of Christchurch put some of the blame on Australia. The country should have anticipated the opposition President B.J. Habibie would face after the vote for independence in East Timor. “Indonesia, disastrously, was allowed to provide the only security in the territory after the vote,” the paper’s editorial said. “Australia should have seen the inevitable consequences of this and ensured an armed UN force was in place.”

In Germany, the top story Monday was Chancellor Gerhard Schröder’s latest setbacks in state and local elections, where his Social Democrat Party was thrown out of office Sunday in the eastern state of Thuringia. In Italy, La Repubblica described Schröder’s series of electoral defeats–another is predicted next month in Berlin–as his Via Crucis and “a black page for German social democracy, the lynchpin of the European Left.” In Britain, where former Defense Secretary Michael Portillo gambled on his political future in the Conservative Party last week by admitting to youthful homosexual experiences, the Mail on Sunday published an opinion poll showing that “seven out of ten voters would accept a prime minister who had been homosexual in the past, and six out of ten would accept one who was openly gay.”