The traitor in a headscarf: How Czech spy Agent Hammer worked secretly inside Parliament for yearsBy Jason Lewis
Last updated at 1:58 AM on 16th November 2008
Labour was rocked by a Cold War spy scandal last night over allegations that a Party activist linked to two members of Tony Blair's Cabinet spied for the Czech Government when the country was controlled by the Soviet Union.
Left-wing activist Cynthia Roberts, who stood as a Labour Parliamentary candidate, worked for the Communists under the codename Agent Hammer, according to documents obtained by The Mail on Sunday.
The files, held by the Czech security service, state that she wrote secret dossiers for the communist regime on Tory politicians including Margaret Thatcher and ex-Cabinet Minister David Mellor after moving to Prague in 1985. She also gave the Czechs details of a British arms factory.
Labour MPs involved in the group, which still exists today, included two politicians who went on to serve in Mr Blair's Cabinet, Foreign Secretary Robin Cook and Transport Minister Gavin Strang.
Other prominent Labour MPs linked to LAP include Tony Benn, Dennis Skinner and Jeremy Corbyn.
The disclosures are a reminder of how close some elements of the Labour Party were to the Soviet Union before the fall of communism 20 years ago.
Russia's KGB and its allies in other Eastern bloc nations such as Czechoslovakia targeted Labour politicians and other Establishment figures known to have Left-wing sympathies in an attempt to unearth information that could be used against the West.
The Cold War led to a series of major spy scandals in Britain, most famously the spy ring of Guy Burgess, Anthony Blunt and Kim Philby.
Astonishingly, Mrs Roberts's activities, including her move to Prague, appear to have escaped the attentions of British security services.
As honorary secretary of LAP, much of Mrs Roberts' work was conducted from the Commons office of Scottish Labour MP Willie McKelvey, who is thought to have provided her with a Parliamentary pass.
In 1983, when Mrs Thatcher had enraged the Russians by allowing the US to base nuclear missiles in Britain, Mrs Roberts accompanied Mr Cook and Mr Strang on a five-day trip to Moscow.
The files held by the Czech secret service state her role was 'to contribute towards the downfall of capitalism'. They say she boasted of working for the East Germans and was sent on 'missions' by her Czech handlers.
In one report, Mrs Thatcher was referred to by the codename ‘Sako’, which means ‘jacket’ in Czech.
Roberts' file on David Mellor, written in 1988 when he was a Foreign Office Minister, said she did not know if Mr Mellor 'has any weakness for women.'
Asked yesterday if she considered herself a traitor, Roberts, who still lives in Prague, said: 'I have nothing to say. I was not a spy.'
AGENT HAMMER: A VERY UNLIKELY SPY
With her headscarf tied tightly against the November chill, she looks like any other pensioner going about her daily business in Prague. But this 72-year-old, who once worked in the heart of Westminster alongside such leading Labour Party figures as Robin Cook, is at the centre of extraordinary claims that she spied for Eastern Bloc regimes under the codename Agent Hammer.
Despite being highly unusual, the family’s relocation to the Czech capital appears not to have attracted the attention of the British security services.
In the five years before she emigrated, Roberts was honorary secretary of Labour Action for Peace (LAP), which was then a highly influential anti-nuclear group. Much of her work was carried out from the House of Commons office of Labour MP William McKelvey, who represented Kilmarnock from 1979 until 1997.
The Left-wing pressure group was founded in 1940 and is still active today, describing itself as ‘an organisation of Labour Party members and supporters working for peace, socialism and disarmament, and seeking to make these issues the forefront of Labour Party policy’.
During its heyday in the early Eighties, LAP staged a series of high-profile meetings at party conferences and inside the House of Commons.
Among the prominent Labour figures who were active within the group were Cook, who served as Foreign Secretary during Tony Blair’s administration, and Gavin Strang, who was Transport Minister from 1997 to 1998.
According to a newsletter published by the LAP, Roberts accompanied Cook and Strang on a five-day trip to Moscow in December 1983.
Other leading Labour figures associated with the LAP during Roberts’ tenure include Tony Benn, who wrote an article about Nato for the group in 1985, and former executive committee member Dennis Skinner.
The claims that Roberts worked as a spy will further fuel concerns that leading Labour politicians were sympathetic to communist regimes during the Cold War.
The documents held by the Czech security service Statni Tajna Bezpecnost (STB) and seen by this newspaper reveal that Roberts apparently boasted of working for the East Germans while based at Westminster, and later was sent on ‘missions’ by her Czech handlers.
About 100 pages of the files still exist, although references within them suggest that a further 600 pages are missing – almost certainly destroyed as communist bosses attempted to cover up details of their activities when the country was swept by democratic change.
But the pages that remain paint a damning picture of her role, which, in the words of her STB handlers, was ‘to contribute towards the downfall of capitalism’.
They consist of two reports written in English, apparently by Roberts, and a series of handwritten accounts in Czech prepared by security chiefs detailing their meetings with her and the tasks they set her. The surviving files detail a total of 19 meetings between Roberts and her STB contacts.
Last week, The Mail on Sunday tracked down Roberts to a communist-era block of flats on the outskirts of Prague. The name plate on her letterbox in the entrance hall reads ‘Robertsovi’ and bears the message ‘Please do not post advertising fliers in this mailbox’.
Asked why she had spied for the STB against Britain and whether she regarded herself as a traitor, she said: ‘I do not want to talk to you. I do not talk to the Press.’
She refused to discuss whether she had worked for the Soviet intelligence services either in Britain or after she moved to Prague.
When told we had a copy of her file, which stated that she was an STB agent, she said: ‘I have nothing to say. I was not a spy.’
Asked whether she should be prosecuted for her treachery, she said: ‘I have no quarrel with Britain. I am sorry but I am not going to talk to you.’
According to STB files, the Roberts family arrived in Prague on October 19, 1985. Mrs Roberts was accompanied by her photographer husband Denis, daughter Mary, then 19, and 15-year-old Christopher.
Their departure from Britain was mentioned in the 1985 LAP annual report, which says: ‘Cynthia Roberts, who has been honorary secretary of LAP for five years, went with her husband to live in Czechoslovakia.’
She was given a job as an editor with the state-run news agency on a monthly salary of 5,000 Czech koruny (about £150 at today’s exchange rates) – at least double the average wage. But the files make clear that her main role was to work for the STB.
Initially given the codename ‘Kilburn’, Roberts appears to have so impressed her handlers in the first few months after arriving in Prague that her status was upgraded to ‘agent’ and she was given her new codename, Hammer.
It says she would also be used to ‘gain information on the internal politics of Great Britain [and answer] questions of the peace movement in capitalist countries and in Britain specifically’.
The entry goes on: ‘KILBURN can be evaluated as a person valuable for operational use from the side of intelligence work. To gain her co-operation we can use her satisfaction with her stay in Czechoslovakia ... and her good relations with the whole communist ideology. [Roberts] will continue to be used for British problems.’
One of her first jobs was to complete a report and character assessment on Margaret Thatcher who, the file reveals, had been given the codename ‘Sako’ – which means ‘jacket’ in Czech – by the STB.
This document is missing from the file, but it appears that Roberts completed the report.
A file dated April 15, 1987, returns to the subject of her work on Prime Minister Thatcher. ‘Top Secret.
16.15 KILBURN contacted in Slezka Street, Prague, and taken in a 'company' car to another location, a private flat, named as 'Balt'.
'We then talked to Kilburn about the state of her work on Sako [Thatcher], and she said that she had already finished the report and only had to type it up and make some corrections.
'We told KILBURN we greatly valued her help and said we would like to continue our co-operation and expand it. KILBURN was visibly delighted with our valuing her work.
'We told her we were interested in raising our co-operation to a higher level and that we would ask her for information and character analysis of people she knew from her previous political activities in Great Britain.’
The file adds: ‘We said that we had to have guarantees that she would remain silent on these matters and on our meetings. KILBURN said these issues were clear.’
At the meeting, Roberts was told she would meet her handlers at least once a month. She was given a number to contact in case of ‘urgency’ and the password to be used: ‘I have many regards from Vaclav for you.’
She was also asked to produce a detailed report on the then head of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, Meg Beresford.
The STB officer reports that Roberts ‘willingly agreed to co-operate’ and also agreed to ‘recruit help’ – suggesting she actively tried to persuade others to spy for the Soviet Bloc.
But it is Roberts’ typewritten report on Beresford that gives the only clue to her activities in the UK while working at the House of Commons.
In the undated document, Roberts says she suspects that Beresford is a CIA plant and claims Beresford is involved in ‘subversion’ in East Germany, encouraging groups of dissidents to set up ties with churches in the country.
She suggests Beresford also attempted to organise women’s rights groups and was preparing them for mass protests, including calling on soldiers to become conscientious objectors.
The papers add: ‘The most interesting feature of all was that after I reported these facts to the [East German] embassy in London, some time later I was told by the diplomat with whom I used to work that the information had been extremely useful and was found to be accurate.’
This reference is the only indication that she may have been engaged in espionage before she moved to the Eastern Bloc. It suggests that she had regular contacts with an East German diplomat and raises questions about whether she was spying for the feared Stasi. Papers written in Czech by an STB agent and dated October 16, 1986, a year after she moved to Prague, suggest that she had passed on information from her father, a former prison officer, about an unnamed military installation in the West Country.
It states: ‘Meeting took place in a public place ... The source gave information relating to a newly built military arms factory in South-West England near Taunton.’
The files claim that Roberts was then used to target various Western officials to try to obtain useful information from them or to identify ways they might be recruited by the KGB.
Among those she targeted were a senior Nato official she met at a Czech trade fair, a businessman from a computer firm based in Windsor and a female British diplomat from the Prague embassy.
Roberts was also used to help build up a picture of British politicians who were visiting the former Czechoslovakia. A file note dated May 19, 1988, says: ‘The source was asked to report on David Mellor, a Minister of State in the Foreign Ministry in relation to his expected visit to Czechoslovakia.’
Roberts' report is written in English. Neighbours in the cramped block close to Prague’s ring-road claim that she and her husband Denis, now 85, have struggled to master the language since their arrival.
Their son Christopher, 38, is said to have returned to Britain, while their daughter Mary, who studied to be a doctor after their move to Prague, is believed to have died last year.
The Mellor report says: ‘He will try, without mentioning a word, to find out any possible way he can of damaging our political and business interests in the Middle East, particularly with Libya and Syria...
‘Dangers also apply to our relationship with Ethiopia. Within two weeks of being first elected to Westminster in 1979, MELLOR was out in Iran advising the Shah how to deal with insurgency both in terms of strategy and weapons.
'Within the last two years he has “given” the Colombian government six British helicopters to deal with their drug problem. He worked extensively with the CIA and the FBI on this issue, among who he has many contacts, as he undoubtedly would have also among the British Special Services.’
The document goes on to describe Mellor as a ‘highly sophisticated cunning politician’ and a ‘slick operator – a smooth-tongued oily character, who is undoubtedly sustained by his image of himself and his own inflated sense of self-importance. His danger is that he is cunning and calculating.
‘He probably drinks brandy at the end of dinner – most Tory MPs do, it’s considered the “done thing” at Westminster. Many a slip of the tongue has been made after several brandies.’
Mellor was later forced to resign from the Government after his high-profile affair with Antonia de Sancha was revealed in 1992. In her report, written four years earlier, Roberts wrote that she was not aware ‘whether he has any weakness for women or not’.
She added: ‘The only place Mellor will speak the truth is when he is in the “safe” room of the British Embassy. The rest of the time ... he will be speaking to an audience [the bugs]
‘I would regard this man, without any hesitation whatsoever, as a most deadly enemy of the Czechoslovak people and their Government.’
Last night David Mellor said he remembered his trip to Czechoslovakia very well as it had hinged on him being allowed to meet the dissident playwright Vaclav Havel, who later became the Czech president.
Of the report on him, he said: ‘I think it shows up the futility of the whole old Eastern European system and the pointless intelligence gathering they engaged in.
‘But the far more important question is how this woman was able to mix with senior figures in the Labour Party, to secure a House of Commons pass and to come close to becoming an MP when she was within an ace of defecting to the Eastern Bloc. It says an awful lot about the Labour Party.’
Gavin Strang said: ‘I remember Cynthia because she was around for a few years at that time with Labour Action for Peace. The one thing I remember is that she struck me as ultra-sympathetic towards the Soviet Union – excessively so at that time.
‘Obviously at that time there was concern about the build-up of medium and short-range nuclear weapons by both the US and Russia. But her excessive sympathy for the Soviet Union was very noticeable and certainly something I remember.
‘But her behaviour was not something I was worried about enough to report or make anyone aware of. Everybody is entitled to their own views and opinions.’
Tony Benn, who is listed as a member of the LAP in the group’s annual report for 1985-1986, said: ‘I do not recall meeting Cynthia Roberts and there is no reference to her in my diary, which I have checked. I became chairman of Labour Action for Peace in the Nineties.’
Dennis Skinner, who is named in LAP documents of the same year as a member of the LAP’s executive committee, said: ‘Don’t know the woman, never heard of her, don’t know what you’re on about. You’d best try Tony Benn.’
Current LAP president Jeremy Corbyn MP said: ‘I don’t know Cynthia Roberts at all. Of course I’m surprised. I didn’t know her and this was long before I was involved in the organisation. I’m not going to be able to comment on people like Cynthia Roberts. The issue of the Cold War is one that has long passed.’
A spokesman for the Czech Embassy in London said: ‘We are not aware of the details of this particular case. The Czech Embassy is not in a position to comment.’
A Czech government source added: ‘This sort of espionage relates to the previous communist regime. It is a thing of the past and not something our country would engage in now.’
Additional reporting by Nigel Rosser and Katka Krosnar
Traitor in a headscarf tried to 'turn' MI6 womanBy Jason Lewis
Last updated at 10:05 PM on 22nd November 2008
Cynthia Roberts, codenamed Agent Hammer, was ordered by her handlers to target the woman, who was officially listed as a diplomat at the British Embassy in Prague.
Her name is known to The Mail on Sunday but we have agreed not to publish her identity.
Last week, this newspaper told how Roberts, who once stood as a parliamentary candidate, moved to then Czechoslovakia in 1985 from London, where she had run an anti-nuclear weapons campaign group from the House of Commons office of Labour MP William McKelvey.
According to documents held by the Czech security service STB, in 1988 Roberts was sent to meet the MI6 officer at a technology trade fair in the city of Brno, 120 miles from Prague.
Roberts, who still lives in Prague, was subsequently tasked with arranging another meeting at the British Embassy under the pretext of joining an expatriate organisation. STB officials were so excited that they even briefed her on the best route to the embassy from an underground station.
They add: ‘Today I had a meeting with Hammer. She was familiarised with the layout, such as the entry path from the Malostranska metro station into the British Embassy. After this phase we went over the fine details of her visit.’
Last week, the family of the MI6 officer said she did not wish to comment on the alleged plot. She was sent home in 1989 and never had a subsequent posting in Eastern Europe, suggesting that officials knew she had been compromised.
She was given ‘Special Unpaid Leave’ in the early Nineties after marrying another diplomat.
There are no further details about the contacts. All subsequent pages of the STB file have been removed.
After her mysterious ‘defection’ to Czechoslovakia, Roberts wrote dossiers on Tory politicians including Margaret Thatcher and was sent on a series of spying missions.
But it has now emerged that Roberts had also been in secret contact with KGB agents while still working in London alongside senior Labour figures Robin Cook and Gavin Strang, who both served in Tony Blair’s first Cabinet.
Yury Mazour, a KGB officer in Russia’s London embassy in the Eighties, confirmed he knew Roberts and that they had met regularly for ‘chats’.
But he denied knowing she had spied for the Czechs. Roberts’s son Christopher has claimed his mother’s activities were the result of ‘youthful errors of judgment’.