21 JANUARY 1995, Page 32

Obfuscation corner

Sir: Understandably, perhaps, in view of his background, Oleg Gordievsky (The Guardian's KGB tactics', 14 January) mis- takes reasoned criticism — commonplace in a democratic society — for KGB-style character assassination. The world of espi- onage is by definition secretive and distort- ed. Spies (and ex-spies) hold most of the cards since what they say is often uncheck- able. But they really shouldn't squeal so shrilly if someone does attempt to examine their general consistency and the trustwor- thiness of their claims.

Mr Gordievsky's recent claims — as reported in the Times, Sunday Times, Guardian, Daily Telegraph and Sunday Tele- graph — are certainly not consistent. He says he was misquoted. Well, there's a novel claim. He also says I and Alan Rus- bridger never tried to contact him before writing our article. That, as he must know, is not true.

He protests that he could not take KGB documents with him when he fled, thus avoiding the question of how he subse- quently published an entire book of them. He then sneers at the credentials of Arthur Schlesinger Jr, probably the most respected living American historian.

Mr Gordievsky says the criticism which exposed the 'sloppiness' of our work 'most completely' was the way we treated the identification of John Caimcross as the `Fifth Man'. Caimcross has, indeed, admit- ted that he was one of the five. We never contested this. Mr Gordievsky appears to accept every word of Yuri Modin, agent- runner for the Ring of Five, dismissing our criticism of Modin as 'engaging in deliber- ate obfuscation'.

When I spoke to Modin after the publi- cation last autumn of the British edition of My Five Cambridge Friends, I pointed out that the French edition of his book, pub- lished earlier, does not contain the term,

`Dr Frankenstein's nurse did it.' the 'Fifth Man'. Modin denied he ever used the term. He said he would have identified the name of the 'real Fifth Man' if he were not still alive. Obfuscation if there ever was.

The wounded ex-spy is not an attractive sight.

Richard Norton-Taylor

The Guardian, 119 Farringdon Road, London EC1