19 NOVEMBER 1994, Page 44

Irish spies

Sir: It may or may not be true, as Oleg Gordievsky states in his review of Oleg Kalugin's book (Books, 22 October), that the KGB administered brain-damaging drugs to the Irishman Sean Bourke during his stay in the Soviet Union from January 1967 until October 1968 to try to ensure that he could not give information to the British authorities at a later point. Certain- ly this was the kind of vile practice under- taken by both sides in the Cold War.

However, if the KGB did so, they were remarkably unsuccessful. Following Sean's return to Ireland, the Soviet authorities sent on to him a manuscript written by him in a set of exercise books they had confis- cated from him before he left. This formed the basis of his book The Springing of George Blake published in 1971. Many pas- sages in the manuscript had been blocked out by George Blake himself — in part to protect the identities of Pat Pottle, Anne Randle and myself — but Sean had no dif- ficulty in re-instating these. This was not the work of a man who had been practically killed by mind-damaging drugs. Moreover, if the KGB were so determined to prevent Sean from telling his story, it is incompre- hensible that they then sent the manuscript to him in Dublin.

I met Sean in Dublin in 1971, and several times subsequently in Limerick. He had put on weight and was drinking heavily, but he had all his wits about him, had lost none of his charm and anarchic sense of humour, and, indeed, was very much the same Sean whom we had seen off at Victoria station on his way to Moscow some years earlier. In particular, his ability to recall past events in detail, including Blake's escape and his own stay in Moscow, was quite unimpaired. The image of him as a brain-damaged zombie on the point of death is nonsense.

Finally, on this last point, Gordievsky is quite mistaken in stating that Sean died 'soon after his return to England'. He returned, of course, to Ireland — not England — in Octo- ber 1968 and did not die until more than 13 years later, in January 1982.

Michael Randle 136 Hollingwood Lane,

Bradford, West Yorkshire