Российская наука и мир (дайджест) - Сентябрь 1999 г.
Дайджест за другие годы
1999 г.
Российская наука и мир
(по материалам зарубежной электронной прессы)

    Science / Vol.285, No.5434, Iss. of 10 Sep. 1999, P.1651
    Teachers and Researchers: Unite!
    Преподаватели и научные работники: объединяйтесь!

A new Russian initiative aims to bridge the gulf between universities and the nation's science strongholds, the institutes of the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS). Russia's Ministry of Education and the U.S. Civilian Research and Development Foundation (CRDF) announced last week that three regions each will receive $1 million to create centers that bring university and RAS researchers together.
The RAS's 325-odd institutes have long been the preferred workplace for Russia's top scientists, as they can work unfettered by teaching demands. But last year, in a bid to improve science teaching, the Education Ministry and CRDF hatched a plan to create joint RAS-university centers that would be funded by U.S. foundations and Russian sources (Science, 29 May 1998, p. 1336). From 80 proposals emerged three winners: Far Eastern State University in Vladivostok, whose center will focus on marine life; Krasnoyarsk State University in Siberia, which will develop techniques for environmental remediation; and three universities in the Rostov region, which will study earthquake safety and pollutant monitoring. Another four centers are expected to be announced next May.

© 1999 by The American Association for the Advancement of Science

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    Fox News Online / September 5, 1999
    Chess Champion Kasparov Meets Match On Internet
    Чемпион мира по шахматам играет в матче по сети Internet
    • Reuters Internet Summary

LONDON -- World chess champion Garry Kasparov, who is playing the world on the Internet, said Friday it was tough trying to outsmart the World Wide Web's challengers, but remained confident of a win or draw. "The world turned out to be very smart...but it has a very difficult task to save the game," Kasparov told Reuters in Russian-accented English.

© 1999, News America Digital Publishing, Inc. d/b/a Fox News Online
© Reuters Ltd. All rights reserved.
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    Nature / V.401, No.6750, 16 September 1999
    Russian scientist 'tried to smuggle spy device to China'

    Российский ученый Владимир Щуров обвинен в попытке передать Китаю подводный акустический прибор, который по утверждению службы безопасности можно использовать для выслеживания подводных лодок России. Обвинение было сделано после того, как Щуров был задержан на таможне.

MOSCOW -- A Russian scientist, Vladimir Shchurov, has been accused of attempting to deliver to China an underwater acoustic device which the security service claims could be used to track Russian submarines.
The accusation was made after Shchurov was detained at customs. Russia's Federal Security Service last week searched the laboratory Shchurov heads at the Pacific Oceanological Institute of the Far Eastern branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, in Vladivostok. It was the security service's second visit to the institute within three months. The papers of a prominent ecologist there, Vladimir Soyfer, were searched in July (Nature 400, 300; 1999).
Shchurov's alleged action could lead to several years in gaol. But he denies any impropriety, and points with pride to the fact that his acoustic device, constructed 20 years ago and designed as a research tool, is still considered by the security service to be a threat to national security. "Our acoustics laboratory is the only one in Russia that uses the unique technology developed here. But our scientific work cannot find any potential users in Russia," he says. "The contact with the Chinese has allowed us to prolong the research, to buy equipment, and to hire young and talented scientists. As a result, we have been able to make substantial progress with our research. But now attempts are being made to drive us out of the scientific market."
Shchurov argues that he did not need an export licence for the device because it was only to be taken out of Russia for the time needed to conduct experiments on two Chinese scientific ships in the Yellow Sea in October and November. The Russian Academy of Sciences had given permission for the work, he says.
Three years ago, Viktor Akulinychev, director of the Vladivostok institute, signed a contract with China's Harbin Engineering University in Heilongjiang province for testing the Russian techniques of studying underwater noises. Shchurov points out that no-one, including the security service, objected to the arrangement at the time.
"The use of such devices to investigate underwater noises has long been routine," says Shchurov. "The only difference is that this time we were to use Chinese, rather than Russian, scientific ships. Our own scientific fleet cannot afford even a short expedition."

Nature © Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 1999

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    PRNewswire / Wednesday, Sept. 22, 9:03 am Eastern Time
    Citizen Kurchatov: Stalin's Bomb Maker Airing on PBS
    • SOURCE: Oregon Public Broadcasting

    "Он думал, что является олицетворением будущего и был выдвинут на волне будущего. Он восхищался тем, какими быстрыми темпами развиваются в России наука, техника и промышленность. Он также верил, что хорошее всегда превалирует над плохим"
    История жизни создателя атомной бомбы в Советском Союзе Игоря Васильевича Курчатова

    "He thought he was representing the wave of the future and he got promoted by the wave of the future. He was enthusiastic about how fast science and technology and industry were developing in Russia. So he believed that good things would prevail over bad things." --
    Vladislav Zubok, historian

PORTLAND, Ore., Sept 22 /PRNewswire/ -- Robert Oppenheimer is known for directing the creation of the first atomic bomb. Yet, his Russian counterpart has long been shrouded in mystery -- a man with an existence so secret he once could only be photographed from behind.
His name: Igor Vasilevich Kurchatov. CITIZEN KURCHATOV: STALIN'S BOMB MAKER, airing on PBS October 18, 10 p.m. (check local listings), unravels the enigmatic story of a man burdened by a dichotomy: reverence for life and the ambition to make the bomb.
CITIZEN KURCHATOV is the story of a complex man full of ambiguity. It is the story of the extraordinary forces that drove Kurchatov to become an organizer and to build and reign over a nuclear weapons empire of scientists, technicians and installations that stretched across the expanse of Stalin's Soviet Union.
What shaped Kurchatov? How did he become a man myopically driven to build the bomb only to later question its existence? Born in 1903 in the Ural Mountains, Kurchatov was a model student. However, World War I erupted and Russia's defeat spawned the Communist Revolution and civil war. Starvation and death were ubiquitous. By his teens Kurchatov had been forced to become keen to the ways of survival. He honed the complex combination of independence and conformity. This seemingly paradoxical combination helped him navigate the treacherous and fickle political seas of the epoch.
Kurchatov graduated in physics and got a job at the top technical university in Leningrad, even while Stalin was starting to mold a system under which anybody was subject to scrutiny, repression and arrest. "People who had just graduated from their technical school were promoted to important positions because so many bosses were arrested and shot," notes historian Vladislav Zubok. For Kurchatov, fear and opportunity were inseparable.
In the 1930's, Kurchatov moved into nuclear physics research and started to make his name. But in 1941 Germany invaded Russia bringing chaos and devastation. In 1943, prompted by espionage reports of the secret atomic bomb work in the West, Stalin started a small bomb project of his own, putting Kurchatov in charge.
Always ambitious, this was the sort of grand opportunity Kurchatov had worked so hard for. But he also knew that failure could bring Stalin's wrath upon him. He took the risk.
By 1944 Kurchatov was protesting that while hundreds of thousands labored on the Manhattan Project he had barely a hundred workers. Only after Hiroshima did Stalin wake up to the implications of the nuclear age by saying, "Comrades, make us atomic bombs quickly. If a child doesn't cry, his mother doesn't know what he wants. Push ahead on a Russian scale!" Stalin raised the bar and expected results. Without a bomb the Soviet Union was vulnerable. Kurchatov had to deliver a copy of the Manhattan bomb by 1948. Buoyed by patriotism and fear of America, Kurchatov and his scientists immersed themselves in the project, knowing full well that the costs of their work would condemn the people of their war-torn country to continued hardship.
CITIZEN KURCHATOV explores how Kurchatov managed to survive the tyrannical demands and deadly whims of his bosses Joseph Stalin and security chief Lavrenti Beria -- two of the most feared men in Russia. It examines the role that continued espionage played in Kurchatov's schemes and why he used Gulag labor to build his plants and mine his uranium. It exposes the Faustian bargain that Kurchatov made, and whether, if he supped with the Devil he enjoyed it too. After countless problems and setbacks, Kurchatov succeeded with the first Russian A-bomb test in 1949, and immediately turned to work on the immensely more destructive H-bomb. In 1953, Stalin died but work on the new hydrogen bomb continued. With this new bomb, Kurchatov became dismayed. He said, "Nuclear war, especially a war with thermonuclear weapons, could destroy all life on earth." And yet, Kurchatov strode on, condoning the work of his physicists. In 1955, he confided to a friend that the first huge megaton test was terrible, that the bombs should never be used. He withdrew from supervising the tests. In historic Soviet film footage, a 1955 megaton test explosion engulfs everything in its path: houses, tanks and livestock grazing in a field. All are consumed in a menacing cloud. "He was a civilized man," says Victor Madeev, a former coworker of Kurchatov's, "The tests made a horrible impression. He wanted to end them all." Khrushchev, now in power, also hoped to control nuclear arms. But when Kurchatov stuck his neck out proposing that Russia maintain a bomb test moratorium, Khrushchev said, "You stick to your science. We'll deal with politics."
After suffering from two strokes, Kurchatov died at the age of 57. In his last public address he said, "I'm glad that I have dedicated my life to Soviet nuclear science. I believe that our people and government will use that science only for the good of mankind."

Copyright © 1999 PRNewswire.
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    PRNewswire / Friday Sept. 3, 7:17 pm Eastern Time
    IFAW: Japan Re-Ignites International Trade in Whale Meat With First-Ever Commercial Hunt of Russian Beluga Whales
    • SOURCE: International Fund for Animal Welfare

    После заключения соглашения на добычу 200 тонн китового мяса и жира, Япония возобновляет международную торговлю продуктами китобойного промысла. Охота на китов будет вестись в Охотском море.

MOSCOW, Sept. 3 /PRNewswire/ -- Japan and Russia have cut a whale of a deal for 200 tons of Russian beluga whale meat and blubber, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW -- www.ifaw.org) denounced today from its Moscow office. This deal launches the first-ever international commercial hunt of beluga whales, and reopens the international trade in whale meat, a trade IFAW says is not sustainable and threatens whale populations worldwide.
As part of the deal, the State Fishery Committee of the Russian Federation has issued permits for 200 beluga whales to be hunted in the southern section of the Sea of Okhotsk. While the Russian government has sanctioned the hunt, the Russian authorities for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) have yet to authorize the trade. CITES permits must be issued before customs officials will allow the whale meat to leave the country.
Legally, there is nothing preventing Russia from issuing the permits, as beluga whales are covered under a CITES provision that allows limited trade, provided that it is not harmful to the whale populations. Such a decision is highly questionable here, where very little is known about the whale stocks being hunted, and the CITES authorities in Russia appear to have reservations about the trade. Valentine Ilyashenko, Deputy-Chief of the CITES-Russia Authority office, has required the Russian supplier to guarantee that not more than 200 beluga whales will be killed, and to allow for DNA analysis of the meat prior to shipment to ensure that it is strictly beluga whale meat.
In response to the sanctioned trade, Russian marine mammal scientists and conservation groups joined together today to draft a protest statement addressed to Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. The group included prominent members of Russia's Marine Mammal Council and the Russian Society of Animal Protection, as well as IFAW.
Scientists are particularly concerned about the effects of the hunt on the beluga populations at stake. "Very little is known about the status of several of the stocks covered by the Russian quota," said Peter Meisenheimer of the International Marine Mammal Association, "and all but the Bering Sea populations are considered depleted. Any unmonitored take from these stocks could have serious consequences for the population."
There is also much concern regarding the way the hunt is being carried out. Beluga whales have not been hunted in Russia in over 30 years. The result is a mismanaged hunt burdened by lack of experience, insufficient equipment and no independent observers.
"This trade in beluga whale meat signals a dangerous step forward for Japan's commercial whale trade," said Karen Steuer, Director of IFAW's Commercial Exploitation and Trade Program, "and a dangerous step backwards for Russia's developing conservation efforts and threatened beluga whale populations."

Copyright © 1999 PRNewswire. All rights reserved
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    New Scientist 18 Sept. 1999
    Engage dark matter!
    • Charles Seife, Washington DC

    Американцы приступили к осуществлению проекта российских ученых, который предусматривает использовать бактерии для переработки отходов жизнедеятельности космонавтов в источник энергии.

"I'M TRYING AS HARD AS I CAN, Captain," exclaims Scotty, the strain etching lines in his forehead. "I can't give you any more!" But unlike Star Trek's Enterprise, future spacecraft might use a less savoury energy supply than Scotty's beloved dilithium crystals: human waste.
NASA is enlisting the aid of Advanced Fuel Research of Connecticut in a new $600 000 project to turn astronaut waste into a power source for spaceships. The process might also yield other useful chemicals that are in short supply aboard an interplanetary spacecraft or on an extraterrestrial base. The secret is pyrolysis: breaking down the waste by heating it in the absence of oxygen.
Normally when you burn organic molecules such as those found in faeces or in plastic, they combine with oxygen in the air, producing carbon dioxide and water. But in pyrolysis, there is no oxygen to combine with, so the molecules break their bonds and rearrange themselves into smaller molecules. "Things start breaking down at about 350°C, and what you start making includes a lot of liquids," says AFR scientist Mike Serio. "At 600°C or 650°C, you break down the liquids into gases. It does give you flexibility."
You could burn these liquids or gases to release energy, or turn them into plastics or other organic materials, says Jim Markham, the company's chief executive officer.
[Pyrolysis] can produce heavier molecules such as benzene or toluene, and can be a source of raw materials to make plastics or rubber," says John Fisher, a chemical engineer at NASA's Ames Research Center in California. And pyrolysis would also create ammonia for fertiliser.
Since the pyrolytic process works on many different organic compounds, it will consume many types of fuel. "You can use human waste as well as other waste, like scrap plastic bags," says Markham. And you don't have to worry about variations in the consistency and content of the waste material, the pyrolysis unit should be able to handle them all. "It's tailored to unpredictable mixtures," he says. "Ideally, you'd dial in the desired outcome and it would compensate."
Though a Mars base is still a pipe dream, there might be a use for the process back on Earth - just dump your plastic or other organic waste in a home pyrolysis unit and reap the energy. But in the meantime, Scotty will have to continue milking his dilithium crystals.
This latest idea follows in the wake of a Russian project, announced last year, which aims to use equally bizarre methods of recycling waste in order to maximise available power. The Russian plan, intended to be ready for their first crewed interplanetary mission, is to employ bacteria to break down the astronauts' used underwear to make additional methane, which could then be used to power the spacecraft (New Scientist, 12 December 1998, p.5).

Copyright New Scientist, RBI Limited 1999
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    Nature/ V.401, No.6750, 16 Sept. 1999
    Freed meteorologists come in from the cold

    Исламские экстремисты отпустили двух метеорологов, захваченных в плен, после того, как поняли, что за освобождение ученых никто не заплатит.

MOSCOW -- Two meteorologists captured by Islamic extremists who crossed into Kyrgyzstan from Tajikistan are reported to have been freed after their abductors learnt that they were scientists – and concluded that no one was likely to pay for their release. The researchers, part of an expedition studying the Abramov glacier in the Pamir Mountains, were freed after their money, documents and warm clothes had been taken. After descending to safety, one said: "We have now become accustomed to surviving not only without salaries, but also without clothes."

Macmillan Publishers Ltd
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    Environmental News Network / Tuesday, Sept. 7, 1999
    Russia, Japan rekindle whale meat trade
    • By Margot Higgins

    Недавнее соглашение между Россией и Японией о разрешении промысла белухи дает возможность возобновить международную торговлю мясом этих животных. Соглашение создает прецедент коммерческой добычи небольших китов и дельфинов. Ученые особенно озабочены тем, что промышленная охота угрожает жизни популяции белухи в южной части Охотского моря.

A recent agreement between Russia and Japan to allow the commercial hunt of beluga whales has re-ignited international trade in whale meat. The agreement, which marks the first ever commercial hunt of belugas, is being denounced by conservation groups, including Greenpeace, The World Wide Fund for Nature, Russia's Marine Mammal Council, the Russian Society of Animal Protection and the International Fund for Animal Welfare.
Conservationists are condemning the agreement on the grounds that the trade is not sustainable and could threaten many whale populations worldwide. In addition, they say the hunt sets a huge precedent for the commercial hunting of small whales and dolphins. Several groups have joined together to draft a protest statement addressed to Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
Although Japan is currently the only country besides Norway engaged in commercial whaling, there has been no international trade in whale meat since the International Whaling Commission banned international trade in 1986. As part of the deal, the State Fishery Committee of the Russian Federation has issued permits for 200 beluga whales in the southern section of the Sea of Okhotsk. While the Russian government has sanctioned the hunt, the Russian authorities for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora have yet to authorize the trade. The permits must be issued before customs officials will allow the whale meat to leave the country.
Legally, there is nothing that prevents Russia from issuing the permits as beluga whales are covered under a Convention on International Trade provision that allows limited trade, provided that it is not harmful to the whale populations. However, some Convention on International Trade authorities in Russia appear to have reservations about the trade. Valentine Ilyashenko, deputy-chief of the CITES-Russia Authority office, has required the Russian supplier to guarantee that no more than 200 beluga whales will be killed, and to allow for DNA analysis of the meat prior to shipment to ensure that it is beluga whale meat.
Scientists are particularly concerned about the effects of the hunt on the beluga populations at stake. "Very little is known about the status of several of the stocks covered by the Russian quota," said Peter Meisenheimer of the International Marine Mammal Association, "and all but the Bering Sea populations are considered depleted. Any unmonitored take from these stocks could have serious consequences for the population." There is also much concern regarding the way the hunt is being carried out. Beluga whales have not been hunted in Russia for more than 30 years. The result could be a mismanaged hunt, burdened by lack of experience, insufficient equipment and no independent observers.
"This trade in beluga whale meat signals a dangerous step forward for Japan's commercial whale trade," said Karen Steuer, director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare Commercial Exploitation and Trade Program, "and a dangerous step backward for Russia's developing conservation efforts and threatened beluga whale populations." "If this hunt goes through, there will be other requests coming to the Russian government to hunt belugas. Before long we could have a hunt of a couple thousand Belugas," Steuer said. "Once you start commercial whaling in any species, you have to make sure all of the bells and whistles are in place, that all the regulations are there from A to Z. Every time we have had a commercial hunt of whales there has been over-exploitation." The whales will be used for the consumption of meat and blubber. According to Steuer, the Russians are being paid $400 a whale by the Japanese company. What the beluga meat will sell for in the Japanese marketplace is unclear, since the Japanese have not traditionally eaten beluga. "Something rare and new usually brings a high price,"said Steuer. Currently, most whale meat in Japan sells for the equivalent of a higher-priced steak in the U.S. market.

Copyright 1999, Environmental News Network, All Rights Reserved

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    Fox News Online / 2.21 p.m. ET (1821 GMT) Sept. 8, 1999
    Russia's Mir Space Station Goes Into Hibernation

    Рано утром в среду после отключения главного компьютера российская станция Мир перестала работать.

MOSCOW -- Russia's vacant Mir space station went into hibernation early on Wednesday after Mission Control shut down its main computer, a space official said.
"There is nothing extraordinary about the shut down this morning. It was pre-planned," a duty officer at the Mission Control near Moscow said by telephone. The last three-man crew left Mir in August after the government cut federal financing for the station well beyond its planned lifespan. Space officials, who insist Mir has not yet exhausted its capabilities, have said the station will stay in orbit unmanned until early next year while they try to find private investors to fund a new manned flight. "The unmanned station only needs a fraction of the power it needed to run life-support systems when there were people on board. Now there is no need for the computer to manage its energy generating solar panels, so it was shut down," the officer said. By early next year officials will have to decide whether they have raised enough money to afford to send a new crew to live on Mir. Otherwise, a so-called "funeral team" will briefly visit the station to shut it down completely, officials have said. It will then be driven out of orbit to plunge into the Pacific Ocean. U.S. officials want Moscow to give up Mir as quickly as possible to focus resources on building its part of the new International Space Station, which is already behind schedule.

1999, News America Digital Publishing, Inc.
d/b/a Fox News Online

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    Popular Science Magazine / SEPTEMBER 07, 20:39 EDT
    Mir's Computer To Be Switched Off
    Компьютер станции Мир должен быть отключен


MOSCOW -- Russia's Mission Control prepared Tuesday to switch off the Mir space station's central computer and other systems to save energy during a planned six months of unmanned flight. The ground controllers waited for a week after the station's last permanent crew returned to Earth to let Mir's interiors dry before switching the temperature control to the minimum on Tuesday. Early Wednesday, they will switch off the Mir's computer, its orientation system and other equipment, letting the station rotate freely in orbit, said Valery Lyndin, a Mission Control spokesman. Mission Control will help adjust the station's position in orbit if it sees that the station's energy supply is dropping below the level needed. The temperature control system will be running on low to protect vital systems from freezing, Lyndin said. Switching off the computer and other systems will allow energy and the computer's resources to be conserved for the docking of a final crew in February or March. The cleanup crew is expected to spend about a month aboard the station, gradually lowering its orbit. Immediately after the cosmonauts leave, ground controllers will lower the 140-ton station to burn it up in the atmosphere, guiding its remnants into the Pacific Ocean. The cash-strapped Russian government has said it can no longer pay for the 13-year-old Mir's operation. However, instead of bringing the station down right after the recent crew's departure, it decided to leave it in orbit in hopes of finding private funds to keep it aloft.
All previous such fund-raising attempts have failed, and Few believe that money will be found.

Copyright (c) 1999 Popular Science, a division of Times Mirror Magazines

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    Electronic Telegraph / Sunday 12 Sept. 1999
    'I gave bomb secrets to Russia so it could stand up to the West'

    Гражданка Великобритании, работавшая секретаршей в группе исследователей, разрабатывавших ядерные присадки, утверждает, что она передала секрет ядерного оружия Москве более 4-х десятилетий назад. Это позволило Советскому Союзу создать ядерную бомбу на 2 года раньше, чем предполагалось.

Scotland Yard officer was KGB spy

In an exclusive interview with Melita Norwood, David Rose discovered the background to a remarkable story of treachery which compromised Britain's atomic weapons programme. More remarkable, the elderly widow who passed documents to the Soviets over three decades remains unrepentant FOR 54 years Melita Norwood has kept a terrible secret: in the closing months of the Second World War she gave the Soviet Union vital secrets which enabled it to build the atom bomb. Now 87, and following the public disclosure of her treachery, she is finally explaining why she did it. In an interview at her house in Bexleyheath on the border of London and Kent, where CND and anti-Kosovo war posters in the windows hint at a life-long faith in the virtues of Stalin and the Communist Party of Great Britain, she was unrepentant.
She said: "I thought it was an experiment, what they were doing out there - a good experiment and I agreed with it. I did what I did because I expected them to be attacked again once the war was over. Chamberlain had wanted them attacked in 1939: he certainly expected Hitler to go east. "I thought they should somehow be adequately defended because everyone was against them, against this experiment, and they had been through such hardship from the Germans. In the war the Russians were on our side, and it was unfair to them that they shouldn't be able to develop their weaponry." In the post-war world, she said, the Soviet Union would eventually be the "opposition" to international capitalism, and she was unwilling to allow the West to gain an advantage as great as sole possession of nuclear bombs. Supplying the bomb plans was the high-water mark of her espionage career. But she kept at it for another 27 years, passing through numerous Soviet controllers, providing a steady stream of less sensational technological secrets, and eventually receiving the KGB's highest decoration - the Order of the Red Banner. She was, as her KGB file records, an "exceptionally reliable" agent, and recruited at least one more spy, a civil servant still known only by his codename - HUNT.
Last month, my BBC colleague Sarah Hann and I became the first people ever to confront Mrs Norwood with the evidence of her secret past. The Security Service, MI5, has known her identity since 1992, when Vasili Nikitich Mitrokhin, the former chief archivist of the KGB's foreign intelligence section, defected to Britain with 60 volumes of the KGB's deepest secrets. Yet MI5 had never approached her, not even informally.
The reason is a decision, years in the making, considered by successive heads of the Crown Prosecution Service and Attorneys-General, which was only finalised last May: that on account of Mrs Norwood's age, it would not be "in the public interest" to prosecute her. A legal system which had left untouched Anthony Blunt, former Keeper of the Queen's Pictures, and John Cairncross, the fourth and fifth men of the KGB's Cambridge spy ring would not, it was felt, appear fair if it suddenly sought vengeance against an elderly lady - however important her role as a spy. Moreover, two years ago the US authorities decided not to charge Theodore Hall, another newly-disclosed octogenarian atom spy, a retired American scientist who lives by Granchester Meadow in Cambridge. While the Whitehall argument raged, MI5 and the police were compelled to leave her alone. She could not, of course, be arrested unless the authorities were willing to press charges; but while the possibility of prosecution remained, she could not be interviewed informally either - any "unofficial" approach would have breached the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, and so probably wrecked such a prosecution before it got under way. Thus it fell to Sarah and I to telephone her and fix a meeting, which we filmed. It will be broadcast on September 19 as part of a forthcoming BBC2 series, The Spying Game. In 20 years as a reporter, I have not felt so nervous as before meeting Mrs Norwood. Mitrokhin had not brought out her original KGB file: only notes which he made and managed to smuggle past the layers of security at the KGB's Yesenevo headquarters, near the Moscow ring road. If Mrs Norwood denied all accusations, or refused to talk to us at all, we had evidence which was most unlikely to stand up in court in the event of a libel action - and hence no story. Mitrokhin's own book about his files, which he has written with the Cambridge historian Christopher Andrew and is to be published next week, would have had to be pulped. I need not have worried. Mitrokhin's notes were accurate in all respects, and Mrs Norwood seemed concerned only to protect her late husband's memory, insisting that he had always "disagreed with what I did". Hilary, a mathematics teacher whom she married 50 years ago, died in 1986. For her own part, the only signs of fear or reluctance were traces of moisture in the corners of her eyes when we began to talk, and a memory, when we asked about her KGB associates and the methods she used to meet them, which was curiously selective. She ushered us into the dining room of her 1930s semi-detached house with a view of her neat suburban garden, and offered us tea and home-grown apples. The interior of the house, with its fading wallpaper, sparse furnishings and Left-wing literature, can have altered little since she bought it with her husband 50 years ago. Then she began to relate at least a part of the story of her extraordinary life.
Melita Sirnis, as she then was, was born in 1912 near Southampton to an English mother and a Latvian father, a bookbinder who had once been part of the utopian egalitarian movement inspired by Leo Tolstoy. Her father died when she was six, but she remembered that he founded a weekly paper to publicise Tolstoyan ideas. By then, she said, the family was living in Pokesdown, "the poor end of Bournemouth". Her mother was a member of the Co-operative Party, and active in the Workers' Educational Association. Politics were in the family's blood: an aunt was one of the first female trade unionists, an official for the Association of Women Clerks and Secretaries - later absorbed into the GMB. They were also internationalists. After the First World War, Mrs Norwood said, "our mother wanted us not to be anti-German, because they had been abused during the war". She took Melita and her sister to Heidelberg for a summer, "until it was time to go back and continue with education". "Ah yes," she mused, "they were anti-war all along, the pair of them, father and mother. I suppose I absorbed some of that too." Later, there were trips to Switzerland where her mother had a half-sister. When she left school her mother, who believed strongly in women's education, urged her to apply to university. She duly attended Southampton University, though only for a year, where she studied Latin and logic. Wildly different as her background was from those of her British KGB contemporaries, Philby, Burgess, Maclean, Blunt and Cairncross, the Cambridge "magnificent five", she was radicalised by the same experiences - the slump of the early Thirties, when more than three million men were unemployed, "and people were going round knocking on people's doors, begging for food". In search of work, Melita and her family moved to London. Her vague and woolly socialist inclinations were slowly being transformed. Before becoming a Communist, Melita joined the Independent Labour Party (ILP), where she got to know some distinguished figures, including Fenner Brockway, the MP who later founded the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. But in 1936, the ILP split. "Brockway went one way, and some of us went the other," she said - the Communist Party. "You didn't have to agree with everything that was being done in Russia, or of course even know that was being done. But on the whole, it seemed to be a good idea." In retrospect, she said, she could see that "old Joe [Stalin] when he turned up, he wasn't a hundred per cent, but then the people around him might have been making things awkward, as folks do". Nevertheless, the gulag and purges notwithstanding, "they were doing a good job out there. I didn't want them defeated". By 1937 she had taken a job as a secretary at the British non-Ferrous Metals Association in Euston, a trade body which co-ordinated technological research being done both by academics and private firms. Like many believers in the 1930s, she was told to keep her Communist Party membership secret. And then, she agreed, at some point "somebody said that my work might be an interesting source of material". Who this was, Mrs Norwood said she couldn't remember; nor could she recall the names of the various Russians whom she began to meet with increasing frequency as the war progressed: "There weren't that many of them anyway. Ah, no, I can't, never knew their names, if I ever could - forgot them, probably." But they were "pleasant", she said, although she never had time to go for a drink or a meal, because she was usually rushing home to look after her husband and later her daughter, Anita - whom she never told of her clandestine life. Hilary knew she was spying, she said, but disapproved, and so she would explain away her occasional lateness after a secret meeting "by saying it was traffic delays, or something like that. I didn't completely take him in". Had she ever been frightened by the possibility she might be caught? "I suppose so, but I can't remember pondering it." What did she think would have happened if she had? "Well I'd have been sacked to start with, of course. But I don't know. Presumably it would have been serious." And had she taken any precautions to make sure she wasn't? "I can't remember if I did. I was careful. I certainly didn't talk to other people about it." Mitrokhin's files suggest that Mrs Norwood used a miniature camera to photograph documents. Of this she said she had no memory, although she confirmed that she did give the Russians documents in one form or another. As to what these were, the choice "was left to me. There was no pressure of any sort. I'm non-technical. You got to know the chemical symbols, a bit of that business. But I don't think there was anything earth-shattering". But according to Mitrokhin's files, the material she supplied was literally earth-shattering: crucial information which fuelled the Soviet "ENORMOSZ" nuclear espionage programme. By the beginning of 1945, the non-Ferrous Metals Association director, G J Bailey, had joined the co-ordinating committee of the top-secret "tube alloys" project - the British project to design and build an atomic bomb. Most of this research was pooled with the parallel United States project based at Los Alamos. Exactly what, or how much, Mrs Norwood gave the Soviet Union is not clear. But their own documents suggest they regarded her contribution as of the "highest value", and that it played a significant part in enabling the USSR to detonate its own bomb in 1949 - a few months before a CIA assessment claimed it would not be ready to do so until 1954. Mrs Norwood said that Bailey was "my favourite", and confirmed that they worked together closely. But she insisted that she could not recall any of the contents of the documents she gave her handlers. "As to what they were, because they weren't necessarily anything, I can't remember. I wasn't always [working] on the special stuff." Nor could she remember what she supplied during her remaining 27 years as a spy. Mitrokhin's notes on her KGB file, which are not a complete summary, suggest only that it was all technical material of considerable importance, some of which may have had direct military application. After her retirement, Mrs Norwood was free at last to visit the Soviet Union, which she did twice - as an ordinary tourist, she said, although the files claim she was f?ted as a retired star agent by senior officials. But after prompting, she did remember receiving the Order of the Red Banner:"I suppose I was grateful for the recognition." As the years rolled by, she watched her espionage contemporaries uncovered, one by one: Klaus Fuchs, her fellow atom spy; the Cambridge five; George Blake. She found Anthony Blunt's belated public disclosure in 1980 especially sad: "He was a good bloke. But in those days, you see, there were quite a number of blokes who thought they were doing their duty by defending the Soviet Union." She seems to have been blissfully unaware of the clue that might, at any time, have led British intelligence to identify her - two mentions, under one of her several codenames, TINA, in the VENONA traffic, the 1940s signals cables between Moscow Centre and its KGB stations in America, which the West had decrypted.
Mrs Norwood thought that, if she were to have her time over again, she would do what she had done again. Even today, she retains her faith in a socialist millennium: "It's a worldwide thing. The various countries of this rotten capitalist system with its unemployment, its wars, and making money - I hope it will come to an end." She paused sadly for a moment. "Mind you, the Communists, they have very few members in this country. It's a rather declining membership on the whole. Then again, there's lots of ordinary blokes in lots of countries who do want change."

© Copyright of Telegraph Group Limited 1999

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