Kim Philby is a famous traitor – to British imperialism. He spent the best years of his life working in the interests of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics against those who sought to undermine it and finish it off, mainly Nazi Germany and British imperialism.
His most important work took place during the second world war and its aftermath, the main thrust of his work being not only to defeat the Germans but also to prevent the British from reaching an accommodation with Germany in order to unite for the purpose of bringing down the Soviet Union.
Kim Philby was born in Ambala, Punjab, India on 1 January 1912, where his father St John was employed in the Indian civil service.
His family was very well-connected, with a tradition of providing highly educated advisers, administrators and military commanders to the British ruling class. His mother, for example, was related to Field Marshal Montgomery. Arriving in England at the age of 7, Kim was soon embarked on being prepared for his projected role as a member of the mandarin class, attending Westminster public school and subsequently Cambridge university.
A number of factors would have contributed, however, to his decision, while at university, to become an anti-imperialist warrior. On the one hand, he had spent his very early years in India, looked after by Indians, playing with Indian children and speaking Punjabi, being in fact for the most part in every way an Indian, apart from his white skin.
Indeed, ‘Kim’ is not the name with which he was christened but was accorded to him because of his similarity to Rudyard Kipling’s Kim, also a white-skinned child who was indistinguishable from the Indians among whom he lived.
Secondly, his father, although employed to uphold the Raj, had nothing but contempt for most of its representatives in India, which could have disposed the young Kim to transfer that contempt to the Raj – British imperialism – itself.
Thirdly, he went up to Cambridge in 1930, at a time when the imperialist world was in economic crisis, reeling from the great financial crash of 1929. Millions had become unemployed and were going hungry in Britain’s land of plenty, while the Soviet Union, following the Great October Socialist Revolution, completely avoided the destructive effects of the capitalist world’s economic crisis and was building itself up step by step, improving the lives of its citizens whilst those in the western countries were being plunged into dire need.
In these circumstances, the bright young people who went to Cambridge university, many of them destined to become future leaders of Britain, could not but turn their minds not only to the question of how they would be able to prevent economic crisis from happening, but also to how it was that the Soviet Union had been able to escape it. Although most of British society was subjected to blanket anticommunist propaganda, the privileged gilded youth who attended Oxford and Cambridge were free to study Marxism, the idea being that they had to know it well in order to combat it effectively.
Thus at Cambridge, not only did quite a few students interest themselves in Marxism, but there were even genuine Marxist professors, such as the communist Maurice Dobb, available to instruct them. Kim, who was studying economics, attended his lectures and was much inspired by them.
He said of Maurice Dobb: “Unlike some of his younger colleagues in the Economics faculty, whose ferociously statistical arguments were virtually impossible to follow … Dobb’s twice-weekly classes were a breath of common sense … His plausible rendering of the serpentine twists of Soviet economic policy were models of clarity and memorability.” (Quoted in John Costello, Mask of Treachery, 1988, p165)
Another important factor driving Kim towards communism was the deep disappointment experienced by those who had put their faith in the Labour party at the performance of the first Labour government headed by Ramsay MacDonald, which was elected in 1929 and survived until 1931.
xperience demonstrated that a Labour government was totally unable to magic away the capitalist economic crisis. By the end of 1930, unemployment had doubled to over two and a half million. Because of the crisis, the government had a much lower income than previously and a far greater number of unemployed people to support, making it impossible for it to balance its budget unless it drastically cut public spending.
A committee was appointed headed by Sir George May to review the state of public finances, whose report in May 1931 advocated large public-sector wage cuts and large cuts in public spending. Shockingly, given that it claimed to represent the interests of the working class, the Labour government, which had only two years previously increased unemployment benefit, proceeded to cut it by 10 percent in order to maintain Britain’s credit rating on the New York money exchange – at a time when the working class was already suffering massive hardship.
Nowadays, people still refuse to accept that even people who have the best of intentions and the greatest desire to promote the interests of the working class cannot control the inexorable workings of the capitalist system, so reluctant are they to face the need to confront the all-powerful capitalist class and its state in order to overthrow the capitalist system that is the cause of mass poverty and war. Yet at Cambridge in the early 1930s, although there was no shortage of professors such as John Maynard Keynes promoting nostrums for the better control of capitalism, there were still many keen young minds among the students who, despite their personally privileged class position, were able to learn what one might have thought was the inescapable lesson that capitalism has to go.
While at university, Kim also saw at first hand the terrible conditions that the working class was enduring as a result of the depression. Not only did he meet and befriend working-class students who had been given scholarships by the Workers Educational Association to study at the university, but he also had the opportunity to visit working-class homes and to meet hunger marchers as they progressed south towards London.
He could not but synpathise with their cause. One of his best friends, and probably the first working-class person Kim had ever met, was Harry Dawes, an ex-coal miner who had gone through the general strike of 1926 and was thoroughly disillusioned with social democracy as a result of that experience.
Disillusionment with Labour
In the light of Ramsay MacDonald’s betrayals, the Cambridge University Labour Club collapsed, to be replaced by the Cambridge University Socialist Society formed by Harry Dawes, which attracted the left intelligentsia. Including Kim Philby.
The 1931 general election, in which Kim had supported a ‘left’ Labour candidate but in which the Labour party was thoroughly trounced, put paid to whatever hopes Kim had in parliamentarism as a vehicle for change. He wrote in his autobiography:
“The real turning point in my thinking came with the demoralisation and rout of the Labour party in 1931. It seemed incredible that the party should be so helpless against the reserve strength which reaction could mobilise in times of crisis. More important still, the fact that a supposedly sophisticated electorate had been stampeded by the cynical propaganda of the day threw serious doubt on the validity of the assumptions underlying parliamentary democracy as a whole.” (My Silent War, 1968, pxvii)
Despite his growing disillusionment with capitalism, and even though he was thought of as a communist while at university, Kim did not join any communist organisation but focussed mainly on antifascism. In that context, he took a trip to Germany before his finals in June, where he witnessed at first hand the rise of Hitlerite fascism. It is probable that this experience cemented his support for communism, as he was able to see how left-wing social democracy was complicit in helping the fascists to come to power.
After graduating from Cambridge in 1933 with a 2:1 degree in Economics (hardly anybody was given a first-class degree in that subject in those days), he set off to Europe with a list of contacts supplied by Maurice Dobb.
After a stint in Paris, Kim went on to Vienna through arrangement with Austrian Relief Fund for Victims of German Fascism (a communist-led organisation), which arranged his accommodation with Israel Kohlman, whose divorced daughter Alice Friedmann (and a “tremendous little sexpot”) was to become his wife. Her former husband was a member of the Zionist Socialist Movement. She was a member of the Austrian communist underground.
Under the aegis of its social-democratic political direction, Vienna had introduced popular welfare and education programmes, demolished slums and rehoused 200,000 people in social housing.
However, the loss of the Austrian empire in the first world war meant that social-democratic demands could not be fulfilled and there was considerable unrest, with both the left and the right having private armies, the socialist Schutzbund and the fascistic Heimwehr.
Moreover, Austria’s social democracy did not extend outside Vienna and was very dependent on its support from the German left. When Hitler decimated that, Austrian social democracy became very vulnerable. In 1932, Engelbert Dollfus was elected chancellor with a parliamentary majority of one, and he proceeded to go on the attack against ‘Red Vienna’, illegalising social-democratic parties and institutions.
The Schutzbund was proscribed and many of its leaders were arrested and/or killed. State forces occupied the offices of socialist officials and dismissed them, subjected the trade unions to state control, and establishesd a one-party corporate state. The Heimwehr stormed the socialist heartlands of Vienna – ie, its housing estates – and Kim got involved in smuggling socialists and communists to safety.
Having seen the failure of left social-democracy to organise any effective resistance, Kim became ever more convinced that only the communists could effectively resist fascism.
In February 1934, Kim married Litzi, mainly to protect her by giving her British nationality. Predictably, the Philby family were far from thrilled with Kim’s marriage. They didn’t like the fact that she was jewish, that she was a communist, that she was a divorcee or that she was a zionist. Kim’s father, a renowned Arabist, had always opposed the zionist movement.
The newly-weds remained in Vienna working with the communist underground, and Kim led the guerrilla ‘Kirov brigade’, acting as a courier between cities. However, by the beginning of May, they realised they would need to escape from Vienna, which was becoming far too dangerous for them, and shortly afterwards they came to London.
Recruitment by the Soviets
As it turned out, Kim had come to the attention of the Soviet secret service as a possible recruit, and shortly after his return to Britain, he was approached by a Mrs Tudor Hart, an Austrian jew married to a British communist, who put him in touch with a Soviet agent he knew as ‘Otto’, but whose real name was Arnold Deutsch, a Reichian psychologist and sex therapist. It was Otto who set Kim on his first steps as a Soviet agent, creating a persona for him that would maximise his ability to use his position and contacts in the way most helpful to the cause of the world proletariat.
Deutsch instructed Kim to break off all communist contacts and establish himself as a conventional member of the class he was born into so that he could rise to the important positions in the bourgeois state that his class background facilitated, despite his previous association with communism. He supplied Kim with a new Minox subminiature camera and gave him the codename Söhnchen.
He gave Kim his first lessons on the rudiments of tradecraft: how to arrange a meeting; where to leave messages; how to detect if his telephone was bugged; how to spot a tail, and how to lose one, etc.
This strategy was devised after Kim was forced to withdraw from plans to apply for employment to the Foreign Office, a career that had for a long time been envisaged for him. His prospective referees from Cambridge university told him that they would be unable to vouch for him because of his known communist sympathies. That being the case, he needed to find some other way to get himself accepted into the higher echelons.
So it was that from mid-1935, Kim started to distance himself from his left-wing friends. A plan was devised for him to set himself up as a friend of Germany, albeit not a Nazi, interested in exploring cultural and business opportunities. He was specifically told not to be too enthusiastic about the Nazis, partly because it was too great a departure from previous character, and partly because he was told the Nazis would be defeated in the war, and it was important he shouldn’t be compromised by excessive enthusiasm for their cause.
He also had to distance himself from his communist wife.
His first job, obtained with some difficulty at a time of high unemployment and with his reputation as a ‘red’ bedevilling him, was editorship of Review of Reviews, to which he was appointed in late 1934. He had to write quite a few articles for it himself, including an obituary for Lawrence of Arabia strongly influenced by his father’s none too flattering views of the man he had worked with in Mesopotamia during the first world war.
He also got his father to write an occasional article for the journal. At the same time, he collaborated with LSE (London School of Economics) postgraduate Peter Smolka in setting up London Continental News Ltd to collect information about Europe and disseminate it to London media.
He joined the Anglo-German Fellowship (AGF), an organisation whose aim was to establish commercial and cultural links with Germany and which therefore provided him with tremendous opportunities to make friends and influence people. He was invited, for instance, to gatherings at the German embassy, at one of which he met Joachim von Ribbentrop (who subsequently became ambassador in London).
As the son of St John Philby, well known as an anti-zionist, he was offered the editorship of a proposed AGF trade magazine Germany Today. In that capacity, he visited Berlin very regularly, where he met Joseph Goebbels with a view to obtaining funding for the proposed paper. In the end, however, the paper never appeared as the German government preferred a more overtly pro-Nazi publication.
Kim then met Albrecht Haushofer, an Anglophile anticommunist liaison officer of Rudolph Hess with the German foreign ministry. Albrecht was the son of General Karl Haushofer, who was partly jewish. Although Ribbentrop would have liked to get rid of him, he was protected by Rudolf Hess. The father, Karl, had founded and edited a Journal of Geopolitics 20 years earlier, and Albrecht was its editor of Anglo-American affairs.
Through Albrecht, Kim was able to get accreditation as a ‘staff member’ of the Geopolitical Journal to go to Spain as a journalist. Through Robert Bruce-Lockhart, a well-connected acquaintance of his father’s, who had been acting ambassador (and British spy) in Soviet Russia, he got accreditation too as a non-staff member of the Evening Standard.
In addition, he obtained a letter of introduction from the 17th Duke of Alba, General Francisco Franco’s envoy to London, to his son Pablo Merry de Val, Franco’s press officer in Spain.
Spanish civil war
Thus, in February 1937, he set off for Spain. It is claimed that the purpose of his visit was to kill General Franco. If that was so, the trip was very ill-conceived: he didn’t know where to find Franco and when arrested on a trip to Cordoba had hastily to swallow his Soviet cipher, which he only managed to do when he distracted the attention of his captors by ‘accidentally’ dropping his wallet.
The Soviets concluded either that he didn’t have it in him to kill Franco or that to sacrifice such a talented agent by sending him as an assassin was not the best use to which he could be put, so that objective was abandoned. Nevertheless, Kim made good use of his time during this first tour of duty in Spain by sending unsolicited reports to the Times of London, where another old schoolfriend and acquaintance of his father’s, Robin Barrington Ward, was assistant editor.
Reports included a mildly pro-Franco account of Guernica that repeated Franco’s claims that damage had mostly been caused by the Basques. He was thus able to fortify his rightist credentials for the benefit of future access to the heart of the establishment.
Much of the British establishment at that time, principally motivated by anticommunism, was decidedly pro-Nazi. The then king, George V, was a relative of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, who had been killed by the Bolsheviks in 1918, making him sympathetic to the Nazi anticommunist cause, as was his son the Duke of Windsor (who briefly succeeded George V as Edward VIII). British prime minister David Lloyd George was also keen on Hitler. In fact, Edward VIII was so keen on the Nazis that “even after the outbreak of war when he was attached to the Anglo-French supreme war council in Versailles, he passed military secrets to Germany”. (Phillip Knightley, KGB Masterspy, 1988, p49)
The Soviet Union, in order to protect itself against a Nazi invasion, was working hard at the time to bring about an alliance between itself and the non-fascist imperialist powers, and it was therefore viewing with concern the pro-Nazi elements of the British establishment and was keen to know what they were up to. Kim Philby was well-positioned to find out.
As a result, it was quite a coup when, through Barrington Ward, he was appointed in May 1937 as a special correspondent to the Times, which once more posted him to Spain, to report from the Franco side. Thus Kim returned to Spain wearing “the full protective panoply of the British establishment”. It did no harm to his right-wing credentials that he doubled up with Bunny Doble, the glamorous daughter of a Montreal banker, reasonably successful actress, ardent Franco sympathiser, and friend of Alfonso XIII who was exiled in London.
As an accredited journalist in Spain, Kim was, not unexpectedly, approached by British intelligence asking him to report also to them. The foot was in the door!
One of Kim’s most useful contacts in Spain was the head of German military intelligence in Spain, Major Ulrich Van Osten, who delighted in demonstrating to Kim how wonderful were Abwehr methods and intentions. However, Van Osten’s friendship with Kim had an ulterior motive – ie, getting his hands on Kim’s girlfriend Bunny – and the friendship fizzled out when it became clear that Bunny had no interest in him.
Kim was also able to access information about Trotskyite saboteurs and to ensure their exposure at the latter end of the war.
On 31 December, a car in which Kim and three other British journalists were travelling was hit by Soviet explosive device near Teruel. Three of them were killed, but Kim survived with only light wounds. As a result of this misadventure he was actually awarded a medal, which was presented by Franco himself!
Kim commented: “My wounding in Spain helped my work – both journalism and intelligence work – no end. Before then there had been a lot of criticism of British journalists from Franco officers who seemed to think that the British in general must be a lot of communists because so many were fighting with the International Brigade. After I had been wounded, and then decorated by Franco himself, I became known as ‘the-English-decorated-by-Franco’ and all sorts of doors opened for me.” (Phillip Knightley, KGB Masterspy, 1988, p59)
In 1938, a Soviet agent called Orlov defected to Canada as he had reason to believe that if he returned to the Soviet Union he would become a victim of the renegade Yezhov who was working to try to weaken the Soviet Union by prosecuting important communists on trumped-up charges and having them executed. Although he avoided giving the Canadian authorities any significant information, the Soviet Union broke off all communication with its spies abroad in a bid to protect them.
Second world war
The Spanish civil war ended on 1 April 1939. Kim became free therefore to be reassigned to report from the British expeditionary force in northern France, where it was supposed to support the French in the event of a German invasion.
About this time, the Soviets re-established connection with its agents. On 2 September 1939, Britain declared war on Germany, but what followed were several months of ‘phony war’ – or the ‘bore war’ – when both German and Anglo/French armies were at a standstill – while Britain was still looking for ways to get Germany to attack the Soviet Union rather than Britain and France. The main strength of the German army was still in the east, indicating that Hitler was still undecided whether to attack east or west.
At this time, Kim made himself useful to the Soviets in France by feeding them information regarding the disposition of German forces.
The second Mrs Philby
However, the very same day that war had broken out – 1 September – Kim was introduced by a left-wing zionist, Flora Solomon, to the very county, but very neurotic, Aileen Furse, the perfect wife for a conservative British gentleman. He set up home with her but, being still married officially to Litzi, he obviously could not marry Aileen at that time.
Undeterred, she changed her surname to Philby and went on to bear him five children. Ultimately, however, the marriage was very unhappy, and Kim noted in his autobiography with regard to 2 September 1939: “So it was a date well remembered because it was disastrous for the world and to myself.”
End of the ‘bore war’
On 10 May 1940, Hitler, his mind finally made up, launched a giant offensive to the west, his blitzkrieg. In short order, the Hitlerites captured Denmark (9 May), Holland (15 May), Belgium (29 May), Norway (9 June 1940), and France (22 June), to add to Czechoslovakia, Austria and Poland, which were already in the bag. On 28 May, the Dunkirk evacuation of British troops from France began. On 14 June, the Germans took Paris and on the 15th Kim returned to London.
The fall of France’s supposedly ‘impregnable’ Maginot line, along with the loss of all British secret service stations in these various countries, left British intelligence in complete disarray. It needed to recruit new personnel, since most of its agents in Europe had been exposed. This created the ideal opportunity for Kim to be accepted into the service.
He was greatly assisted by the fact that a fellow Cambridge communist student and Soviet asset, Guy Burgess, had already been accepted. It may seem strange that people known to have been involved with communism only a few years earlier should have been recruited into the British secret service, but this has perhaps been best explained by Patrick Seale and Maureen McGonville:
“Philby vaulted effortlessly over the defences of the secret service. Such investigation as his career was given was cursory in the extreme, not because his employers were blindly negligent, but because nothing about him aroused suspicion. They knew about his youthful Marxism, but to have been a left-wing undergraduate in the thirties was so common as to be banal. The evidence of a generation of middle-class young men suggested that such undergraduate enthusiasms were short-lived.
“It was greatly to Philby’s advantage that 1939-40 was precisely the moment when the security services were switching their attention from communists to Nazis. It was beginning to be recognised that prewar routine vetting had been ludicrously obsessed with the left-wing bogey. In intellectual circles the authorities came under attack for their slowness in realising that Hitler presented a graver threat than the Russian Revolution … Vetting which had been unimaginatively rigid now became incautious.”(Philby – the Long Road to Moscow, 1973)
In any event, in August 1940, Kim was accepted into Section D of the Secret Intelligence Services (MI6), whose special function was to “create, arm, train and lead the resistance movement in Europe”.
His first task was to work with Guy Burgess to create a syllabus for saboteurs that would be taught to appropriate personnel at Brickendonbury Manor near Hertford. Of course, Kim at this stage had no special expertise in the subject, but he struck on the idea of picking the brains of a person who had been at school with him at Westminster and was now working for an advertising agency devising strategies for selling people things they didn’t much want.
Kim is quoted by Anthony Cave Brown as saying: “I have found that advertising people can be relied on for two things. First they will tell you on no account to go into advertising. Second they will expatiate at length on the dirtier tricks of their profession.” (Treason in the Blood, 1994, p141)
Drawing on the advertisers’ expertise, Kim went on in due course to develop techniques of disinformation designed to undermine enemy morale: for example, the ‘subversive rumour’ that VD-infected girls were being used to make German soldiers ill – techniques being used today with gay abandon by the imperialist warmongers of the world.
On 22 July 1940, the highly secret Special Operations Executive (nicknamed Churchill’s secret army) had been formed with a view to merging into it three espionage organisations whose work largely overlapped. Thus, very shortly after Kim joined Section D, he found himself working for the SOE.
After the merger was implemented, Guy Burgess moved to the BBC, but Kim was kept on as an instructor in underground misinformation at a school set up at the seat of Lord Montagu, Beaulieu, in the Hampshire New Forest, where he started out as a lecturer on 19 October. At Beaulieu, Kim’s part of the syllabus involved teaching what he knew about the set-up of various German agencies. So although he had felt rusticated at Beaulieu, he became inextricably interwoven with:
1. German communist resistance (Rote Kapelle)
2. Soviet ops in Germany (Rote Drei)
3. Part of the French resistance
4. A German op against the Dutch resistance ‘North Pole’ – Kim and the Soviets may even have assisted Germans in wiping out monarchist resistance.
Although Beaulieu was a backwater, away from the heart of espionage affairs in London, Kim was able to keep up with the hush-hush world through parties in London at the home of an art-dealer friend called Tommy Harris, who also worked for SIS and specialised in matters pertaining to Spain.
Harris’s hard-drinking parties were very popular among secret service personnel and gave Kim the opportunity to meet everybody who was anybody in the British secret service, and to meet them when their lips were at their loosest, enabling him to obtain all kinds of detailed information of interest to his Soviet handlers. Better still, at one of these parties he met Harris’s MI6 boss, Dick Broomfield White, who got him transferred to MI6 Section V, offensive counter-espionage, on the basis of his knowledge of Spain.
SIS at the time was organised into two main sections – the information gathering ‘G’ section, divided geographically, and the information distribution section organised by subject matter. Section V was technically a distribution section, but it had somewhat unusually acquired an information-gathering role as well. When Kim joined it in September 1941, this was the first rung of his climb up the secret service hierarchy. Posted to its V4 Iberian subsection, based in St Albans and codenamed War Station XB, he was very well-positioned to garner information about everything that was going on in Spain, which, though technically neutral, was in fact closely aligned with Germany.
At St Albans, Kim got to see all the transcripts of intercepted German military communications obtained through the breaking of the Enigma code by the codebreakers based at Bletchley, and was able to pass on any information to the Soviets that was being withheld from them by their British ‘allies’ after Germany attacked the Soviet Union in 1941.
Between 1942-3 Kim was promoted to deputy head of the whole Section V under Lt Col Felix Cowgill, ex-Indian police (who had distinguished himself under David Petrie in uncovering the Meerut conspiracy), and the subsection’s responsibilities were expanded to include North Africa and Italy.
At one point, Felix Cargill went to the USA for two months, leaving Kim in charge. He was able to take advantage of Cargill’s absence to borrow ‘source books’ from Central Registry (next door at St Albans, having befriended the person in charge), which contained FULL details of British agents everywhere! He also volunteered for night duty once or twice a week, enabling him to see all incoming communications during the time he was on duty.
During Kim’s time in Section V, it conducted a highly successful operation to prevent the Germans from setting up a listening post in Spain near Gibraltar that would have enabled the Nazis to track all allied ships in the western Mediterranean.
In December 1941, shortly after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbour and the Germans declaring war on the USA, the US joined the war effort. As part of that effort, the CIA set up a branch in Britain known as X2. It was necessary to establish cooperation and coordination between the CIA on the one hand and the British secret service on the other. Kim was a central figure in this, tasked with instructing his US counterparts with the methods that were being used by Britain.
One of his trainees was James Angleton, who went on to become the chief of the CIA. Interestingly, although he raised concerns about Philby’s loyalty, he himself in later years came under suspicion when Kim was finally confirmed to be a Soviet agent because he had been close to him for so long. In that capacity, Kim was not only training US operatives but also making important contacts in the CIA. In fact, SIS’s cooperation with X2 gave Kim access to the entire US security system!
In 1943-44, Section V4 moved to London.
SIS was involved in plotting sabotage of Abwehr in order to disable Germany’s intelligence services. Thanks to the British ability to decipher German secret codes, those who were acting as German agents were rapidly identified. Many were persuaded to defect.
Hitler became convinced that Abwehr personnel were involved in a plot to kill him. As a result, he disbanded it and put its operations under the control of the Nazi Sicherheit (12 February 1944). This involved massive reorganisation over a four-month period, during which German intelligence was effectively disabled.
Another tactic was to flood German intelligence services with false ‘top secret’ reports sent by agents who, unknown to Germany, had defected, causing real reports to be lost in the mass. Kim was deeply involved in all this activity. SIS was hoping to use its German defectors against the Soviet Union after the war was over and they had returned to Germany, but Kim had all their names and particulars and was able to alert the Soviet Union to their existence.
When Britain at last decided to open the second front by invading German-occupied France, it named the plan Operation Overlord. Kim was involved in one aspect of the preparation for the Normandy landings, Plan Fortitude, involving the captured chief German intelligence officer, who was persuaded to change sides.
Codenamed ‘Garbo’, he was controlled by Kim’s friend Tommy Harris, who, along with Garbo, devised an ingenious deception plan: first Garbo’s credentials with the Germans were boosted by getting him to warn his control in Madrid of the D Day landings. Then, having secured German trust, he sent a message that the allies were trying to lure the main German forces to Normandy while intending to land near Calais. The happy result was that the German army went to the wrong place, which significantly contributed to the success of the Normandy landings.
Philby still needed to keep an eye on behalf of the Soviet Union on any British attempts to join with Germany to fight the Soviet Union. Many of the German army high command were anti-Nazi and anti-Soviet, willing to cooperate with Britain to overthrow Hitler and substitute him with a government friendly to Britain, freeing Britain to drop out of the war. The Soviet policy was not to allow this to happen.
Kim was able to sit on reports of plots to kill Hitler and stifle plans to assist the plotters to help the Soviet cause. For example, Kim sat on a paper by Trevor-Roper exploring the possibility of accommodation with Germany which was never circulated. It is thought he may also have leaked to the Soviets a list of anticommunist and anti-Hitler German Catholics who might be capable of providing a postwar Germany with an anticommunist government. By the time the war was over, however, most were nowhere to be found.
To prepare SIS for the cold war, the head of SIS, Major General Sir Stewart Menzies, known simply as C, established a Committee for Postwar Reorganisation and made Kim a member of it. Section V became R5, a service directed mainly against the Soviet Union, with Kim Philby at its head, having used his disinformation skills to discredit the men who would have been his rivals for the post.
Once the war was over, Kim was awarded the CBE. However, suspicions were being raised against him, particularly when it was discovered that he had not passed on information he had received to the effect that the Germans had uncovered an American spy working in Madrid.
Even more suspicious was Kim’s behaviour during the Volkov affair. Volkov was a Soviet vice-consul in Istanbul who had offered to defect for £27,500 and political asylum. He had said he was prepared to give the British the names of all Soviet agents in the middle east in return.
Volkov was extremely paranoid and didn’t want to use electronic signals because, he said, of there being “two Soviet agents in the Foreign Office and one in counter-intelligence”. He wanted therefore all communications to be hand-written and passed through the diplomatic bag. Kim was shown his letter by C, who sent him to Istanbul to check Volkov out.
That day there was a notable increase in wireless traffic between London and Moscow. Kim took his time reaching Istanbul, and by the time he arrived, Volkov had disappeared. John Reed, an embassy official in Istanbul, was highly suspicious of Kim’s delay in arriving and voiced his suspicions to London, but no action was taken.
With hindsight, this seems extraordinary and can perhaps only be explained by Kim’s all-embracing personal charm, which led to people trusting him. Sir Robert Mackenzie, a Foreign Office security expert, said of him, in an interview with Phillip Knightley:
“[He had] inherited from his father that same sense of dedicated idealism in which the means did not matter as long as the end was a worthwhile one. Although he had a facade on other matters, this sense of dedication and purpose to whatever he was doing gleamed through and inspired men to follow him. He was just the sort of man who won worshippers. You didn’t just like him, admire him, agree with him: you worshipped him.”
Nevertheless, in December 1946, Sir Stewart Menzies removed Kim from his position at the head of the anti-Soviet section of the secret service and had him transferred to Istanbul in order to ‘get experience in the field’ that he had so far lacked. He became a first secretary at the British consulate. It is probable that in Turkey he was authorised by London to be a double-agent at the disposal of the Soviets, a similar strategy to that which through Agent Garbo (Juan Pujol) had been successful against the Abwehr during the war.
He went to Istanbul with his wife Aileen, whom he had married on 17 September 1946 after his divorce from Litzi came through, and his then four children. Unfortunately, Aileen’s mental health declined markedly during this time, and in 1949 she had to return to London for treatment.
However, around this time Kim was offered a posting in Washington, which he accepted, and his wife and family joined him there. He was apparently offered the posting on the recommendation of James Angleton – though Angleton had previously doubted his loyalty.
With the benefit of hindsight, it is possible to surmise that he may have been brought to Washington in the belief that he was in fact a Soviet agent, the USA having apparently learnt from the Israeli secret services that Burgess, Maclean and Philby were Soviet spies, and that he could therefore be used innocently to pass misinformation to the Soviets. One of the elements of misinformation that he may have been used to pass to the Soviets was an exaggeration of US military strength so that the Soviets would see no option but to submit to nuclear blackmail.
Nevertheless, his position as first secretary in the British embassy in Washington and chief liaison officer with the CIA, the FBI, the NSA, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police would give him access to certain types of prime ministerial correspondence with President Harry Truman, and he would receive deciphered messages from the Soviet authorities to their US representatives.
Kim would have been able to warn the Soviets that some of their messages had been decrypted, for instance, that the USA had discovered they had obtained US atomic research results that forewarned them of the Soviet ability to make a nuclear bomb; and the fact that 49 Soviet agents had been identified, with all that this implied.
In May 1950, Kim visited London to consult with the Foreign Office Russia committee. The function of the committee was to “promote civil discontent, internal confusion and possible strife in the satellite countries”, especially Albania, Latvia and Ukraine.
The policy of the USA and Britain was to train anticommunist dissidents, many of them war criminals, to return them to Ukraine and/or Poland to assist the anticommunist resistance. Thanks to the work of Kim and others, the communist governments were alerted, and most attempts to infiltrate agents were frustrated.
In October 1950, US attempts to land agents in Albania failed. This followed several similar misadventures in Latvia, Estonia, Byelorussia and Ukraine. Only four people had advance knowledge of all these intended operations, one of whom was Kim Philby, who wrote of the Albanian debacle:
“The agents we sent into Albania were armed men intent on sabotage, murder and assassination. They were quite as ready as I was to contemplate bloodshed in the service of a political ideal. They knew the risks they were running. I was serving the interests of the Soviet Union and these interests demanded that these men were defeated. To the extent that I helped defeat them, even if it caused their deaths, I have no regrets. Don’t forget I was also responsible for the deaths of a considerable number of Germans and did my modest bit towards helping to win the war.” (Phillip Knightley, KGB Masterspy, 1988, p128)
Agents who survived, war criminals or not, spent the rest of their lives comfortably in the USA.
In 1950, the Korean war had started, and Kim is thought to have had a hand in passing information to the Soviet Union about that, too. Certainly, General MacArthur, the general in charge of the US side of the war, later claimed that Philby, Maclean and Burgess had betrayed the plans and order of battle of the US eighth army in Korea, as a result of which 30,000 men had been killed, wounded or captured.
In 1950, Guy Burgess was also posted to Washington. He was notoriously unreliable and, though Aileen hated the sight of him, Philby thought it would be best if he was accommodated at their home where Kim could keep an eye on him and perhaps restrain his worst excesses.
In April 1951, Maclean was identified as a Soviet spy as a result of decrypts through Bletchley of Russian wartime correspondence. Maclean had gone somewhat off the rails at the time and had been moved from Washington to Cairo, where he had, in May 1950, had a nervous breakdown. He had therefore been sent back to London to be treated for alcoholism and his nervous condition. By November 1950, he was declared fit for work and was made head of the American department of the Foreign Office.
However, Kim, having learnt of his identification as a Soviet spy, had already drawn up plans to get him out. These involved Burgess doing something so outrageous that he would immediately be sent back to London (insulted the wife of an important US official with a crude cartoon he drew of her and got himself caught three times for speeding on the same day) and once in London would he contact Maclean and help him disappear.
The plan was put into operation and Burgess was duly returned to London with immediate effect.
Maclean had been due to appear for interrogation on Monday 28 May. However, on 25 May, Maclean and Burgess boarded a cross-channel steamer at Southampton and disappeared. Kim was furious because he had specifically ordered Burgess not to go with Maclean because the result would be, as indeed did happen, that Kim immediately came under suspicion for having facilitated the defections because of his closeness to Burgess.
On 11 June 1951, Kim was recalled to London, but, despite deep suspicions, there was no actual evidence on which he could be prosecuted. However, his career in the secret service was definitely over, and in August he resigned with a lump sum payment of £4,000 in lieu of a pension.
Still, enquiries and interrogations carried on. He was asked to surrender his passport – to which he commented in his autobiography: “I readily agreed as my escape plan certainly did not envisage the use of my own identity papers.” (My Silent War, 1968, p143)
Meanwhile, Aileen was denouncing him to the Foreign Office as the ‘third man’ – but she was deemed too unstable mentally to be considered a reliable witness.
Four years later, in 1955, the defection of Burgess and Maclean became public knowledge for the first time. It had been hushed up in Britain but came to public attention as a result of a Soviet defector in Australia who had handled Burgess mentioning it, and now the story was splashed in the People.
Harold Macmillan, the then foreign secretary, was forced to set up a public committee of inquiry into Philby’s role. This was chaired by John A Thompson, who ‘found’ that the evidence was insufficient to implicate Philby but warranted security service interviews. These were conducted by Peter Wright and Hugh Winterborn, who became convinced that Kim was guilty.
But the point of the enquiry was to whitewash the way the matter had been handled by clearing Philby of all wrongdoing in spite of all the evidence against him. It was feared that he knew too much to be safely put on trial. Macmillan made a public announcement that there was no evidence that Philby had tipped off Burgess, who was in any event not under suspicion when he was in Washington. But official suspicion remained and Kim was still unemployed.
He remained so for several months more, but finally in July 1956 he secured a low-grade espionage assignment in Lebanon as correspondent for the Observer and the Economist. However, even in his lowly assignment, Kim got rather lucky: quite apart from the fact that his father was then living in Beirut and was both able and willing to introduce his son to everybody who was anybody who happened to be in town, the CIA had sent Wilbur Eveland to Beirut as agent for Allen Dulles, the director of the CIA.
Eveland was there between 1956 and 1960. He became friendly with Kim, whom he hoped to use as an informant, because he was extremely well-versed in Arab affairs, particularly in view of the fact that his father was a renowned Arabist. Subjected to the full blaze of Kim’s charm, however, Wilbur Eveland became the soul of indiscretion, happy to share withl Kim everything he knew, which was a lot, about US operations in the middle east.
This was the time of the Eisenhower doctrine, which provided $200m in military and economic assistance to the middle east to ‘repel communism’. Eveland’s main task, apart from being the CIA paymaster, was to support President Camille Chamoun, the only pro-US leader in the region. The result was that no CIA operation succeeded during the Eveland period. These included a disastrous US military intervention in 1958 to support Chamoun in an unconstitutional bid for a second presidential term.
Of course, Kim’s posting in Lebanon coincided with the attempts of President Gamal Abdel Nasser in Egypt to take over control of the Suez Canal from French and British imperialism. These, in view of the threat that Nasser presented to their interests, devised a plot to kill President Nasser.
The plot was led by one John Farmer, another good friend of Kim’s. Nasser was to be killed with an electric razor doctored with plastic explosive, which Farmer supplied to Egyptian rebels, along with £166,000 in Egyptian money and US$500,000. However, the ‘rebel’ to whom the razor and the money had been entrusted (one Khalil) was not a dissident and told Nasser about the plot.
A French/British/Israeli military operation to retake the Suez Canal, which had been nationalised by Nasser, failed when the US Sixth Fleet disrupted their landing and air operations. The French and British influence over the region collapsed and the USA took over.
Suspicion that Kim could have been involved in this was reignited, although it is much more likely that it was CIA operative Kermit Roosevelt Jr (grandson of US president Theodore Roosevelt) who had manoeuvred to facilitate the defeat of the imperialist military operation, with a view to establishing US hegemony in the area in the place of the Europeans. So, whether Kim had been involved or not, there were renewed efforts from London to establish that he was, in fact, a Soviet spy.
In September 1956, Kim met Eleanor Brewer, the wife of the New York Times correspondent in Beirut, Sam Brewer, who by then was only staying with her for the sake of their daughter. Eleanor and Kim fell stupidly in love and become lovers, but could not of course marry at that time because Kim was married to Aileen, even though her poor mental health meant she had to remain in London, and Eleanor was married to Sam.
However, on 15 December 1957, Aileen died. She was only 47. When Kim and Eleanor told Sam they wanted to marry, he commented: “I hope I am not in the way.” He then turned to the bar and bought everyone a drink. The couple were finally married in London on 24 January 1959.
In the meantime, however, the efforts to expose Kim as an agent continued. The CIA sent people to Beirut to befriend him with a view to catching him out. These included Miles Copeland, who had been trained by Kim in England during the war. None of the people sent had much success, but pressure was mounting. There was also a nuisance calls campaign intended to demoralise Kim. From the British side, Hugh Trevor-Roper arrived in Beirut with the same purpose in mind, all to no avail.
However, things were about to hot up. In August 1962, Lord Victor Rothschild, on a visit to Israel, happened to meet Flora Solomon, the woman who had first introduced Kim to Aileen. She blamed Kim for Aileen’s death and mentioned to Rothschild that she had known Kim to be a Soviet agent in the 1930s. In fact, Aileen had died of influenza, but it is quite possible that she was weakened by worries engendered by her suspicion of her husband and by the serious financial hardship the couple suffered during the years Kim was out of work.
This information brought by Lord Rothschild may have sealed Kim’s fate if Rothschild went on to repeat it generally after returning to England. It also emerged that there were people around such as Hugh Gaitskell and Teddy Kollek (who became the mayor of Jerusalem) who had known Kim in Austria when he was clearly a communist symphathiser.
Whatever the means by which they were convinced, the British authorities decided Kim’s guilt was now firmly established. Many think, however, that they were still averse to putting Kim on trial but decided to pile on the pressure in order to cause him to defect. Whether that is true or not, for the moment there is no incontrovertible evidence either way.
Kim’s long-time friend and supporter Nicholas Elliott, himself a British agent, arrived in Beirut on 10 January 1963. Kim had evidently been warned of the purpose of his visit as Kim greeted him with the words: “I rather thought it would be you.” In the interviews with Elliott that then took place, Kim confessed only to having spied for the Communist International before the war. He was offered immunity, but only on condition that he named names.
On 23 January 1963, he was due to attend a dinner at the British embassy with his wife Eleanor. He let her know he had been delayed and told her he would meet her there. But he never appeared. The next time he was heard of he was in Moscow, where he remained until his death in 1988.
His wife Eleanor visited him there but eventually returned to America and divorced him. After an affair with Maclean’s wife, he eventually married a Russian, Rufina, with whom he was very happy.
He summed up his life as follows: “I don’t believe anything I did harmed my own Britain at all. In fact, I think my work for the KGB served the bulk of the British people …”
“So you’d do it all again?”
“Absolutely.” (Phillip Knightley, KGB Masterspy, 1988, p254)