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"Terrific charmer, with an impulse to shock." (Elliot on Philby)
am 13. März 2015
The story of Kim Philby, the most notorious British defector and Soviet mole in history, has been told many times before and has appalled and fascinated his compatriots for over half a century. His life and career have been aptly analyzed by Phillip Knightley and Anthony Cave Brown. We have Philby's more or less fictionalized autobiography in a slender tome with a foreword by his old friend Graham Greene, as well as the stories written by two of his four wives.
As the British government is still keeping a large part of the Philby material under wraps, Macintyre had to rehash a mostly familiar story. He gives it a new twist as he takes on the related tribal loyalties of a social class on the fraying fringe of Britain's aristocracy and focuses on the social ties that British and American intelligence during and following World War II had in common. Particularly, the author focuses on Philby's close friendships with two men. One was Nicholas Elliott another product of the public school system, Cambridge-educated spy and MI6 agent who trusted Philby to the end, the other was Yale-educated James Jesus Angleton who first met Philby during his training in London during the Blitz and later rose to the head of counterintelligence at the CIA. These were the men who not only became Philby's most important contacts in the secretive world of intelligence, they were his best friends in the intelligence community and believed they knew him, until they discovered they had been betrayed.
Harold Adrian Russell Philby (1912-1988) had already been recruited and signed up by the KGB predecessor NKVD in 1934 while still at Cambridge. However, like his fellow students Guy Burgess, Donald Maclean and Anthony Blunt - later known as the Cambridge Four - he believed he was working for the Comintern and his sympathy had more to do with events in Britain rather than in the Soviet Union, chiefly the demoralization of the Labour Party and Ramsay MacDonald's "betrayal" in 1931. However, it was Litzi Friedman, a Communist of Hungarian Jewish descent who turned Philby into a Soviet agent. He had met her during a visit to Vienna in 1933 and secretly married her soon after. During the 1940s he became a popular officer in the U.K.'s Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) he was efficient, debonair, and on a promising career path. But all the time, and into the early years of the Cold War, he was spying with ruthless efficiency for Soviet Russia, betraying every secret of Allied operations and many damaging Anglo-American secrets to Moscow, sending hundreds to a certain death.
Philby was recommended by the deputy head of MI6, Valentine Vivian, who had served as a colonial official with Philby's father and was recruited, with the help of his Cambridge contemporary and comrade Soviet agent Guy Burgess, into MI6 in 1940. He specialized in counterintelligence, and in 1944 headed the section in charge of collecting and analyzing intelligence on Communist activities in general and Soviet espionage and subversion in particular and rather soon, in 1949 he rose to be MI6's representative in Washington where he kept Moscow informed of Anglo-American intelligence collaboration. There he befriended another excessively fascinating character, James Jesus Angleton, who was rising in the ranks of the CIA. Angleton was obsessed with rooting out spies and moles, but he missed the biggest one in his midst, indeed became enamored of him, just as Nick Elliott. Ben Macintyre went beyond the familiar biography and has written in a fluent way a story of personal duplicity, of friendships forged and betrayed, class and conscience, of an ideological battle waged by men who frequented the comfortable clubs and restaurants of London and Washington. The exact date when Maclean was uncovered remains unclear, Macintyre claims it was in 1951, but NSA material shows that thorough analysis of the Venona files points to a time frame of 1948-1950. Anyway, the British warned Philby as its liaison officer in Washington in 1951, that Maclean was a spy. Philby acted quickly, sending Burgess back to England to warn Maclean and both of them quickly defected to Moscow. Though Philby formally remained clean, his closeness to the Cambridge defectors finally made him a object of suspicion. However, the network of Eton toffs at MI6, commandeered by Nicholas Elliott, joined forces to defend Kim Philby. The intelligence honchos at MI5 felt sure of his guilt, but they lacked hard evidence and a disagreement about Philby's culpability poisoned relations between the two services for years. Nevertheless he was smoothly eased out of the intelligence ranks with a generous payoff but kept under surveillance and had no opportunity to contact Moscow until, in 1956 MI6 arranged for a cover job as newspaper correspondent and low-level agent in spy-infested Beirut. There, he soon reunited with Elliot who became MI6 station chief and resumed his double agent role serving Moscow, displaying that the old boy's network was still running, just a word, a nod and a drink with one of the chaps and the machinery kicked in. Finally it was the KGB defector Anatoliy Golitsyn who provided new evidence against Philby in 1962, and shortly afterward, one of his lady friends from the 1930s, who resented the anti-Israel bias of his newspaper articles on the Middle East, came forward with even more new evidence that he had been a Soviet spy and Communist recruiter.
Macintyre is trying to answer the old question why Philby betrayed not only his country but just about everybody he formed a relationship with. The book climaxes with a question and answer game between Elliot and Philby over tea in Beirut, which led to a kind of confession from Philby, all properly recorded by MI6 agents in the adjoining room. But instead of arranging an arrest or abduction or assassination making it look like an accident, Elliott told his former friend that he was going to Africa for a few days before any formal process would be started. Now without close surveillance, the ever crafty old double agent got in touch with his Soviet handlers, who arranged passage on a freighter to Moscow, where he lived out the rest of his life. Obviously Elliot under orders from London let Philby run, perhaps even egged him on to do so. After all, MI6 had nothing to gain from further revelations or confessions that might create pressure for extradition or a public trial in the U.S. and preferred to silence him by letting him hang out in the cold.