Monday, March 10, 2014

The Third Man

Over sixty years after he fled to Moscow, Kim Philby still fascinates writers and publishers. Two new books shed new light on the case.

Kim Philby got away with it because he was posh

A review of A Spy Among Friends, by Ben Macintyre. The double agent's victims, unlike his family, were not the sort of people one bumped into at White's

The story of Kim Philby is, of course, like so many English stories, really one of social class. He was one of the most scandalous traitors in history, and from within the security services sent specific information to the Soviets during the early years of the Cold War that resulted directly in the deaths of thousands of men and women. Among them were the Albanian guerrillas, hoping to liberate their country, who found Soviet-sponsored troops waiting at their landing places to shoot them. A list of non-communist opposers to the Nazis in Germany was passed on to the Russians who, advancing into Germany in the last years of the war, summarily executed 5,000 named people.

Philby worked for the British security services for years, almost all the time passing significant information to our country’s enemies. He was closely associated with those other traitors, Burgess and Maclean, and clearly helped them to escape. Despite very substantial evidence against Philby, he was allowed to retire from the service and left unprosecuted. MI6 seems to have protected and defended him; MI5 wanted to bring a case, but was rebuffed.

Kim Philby: The man I knew, by the master spy's oldest friend

The banned memoirs of Tim Milne, Philby’s closest associate in MI6, have just been published, offering a fascinating insight the man and traitor

Looking back on Philby’s double life, Milne cannot fully explain his motivations. “He never seemed to identify himself with his country, even over sport. Although Kim was a very English person, and much more at home in congenial English company than any other, he showed little affection for England or its countryside, cities, institutions and traditions. Though he never lacked physical or moral courage, one could not imagine him making patriotic gestures. Perhaps this should have been a clue to his real feelings.”

And Philby the man? “It is interesting that whereas the character sketches we have of Burgess and Maclean are detailed, convincing and reasonably consistent, nobody seems able to pin down Kim himself. Even those who knew him best probably all have different pictures. “Kim said in an interview that if he had his time over again he would do the same thing. I wish that were not true. But I do not regret knowing him. He enriched my world for many years and I owed a lot to him. Certainly my association with him caused many difficulties for me but I do not feel bitterness towards him, only sadness.”

The smiling spy

Philby spent most of his adult life hidden beneath thick layers of subterfuge. For almost 30 years, during which time he rose almost to the top of MI6, Philby dutifully passed every interesting nugget of information straight on to his bosses in Moscow.

All spies engage in deceit, of course, but none with quite such relish as Philby. Ben Macintyre prefaces his new book with E.M Forster’s famous quote about betrayal - ‘If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friends, I hope I should have the guts to betray my country.’

Philby, though, betrayed both his friends and his country. Indeed, he betrayed, or spied on, just about everyone of any importance in his life, including his father and his wife.
One caveat

The reviewers follow along the conventional wisdom that holds that Philby's betrayal drove CIA James Jesus Angleton into paranoia. That is one interpretation, but it may be more self-serving spin than real history.

CIA Director Richard Helm's completely rejected that interpretation in his memoirs:

The criticism leveled against Angleton since his dismissal by Colby seems to ignore Jim's accomplishments and the reasons General Donovan and six directors of Central Intelligence...valued his service. There were a number of channels-- formal and otherwise, through which any of Angleton's post facto critics might have expressed their views of Jim's performance while he was still in office. I recall no one within the Agency having raised even a fraction of the criticism they began to express after his dismissal.
In this post i discussed how the Angleton caricature was created:

The pro-Nosenko side never refuted the case that the defector was a dispatched disinformation agent. They simply glossed over the most damning evidence, grasped at straws to bolster their case, and then pronounced him bona fide. They shut down debate by purging the nay-sayers and destroying evidence. When disturbing facts about Nosenko became public, his advocates replied with ad hominen attacks and outright lies-Angleton was a drunken paranoid, Bagley was an inexperienced agent conned by Angleton and Golitsyn, "sick think" was the inevitable consequence of counter-intelligence, etc. etc....

the pro-Nosenko side promulgated a false history which they fed to gulliable journalists like Tom Mangold (Cold Warrior). This distorted account of Angleton, Nosenko, and Colby now is the Standard Version that other writers and historians repeat unknowingly and ad nauseum.

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