Thursday, March 6, 2014

A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby And The Great Betrayal

Philip Henson at The Spectator offers a review of Ben Macintyre's new book on the British traitor, spy and rotter Kim Philby.

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.

Much later, working in Beirut as a journalist for the Observer and the Economist, Philby was recruited once again by the security services. He was only finally unmasked when a woman he had attempted to recruit in the 1930s came forward with undeniable evidence. Philby’s old friend, Nicholas Elliott, a senior figure in the service who had protected him for years, went out to Beirut to interrogate him, and seems to have allowed him to escape to Moscow, like Burgess and Maclean before him. Elliott’s much later attempts to justify himself, in conversations with John le Carré, provide  an afterword to Ben Macintyre’s book, written by the novelist.

How did Philby get away with it, and how, at the last, confronted with indisputable evidence of his treachery in his exile in Beirut, was he allowed to flee to Moscow? The answer, according to Macintyre, is the British class system, and in particular the loyalty felt on account of social standing by two men, Nicholas Elliott and James Jesus Angleton of the CIA. Angleton seems to have handed over the details of every one of those Albanian landings during immensely long boozy lunches in Washington. What was Elliott’s responsibility? Why did he allow Philby to slip through his fingers at the end? They are questions which still can’t be answered.   

You can read the rest of the review via the below link:

1 comment:

  1. You make an interesting point/observation regarding class consciousness and British espionage. That comes through loud and clear in Le Carre's novels. There seem to be very few blue-collars involved in his fictional espionage world. I wonder if England will ever shed its caste system. I also wonder if the American espionage system is not similarly class-conscious. After all, certain academic pedigrees seem to come up often in the upper echelons of the agencies. Yes, there are plenty of blue-collars on the front lines, but management seems to mirror the British (Le Carre) system. But perhaps I am wrong. Those are simply off-the-cuff, limited insight observations. However, when I was a CT, it was clear that officers(with academic and social pedigrees) in SECGRU mattered a great deal but E-9 and below were simply worker-bees.