The Fabulous Five

The Philby Files: The Secret Life of Master Spy Kim Philby

by Genrikh Borovik, edited and with an introduction by Phillip Knightley
Little, Brown, 382 pp., $24.95

My Five Cambridge Friends: Burgess, Maclean, Philby, Blunt, and Cairncross by their KGB Controller

by Yuri Modin and Jean-Charles Deniau and Aguieszka Ziarek, translated by Anthony Roberts, Introduction by David Leitch
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 282 pp., $23.00

Treason in the Blood: H. St. John Philby, Kim Philby, and the Spy Case of the Century

by Anthony Cave Brown
Houghton Mifflin/a Mark Jaffe book, 677 pp., $29.95

One institution in Russia has had no difficulty taking to the new culture of the entrepreneurial society. This is the KGB. In the West there has been active trading in the shares of Philby Inc. and the subsidiary firms of Burgess, Maclean, Cairncross, and Blunt for some years. They eased a little after Blunt’s death, but since glasnost they have made a killing with a swarm of foreign journalists who descended on Moscow willing to pay high prices for holdings in this sensitive market. Retired officers of the KGB provide files from the Soviet archives, and employ a British impresario to market their reminiscences.

Phillip Knightley, who made a success by investing in Philby,1 is now sponsoring Genrikh Borovik. Knightley describes him as a TV star, a novelist, and a playwright, who also happened to acquire Philby’s KGB file. Yuri Modin, who was assigned to London as the KGB’s “control” of the Fabulous Five from 1944 onward, employed David Leitch to promote his story. Anthony Cave Brown, however, signed up two former KGB men, one a friend of Philby, whom he calls Gennady X, and Mikhail Lyubimov, described by Christopher Andrew, the British historian of the KGB, as “brilliantly talented but over-ambitious.” (Lyubimov was expelled from London in 1965 for attempting to recruit a cipher clerk and entrap through a seduction the impervious bachelor Prime Minister Edward Heath. That certainly was over-ambitious.) Cave Brown amplifies what we know of Philby’s activities, but the reason he, Borovik, and Modin are of interest is that they tell us what the KGB thought of their spies and how they controlled them.

These books are as rich in comedy as they are in gossip. Luck often seems to have been on the side of the Fabulous Five. Guy Burgess and his control, Modin, are walking side by side in London. Two policemen stop them, and ask Burgess to open his suitcase, which is bulging with Foreign Office documents ready to be photographed and sent to Moscow. “Sorry, sir,” says the police officer after searching the suitcase, “Everything’s in order.” Burgess reassures the quaking Modin by telling him that his suitcase is quite like the ones burglars use for carrying stolen silver.

The KGB gives Burgess money to buy a car. He turns up in a second-hand yellow Rolls-Royce. As a reckless driver he needed, so he tells Modin, a car that is “sturdily built” in case he hits something. On the other hand, when the KGB gives Cairncross a car he is mechanically so inept that he can’t pass his driving test. When eventually he does, he stalls the car at a busy intersection and a policeman strolls over to investigate. The carburetor has flooded. “Now, sir, you really ought to know the choke should be pushed in once the car has started.” Modin in a cold sweat is clutching a briefcase full of secret documents. Unlike the harum-scarum Burgess, who was meticulous in being on time and observing the rules to…

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