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 evade surveillance, Cairncross, the faceless bureaucrat who worked for nearly a year at the deciphering center at Bletchley Park, could not remember the hour, the place, or the day of the week of his next rendezvous, and missed meetings time and again.
The humor in Moscow was even blacker. Time and again the Fabulous Five were suspected of being double agents. While working as the London Times correspondent on Franco’s side during the Spanish Civil War, Philby had spied for the USSR and was nearly killed by a (Russian) shell fired by the Republican artillery. But the KGB officials considered him too good to be true. They could not believe his story of how he was recruited into British intelligence. In fact Philby had an experience similar to dozens of others, who joined the intelligence services after the fall of France. Escaping from France, he bumped into a fellow journalist who mentioned his name to someone in SOE (the agency engaged in organizing sabotage in Europe). He was interviewed, hired, and then found that by chance Burgess was working in the same outfit. This was too much to believe for the Center, the headquarters of the KGB in Moscow.
They were even more incredulous when he reported that he had been instructed to set up a training school for saboteurs. What? The British secret service had no training school for saboteurs and this tyro was being instructed to create one? Clearly the man was a plant. Then again when Philby was made head of the Russian section of counter-intelligence in the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), he was asked to provide a list of all British spies working in Russia. He told his control there were none. Proof positive to the Center that he was a double agent working for the British.
He therefore kept on being asked to write out the history of his life so that the counter-intelligence sleuths at the Center could catch him out by spotting telltale details that did not tally with his previous autobiographies—and this at a time when he was working all hours transmitting priceless information to his control.
In 1943 the Center considered that Philby must have been recruited to work against the Soviet Union: How otherwise had he been transferred with such ease from SOE into SIS, the main espionage service itself? The KGB control resident in London spent hours defending his agents against the Center, and the Center kept on blaming him for not telling it what it wanted to hear. Philby used to boast that Western spies worked for money, whereas Soviet spies were motivated by their ideology. Little did he know that the KGB bureaucracy despised foreigners who were convinced Communists. The Center referred to the British spies as “ideological shit.”
In 1944 the Center became convinced that the Cambridge spies were all working on British instructions. It was too much to believe that British intelligence would have entrusted critical work to those with known Communist pasts. So a plump blue-eyed blonde, Elena Modrzhinskaya, renowned for her skill in unmasking conspiracies, was put on to the case and naturally produced a dossier with convincing proof that all were double agents. (An SIS officer told Cave Brown that another woman, Zoya Nikolayevna Ryskina, also examined the case and concluded that the Cambridge Five should be assassinated.) They were eventually cleared and Modrzhinskaya was moved to another department and promoted to colonel. Bureaucracies are the same the world over. I can think of similar promotions in the War Office in London during the war.
Who was at the root of these suspicions and conspiracies? It was Stalin. Stalin believed that every problem arises from someone’s fault. He ordered every unit in the KGB to expose “enemies of the people”; if the KGB could not identify them, then the KGB itself must be riddled with saboteurs. Stalin regarded foreign agents as hypocrites, deceivers who betrayed their own country and would next deceive him. Borovik reconstructs a scene between Stalin and Nikolai Yezhov, head of the KGB at the height of the purges, which has the ring of truth. Stalin asked why, if Philby was working so well in Spain, Franco’s forces kept on advancing. “That’s not logical.”
Terrified at this rebuke, Yezhov hinted that perhaps Franco might be assassinated. Stalin knocked his pipe out and said nothing. Consternation at the London residence when word came from the Center to tell Philby to do the job. Maly, the control whom Philby found most sympathetic, said that it was an impossible assignment and Philby did not possess that kind of courage. Maly was ordered back to Moscow and shot. So was Philby’s first control, Reif. So were two other KGB officials, Gorsky and Ozolin-Haskin. One of Philby’s controls escaped. Orlov defected and wrote Stalin from America that he had deposited a letter containing the names of all Soviet agents with his lawyer with instructions to hand it to the FBI if Orlov appeared to have committed suicide. Orlov was not touched—unlike Walter Krivitsky, who was murdered by the KGB in his hotel room in Washington. Orlov kept his word, and the Cambridge Five were not exposed.
A year later Yezhov, like his predecessor Yagoda, was shot. Beria eliminated Yezhov’s supporters just as Yezhov shot Yagoda’s supporters. To live under Stalin’s terror was worse for bureaucrats than living under Hitler. Stalin’s terror was haphazard. No one could guess who next would be sent to the camps or shot. The Gestapo terror, like the Final Solution, was “scientific”: evidence was assessed. In the Soviet Union officials did their best to avoid appearing responsible for any action. By 1939 the continuous denunciations had covered the KGB in Stygian confusions and darkness. My favorite story in these books is of Stalin during the war catching sight of General Rokossovsky and asking, “Why haven’t I seen you for so long? Where have you been?” Springing to attention Rokossovsky replied, “In prison, Comrade Stalin.” Stalin puffed on his pipe and said, “A fine time to be inside,” and went on working.
Philby and the journalists who celebrated his career pictured the KGB as almost faultless. Philby used to boast that he was proud to work for such an elite organization. Certainly, Arnold Deutsch, Maly, and later Modin treated the Cambridge spies with tact, sympathy, and skill. But the spies sometimes found themselves being run by unimaginative apparatchiki who wanted to impress the Center with their “vigilance” by voicing suspicions. Yet, however skillful the controls were in nursing their charges, the Center couldn’t have cared less about their agents’ safety. Philby was instructed to send his reports from Spain to a fictitious lady in Paris with whom he was supposed to be having an affair. Later in Paris he looked up the address and found it was the Soviet Embassy. He was then the Times correspondent in Franco Spain: had a letter been opened Franco’s men would have shot him.
Nor was the Center much concerned about their future. Yuri Modin saw what a toll fifteen years of spying was taking on Burgess and Maclean. On the verge of a nervous breakdown Maclean asked the Center to let him retire to Moscow: his plea was ignored. By 1948 Burgess was frequently drunk in public and appeared so debauched that his colleagues begged Hector MacNeil, the Labour junior minister at the Foreign Office, to get rid of him, especially after he hit a colleague in an argument about American policy. Modin’s report was also ignored.
When Maclean decamped for Russia, Philby himself has told us how appalled he was to learn that Burgess went with him. Burgess had stayed with him in his flat in Washington, and Philby was now hopelessly compromised. Despite their long friendship, Philby blamed to his dying day “that bloody man Burgess” for ending his career in SIS, and refused to see Burgess when he turned up in Moscow. Modin has a different story. When Maclean was being briefed for flight he insisted he must have a companion. He said that if he got to Paris he would visit friends and take to the bottle, be arrested, and crack under interrogation. The Center nominated Burgess, who was by now useless as an agent. Burgess became incoherent with rage: he had given Philby his word not to go with Maclean. The senior KGB man in London persuaded him he could drop out and return after they reached Prague. When they got there, Burgess was told that he, too, must go to Moscow. What Burgess had dreaded—perpetual exile—had come true. And as Philby feared, he had been given away by the Center. No wonder Borovik concludes that spies should fear the counter-intelligence service of their masters more than the counter-intelligence service of their own country, whose secrets they are betraying.
Yuri Modin has written the most attractive of the three books under review. He belonged to what in Russia was called the “working intelligentsia”; his father was a soldier, his mother’s family were shop-keepers—she spoke English and German. “I am a completely ordinary person with no exceptional talents,” he writes, and his modesty is matched by his charm and good nature. He says he was young and naive when he came to London, and his naiveté has not entirely disappeared since he suggests without plausible evidence that the Queen personally protected Anthony Blunt and gave him a secret pardon because her father, George VI, enjoyed Blunt’s company. He naturally makes some odd statements of fact about English life. G.M. Trevelyan (a Harrovian and Regius Professor of History at Cambridge) did not teach Burgess history at Eton. Blunt did not renounce his knighthood: it was annulled. But proud as he is of the KGB’s successes, Modin is generous in praising the efficiency of the British security services.
Most intriguing of all is his favorable account of Guy Burgess. He says Burgess had a faultless memory, was conscientious, never failed to arrive at a rendezvous, and would sift the mass of documents he turned over to Modin to save him drudgery. He possessed enormous energy as well as intelligence, bubbled with initiative, and was willing to risk all for his friends. Modin explains why so many people were taken with him, how quicksilver his intelligence, how amusing and what good company he was before he became sodden, nerve-wracked, and quarrelsome. He confirms that Burgess was Blunt’s Svengali. He had a powerful will and enjoyed exerting it over others, bending them to do what he wanted. Modin was struck by his passionate love of England, his pride in the Royal Navy and British rule in India. He saw Burgess as working not so much for the Soviet Union as for world revolution, and the end of the debilitated and decadent British upper class, whose incompetence was destroying Britain.
Modin accepts that Philby was the spy of the century. He was not an intellectual like Burgess and Blunt, but Burgess declared that in dealing with any practical problem that arose in carrying out Burgess’s bright ideas, Philby was infallible. The KGB, feeding on the pulp novels about the British secret service, grossly overestimated its efficiency, and Philby was their favorite son for disrupting it. And yet Modin says, “I never felt really close to Kim Philby. He never revealed his true self…I suspect Philby made a mockery of everyone, particularly ourselves.” Too many people loved him, Modin told Borovik: the officials at Goebbels’s propaganda ministry, his fellow journalists, his wives, his colleagues in the SIS, the KGB, the CIA—he was a natural friend and a natural betrayer of them all.
Cave Brown cites a dozen colleagues who try to pinpoint his personality, from the percipient Graham Greene to the idiotic British intelligence officer Nicholas Elliott, who thought he had explained all by calling Philby “a schizophrenic with a supreme talent for deception.” (“This cannot be faulted,” adds Cave Brown portentously.) By far the best essay on Philby’s character is by his old colleague in SIS, Hugh Trevor-Roper,2 who saw him as a nihilist. Everything he touched he destroyed. He never touched Russia because it remained an abstraction. And yet, Modin asks, was not Donald Maclean an even greater spy than Philby? Philby’s information was flawless, but Maclean “gathered the political, economic and scientific intelligence that guided our leaders for over ten years.” If the aim of espionage is to provide heads of state and their ministers with information that will mold their decisions, Maclean and Burgess in the immediate postwar years provided it by the sackful.
Yet when you read Modin you feel that he admires the Scottish civil servant John Cairncross most of all. Like Modin he was a working-class boy but unlike him he lacked social graces and remained an outsider. Cairncross gave the Russians two pieces of information that enabled them to win the decisive battle of the war. He sent specifications of the armor-plating of the German Tiger tanks in time for the Russians to develop a new anti-tank shell that would pierce the Tiger’s armor. Through his access to Ultra at Bletchley he also discovered the dispositions and plans of the German High Command for the campaign at Kursk in the summer of 1943, when German tanks were routed in the greatest tank battle of all time. When Cairncross was in his eighties and living in poverty, he asked the KGB for a pension: he got no reply. The KGB did not acknowledge those faithful servants who remained in the West. No KGB officer was present at Klaus Fuchs’s funeral in Dresden.
Anthony Cave Brown’s book is on a different scale from the Soviet memoirs. It is the third and most authoritative account of Philby, though marred by petty errors (Hugh Dalton, the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Attlee government, was not at Trinity, Cambridge; nor was Burgess a fellow of that college; nor did Field Marshal Manstein lead an anti-Hitler group; nor did a remark made by Philby set off the witch hunt led by Peter Wright that threw suspicion on the head of M15, Roger Hollis, and his deputy, Graham Mitchell). But it contains a fresh slant on Philby’s character, namely that he came by his treachery through being his father’s son.
St. John Philby systematically betrayed British interests in the Middle East during the 1920s and 1930s. He knew all the right people—the later Field Marshal Montgomery was the best man at his wedding. He was an excellent student at Trinity, Cambridge, though he made the mistake of thinking that if he kept in touch with the dons there, he was keeping in with them. Passing into the top of the Indian civil service, he hit a cheeky Indian schoolmaster, lost a promotion, transferred to the Political Department in Iran, and met the celebrated Arabist Gertrude Bell, who advanced his career.
It was British policy to back the Hashemite dynasty in the Middle East. St. John decided to back Ibn Saud in Arabia. He engaged in shady activities including stealing files and embezzling money that the British had allotted to King Abdullah in Jordan. Just as Herbert Samuel, the British high commissioner in Palestine, was about to sack him he resigned and decided to live in Jidda. He converted to Islam, and after abandoning his English wife, married a slave girl, and fathered two sons. Yet, as observers were also to note of his son Kim, he remained in manner and appearance unequivocally British. He was always in conflict with others, with his patron Ibn Saud and his supporters, as well as with the British.
During the Depression, pilgrims to Mecca fell away and Ibn Saud could not pay his civil service. St. John’s greatest coup was to persuade him against his will to grant the Saudi oil and water concessions not to the Anglo-Persian oil company but to Standard Oil. It was a shattering blow to the British Empire, and the Colonial Office did not forgive him. Back in Britain St. John toyed with fascism, was in touch with Nazi and Fascist agents, and, returning to Jidda, told the Saudis that Germany would win the war. As soon as they could lay their hands on him, the British arrested him, and he was interned in Britain under the same regulation that applied to Oswald Mosley. St. John was furious. He maintained that his opposition to Whitehall and British policy was in no way treacherous. He was in the open and disguised nothing. Others considered him disloyal to the service he had chosen in his youth and an enemy of British interests.
Cave Brown considers what influence St. John had upon his son, whom for ten years he hardly saw. Kim Philby was far closer to his mother than his father, but characteristic of his ability to keep in with everyone he remained on good terms with him. St. John Philby was always urging Kim to emulate his own achievements as a scholar of Westminster and Trinity; he was disappointed when Kim failed to obtain first-class honors and indignant when his old acquaintances among the dons at Trinity refused to give a reference to Kim when he applied to enter the Foreign Office. They told Kim that he was so far to the left that they considered him unfit for government service.
How then did Kim later conceal his Communist past? He got rid of his first wife, Alice Friedman, a committed Communist, and persuaded his second to cohabit with him for years, making use of her “county,” upper-middle-class background. Valentine Vivian, a deputy head at SIS, knew of Philby’s Communist sympathies as a student. He consulted his old contemporary at Cambridge, St. John Philb, who reassured him that Kim’s communism was youthful folly. How far Kim Philby’s cover plan of serving as the Times correspondent with Franco fooled his contemporaries is doubtful. Years later colleagues were to recall the odd remarks that gave away his convictions: casual praise of Marx’s Eighteenth Brumaire; his order to British agents to cut off relations with Admiral Canaris and the anti-Nazi plotters in Germany; his outburst when he heard (incorrectly) that Ultra was being withheld from the Russians.
Luck was always with him. When the high KGB official Walter Krivitsky defected he referred to two spies in the Foreign Office but confused their identities. The papers of his case officer, Henri Robinsohn, when Philby was a war correspondent in France in 1939, were found in 1944 when the Allies reached Paris: they were misfiled and remained unexamined for twenty-two years. The German spy Otto John had become aware of Philby’s work for the USSR during World War II, but John was in the equivocal position of having spied for both the Nazis and the Allies and he was too equivocal a figure for his testimony to carry weight. In 1930 Teddy Kollek, later the famous mayor of Jerusalem, was surprised to see Philby leaving the CIA building and told James Angleton of Philby’s first marriage in Austria to the Communist Alice Friedman: Angleton simply said Philby was “a good friend of ours.” Sir Dick White, head of M15 and later of SIS, was one person who suspected him immediately after Burgess and Maclean decamped. Why then was Philby never arrested and brought to trial?
The answer to that question lies deep in the difference between the laws and the ethos of the United States and of Britain. British law is summed up by Cassio’s outburst when he is disgraced by Othello. “O! I have lost my reputation. I have lost the immortal part of myself, and what remains is bestial.” The British Libel laws protect an individual’s reputation to an extent which to an American, accustomed to the supreme value that the Constitution places on free speech, seems absurd and dangerous. The rule of law protects spies in Britain. No case could be brought against Philby, Blunt, or any of them that would have stood up against skillful cross-examination by a Queen’s Counsel. A braggart like Anatoli Golitsyn, an officer who defected in 1961, would have cut a poor figure in the witness box. M15, the counter-espionage service, was humiliated in the courts when the alleged Soviet spy Giuseppe Martelli was put on trial. It was proved that he owned spying equipment and had been in contact with officers of the KGB. Yet a British jury refused to accept the evidence of double agents, and Martelli was acquitted.
There was an even deeper cause. British public opinion was outraged by Senator McCarthy’s reign of terror. The British saw the careers of innocent people in the public service, in universities, even in Hollywood, wrecked by innuendo and denunciation and by the willing connivance of the legislature. No country in the world was less likely to be subverted by communism than the United States. But the British did not appreciate how outraged Americans were by the revelation that their former ally had been engaged during the war in stealing atomic secrets. Moreover, Britain was a small country with a homogenous circle of elites. Such a public inquiry would have had particularly serious consequences there. If Labour and the intelligentsia would have been troubled by investigators prying into the identities of people with Communist sympathies, Conservatives would also have had to meet counter-charges that they had been pre-war supporters of Nazi Germany.
The man whose actions epitomized the British desire to sweep the activities of the spies under the table was Harold Macmillan. Macmillan was foreign secretary when a member of Parliament denounced Philby as the Third Man. He refused to set up a public inquiry. Instead he convened an internal investigation under a young Foreign Office official who had no legal training and was flanked by two of Philby’s colleagues in SIS. To the rage of the British security services, who were convinced of Philby’s guilt, they helped Philby to clear his name, and Macmillan told the House of Commons he was blameless. Eight years later Macmillan, by this time Prime Minister, was told by Roger Hollis, the head of the security services, that a minor spy in the Admiralty had been caught. Macmillan looked glum. When Hollis asked him why, he said:
I am not at all pleased. When my gamekeeper shoots a fox, he doesn’t go and hang it up outside the Master of Foxhounds’ drawing room: he buries it out of sight. But you can’t shoot a spy as you did in the war. You have to try him … better to discover him, and then control him, but never catch him.
Shortly afterward, in 1963, new evidence emerged that proved Philby had been a Soviet agent.
Philby was then living in Beirut. He had been forced to resign from SIS when Burgess and Maclean fled, and he had no income until Anthony Blunt agreed to hand him five thousand pounds from Modin on behalf of the KGB. But there was a faction in SIS who believed he was innocent and had been ill-treated. Their leader was Nicholas Elliott, a typical member of the SIS whom Hugh Trevor-Roper described so eloquently: the son of the Provost of Eton, a feather-brained fellow whose pastimes were betting on horses and telling dirty stories.3 He was responsible for sending a frogman to examine the hull of a Soviet warship on a friendly mission to Southampton: the frogman’s headless body was found later. Elliott survived that debacle, but his chief was sacked by Anthony Eden and replaced by the head of the security services, Sir Dick White. Elliott persuaded White to allow him to approach David Astor, the editor of The Observer, and urge that Philby was the victim of gross injustice: Could he not be employed as the newspaper’s Middle East correspondent? When Astor and the editor of The Economist agreed to employ Philby, Elliott then urged that he could also work for SIS. So the master-spy was receiving four different salaries, from The Observer, The Economist, SIS, and the KGB. And yet from the start of the inquiry White had been convinced Philby was a spy.
Why did White continue to run Philby as an agent in Beirut? Was it weakness? Or did he hope to catch Philby off his guard? Philby was certainly embarrassed when he learned that White knew he was still passing information to the Soviet Union. Had White planted disinformation on him that he had passed to the KGB? Golitsyn’s evidence and the willingness of one of Philby’s old acquaintances, Flora Solomon, to testify to his early days as a Communist had at last transfixed this hornet. Why then did White send Nicholas Elliott of all people to confront Philby and extract a confession from him instead of sending Arthur Martin, an M15 official known for his deadly skill at interrogation?
By his own account Elliott treated Philby like the head boy of the school who had caught a fellow prefect drinking, and he extracted a minimal confession from him. Borovik (whose account came from Philby) says the conversation was “polite and calm.” Modin says that Philby confessed only because he was by now so “pickled in drink” that he was caught off guard. Elliott offered him immunity from prosecution if he would return to Britain and tell all. Without waiting for an answer Elliott then left Beirut and handed the case over to the resident SIS officer. That officer then decided to take the weekend off and go skiing. Philby’s Soviet control therefore had plenty of time to arrange his flight by Soviet ship to Odessa.
Philby, his Russian control, the Center, and the CIA believed that the British wanted him to vanish. Since Eden’s unhappy order to SIS to assassinate Nasser, White had made it clear that, unlike the KGB, the SIS was not in the business of assassination. But it would have been easy to kidnap Philby. It is difficult not to infer that the Prime Minister had made it clear that he did not want Philby or any other delinquent brought to trial. So Philby was left to crow at the SIS in Moscow. Little good it did Macmillan. For the next twenty years the press remained obsessed by the Cambridge spies and their social ambience. Journalists emerged determined to cut through the curtain of silence; book after book appeared, culminating in Peter Wright’s Spycatcher, in which Wright did what Macmillan had feared—slandered people by naming them as spies when they were innocent. The failure to deal with spies was one of many reasons why the old ruling class, to which Macmillan so conspicuously belonged, was mocked and discredited.
Younger British writers and intellectuals led by John le Carré took a different line. To them there was nothing much wrong about treachery. We are all treacherous and members of the Establishment got the spies they deserved. What is spying but a game of mirrors in which no one knows whose side anyone is on? In his introduction to Borovik’s book Phillip Knightley, a master in the game of trashing the Establishment, quoted Borovik as saying that the better the information a spy produces the less likely he is to be believed.
One of the best chapters in Cave Brown’s book is what he calls the Bull-frogs’ Chorus of Fleet Street. How self-righteously the journalists croaked that these spies were scions of the upper class (in fact none of them was upper class). “Each clever pen,” Cave Brown concluded, “found the Philby case symbolic of the decrepitude into which England had sunk through two world wars.” Malevolent and mendacious pens too. One reporter, Richard Deacon, wrote “proving” that the sinister don who had recruited the spies at Cambridge was the founder of welfare economics, Professor A. C. Pigou. And now Roland Perry is peddling the story that Victor Lord Rothschild was the fifth man.4 Despite Gordievsky’s identification of Cairncross as the fifth man (confirmed by Cairncross) and Modin’s own confirmation, Perry has the effrontery to say that Modin is covering up for the KGB and the insolence to suggest that the Rothschild family had helped him. Perry lives in Australia. Having seen Peter Wright, another Australian resident, both enrich himself and defeat a challenge from the British government in the courts after declaring that Roger Hollis, head of M15, was a spy, he may have concluded that there is safe money in the game of inventing conversations and blackening the reputation of the dead.
Nevertheless, Macmillan’s cynical assessment of spy-catching and the dangers of bringing spies to trial seems to have governed recent decisions in the CIA. The recent case in the United States of Aldrich Ames is as startling as that of Burgess. A lush turned down for deputy chief of station in Bogota, the son of a CIA official, Ames was made chief of the counter-intelligence branch of the Soviet division. For nine years he was a Soviet agent. The CIA’s inspector-general reports that over fifty American and Allied operations were betrayed by Ames; and that when it became clear that he was living well above his income only one part-time investigator was hired to look into the matter. And in the end what action was taken? Eleven officers of the CIA were reprimanded. Ames spied in return for large sums of money but the parallels between the lax treatment of his case and the Foreign Office cover-up of Maclean’s behavior in Cairo and Burgess’s erratic outbursts in the Foreign Office itself are still striking.
The Foreign Office learned a lesson. In 1971, Alec Douglas Home as foreign secretary accepted the advice of the head official Denis Greenhill and expelled 105 members of the KGB from the Russian embassy in London, an act which, according to Oleg Kalugin, a general in the KGB, made penetration of British secrets exceedingly difficult.
The Cambridge spies threw both the British and the American intelligence services into confusion. The British were embarrassed by Peter Wright’s manic hunt for a mole called Elli, whom he identified as Hollis, the head of the security service itself. Wright leaked his suspicions to Chapman Pincher, one of the leading journalists on the trail. In the end Elli turned out to be Philby. The CIA too was thrown into confusion because James Angleton, an old disciple of Philby from wartime days, became obsessed by Philby’s treachery and started his own witch hunt within the Soviet division of the service. In the end the witch-hunt provoked an extensive inquiry into Angleton himself. Cave Brown writes that Angleton was cleared of being a double agent by a “senior and distinguished figure in the CIA, Bronson Tweedy”; but by refusing to trust anyone and keeping most of the files in his head, Angleton destroyed the section he was meant to be commanding. Naturally enough the American intelligence community was appalled by Maclean’s defection and could not understand why as one by one the Cambridge spies were exposed none was prosecuted. Cleveland Cram of the CIA was brought out of retirement to assess the damage the spies had caused and concluded that twenty-five major disasters could be attributed to Philby.
Cave Brown admits that it became commonplace to argue that every Allied calamity, such as the death of General Sikorski in an air crash, had been plotted by Philby. Unfortunately his own book teems with such surmises. He is right to note what skillful use Philby made of the German counter-intelligence decrypts during the war. Communist resistance groups were shielded, and rival resistance groups could be discredited: this made it easier for the Communist resistance to take over the government of liberated countries after the Nazis and their quisling supporters had been driven out. But it is fanciful to declare that world revolution “very nearly succeeded throughout Europe.”
The two Soviet authors treat the spies as heroes. They claim they were British patriots devoted to their country. According to Modin, “never once did they knowingly deliver up any secret in the belief that it would damage Great Britain.” They fought not for Soviet Russia, but for the triumph of the world revolution. Their own accounts show this claim to be rubbish. And when Modin goes on to say, “Nor can they be faulted on account of their trust in Stalin: the same error was made by an entire generation of honest men and women all over the world,” one’s hackles rise. An entire generation? Even before the Nazi-Soviet pact all but a small minority of the educated classes in Britain were revolted by Stalin and his method of governing. Blunt used to justify himself by asserting that most intelligent students were Marxists. They were not. The Marxists simply made more noise.
In concentrating on the successes of the Cambridge spies the three books under review hardly mention the stream of Soviet citizens who defected to the West. The Cambridge spies did great damage in the five years after the war. But what of Oleg Gordievsky? Between 1974 and 1985, when he escaped from Russia, he had been an agent for the British SIS within the KGB. Even Modin admits that, after the mid-1960s, the KGB was weakened by continuous defections, and he considers that only the confusion within the CIA and SIS in their hunt for moles prevented the West from exploiting the confusion.
What the Russian defectors felt about their government also gnawed at the minds of the three spies who ended their days in Moscow. Burgess was miserable, hated his life, despised conditions in Soviet Russia, and was unemployable. Maclean was ordered to teach English in Kuibyshev; and not until he wrote to Molotov to complain was he given a more sensible job. He became impotent, saw Philby seduce his wife, and quarreled with him.
Philby’s life in Moscow started badly. When his third wife, Eleanor, whom he had abandoned in Beirut, arrived in Moscow, he found she had identified for the CIA the Soviet agent who contacted her in Beirut. By the time she arrived he was living with Melinda Maclean, and insisted that Eleanor live in the same flat with Melinda. He was usually in a stupor from drink and had fallen out of favor with the KGB chiefs. Eleanor realized this was his way of dismissing her. She left. Then Melinda left him.
But his luck held. He met Rufina Ivanova at the dacha of another defector, the British spy George Blake, and exerted the same charm as he had over his other three wives. She stopped him drinking. Meanwhile when Andropov became head of the KGB, Philby was taken to see him and it suddenly became a mark of prestige in the KGB to drop his name. He glowed when given medals or a pat on the back, and boasted to British journalists that he held the rank of a major-general in the KGB. He lived as a member of the nomenklatura in a luxury flat; all sorts of delicacies were his for the asking, and his wife had a car with a chauffeur. But the endless queues outside the butchers and bread shops in Moscow depressed him. He hated the corrupt Brezhnev regime, loathed Gorbachev, and, Modin admits, was “fully aware that the apparatchik system was rotten from top to bottom.”
He was not a major-general: in fact, according to the KGB official Mikhail Lyubimov, the Center regarded Philby as just another agent, agent Tom. “He complained because, as he knew well, an agent is not an equal but dirt.” They regarded Philby as a dissolute drunken Englishman. For years he was not allowed to visit any KGB installation, and for years his autobiography was not published in Russia. Even after Andropov intervened it was not widely distributed. Then the older generation at the Center who valued his work began to retire. Once again Philby was on a slide downhill. His death was not announced in Russia on the grounds that the KGB does not employ spies. But his luck held. He died before the collapse of the Communist Party and regime in Russia.
Two days before he died the friend whom Cave Brown calls Gennady telephoned him at the hospital. It was the anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany, and he congratulated Philby on the part he had played in the victory over fascism. There was silence for a few seconds. Then Philby said, “What victory?”
January 12, 1995