Friday, April 15, 2022

The Double Agent: Kim Philby

Kim Philby, the MI6 spy who was revealed in 1963 to be a member of the Cambridge Five, a spy ring that was divulging British secrets to the Soviet Union since the time of the Second World War, was born in British India. His father, St John Philby, was a civil servant in India—he was an explorer, Arabic scholar, a convert to Islam (he was also known as Sheikh Abdullah), and a fanatic socialist. St John named his son after the hero in Kipling’s novel Kim. Kim was probably exposed to socialist ideas at his home. He became committed to communism while he was in Cambridge. 

John le Carré’s 1974 novel Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is about an investigation to discover the identity of a mole in the British secret service who was leaking British secrets and was responsible for the death of many British agents. The unheroic, washed up, and retired counterintelligence agent, George Smiley, is brought back into the service to ferret out the mole. The mole turns out to be a former colleague and friend of Smiley, a man who had an affair with Smiley’s wife years before. The name of the mole is Bill Haydon. The character of Haydon, according to most scholars, is based on Kim Philby.

A serial philanderer, Kim married four times. Some of his affairs were with the wives of his MI6 colleagues. Decades after Kim had fled to Moscow, to avoid arrest in Britain, he wrote a memoir, My Silent War. In his memoir, he talks about having made a “total commitment to the Soviet Union which I regarded then, as I do now, the inner fortress of the world movement.” He believed that communism was the answer to a “dying world.” Graham Greene, the British spy and spy novelist, compared the Cambridge Five to Jesuits, holding fast to their faith.

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