(2014) A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal by Ben Macintyre is the story of the Soviet spy Kim Philby and the two friends, one British and one American, that he so handily betrayed.
In 1912 Harold Adrian Russell “Kim” Philby was born in India. His father Jack, who became adviser to the first monarch of Saudi Arabia, nicknamed him “Kim” after the boy in Rudyard Kipling’s novel. As did his father, Kim attended Cambridge where he, along with many of his classmates, fought against fascism. So strongly he fought that he was easily recruited to become a spy for the Soviet Union. He was working for peace, he told a friend.
Kim’s Soviet handler told him that he should (pretend to) renounce communism and find a job in British government. This was not difficult for the intelligent, charming, handsome, well-connected young news correspondent. Soon he was a British Intelligence officer, and in 1941 was working for MI6, counterintelligence. In 1943, the MI6 offices were located at 7 Ryder Street near Piccadilly. This is also where my mother, Hedvig Johnson, worked for X-2, the counterintelligence arm of the OSS, Office of Strategic Services.
There is no doubt in my mind that she knew who he was. The Americans were housed on the floor directly above the British. Hedvig wrote,
I couldn’t believe all this was happening to me. London … Ryder Street was our office. At the time, I thought it a dump! We were very crowded and often cold. American secretaries were treated so royally, but the British employers did not give their helpers–girls, i.e.–much respect. Penalized them if they came in late, etc. (Hedvig Johnson Allen)
Hedvig arrived in London in January of 1944, and not long afterward another member of X-2, James Jesus Angleton, followed behind her. They knew each other, on a casual basis, from Washington, D.C.
Kim Philby and Angleton, Allied intelligence agents, quickly became friends and drinking buddies. Philby was a good conversationalist, and the liquor flowed freely. Philby was in and out of Angleton’s office on Ryder Street, and my mother would have certainly noticed the good-looking gentleman.
Philby was feeding information to the Soviets all during the war, and afterward, when the Soviet Union was no longer ally to Great Britain and the United States. His meteoric rise to the top of British intelligence is astounding. In 1946 he was appointed to the Order of the British Empire, honored for his wartime work.
I could go on and one, but you’ll just have to read this excellent book written by Ben Macintyre, a British author who has written several other books about wartime espionage.
So why am I so fascinated by the story of Kim Philby? When his name began to hit the newspapers, first in the 1950s and then in the 60s, our mother hung on very word. She couldn’t believe what she was reading.
Over the course of Philby’s thirty year career as a double agent, thousands of people died because of his traitorous betrayals. He defected to Moscow in 1963, was never given a meaningful job there, and continued drinking heavily until his death from heart failure in 1988.
This video features author Ben Macintyre, sharing Philby’s most personal betrayal, that of fellow British intelligence agent, Nicholas Elliott … his best friend and the one who defended him (almost) until the very end.