Category Archives: Espionage/Intelligence

Four Spy-Books

The Eagle in the Mirror by Jesse Fink: Black and White Publishing (2023), 319 pages

Follow the Pipelines by Charlotte Dennett: Chelsea Green Publishing (2020), 349 pages

Agents of Influence by Mark Hollingsworth: Oneworld Publications (2023), 310 pages

Spies by Calder Walton: Simon and Schuster (2023), 672 pages

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‘The Eagle in the Mirror’

The Eagle in the Mirror by Jesse Fink

A few months ago I was contacted by a new ‘recruit’ to coldspur, Jesse Fink, who had been following my coverage of the identity of ELLI. He wanted to know whether I had rejected Charles Ellis (known as ‘Dick’), the MI6 officer, as a candidate for the elusive penetration agent in British intelligence named by Gouzenko. Given the close equivalence between the two names (and the NKVD’s frequently unimaginative choice of cryptonyms), this was a very reasonable inquiry. I replied that I thought it highly unlikely, for reasons of chronology and logistics, but did at the same time refer to Ellis as a ‘scoundrel’.

Mr. Fink was quick to point out that Ellis’s disreputable reputation was probably unjustified, and I have since had to admit that my judgment was based on what has been written about him by such as Nigel West, Chapman Pincher and Peter Wright, without any scholarly safeguards. I had not studied any source documentation myself, and the exercise reminded me that I should never offer an ‘expert’ opinion on anybody in the intelligence world without having performed the proper research myself, or absorbing what someone with a respectable methodology has done him- or her-self. Mr Fink did offer me some flattering comments on the coldspur site: he also told me that he was working on a biography of Ellis that would be published in the summer of 2023, and that his book would rehabilitate Ellis.

I immediately ordered it from it arrived a few weeks later, and I set about it at the beginning of September. I have dedicated a large amount of space to this review because a) a proper account of the life of Ellis needs to be told; b) Fink has performed an admirable job of tracking down some diverse and obscure sources, and has thus made a highly significant contribution to the literature of intelligence; and c) the exercise brings up a number of issues to do with tradecraft and terminology that interest me greatly. Yet I confess that I am less than enthusiastic about Fink’s rather shrill treatment of the material, and the promotion of the book. For example, Fink chose to title it The Eagle in the Mirror because, as he asks, perhaps rhetorically, on p xxxix:

Where did his loyalties lie? For a man whose name was inextricably linked with the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany and the United States of America, what national eagle – Russian, German, American – was staring back at him? Was he truly innocent or guilty?

‘Inextricably linked’? By whom? When? Moreover, since Fink concludes his analysis by asserting that Ellis was an innocent man, and a loyal servant of the Crown, it would appear that he has performed the extrication himself, and that he would judge that his hero saw no eagles but instead the Lion and the Unicorn when he looked into the mirror.

In addition, in the interests of gaining commercial success with his work, I believe Fink has allowed his agent and publicity machine to hyperbolize the questions surrounding Ellis, and his resolution of them. ‘The Greatest Spy Story Never Told’; ‘In Search of War Hero, Master Spy [sic!] and Alleged Traitor’, and a quote from Phillip Knightley claiming absurdly that Ellis ’was James Bond’ adorn the covers. Fink would assert that such exaggeration is needed to help make the book sell at the airport bookstalls, but once the reader is captured, he or she (in my opinion) could well handle a more sober story.

Jesse Fink

The author has fallen into the trap of what I now call the ‘Max Archer Dilemma’ of writing on intelligence, after the fictional character in Matthew Richardson’s Agent Scarlet (see ). In August I wrote, firstly citing Richardson:

            “He’d glamorized them, emphasized the sex and the danger, even hoped they might be optioned in a splashy bidding war by Hollywood and hungrily consumed by the masses.” That is absurd: you cannot be the pot-boiling Ben Macintyre and the dryasdust Michael S. Goodman at the same time.

(Not that Max Archer, or his creator, appeared to recognize the Dilemma – unlike Mr Fink, an established author, who described to me the exact same quandary in which he found himself.) The problem is that an author can melodramatize the events for the benefit of a large, popular readership, but those readers will not appreciate the scholarly references and endnotes. The serious readers, meanwhile, will be dismayed by the writer’s joining the potboilers, and not treating the material in a disciplined fashion.

The verifiable facts of Ellis’s career are meagre, and the allegations about him predictably murky. He was born in Australia in 1895, and came to the United Kingdom just before World War I, in which he served with distinction. He was sent to Transcaspia, on a mission against the Bolsheviks. After studying Russian at St. Edmund Hall at Oxford University (or maybe the Sorbonne), he joined MI6 in 1923, and was assigned to various posts around Europe. That year he also married a Ukrainian ‘White Russian’, Lilia Zelensky. In 1928 he published a long and ‘impenetrable’ (according to Fink) book titled The Origin, Structure and Working of the League of Nations. He returned to the UK in 1938 to supervise the interception of telephone communications between Ribbentrop’s Embassy and Berlin. He then spent a short time collecting intelligence in Berlin, where he used the services of his brother-in-law, Zelensky, and a notorious ‘trader’ of information, Vladimir von Petrov, who was another White Russian working at the Japanese Embassy. For most of World War II he worked for William Stephenson’s British Security Coordination in New York, taking charge of intelligence interests, and then helping to establish the USA’s OSS. After the war, he worked for MI6 in the Far East, and helped set up the Australian Intelligence Service. He retired in 1953, and died in Eastbourne, England in 1975.

Matters took an eerie turn in 1946, when captured Sicherheitsdienst officers described to their interrogators a ‘Captain Ellis’ who had provided them with intelligence secrets. Chief among them was Richard Protze, and investigators in Chile tried to follow up the connection with von Petrov after a tip from MI5 located Ellis’s sometime informant there. This led to discovering an association with another dubious character, Anton Turkhul, a colleague of von Petrov’s, who ran a White Russian resistance movement in Paris (certainly infiltrated by the NKVD). When this information was brought to Kim Philby’s attention in the summer of 1946, he oddly denied that he knew anyone named ‘Ellis’. Furthermore, Ellis was at some stage suspected of being blackmailed by the Soviets (since they knew of his indiscretions, von Petrov may have always been their creature, and they may have had some power over Ellis’s wife’s relatives) to work for the Moscow cause, but details of this claim are very skimpy. (Fink’s Index is not completely reliable, and on trying to re-establish the root of the Soviet allegations, all I could come up with were some vague claims made by Peter Wright that echoed an unpublished MI6 report.) Later, in 1954, Ellis was reported to have fled from Australia in somewhat of a panic after learning that a Petrov was about to defect: presumably Ellis believed that ‘Petrov’ was ‘von Petrov’, and might thus unmask him. As Mr Fink points out, Richard V. Hall debunked this theory in A Spy’s Revenge, showing how the chronology simply didn’t work.

The outcome was that Peter Wright, as part of the FLUENCY operation that investigated Soviet penetration of MI6 after Philby’s abscondment in 1963, began a serious study of Ellis’s possible treachery. Fink hints at a deeper study that had been carried out by MI6 officer William Steedman for many years, but the details of that project, named EMERTON, are very sparse. (Nigel West has informed me of the existence of a report that Steedman wrote, which might shed some important light on the events, but it has not been released outside MI6.) In 1966 Ellis was apparently prompted to confess to handing over intelligence to the Nazis shortly before the Venlo incident of 1939, but vigorously denied ever acting as a Soviet agent. This whole sordid story is covered by Fink – although not in a very logical and straightforward manner. (His narrative moves around in time, in that post-modern manner favoured by many writers: it is a technique I find unappealing.) What makes the claims so challenging is that no record of Ellis’s interrogation or confession has been shown to exist.

So where do the stories come from? Primarily they were fed to Nigel West, by Arthur Martin, and to Chapman Pincher, by Peter Wright, complemented by off-the-record interviews with senior or retired MI6 officers, whose intentions regarding Ellis may not have been truly honourable. This is a shockingly disreputable phenomenon. Mr Fink records the leakages, but fails to engage seriously with the duplicity on the part of the authorities, who, while stressing selectively the importance of honouring the Official Secrets Act, allowed such transgressions to pass unremarked and unpunished. I shall return to this aspect of the case later.

One of Fink’s sources for the EMERTON project is Nigel West’s At Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and I believe that it is important to add some context here. The head of Counter-Intelligence in MI6 at the time (1965-66) was Christopher Philpotts, who, though a leading candidate to replace Dick White as Chief, had not been recommended by him, and was then overlooked for the post of the deputy to the new Chief, John Rennie, who favoured Maurice Oldfield. Philpotts had been appointed Director of Counter-Intelligence, and had been conducting a vigorous purge of suspect officers, especially those who had concealed their Communist sympathies or affiliations. Out went Andrew King and Donald Prater: Tony Milne (Litzi Philby’s one-time lover) was forced to resign. West comments that the ‘ebullient’ Philpotts became a very unpopular figure. He had also supervised the inquisition into Ellis, who had ‘confessed’ to betraying information found in Nazi files that had been misattributed to the victims of Venlo, Best and Stevens. Yet he was not punished in any way for this transgression (he had retired in 1953), even though West writes that Steedman’s report concluded that Ellis ‘most likely had succumbed to Soviet pressure after the war’.

Charles ‘Dick’ Ellis

Is that all there was? A disgruntled ex-Royal Navy officer making vague assertions that were essentially unverifiable? What was the evidence that Ellis had been blackmailed by the Soviets after the war? The accusations were ‘unresolved’. Steedman took early retirement in 1970, but presumably felt free to brief journalists such as Nigel West in informal meetings that were not blessed with official authority, but presumably also tacitly allowed to occur. This aspect of the case seems rather preposterous to me, and may have been swollen only by the obsessions of Peter Wright (who served alongside Philpotts on the FLUENCY Committee and its successor, K7). The case against Ellis for undisciplined and possibly traitorous behaviour towards the Nazis seems strong, but the accusations of aiding Moscow come across as very flimsy.

Mr Fink very precisely nails the highly speculative aspect of these accusations. West’s pronouncements display the precariousness of these charges. West had raised the canard in his 1982 history of MI5 between 1945 and 1972, A Matter of Trust, where he wrote, very hypothetically, “As a German linguist, Ellis had been one of the MI6 officers assigned to translating the [Hitler–Von Ribbentrop] transcriptions. Might he have betrayed it to the Russians, who in turn had told their ally, Nazi Germany?” Yet in April 1983, he was quoted by the Daily Telegraph as saying: “There is only minimal, circumstantial evidence to support the contention that Ellis was ever a Soviet agent.” And I point out, that, when West’s Molehunt appeared in 1987, nary a mention of the accusations against Ellis was made. Yet, in the 2014 edition of the Historical Dictionary of British Intelligence, edited by West, the entry for Ellis includes these very speculative sentences:

The news that Ellis had partially admitted his guilt was revealed by Peter Wright, who also subscribed to the view that the KGB would have been bound to exploit his treason immediately after the war, if not sooner. Wright was convinced that because Ellis’ first brother-in-law was a known Soviet agent it was almost a certainty that he had succumbed to a KGB threat to expose him.

I find this casual citing of Wright as an authority rather disgraceful. It is certainly unscholarly.

Yet, in his ‘Author’s Notes’, Fink poses the rhetorical question: ‘Was Ellis a traitor or forgotten war hero or both? That is ultimately for the reader to decide’. Fink’s own conclusion is to deem Ellis innocent of both charges (namely working for the Nazis as well as the Soviets), which would appear to undermine the invitation he offers, and to misrepresent the probable reality by drawing an equivalence between the Nazi and Soviet allegations (the two ‘eagles’). I believe, moreover, that the question has been wrongly posed, as it presents an exaggeratedly false contrast.

I have to declare that I think much of the confusion about what posterity thinks of Ellis comes down to misuse of terminology. Mr Fink cites William Stevenson, the biographer of the BSC chief Bill Stephenson, who described Ellis as a ‘super-mole’. Yet, instead of debunking the absurdity of this categorization, Mr Fink tries to exploit it by raising the temperature and asking the rhetorical question: ‘Was Ellis a super-mole?’. I would state emphatically that Ellis was never a ‘mole’ (let alone a ‘super-mole’, which I think is really melodramatic), or a double (or triple) agent. If anything, he could have become an ‘agent-in-place’, exploited by a hostile intelligence service, but not for an extensive time. This re-assessment completely changes the tenor of the debate.

Mr Fink adopts the popular notion of ‘double agent’ to cover a multitude of roles, which I would organize as ‘vertical’ and ‘horizontal’. (For a refresher on classifications of agents, I refer readers to my piece at For example, a ‘vertical’ double- (or triple-) agent would be Agent Zigzag (Eddie Chapman), who bounced between British Intelligence and the Abwehr, with no one being sure where his true allegiances were. Another example would be Hilde Beetz, who worked for the Sicherheitsdienst in trying to secure the Ciano Diaries, but then fell in love with Mussolini’s son-in-law, and tried to sabotage the project. (‘Turning’ someone ideologically is a very unlikely process, as SOE found when it tried to insert ‘turned’ German POWs into Austria and Germany. John Bevan of the London Controlling Section preferred to call the spies sent in by the Abwehr, and managed by the XX Committee and B1A, in MI5 as ‘controlled enemy agents’ rather than ‘double agents’.) The point being that characters who allow themselves to drift into double-agent status quickly abandon any political allegiances, and focus almost exclusively on their own survival, and eventually have to be discarded, incarcerated or destroyed (by either side) since they become a liability, and too dangerous. The service that believes that it originally recruited such an agent, but now questions whether he or she is betraying it, has to be very careful extricating itself from the arrangement, lest the enemy come to learn about the means by which the treachery was discovered (such as intercepted radio messages), and thus expose other relationships.

On the other hand, Mr Fink also classifies as ‘triple agents’ characters like von Petrov, who sold information to three (or four) different intelligence services – even though his prime allegiance was claimed to be to the GRU. Yet such horizontal figures should not be called such: they are really ‘traders’, not directly employed by any individual service, but seizing opportunities where they can, and thus in no way should they be described as ‘moles’ or ‘double agents’. On page 59, for instance, Mr Fink writes about Ellis and his high-stakes game of running double agents like Turkhul and von Petrov. What does this mean? That he (but not his bosses) knew they were working for the Germans as well (vertical) or that they were traders (horizontal) whose information might not be reliable or exclusive and were entitled to do what they did so long as they could get away with it? The GRU, the Abwehr and MI6 all thought they were ‘running’ von Petrov: none of them was.

As Mr Fink points out, Ellis was ideologically opposed to the Communists, and that poses for him the question: how could he have been a Soviet agent? He was also opposed to Nazism, but that didn’t stop him taking money from a tainted source, apparently. Yet ideology doesn’t come into it when you can be blackmailed, or threatened by potential harm to relatives in the Soviet Union. In my recent Round-up ( I listed several MI6 officers who were exposed in this way. Ellis should probably be added to that list, as his Ukrainian wife (and her family) could have given an opportunity for the NKVD to suborn him – as they did with so many others in that situation, such as Harold Gibson. Contrary to what Ellis appeared to believe, there was no dishonour or suspicion attached to speaking Russian, or having a Russian wife. That was a characteristic considered desirable by MI6 recruiters in the inter-war period.

The main point I have been trying to make in recent coldspur posts is that, just because a spy or informer works for an intelligence service, that does not automatically make him a ‘double agent’. (This is a fiction that Adam Sisman lazily helps to perpetuate in his recent Secret Life of John le Carré.) Philby was a penetration agent whose loyalty was always to the Soviet Union. He was an officer in MI6 (by the way, it is only in the USA-FBI that ‘officers’ are called ‘agents’: in MI5 a spy employed off the books by Maxwell Knight to infiltrate, say, the CPGB, would be classified as an ‘agent’), and calling Philby a ‘double agent’ causes great confusion when comparisons are made with phenomena like the Double-Cross operation. Ellis did not ‘penetrate’ MI6 as an impostor: he was employed by the Service as a candidate with assuredly noble ambitions, but may have engaged in dubious transactions without official approval, probably succumbing to manipulation because of his money problems. My conclusion is that Pincher’s and West’s and Wright’s accusations about Ellis severely miss the point in making comparisons with Philby, and Ellis in his defence in 1965 must have been too flummoxed to respond properly.

The book could have benefitted from the production of a reliable time-line for Ellis’s activities, for I found it impossible to trace his movements. What was he doing in 1938-1939? Translating intercepted messages between Ribbentrop and Hitler? Vacationing in France? Sending reports back from Berlin to London? Masquerading as an Englishman in Belgium or the Netherlands? And if Ellis was a Soviet agent, how did the GRU/KGB contact him after the war? I regret I also found it very difficult to track the incriminating statements from the Protze files, for example. It would have been very useful if Fink could have supplied more precise references, namely serial numbers. No dates for the encounter with ‘the Russian posing as a Captain Ellis’ in Brussels (not Paris!) are provided by the archive. I need to inspect the exact context in which ‘Captain Ellis’ was referred to, and to examine closely Philby’s documented but bizarre claim to be ignorant of who ‘Ellis’ was. (It appears that Gwyer of MI5 presented only a summary of Protze’s testimony to Philby, not the original translation.) I have since downloaded those files (on Protze, Wehr-Bei, etc.) that have already been digitized, and I have also commissioned photographs of the von Petrov archive.

Mr Fink has performed some extremely important research, looking into many original sources. He provides an excellent Bibliography. Yet he occasionally nods, citing secondary references (including me) rather than the originals. For instance, he quotes Wright (of all people!) on Krivitsky. Yet Krivitsky, during his interrogation by MI5, never stated that von Petrov had a source in British intelligence, contrary to what Pincher and Wright claimed. Krivitsky said that he checked von Petrov’s reports, discovered that they had probably been translated from articles in the Times written by ‘Augur’, and when von Petrov was challenged, his reputation fell. I note also that Anthony Cavendish, in Inside Intelligence, wrote that George Young, who was responsible for dissolving the Sicherheitsdienst after the war, had recalled that ‘the OKH (Army High Command) pre-war files on the United Kingdom largely contained cuttings from the News of the World.’ Thus do intelligence-gatherers weave their magic, trying to sustain their existence and to enhance their reputation.

I have since investigated, and I have learned that ‘Augur’ was in fact Vladimir Poliakoff (1864-1956). Indeed, a Poliakoff brother is mentioned as a possible source in Appendix 10 of KV 2/2468, p 40 – one of the files pertaining to Helmuth Wehr-Bei, who worked for Protze. A few other errors appear. Fink describes Roger Hollis as ‘Philby’s superior’ (p 130). His coverage of Philby’s movements in 1947 is inaccurate. He quotes without correction Montgomery Hyde’s claim that Ellis was recruited by ‘SIS’s Colin Gubbins’ to purge British intelligence files (p 154), but Gubbins never worked for SIS. On page 136 Fink records that Philby resigned from MI6 in July 1951: on page 148 he states that he was sacked ‘by a reluctant MI6’ in 1955.

In any event, Ellis was assuredly not entirely innocent. Working from Fink’s material, I compiled a list of errors that Ellis probably made:

  1. Trusting his brother-in-law and von Petrov (poor tradecraft)
  2. Handing over secret information (the MI6 ‘battle plan’) without authority (although it would probably have been denied)
  3. Not considering implications of exposing himself to the Abwehr and the GRU
  4. Not cutting off contacts with von Petrov once his relationships were established (decontamination)
  5. Handing over details of the Ribbentrop telephone interceptions (though the proof of this activity is still debatable)
  6. Getting into money problems (which may not have involved his wife’s medical expenses, contrary to what he claimed)
  7. Pocketing money that he was given, and not revealing it
  8. Drawing Stalin’s attention by criticizing the Soviet Union
  9. Deleting his first marriage from his ‘Who’s Who’ entry
  10. Wrongly describing son Olik as by Barbara, second wife
  11. Lying about his fiancées [sic] back in England
  12. Trying to contact Philby on his return to the UK, despite instructions not to do so

Maybe there were others: in any case, this is not the behaviour of a man with no conscience. But it does suggest someone who lacked the guile and suspiciousness to be a successful agent-handler. One wonders, therefore, about his effectiveness as a developer of the OSS’s methods in such areas: his deep interest in the workings of the League of Nations is not suggestive of the type of mind that is attuned to the world of intelligence and counter-intelligence. Mr Fink’s book shows that he was something of an idealist, and he should have been given some careful tuition and guidance before being thrown into the dangerous world of deception, subterfuge and disinformation.

What is the source of the ‘confession’? This seems to me to be crucial. Without any documentation, how much are we to believe? Apart from the major divulgences from Martin and Wright, Nigel West told me that it was also recounted to him by Christopher Philpotts, the chief security officer, in the presence of Michael Wrigley, another MI6 officer, as if it had been an in-house briefing. He then later indicated that the subject came up in conversation at a casual lunch between the three, well after Philpotts had retired. What was Wrigley doing there? Was Philpotts in contravention of the Official Secrets Act? Were the claims malevolent, as part of the anti-Philby ‘Hollis as mole’ movement? Did it suit MI6 to have serious slurs thrown on Ellis’s reputation? Or were the stories accurate, but blown out of proportion by West and Pincher?

This incident seems remarkable to me in the way that it eerily echoes what transpired at the Spycatcher trial in Melbourne in 1985-86. Malcom Turnbull, defending Peter Wright, challenged the British Government in the shape of Sir Robert Armstrong over its failure to prosecute Arthur Martin, who provided Nigel West with information for his book on MI5, A Mattter of Trust, as well as Wright himself, who provided Chapman Pincher with his insider stories for Their Trade is Treachery and Too Secret Too Long. Turnbull also persisted in asking why the Government chose not to try to prevent publication of the two books. If the facts of Ellis’s ‘confession’, which may have been extracted under pressure, are true, his admissions and protestations seem vaguely convincing: maybe there is no smoke without fire. Yet what I think is scandalous is that MI6 very selectively released information on Ellis to writers – none of them professional historians – whereupon the latter delivered conclusions, harmful to Ellis’s reputation, based on material that cannot be inspected, verified or contested by anyone else.

Richard V. Hall is one who – correctly, in my opinion – draws parallels between the leakage of information concerning Hollis, and that about Ellis. It was as if the authorities failed to prosecute West and Pincher because it was convenient to cast slurs about Hollis’s loyalty as a method of covering up the deficiencies and oversights of both MI5 and MI6 in dealing with Soviet penetration agents, from Fuchs to Blake and Philby. Neither Hollis nor Ellis was around to defend himself. Yet Mr Justice Powell explicitly rejected Turnbull’s assertion that there had been a conspiracy to achieve that goal, while not acknowledging that there could have been any other reason, except for laziness or incompetence in the sluggishness of Sir Robert Armstrong and his office. What is also remarkable (as Mr Fink carefully explains) is the fact that both White and Oldfield were convinced of Ellis’s overall integrity, but did not have the guts to step in and quash the allegations. As I have written before, it suited the devious White to have indeterminable questions hanging over Hollis as a way of distracting the world from his own failures (Fuchs, Blunt, etc.), and Ellis may have fallen into the same mould. Both gentlemen were dead, and could not defend themselves.

In summary, if we scale back the ‘super-mole’ allegations, and concentrate on the indiscretions in Germany in 1939, we have a much simpler case to consider. Ellis was obviously not in that category – not a Philby – but, at the same time, I don’t think he can be vindicated and rehabilitated in the confident manner in which Fink concludes his analysis. I would adjust my assessment of him as a ‘scoundrel’ to perhaps a ‘fool’, or, maybe more appropriately, an intelligent and well-intentioned man who was naive in many respects, and did several foolish things.

Devotees of possible subversion of MI5 and MI6 should read this book, but not get distracted by the hyperbole and rhetoric, which represent (to me, at any rate) a rather regrettable variety of disinformation. Do read the excellent Endnotes carefully, and follow up where you can. And we should be thankful that, owing to the hopes of Mr Fink’s publisher for a success of Macintyresque proportions, The Eagle in the Mirror did actually reach the bookstalls. Otherwise it would have been difficult for any of us intelligence mavens to have enjoyed the benefits of Mr Fink’s industry. I suppose that is the price we have to pay for bringing fresh research into the open, and I trust that coldspur will be indulged for a more methodical analysis and refinement of Mr Fink’s excellent hard work in a way that enhances rather than impairs his commercial success.

Follow the Pipelines by Charlotte Dennett

‘Follow the Pipelines’

Charlotte Dennett is an American investigative journalist who has been on a mission to discover whether any foul play was involved in the death of her father in an aircraft accident in Ethiopia on March 24, 1947, when she was only six weeks old. I was drawn to Dennett’s story because a search that I initiated indicated that she suspected that Kim Philby might have been responsible for arranging the sabotage that brought down the plane. Charlotte’s father, Daniel, was working at the time for the Central Intelligence Group – the precursor to the CIA – and the plane was carrying 2000 pounds of highly secret radio equipment to Addis Ababa. As unlikely as it seemed to me that Philby would have been involved in such violent exercises just after he had been sent out to Turkey, in January 1947, I thought I ought to check out her story.

Charlotte’s brother, Daniel C. Dennett III, may be a better-known name than Charlotte. He is an eminent cognitive scientist and philosopher, famous for his forthright atheism. (A review of his autobiography, I’ve Been Thinking, by Julian Baggini, combined with an interview, appears in the November issue of Prospect, and a deeper review, by Nigel Warburton, appears in the Times Literary Supplement of October 20.) He was invited to write a Foreword for Follow the Pipelines where he rather bewilderingly spends most of its three-page text speculating whether Kim Philby was in fact a ‘triple agent’ when he turned up in Moscow in 1963. (That inevitable confusion over ‘double agents’ again.) Dennett implies that MI6 knew that Kim was always loyal to the British cause, and that he could thus safely be despatched to impart disinformation to his KGB handlers. Dennett even provides an imaginary speech of one-hundred and twenty words that Philby’s superior officers gave to him some time after they interrogated him in 1951, and instructed him to continue giving information to Moscow.

Daniel Dennett

This is such obvious nonsense that I am amazed that Dennett was allowed to get away with it. Baggini quotes from Dennett’s book, where the author states that it is the story of ‘how I became such a good thinker’. Not a modest man, clearly. But we should be wary of philosophers like Dennett and the late Derek Parfit telling us what to do. They are not the most practical of people, their expertise is not automatically transferrable to other fields, and, like economists, they disagree wholeheartedly amongst themselves, as Warburton shows. (Apparently, Dennett is a ‘compatibilist’, like his hero, David Hume, but ‘compatibilist’ is not a word that my Chambers Dictionary recognizes.) Warburton also reports that Dennett ‘adored’ his father, which sounds a little precocious for a boy who was just five years old at the time of the sad event. Would Charlotte’s analysis turn out to be any more sober, I wondered?

When Ms. Dennett sticks to writing about the machinations of oil companies, and their manipulation of governments in their attempts to construct pipelines that will take the petroleum to ports in the Mediterranean for their Western customers, she writes very well. She includes several highly useful and well-designed maps that display the proposed routes, and the sometimes hostile and barren territories that they had to cross over, in the sixty-five years since the end of World War II. Despite deploying that irritating technique of jumping around chronologically, as if the reader would be excited and fascinated by the choppy experience the author had in discovering the facts and rumours surrounding her father’s sad demise, she keeps a firm grip on the main outlines of the story concerning the competition for oil revenues in the Middle East.

But I do not want to discuss or analyze that dominant story in this review. It is the possible linkage between Philby and the unexplained plane crash that absorbs me. How did Dennett arrive at Philby? The author’s quest had started in a classically novelettish way – by inspecting a trunk in the attic after her mother died, and finding letters and papers. She interviewed an old comrade of her father’s, tried to gain the release of documents from the US National Archives, read many contemporary news stories, and studied the history of the region and the search for oil. She learned from some sources that the plane crash was probably due to sabotage. She came to the conclusion that it was not just the Russians who were butting heads with the Americans in 1946 and 1947 in the region: French and British colonial interests were clashing with the American plans for expansion and oil exploitation as well. And she identified Kim Philby as one of the ‘purported enemies’ of her father at the time of the fatal flight.

I believe that Dennett’s whole thesis is greatly undermined by the circumstances of her father’s death. She explains that a more important person, the US military attaché in Saudi Arabia, Colonel McNown, was scheduled to fly on the ill-starred flight, and that Dennett at the last minute gained the seat reserved for McNown, as the latter deplaned in Jidda, thus aborting his planned trip to Eritrea and Ethiopia. If indeed an assassination attempt was being planned with some meticulousness, and Dennett had been the real target, the fortuitous event of McNown’s change of itinerary does not make sense. Be that as it may, Charlotte Dennett resolutely pursues her prey.

The CIA had refused to hand over any documents from the period January 1 to March 31, so Charlotte delved around herself. Yet her account of Philby’s status and movements is a little suspect. She introduces her target by stating (p 121) that ‘he had become an acute embarrassment to both the British and the Americans for having moled his way into the highest levels of British intelligence on behalf of the Soviets, and in the process had sent many Western operatives to their deaths.’ That is a heavy brew for the end of 1946: Philby was indeed under deep suspicion at that time, and his posting to Istanbul could be interpreted to indicate that MI6 realized that such a questionable officer had to be removed from the leadership of Section IX, Soviet counter-intelligence.

Yet the implication that Philby’s treachery was broadly accepted at that time (‘an acute embarrassment’) is very much overstated, and the suggestion that he had sent ‘many operatives to their deaths’ premature. Moreover, it directly contradicts what her brother asserts about the awareness of Philby’s guilt by his bosses! I imagine that Dennett is referring primarily to Operation VALUABLE, whereby Philby may have betrayed plans for infiltrating guerrillas into Albania, but that did not occur until October 1949. (According to Stephen Dorril, SOE was fomenting unrest in Albania in 1946, but Philby was not involved then.) If Dennett was thinking of murkier deeds betraying agents in Austria, that might have occurred in 1946, but the evidence for that is hazy, and Dennett does not appear to be familiar with any details. Any such betrayal, moreover, did not involve ‘sending operatives to their deaths’.

It is true that Philby had been appointed, in the autumn of 1946, chief of counter-intelligence in Istanbul – not for the whole of the Middle East, as Dennett claims, but with a much more focussed responsibility, according to most sources, namely trying to determine the activities of Soviet spies in Turkey. He had been sent out there (according to E. H. Cookridge) in February 1947. In The Third Man, Cookridge emphasized that Philby had been asked to visit Arab states in an effort to discover how they were responding to Soviet approaches, and Kim’s father was viewed as a useful intermediary in that role. But that visit did not leave much time or opportunity for Philby to carry out devious schemes before the death of Dennett’s father in March. The author speculates on how much Philby would have revealed to the Soviets – and the British – about her father’s activities in the region. She claims that Philby spent most of January 1947 visiting his father in Saudi Arabia, and that the two of them flew to the British military base in Taif, above Jeddah, where Kim spent thirty-six hours with the head of the military mission before ‘returning’ to Istanbul. On March 10, Dennett likewise visited Taif, but the significance of that coincidence is not explored.

I wish I had a good handle on Philby’s movements in January 1947. Anthony Cave-Brown (in Treason in the Blood) writes that Philby left London for Istanbul ‘in January 1947’, travelling via Cairo. He then apparently went on to Jiddah, and then Riyadh, where he spent ‘five nights and six days’, before spending a couple of days in Taif. “Then,” Cave-Brown writes, “Kim left for Istanbul, where he formally took up his position in the middle of January.” (He later corrects that assertion to state that Philby arrived in Istanbul as station commander on January 26.) Cave-Brown’s sources are not specified clearly, but he may have been using the St. John Philby papers at St. Antony’s College, and a biography of him by Elizabeth Monroe, Philby of Arabia.

Yet I was under the impression (thanks to Jesse Fink) that, on January 24, 1947, Philby was still in London, writing to Joan Paine of MI5 about the status of the German Sicherheitsdienst officer Richard Protze, who had provided testimony in the Charles Ellis case. That did not square up with a Philby tour of the Middle East before ‘returning to Istanbul’. So I returned to Protze’s files (in this case, KV 2/1741) and concluded that, while the letter from MI6 to Paine followed up a signed letter from Philby in November, this one was not from him. The office location was the same, but the name of the author had been redacted, and, unlike the circumstances of the preceding November 1946 letter, there was no handwritten annotation to request that the letter be copied to the ‘PHILBY’ file. He must have left London by then. I believe that Mr Fink agrees with my assessment.

Philby’s presence in the area, however, did not alone signify his culpability. What other evidence was there? Philby was entirely a suspect by association: Dennett claims that his name ‘had come up’ in connection with the death of Sikorsky in a plane-crash off Gibraltar in July 1943, since he was head of the Iberian section of MI6, and he had visited Spain two months beforehand. (While quoting Cave-Brown liberally, she somehow chooses to overlook his statement that the crash was caused by a lunch bag left behind by a workman that broke loose and interfered with the controls.) Philby had been an educator at SOE: therefore he must have been familiar with explosives. (!) He had married a Jew, so he would have developed Zionist sympathies. (Most of the Communists in London, including Litzy, were more focused on installing Communism in their homelands than dealing with the intricacies of Zionism.) And Dennett’s rhetorical questions then reach new heights: might the interests of Philby’s dual masters (the British and the Soviets) converged? “Might they have arranged, through Philby, to have the Irgun Zvai Le’Umi or Greek communists to do their dirty work?”, she asks.

It was at this stage that my patience began to run out. Yet Dennett was not finished. She suggests that Philby had been keeping an eye on events in the Levant from his office in London. She cites a report that he sent to the Foreign Office on July 9, 1946, warning of an imminent ‘Irgun plot to attack British diplomatic personnel and facilities in Beirut’, a notice that apparently prompted the British [Foreign Office? It is not clear] to send to Lebanon two of the country’s highest intelligence officers in Palestine – an unsourced claim. “Some of Philby’s chroniclers [unidentified]”, she writes, “have interpreted this as a ploy by Philby’s Soviet handlers to divert senior British Intelligence officers away from Palestine to Lebanon at the very time when the Irgun’s plot to bomb the British King David Hotel in Jerusalem was about to happen”. (The latter event did take place on July 22.) That sounds to me a rather clumsy way of implicating Philby in nefarious behaviour, if it were true. Yet Dennett goes on to state that bombing of the British and American Embassies in Beirut did in fact occur on August 9. So what is your point, madam? She explains it all as a ruse by Philby to stay in good stead with his British handlers, as they might have otherwise suspected that he was the ‘double agent’ that he in fact was. But hadn’t she earlier written that they knew he was a mole already?

I had to read this report by Philby. Palestine, after all, was a British mandate, and, as such, MI5 was responsible for its security, through its SIME office in Cairo, not MI6. The officer Anthony Cavendish had been posted there in the summer of 1946, and was working for B Division of SIME, under Maurice Oldfield’s leadership, trying to counter the activities of the illegal organizations working against the British in Palestine. So how could Philby have been meddling in MI5’s business? Dennett cites Calder Walton’s Empire of Secrets, p 103, as her source, so I turned to it. In fact, Walton interprets the warning as being an inaccurate pointer to the Beirut bombing, but waffles about Philby’s motivations. Irrespective of other considerations, Philby would not have done anything so reckless without precise directives from Moscow, whose policy towards Palestine, in Walton’s words, ‘had not yet crystallized’. Moreover, Walton gets the reference wrong. He cites it as serial 108b in KV 4/36, and gives it a date of July 9, 1945 (!). I determined that the file is actually KV 5/36, and it is accurately identified as such by Bruce Hoffman in his book Anonymous Soldiers.

I rapidly commissioned photographs of KV 5/36 from London. Philby’s contribution turns out to be a quite unremarkable entry. On July 9, 1946, he indeed passed on intelligence received from ‘a usually reliable source’ indicating that several members of the Irgun Zvai Leumi (the most violent of the three Jewish underground organizations) had arrived in Beirut, with a supposed mission of sabotaging His Majesty’s Legation building. This letter was sent to the Foreign Office, the Colonial Office, and MI5, and was part of Philby’s role as the liaison with MI5. It was one of the permanent irritations for British intelligence that, while MI5 and MI6 were organized on geographical lines (MI5 handling the Empire, MI6 foreign territories), agents working for their enemies, e.g. the NKVD, the Abwehr, and Irgun, would obstinately not respect  these artificial boundaries, but cross them, and make surveillance more difficult. Intelligence-sharing between MI5 and MI6 was thus absolutely critical.

The SIME station in Jerusalem was duly informed of the warning, and deeper insights were requested of it. On July 21, Oldfield and Isham  – actually Sir Gyles Isham, the Defence Security Officer, to whom Cavendish reported administratively – responded  by cable that they could not shed any light on the matter, as they were not in possession of any relevant intelligence. The very next day, the deadly blast at the King David Hotel occurred. It does not sound as if SIME was distracted by the Lebanon threat, but that the message was passed on too sluggishly, and that Oldfield and Isham were not on top of things to the extent that they later claimed. Irgun later admitted that the loss of life (British and Jewish) had hurt their cause: an attempt to find signs of Soviet manipulation behind the scenes does not convince at all.

Thus Dennettt suggests a scenario of absurd proportions. Philby, who had no field experience, and no knowledge of sabotage exercises or materials, as a prelude to his posting in Istanbul to focus on the Soviets, is sent on a semi-private mission to visit his anti-Semitic father and gain intelligence from the Saudis. During this short visit, he manages, despite the fact that Palestine is MI5’s territory, not MI6’s, to make contact, unnoticed by SIME, with a Jewish underground organization in order to arrange the assassination of an American who was not even scheduled to be on the plane that crashed two months later on a flight from Saudi Arabia to Ethiopia. Moreover, he draws attention to himself by passing on a legitimate warning of a terrorist attack that is not taken seriously enough. If his name had ever been associated with the project, it would have caused a massive stink with the Americans, the British, the Saudis, and the Soviets, and his career in Turkey would have been over.

Charlotte Dennett

Charlotte Dennett is understandably upset about the mystery that surrounds the death of her father, and she is probably justified in believing that information is being withheld from her. Her practice of selectively plucking possibly incriminating evidence of Philby’s culpability from her published sources is, however, simply irresponsible. To allocate blame to Kim Philby may be cathartic, but is, in my view, quite absurd. The man was odious, and thus his reputation encourages undisciplined writers to ascribe all manner of evils to him. As an example, Anthony Cavendish, referred to earlier, was quick, when Philby absconded, to blame him for the miserable failure of the project to insert exiled Latvians behind the lines in 1949-1950 (Operation JUNGLE), even though Philby had been in Washington at the time. Moreover, it may suit those who know more to have the cloud of suspicion hang over him. It reminds me again of Dick White, happy to have unending and irresolvable investigations into the deceased Roger Hollis as a Soviet mole being carried on, as the process distracted attention from his own obvious failings. Some of the research in this highly-flawed book is admirable, but its dominant thesis is pure self-delusion and rhetoric. In that respect, another work in the infamous ‘Kim &’ series (see ): Kim and the Dybbukim.

Agents of Influence by Mark Hollingsworth

‘Agents of Influence’

Between the 1930s and the 1960s, a hierarchy of Communist sympathizers existed. First were the signed-up members of the Communist Party itself, unashamed of their allegiance, openly declaring their commitment to the Leninist-Stalinist cause, such as Dave Springhall. Next were the fellow-travellers, those who did not go so far as to join the Party, but openly expressed their sympathies for the movement, such as The Red Dean, Canon Hewlett Johnson, or the lawyer Denis Pritt – the classical ‘useful idiot’. More shady were the Comintern or NKVD agents, resident legally, perhaps by marriage, acting as couriers and recruiters, and sometimes propagandists, such as Edith Tudor-Hart and Peter Smolka. Then there were the Illegals, probably bearing a false identity that allowed them to maintain residence in the UK for a while, and act as recruiters for Moscow, or as clandestine messengers, such as Arnold Deutsch. Next were the notorious native penetration agents, disguising their commitments, and exploiting their background to gain entry into the corridors of power, and betray secrets to their Soviet masters, such as Donald Maclean and Kim Philby. But perhaps equally as dangerous were the agents of influence, acting to support the Communist revolution, but being careful to perform their task with subterfuge and subtlety, never openly indicating their allegiance, and ensuring that they were never contaminated by any hint of espionage. The best example was Victor Rothschild, who recommended that MI5 hire Anthony Blunt.

I titled Chapter 6 of Misdefending the Realm ‘Agents of Influence’, and I used it to highlight the pernicious effects that the actions of Isaiah Berlin and Victor Rothschild had on the ability of MI5 to defend the realm, in that, between them, they made Marx respectable and minimized the dangers of academic communists, thus encouraging counter-intelligence officers to lower their resistance. For those few coldspur readers who may not have a copy of the book readily at hand, I reproduce here a key paragraph:

The subject of ‘agents of influence’ has not received the attention it deserves, yet some commentators assert that such persons could be even more dangerous than ‘penetration agents’, spies who handed over documents. While spies provided the enemy with information that might help with policy or with negotiations (such as Soviet preparation for the Yalta conference), agents of influence could directly manipulate policy so that such manoeuvres were no longer necessary. Such agents worked in a twilight world: not members of the Communist Party, but identified by the Soviets as allies with an ability to influence domestic policy. (Such figures were frequently named in messages exchanged between the rezidentura and Moscow, as the VENONA decrypts show. Not all persons identified were agents of influence, but the cryptonyms of many who must have performed damage have still not been assigned to their real counterparts.) These agents were careful never to be engaged in the act of passing physical information to a Soviet handler, but might consort with Soviet diplomats in their official roles.

One important aspect of the term is that it refers to ‘agents’, suggesting that the hostile power has some sort of relationship with them, if not direct recruitment, at least a familiarity with them, and maybe some control over their behaviour (in the case of Berlin, for instance, who still had relatives in the Soviet Union). The literature has not been served well in this regard: the Wikipedia entry is a mess, as its ‘talk’ section confirms, and there is a tendency to include conventional spies (such as Alger Hiss) in this category. Thus my interest was provoked, a few months ago, when I learned that a book titled Agents of Influence had been published.

Mark Hollingsworth

It is written by Mark Hollingsworth, described as ‘a journalist and historian’ on the flyleaf. Hollingsworth is further described as ‘author of ten books, notably Londongrad: From Russia with Cash, Saudi Babylon, an acclaimed study of MI5 and a biography of Mark Thatcher’. That uncertain punctuation is misleading. Is the ‘acclaimed study of MI5’ in apposition to Saudi Babylon, further describing it, or is it a separate volume? Presumably the latter, but if so, and if it has been ‘acclaimed’, surely the title merits being given? An inspection of Hollingsworth’s website indicates that no such book is listed, and it took a trawl of amazon to discover that it must refer to a 1999 volume titled Defending the Realm: MI5 and the Shayler Affair. Yet I then read in a frontispiece to the book under review that Hollingsworth had co-authored a book with Nick Fielding bearing that same initial part of the title, but subtitled ‘MI5 and the War on Terrorism’. So I do not know where the acclaim came from, and I have no idea what is going on. Not a good start if the author himself wants to conceal the existence of one his major works, or to cast some mystery over its title.

The book does not have a very inspiring beginning. The first chapter (‘The Covert Art of War’) plods through all the familiar territory of the evolution of Soviet intelligence since the Revolution, and then informs us that, on March 13, 1954 ‘the KGB was born.’ That led me to believe that this was going to be a book about the KGB era. And then Hollingsworth stumbles as he tries to get into his stride in Chapter 2: ‘Agents of Influence’. He introduces the person of Peter Smolka via a discussion on Graham Greene’s screenplay for The Third Man, on which Smolka had reputedly advised the author on the plot-line, as well as showing him the sewers in the communist sector of Vienna, and writes:

But what nobody knew at the time was that Smolka was in fact an NKVD agent of influence and had been secretly working for the Soviet Union since late 1939, after being recruited by the notorious double agent Kim Philby.

I find so much to dispute in this sentence that I could probably dedicate a whole coldspur bulletin to it – and shall probably do so, one day. The notion that Philby had recruited Smolka (or Smollett, to which he had changed his name after British naturalization) was one that Philby himself promoted, but it is far more likely that Smolka had become a servant (with the cryptonym ABO) of the NKVD much earlier, and Borovik’s book subtly suggests this. Nevertheless, Philby got into trouble with Gorsky, his NKVD handler, for approaching Smolka without authority. (In that case, one might ask, why was Smolka given the cryptonym ABO by Moscow Centre?) Smolka was thus as much an ‘agent of influence’ as was Philby a ‘double agent’. He was surely sent to the UK to penetrate British institutions, and ended up exerting influence, since he was hired by the Ministry of Information to help with propaganda efforts, and thus abetted the cause of the Soviet Union quite dramatically. If conventional agents wielded no ‘influence’ at all, they would not be of much use, but to categorize every agent who assists with propaganda or disinformation as an ‘agent of influence’ diminishes the whole debate.

Peter Smollett (Smolka)

Did ‘nobody’ know of Smolka’s loyalties at the time? I find it hard to believe. When Smolka arrived in the United Kingdom in 1931, he had red flags over him from a police report in France. He was known to be a communist, he travelled at least once to the Soviet Union and wrote an unpleasant book extolling its merits, and yet he was granted naturalization, was recruited by the Ministry of Information to head its Russian Section, and even given an O.B.E. Moreover, he had been in close contact with Philby since 1934. Hollingsworth mentions that Litzi Friedman was a close friend of Smolka’s, but does not reveal that his wife, Lotte, had been Litzi’s closest school-friend. Hollingsworth also claims that Smolka had returned to Vienna, and that he, Litzy and Kim, had helped smuggle Austrian socialists through the sewers. Yet he does not provide a source for this anecdote: I suspect it may come from Smolka’s godson, Peter Foges. Moreover, in a feeble interrogation by the inept Arthur Martin in 1961, Smolka claimed that he was not aware that Kim had married Litzi until he met him in the autumn of 1934.

In this instance (and probably others), Smolka was almost certainly lying. His story has not been fully told, and a detailed inspection of his extensive archival material (released in 2015) reveals some very troubling facts. I have started to inspect Smolka’s embarkation and disembarkation records in an effort to define his movements in the nineteen-thirties, and have come across much that is startling, and very provocative, on which I shall report in due course. E. H. Cookridge, who was in Vienna at the time, does not mention Smolka in The Third Man. Information on Smolka supplied by such as Boris Volodarsky is very confusing. Yet other snippets, including Smolka’s co-operation with Graham Greene on the script of The Third Man (the movie, not directly related to Cookridge’s book) suggest that some of Smolka’s activities in the mid-thirties must have been connived at, and concealed, by MI5 and MI6. Purvis and Hulbert, in The Spy Who Knew Everyone, have provided the best coverage of Smolka that I have seen so far, but they are far too trusting of Kim Philby’s testimony, and ignore some important markers in Smolka’s files.

I do not propose to analyze the rest of the book in any detail. Hollingsworth is really writing an account of Soviet subversion and propaganda. While he has many interesting anecdotes to impart, I merely offer the flavour of his material, by reproducing an important paragraph:

The term ‘agent of influence’, a literal translation of the Russian term ‘agent Villanova’, is both elastic and multifaceted. Many such agents are not official spies in the conventional sense – that is hired to complete a mission assigned by a KGB case officer. Some are not even aware that the Soviet diplomat they are meeting is in fact an intelligence officer. Only a few become registered agents. Instead the relationship is informal and covers a broad spectrum of social and professional relationships – from casual lunch partners to close personal friendships. Usually they are journalists, politicians, civil servants, bankers, lobbyists, and, in more recent years IT and social media specialists. Their mission is simple – to secretly exert influence, spread disinformation and destabilize the enemies of Russia.

I think Hollingsworth’s agenda is clear.

After describing the antics of Victor Louis, another famous ‘agent of influence’, Hollingsworth then deviates wildly off the rails, spending chapters on surveillance in Moscow, and honey-traps: as his blurbs from such as Edward Lucas and Christopher Steele testify, his story is simply another account of Soviet intelligence operations against the West. Thus he spends many pages relating the processes of inveigling victims such as Jeremy Wolfenden and Anthony Courtney, and includes the notorious paid stooge Robert Maxwell in his gallery of ‘agents of influence’. Maxwell even appears in a photograph with his crony Leonid Brezhnev, and is boldly described as a Soviet agent. (Nothing subtle or discreet about that.) Hollingsworth does, however, provide a useful Appendix of KGB Forgeries, but the book has drifted far from the subject by then.

One last aspect I shall comment on. Edward Lucas says that Hollingsworth’s history of active measures is ‘deeply researched’. Hollingsworth describes himself as an historian, but it is clear that most of the work he undertook was having conversations with various intelligence personnel, ‘many of whom were anxious to remain anonymous’. In his Acknowledgements, however, he gives credit to ‘George Nixon, my brilliant researcher, who did a fantastic and tireless job in tracking down obscure documents from archives, compiling profiles of individuals and tracing sources. His Russian language skills were also useful’. Indeed: I can well imagine. But how did Hollingsworth assess Nixon’s ability to distinguish between facts, lies and disinformation, and to handle the inevitable contradictions that arise from intelligence archives? Serious historians work at the coalface themselves, and perform their own interpretations.

Spies by Calder Walton


I have to admit that I approached Calder Walton’s panoramic study of the intelligence wars between ‘East’ and ‘West’ with a good measure of diffidence. The first reason was the author himself, who has studiously ignored me on a couple of occasions, and whom I have been tempted to mock gently (see my December 2021 Round-up at ). I had been encouraged to contact him because of a project on which he had reputedly embarked – the Cambridge History of Espionage and Intelligence – of which he is stated to be General Editor, alongside his long-time mentor, Christopher Andrew. The Belfer School at the Harvard Kennedy Center informs us that the publication of this three-volume work will appear in 2022 [sic]. I can only assume that the crackerjack international team of ‘historians and ex-intelligence practitioners’ was held up by the discovery of the coldspur trove, which necessitated a careful revision of many of the work’s chapters.

The second reason is that I find it difficult to get excited about fresh encyclopedic coverage of broad subjects such as this. A new comprehensive study surely needs a major set of revelations from new archival material – especially from foreign sources – or a dramatically new philosophical approach, in order to justify the quantity of analysis offered. Walton makes some claims, mainly about newly released Russian archives (which I shall investigate more deeply later), but it is hard to conclude that they contribute to any major new findings. It seemed to me that ninety per cent of what Walton wrote here was familiar, even if I could not unerringly identify the source on every occasion. Yet, if the reader has digested Christopher Andrew’s KGB, MacDonald Hastings Secret Wars, Phillip Knightley’s Second Oldest Profession, David Dallin’s Soviet Espionage, Stephen Dorril’s MI6, John Haynes’s Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America, any number of books on the Cambridge Five, and a few other popular titles, I suspect that most of what Walton lays out will be familiar.

In many respects, it is a very enjoyable read. Walton romps through the decades in a sprightly fashion, and presents many examples to explain how intelligence wars developed over a hundred years, and to reinforce his primary message of the importance of continual investment in espionage and counter-espionage to be maintained by the West in the face of the threats from the East, which now, of course, includes China. That is perhaps not a surprising message, and thus I looked for fresh insights as to exactly what our intelligence services should be doing differently. But to whom is the book targeted? It appears to be the only marginally-informed general reader, and it is not clear how his or her knowledge will be able to influence strategy. For instance, at one point (page 90), he writes: “The most important intelligence body during World War II was one that you have probably never heard of, the London Controlling Section.” That sounds a little condescending, and if his target reader is going to be that ill-informed, I do not see how he or she will appreciate or understand the wealth of arcane sources cited in the Endnotes, which include a number of books and archival material in Russian.

Walton also has a rather irritating practice of preening over his exclusive access to secret archives, and his one-on-one interviews with important intelligence personnel, British, American and Russian. He proudly reminds us of his privileged access, under the patronage of Christopher Andrew, to MI5 files when he contributed to Andrew’s authorized history, and he frequently quotes conversations he has had with presumably influential officers on both sides of the East/West divide. Whether he should have trusted what those persons told him is another story. Writers should always be on their guard when they are being flattered by bigwigs who may view their contacts as useful mediums by which to transmit a message: one thinks inevitably of Peter Wright and Chapman Pincher. “GCHQ insiders confidently told me . . .” is one such example (p 250). Others include: “SOE’s official historian, M. R. D. Foot, once told me. . . .” ( p 84); “As the then director of US National Intelligence, James Clapper, told me. . . .” (p 509); “A former MI6 senior officer, on the condition of anonymity, said. . . .” (p 414); “According to former Soviet intelligence officers. . . .” (p 333).

Calder Walton

All of which brings me round to methodology. Walton describes his methodology in the following terms: “synthesize contemporary records and newspapers, private papers, memoirs, and oral interviews”. But that is not a methodology, it is a process crying out for some discipline. Moreover, missing from those sources is archival material, the recently released Russian variety of which he is eager to quote, although submerged in so much vagueness that it is difficult to verify. One of Walton’s somewhat obtuse techniques is to present a paragraph that contains multiple assertions, and then affix an Endnote number at the end. (This is a technique he tried to defend in his first book, Empire of Secrets.) When one looks up the reference, one may encounter multiple sources, and it is impossible to associate any of them with any single feature of his text. And I am not sure that all these are trustworthy. For instance, a typically controversial passage runs as follows:

Within the Kremlin today, Soviet agents from early in the Cold War, like Fuchs and the five Cambridge Spies, occupy pride of place in the annals of foreign intelligence. The SVR showered them in hagiographical terms on its centenary in 2021. The reality is different. Contrary to the impression given by the SVR, these agents conducted their hugely damaging espionage for Moscow at times despite, rather than because of, the KGB and Stalin. The damage they inflicted on British and American national security was the result of their motivation and skill as spies, not the professionalism and methods of the KGB, which at times badly let them down. Furthermore, contrary to what the SVR portrays today, British intelligence came close to catching all of them.

This paragraph contains such a mixture of provocative assertions and unlikely claims that I was very eager to read what sources it was based on. ‘Catching’ spies, especially those who were native subjects or who had been granted naturalization, was a problematic concept in the administration of British democracy, with confessions normally required (c.f. Fuchs and Blake), and the publicity of criminal trials avoided. Thus I imagined that the statement about the spies’ proximal capture must surely have come from some previously unreleased British source. The relevant Endnote runs, however, as follows:

Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki, Rossiyskoy Federatsii 100 let, p. 98, and chaps. 7 [pp 89-93], 13 [pp. 146-159]; Primakov, Ocherki ob Istorii Vneshney Razvedki, vol 3. 20-60; Dolgopolov, Kim Filbi, p. 17.

Now, as you rush to your local library to check out these works, I shall point out that I do have a copy of Dolgopolov’s biography of Philby, and page 17 contains nothing of relevance to these matters. I do not believe that the bland reference to forty pages of another text of a probably propagandist nature, without any discrimination or analysis, constitutes serious scholarship. If Walton had focused in his book on a detailed analysis of such new writing from Russia, he might have made a significant new contribution to his area of study, but I can only stand in amazement at such haughtiness. (In another donnish aside, in Chapter 17, Note 55, he writes: “This is disputed, of course, in commentaries such as Shebarshin, Ruka Moskvy, pp. 264-66.” ‘Of course’! How could I have overlooked them?)

Thus Walton wraps his manuscript in a series of references to obscure and almost impossibly unverifiable sources. He even has the effrontery to suggest that some of these archives were opened for his unique benefit. (“Russian archives, uncovered for this book, suggest that the FBI’s suspicions about Nambiar were correct.” p 371). Yet it is never clear who inspected these archives, namely the Archive of the President of the Russian Federation, the State Archives of Ukraine, the Russian State Archive of Contemporary History, and the Russian State Archive of Sociology-Political History. Walton does not confess to a knowledge of Russian, and he omits any mention of a visit to Russia under his brief Appendix ‘Methodology and Sources’. His Acknowledgments contain no message of thanks to any translators, or Russian citizens who ploughed the State archives. Can he personally attest to the reliability of the material cited? It is a mystery, and I think it is a very dubious performance.

In fact, Walton’s text sometimes gives the impression of having been written by a committee. Early on, he stresses that one of the lessons he wants to impart is that the Cold War did not end with the dismantling of the Soviet Empire in 1991. Yet multiple times he refers to the ‘end of the Cold War’ (e.g. p 22, p 324, p 329, p 432, p 448). His mentor Christopher Andrew is thanked for reading the whole text, but I wonder how carefully he attended to some of the pronouncements from the pulpit? Several judgments seem ill-considered: though not startling enough to shock, they are so carelessly phrased as to indicate less than sustained reflection, and misrepresent an often more complicated reality. For example:

P 7: From 1917 onward, these three powers, the Soviet Union in the East, and Britain and the United States in the West, have thus waged an intelligence war based on two competing ideological systems, vying for global supremacy.      

Whether the muddle of liberal democracy should be considered an ‘ideology’ is highly debatable. Unlike the Soviet Union’s belief that Communism would eventually prevail everywhere, neither the USA nor Great Britain pursued a strategy of ‘world domination’: the omission of Nazi Germany in this summary is bizarre. Russia no longer promotes an ideology of world supremacy, but a nationalist philosophy intent on regaining traditional lands and trying to protect a mythical sense of Russian identity.

P 37: MI6 archives reveal that it had little intelligence from inside Russia in the first chaotic months of Bolshevik rule.

In fact, the early months of Bolshevik rule were probably the only time that MI6 had any good intelligence coming out of Russia, from such as Paul Dukes, Robert Bruce-Lockhart, George Hill, and Stephen Alley. The Cheka was soon to manipulate Western attempts at espionage through the ‘Trust’ operation. MI6 never controlled any spies (penetration agents) in the Soviet Union.

P 84: SOE’s official historian, M. R. D. Foot, once told me that its greatest success was to ‘give resistance movements in occupied countries the moral courage to fight”. Hastings has correctly noted: ‘true achievement was felt after the war, not during it.’ “Never could enemies of democracy claim that Britain and the United States had abandoned the occupied nations to their fate.

The issue of SOE’s role, and its reputation with occupied countries, is far more complex, given (for example) the various betrayals and incompetence shown in France and the Netherlands, and the abandonment of the Poles. Reprisals discouraged subversion in Norway, and eliminated it in Czechoslovakia.

P 91: Thanks to ULTRA, London’s intelligence chiefs identified every wartime Axis agent sent to Britain, approximately one hundred and fifteen in total. MI5’s counterespionage outfit, B Division, captured and turned thirty of them into double agents, using them to send disinformation back to the Axis powers in Europe, the Middle East and Asia.

This is a great distortion. ULTRA did allow MI5 to trace the acceptance of a few agents managed by the Abwehr. But the number of 115 seems to have been plucked out of the air, ULTRA made little contribution outside Europe, and Petrie’s claims are exaggerated.

P 191:  In truth, the KGB badly let Philby down, and he, in turn, betrayed his fellow Soviet agents, Burgess and MacLean.

It is not clear in what way the KGB let Philby down. He had behaved irresponsibly in inviting Burgess to lodge with him in Washington. He did, indeed, draw attention to doubts about Burgess and Maclean in an attempt to save his skin when he knew they were lost. Moscow did, however, ‘rescue’ Burgess, Maclean and Philby.

P 301: In 1945, the United States and Britain had different strategies for the postwar world. Their differences centered on Europe’s empires. As Churchill roared, he did not become prime minister ‘to preside over the liquidation of the British Empire.’

Roosevelt had continually undermined Britain’s imperial ambitions throughout the war. Soon after the war, Churchill was ousted, and Attlee took over. The quotation derives from 1942. Churchill did return to the Premiership, but the main dismantling of the Empire is generally attributed to Attlee and Macmillan.

P 518: At key moments, Soviet intelligence officers badly let down the Cambridge spies, failing to appear at meetings and placing so much pressure on them that at least one, Donald Maclean, had a nervous breakdown.

One might ask how much of the pressure on the spies was self-induced, since one would not expect the NKVD/KGB to act in any other way. In a way, the Foreign Office was far too indulgent to Maclean’s ‘mental health’ issues.

P 532: It would alas be unsurprising to discover that a Chinese Kim Philby or Rick Ames is already working inside U.S. or British intelligence, disclosing Western secrets.

There might well be mercenary spies providing secrets to the Chinese, or Chinese citizens in the USA or GB legally doing the same, but it is highly improbable that any US or British native has committed himself to betrayal because of a conversion to the strange Chinese political cause of authoritarian party control and managed capitalism, analogous to the commitment that Philby made to Communism.

P 539: While there is not a clash now between communism and capitalism, the century’s struggle does have an ideological component to it: between authoritarianism and liberal democracy.

This restatement is incorrect. The original clash was indeed between totalitarianism and liberal democracy, not communism vs. capitalism, which was an item of Leninist/Stalinist propaganda, too simplistically adopted by many western commentators. This century’s clash is more of an economic one, yet China and Russia present very different threats in their dealings with the West.

These few examples reinforce the point I made about the risk of ‘encyclopedic’ studies (see coldspur of November 2022 at ) struggling to show authority over a wide range of topics. If you are going to set yourself up as an A.J. P. Taylor or a Simon Sebag-Montefiore, you need to have strong credentials and to have done your homework thoroughly.

Moreover, Walton makes several minor mistakes in territory that should be closer to home – and should have been picked up by Christopher Andrew. He ascribes the policy of recruiting idealistic young university graduates to Arnold Deutsch (p 56), when Deutsch was one of the executors of the policy. (I cannot locate the source, but I believe the architect was Trilisser, or maybe Artuzov.) He writes that MI6 chief Sinclair acquired Bletchley Park at the outbreak of the war (p 72), but the purchase occurred in 1938. The ‘Jedburgh’ teams of SOE/OSS agents were not named after the place where they were trained (p 82): the name just happened to be next in the list of codenames. The inquiries into Nunn May in Canada in 1945 were not carried out by MI5’s liaison officer in Ottawa, Cyril Mills (p 131), as he was already on his way home, having been demobilized. Jane Archer was no longer Jane Sissmore, and about to marry John Archer, in 1945( p 133): she had married him on the outbreak of war. Stalin’s military aims in the late 1940s were not an unknown factor (p 150): the defector Tokayev had described them in Stalin Means War. It is not true that Philby and Burgess worked out their plan without informing the KGB rezidentura (p 191): the KGB had been alerted, and it was never Philby’s intention that Burgess should accompany Maclean to Moscow. The NSA and its defence contractors did not replace vacuum tubes with computers using magnetic tape and tape drives for their calculations (p 246): tapes are storage devices. Walton does, however, sensibly judge that Roger Hollis was not a Soviet mole, as he would in that case have alerted the KGB to the danger that Gordon Lonsdale was in (note on p 590.)

The final chapter, on the Chinese threat, appears to have been written in a rush. Abbreviations are not explained: that dreadful phrase ‘the intelligence community’ appears seven times in just over one page, showing a lack of serious thought, and the arguments are often trite. Walton goes to town in explaining the Chinese threat, providing a rich set of examples of how it is attempting to subvert western institutions, steal technology, hack into important data centers, and play havoc with social media, mimicking much of the traditional Soviet playbook. Yet he appears to forget that the advice he had offered in his Foreword (“What is required is forward thinking and imagination: open-source intelligence collection, machine learning, artificial intelligence (AI), and super-computing.”) is simply inadequate and outdated – a laundry list that any alert non-specialist could have compiled.  The Chinese have advanced far in the deployment of technology itself, not only to challenge Western security (Walton does not mention the threat to encryption embodied in quantum computing improvements, for example), but to impose strict controls on its own citizens, that conventional mechanisms are no longer adequate.

Walton ignores the fact that pluralist Britain and the USA are at a great disadvantage when dealing with the authoritarian control of the Chinese Communist Party. In the West, governments are temporary and fractured: they do not control business, academia or the media. Walton never mentions dubious projects such as the China Forum at Jesus College, Cambridge, which is an echo of those ‘Friends of Russia’ and ‘Peace Movements’ sponsored by Soviet intelligence. His prognostication is shallow, and his advice usually obvious or second-rate: ‘Good intelligence will be key for Western policymakers’; ‘The West must seek well-placed spies like Gordievsky to complement open-source information’; ‘Strategy toward China must be based on strategic empathy’ [without explaining what that entails]; ‘A campaign for digital literacy is required to counter disinformation’; ‘Western governments must expect the intelligence wars to persist’; ‘The U.S. government must disclose, challenge and debate clandestine Chinese activities’.

What the average reader is supposed to do with this woolly advice is not clear, nor do I expect that the diverse organs of Western civilization (‘the West’) will pick up his entreaties with vigour and single-mindedness. Liberal democracies are indeed a muddle, but we should celebrate and value them for that superiority over any stifling authoritarian governments. Perhaps the Chinese ‘experiment’ will collapse under its own contradictions, but, as with Putin, we can never know whether what replaces President Xi and his oppressive edifice will be better or worse, or how the Communist Party will react to growing dissatisfaction and frustration among its citizens. (“A people’s revolution, comrades? Oh, perhaps not. We tried that already.”) Untangling tight business relationships with China will undoubtedly be messy, but that would appear to be the number one priority.

It is probably clear to coldspur readers by now that the more I delved into this meretricious book, the less I liked it. If Walton had chosen a particular theme, such as the revelations that recently uncovered Russian archives throw on intelligence matters (and why they should be trusted), or a detailed study of the practices of Chinese subversion and counter-intelligence, he might have made a valuable contribution to intelligence studies. Instead he dispenses his self-satisfied and cliché-ridden analysis to no great effect, and displays some bizarre judgments and opinions. On lighter matters, at one stage he writes of ‘the impossibly named Kermit Roosevelt’, an appellation that strikes me as no more absurd than ‘Calder Walton’ (or even ‘Walton Calder’). He also offers (on page 91) an arch observation on T. A. Robertson of the XX Committee, noting that Robertson ‘delighted’ his fellow officers in MI5 when he turned up for work in trews or kilt. In what was certainly Geoffrey Elliott’s weakest book, his profile of Robertson titled Gentleman Spymaster, the author informs us that, at the outbreak of war, Robertson sported his Seaforth Highlanders trews, and was soon given the name ‘Passion Pants’ by the secretarial staff in MI5. I suspect that it was more likely that his colleagues mumbled: “Look at that prat Robertson, prancing around in that Scottish rig, trying to charm the ladies. Who does he think he is? Bonnie Prince Charlie?”

We shall never know.

(P.S. I heartily recommend The Red Hotel by Alan Philps, a very sure-handed and insightful account of how Stalin manipulated the foreign Press Corps in Moscow between 1941 and 1945, and, for those who enjoy more recherché history, who may have liked my article Homage to Ruthenia ( ), or have savoured the works of Joseph Roth or Gregor von Rezzori, I point you towards Goodbye, Eastern Europe, by Jakob Mikanowski. This is a rich account of the way that distinctive local communities, from Riga to Tirana, had over the centuries held together but had then been broken tragically apart, and drawn into mortal conflict, when they came under the scourge of the twin monsters of Nazism and Communism.)

‘The Red Hotel’ by Alan Philps
‘Goodbye Eastern Europe’ by Jacob Mikanowski

(Latest Commonplace entries can be seen here.)


Filed under Espionage/Intelligence, General History, Geography, Management/Leadership, Philosophy, Politics

Life with the Honigmanns

Ruth Honigmann
Georg Honigmann
Litzi Philby



The Phenomenon of Litzy Feabre:


MI5 Organization

The Source Material:


            One Theory

            An Alternative Scenario

The Honigmann Files:


            KV 6/113        


            HO 382/255




Georg and Litzi Honigmann did not in fact become a couple officially until they married in East Berlin in late 1946. And that event may not have been legal and genuine, if the questionable divorce of Litzi and Kim Philby did not actually take place. That would not have worried the MGB *, but it would have raised severe problems for Kim, since he went through a hasty wedding ceremony with Aileen on September 25. He later vigorously spoke to his interlocutors of the disastrous effects that charges of bigamy would have had on his career. Georg and Litzi were, however, an ‘item’ in the UK between 1942 and 1946, and this report explores aspects of Litzi’s identity during that period, as well as Georg’s very puzzling experiences with the Home Office and Immigration authorities since he first applied for naturalization back in 1936.

(* The NKVD/NKGB was reorganized as the MGB in March 1946: the KGB was not created until 1954. In common with other writers, I sometime use ‘KGB’ as the generic term for the Soviet counter-intelligence service.)

This report is divided into two sections:1) The Phenomenon of Litzy Feabre, and 2) The Honigmann Files.

The Phenomenon of Litzy Feabre


One of the most puzzling phenomena arising from a study of the archives concerning communist activity in Britain at the end of World War II is the alias given to Litzi Philby, the NKVD agent married to Kim Philby. She returned to Britain from France in January 1940, and at some stage afterwards she was referred to in MI5 reports and memoranda as ‘Litzi Feabre’ (sometimes ‘Feavre’), with the first archival evidence dated August 1945. I do not believe anyone has written about this phenomenon: if you perform a Google search on the term, all you will find are two coldspur reports, and Keith Ellison’s e-book, the relevant section of which was spawned by the coverage that I laid out. Keith Ellison and I have been exploring the probable cause and purpose of this nomenclature, and I use this report as a means of describing the debate.

But what are the incidences of Litzi Feabre’s appearance, and where can they be found? I list and reproduce below the entries from the National Archives on Engelbert Broda, Edith Tudor-Hart and Georg Honigmann (including some items closely related that do not mention FEABRE) in chronological order, in The Source Material. Before that, however, a slight detour.

MI5 Organization

In order for the operational dynamics to be understood, I believe that an explanation of the organization of MI5 is essential. Soon after David Petrie became Director-General in June 1941, he moved ‘subversion’ responsibilities (B4) out of B Division (now focused exclusively on German counter-espionage) to F2 in F Division (‘Subversive Activities’), under Roger Hollis. F. B. Aikin-Sneath covered Right Wing and Nationalist Movements in F3, while Roger Fulford was responsible for Pacifist Movements in F4. E Division was responsible for Alien Control, organized primarily around geographical national groups, with the prime section consisting of E5 (German and Austrian Subjects) under J. D. Denniston.

The unit ‘Agents’, a highly secretive section deploying spies to infiltrate potentially hostile organizations such as the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB), sometimes referred to as ‘M Division’ because of its pre-war identity, remained in B Division as B2 under Maxwell Knight. B6 was designated ‘Watchers’, responsible for organizing surveillance through the Metropolitan Police Special Branch: its head was probably John Ottaway. In 1942, Knight’s B2 (‘Agents’) became B5b, reporting through Burt in B5 (‘Investigative Staff’) directly to Guy Liddell – as did B6 – and thus bypassing the management by Deputy Director Dick White, who was responsible for the rest of B Division. The B2 slot was thus vacated. E Division remained ‘Alien Control’, but E5 had been renamed ‘German and Austrian Camp Administration and Intelligence’, still under Denniston. F3 and F4 had been consolidated into a new F3, under T. M. Shelford.

At the end of the war, F2 was designated ‘Communism and Left-Wing Movements’, further split into F2a, under David Clarke, monitoring the activities of the Communist Party, F2b, under Milicent Bagot, studying International Communism, and F2c, under Hugh Shillito, monitoring Soviet espionage. E5 remained the same in E Division (still Alien Control). After Percy Sillitoe replaced Petrie in 1946, with the arrival of the Cold War he instituted some changes, at last addressing the anomalous position of Communist counter-espionage. F Division was absorbed into B Division, and designated B1, still under Roger Hollis. Thereafter, B1a covered ‘Left Wing Subversive Activities’, B1b and B1c were both (mysteriously) designated as responsible for ‘Russian and Communist Espionage Investigation’, while Bagot’s unit became B1d (’International Communism’). B2 came back to life as a separate counter-espionage unit concentrating on a vague assortment of non-Communist non-Russian national groups, split geographically into B2a and B2b. B6 endured as ‘Watchers’.

In November 1947 B1b and B1c were shifted into B2, which dealt exclusively with ‘Russian and Russian Satellite Espionage’, and was divided into B2a (‘Investigation’) and B2b (‘Information’). The former B2a and B2b units were subsumed into a new B1d (‘Residual Counter-Subversive and Counter-Espionage Activities’). Bagot’s B1d became B1b (still ‘International Communism’), but rather incongruously located separately from B2. (In the excerpts below, Bagot is seen as representing both B1b and B1c in the months before the November 1947 re-organization.) B5 and B6 were then integrated into a motley B4 section: B6 became B4d, now under Harry Hunter, while Knight’s B5b (‘Agents and Informers’) became B4c.

Further changes occurred during the next few years. In March 1951, the new head of B1, John Marriott, set up a new structure for his section, with Maxwell Knight’s B4c being incorporated into B1 as B1k. Knight’s section thus came to reside under the same roof as the classical counter-espionage units. B1a (‘British Communist Party/Organization’) sat alongside B1b (‘International Communism’), while several other units within B1 covered multiple aspects of Communist activity in the country. B2 was presumably left untouched, since B2a and B2b appear from the evidence to have endured well into 1952. At some stage, William (‘Jim’) Skardon took over B4d.

The important lesson to be taken from this description of some often incongruous and complex transformations is that the surveillance activities of the Special Branch of the Metropolitan Police were consistently distant from the counter-espionage units within F and B Divisions, and that Maxwell Knight’s ‘Agents’ unit was for most of the period under review both logically and physically removed from those same sections, and not under the same management. Moreover, during the war, uncertainty over how to treat ‘refugees’ from German-speaking countries (were they Nazi sympathizers, Communist subversives, or friendly asylum-seekers?) was reflected in the split between geography and ideology represented by dispersal of responsibilities across B, D and E Divisions.  Knowledge could thus be quite easily compartmentalized, and was not easily exchanged or consolidated. It was quite a chaotic set-up.

(I have relied largely on The Security Service, 1908-1945: The Official History by John Curry, and MI5, the Cold War and the Rule of Law, by K.D. Ewing, John Mahoney, and Andrew Moretta (2020), supplemented briefly by Nigel West’s two histories of MI5 (MI5 and M.I.5. 1945-1972) for this analysis of the flux of MI5’s organization. Christopher Andrew’s authorized history is of little value in this domain. I have the archival material used by Ewing, Mahoney and Moretta on my desktop, but have not yet studied it in detail.)

The Source Material

(A) KV 2/1013 (Tudor-Hart)

Serial 88a, from E5 (L), to F2b through F2a (Miss Ogilvie) 9.9.45 (copied into KV 6/113 at serial 40A, identifying source L [LAMB] as KASPAR [an ‘agent’ or ‘informer’ named Laemmel working for Maxwell Knight])

‘Edith Tudor-Hart has gathered around her an interesting circle of intellectuals, some of whom are members of the Communist Party and some only sympathisers. . . .’

‘E T-H’s circle includes: Lizzy FEAVRE or FEABRE née Kalmann of 96 Wellesley Court, N.W.8. She was born in Vienna and left about 1934 for the U.K. Later she went to France where she lived for about three years and married an Englishman there thus acquiring British nationality. She is separated from her husband and was living with Dr. Georg HONIGMANN whom she recently left owing to a disagreement. She is at present ill and is living somewhere in Fitzjohn’s Avenue, N.W.3. She is a member of the British Communist Party and a shop-steward.’

(B) KV 2/1013 (Tudor-Hart)

Serial 93z, extract from xxxxx report, for T-H, 12.2.46

‘Edith TUDOR HART is said to be in touch with a certain Anna WOLF who is apparently attached to the American diplomatic representative in Vienna, and is a close friend of Lizzy Feavre.’

(C) KV 6/113 (Honigmann)

Serial 46a, from B2B via F2ab and Source KASPAR, 28.5.46

 ‘Capt. ATKINSON, 775 Coy. R.A.M.C, C.M.F., is in correspondence with Lizzy FEAVRE whose friend, Dr. Georg HONIGMANN recently left for Berlin where he joined the Communists (see report of *18.1.46).’

* Does not appear in Minute Sheet or File

(D) KV 2/1014 (Tudor-Hart)

Serial 103a, B2b to F2ab (Smith), 20.6.46

‘Lizzy FEAVRE has been more active during the last few weeks, while Ala LOEW-BEER seems to have retired and Edith TUDOR-HART is engaged mainly in Austrian activities in connection with the ‘FRIENDS of AUSTRIA.’

‘Among Lizzy FEAVRE’s contacts the following are worth mentioning: – Catherine WEIZENBAUM in Paris, prominent in the Austrian World Movement; a certain Lubinsky, also in contact with Edith; Dora WIMBORNE, member of the C.P.G.B.’

(E) KV 6/113 (Honigmann)

Serial 47A, from B2b via F2ab and Source KASPAR, 28.6.46

‘It has been learned that Georg HONIGMANN (see reports of the *18.1.46. and 28.5.46.) had left this country some weeks ago to take up a post with the propaganda section of the British Control Commission in Hamburg. After his arrival in Berlin he seized the first opportunity to disappear and is said to be working for the Russians. He is in communication with his friend Lizzy FEAVRE, and the latter related scornfully that the whole British Security Service and the Police in Germany have been searching for him on the assumption that he had been kidnapped by the Russians.’

* Does not appear in Minute Sheet or File

(F) KV 2/2354 (Broda)

Serial 361Z, B2b to F2ab, 23.7.46 from source KASPAR (LAMB), No. 165, 20.7.46

‘It would appear that E. BRODA and his former collaborators have been withdrawn from intelligence work and are more or less inactive at present. This holds good for Edith TUDOR-HART too and even for Lizzy FEAVRE who seemed to play a somewhat more important part during the last few weeks and still displays much more activity than the others, but she admitted that she had to refrain from such work owing to the fact that her friend, Dr. Georg HONIGMANN, had taken up work in the Russian zone (see report of 26.6.46). She intends to go to Paris on the 5.9.46 and from there on a special party mission to Prague. She also intends to visit DR. HONIGMANN in Berlin. She has already got her passport and visas and also the ticket of the Air France, issued in the name of Lizzy Philly which seems to be her real name, though she has always been called FEAVRE and even received mail under this name.’

(G) KV2/1014 (Tudor-Hart)

Serial 109a, B4c/FCD (F. C. Derbyshire) to B1a (Wethered), 6.11.46

‘Edith TUDOR-HART has resumed contact with J. DESSER and also with Bert BRANDT, a C.P.G.B. member (a close friend of Lizy PHILBY through whom he got acquainted with Edith.)

‘Lizzy PHILBY@FEAVRE (see report of *15.8.46) is in Berlin, working together with Dr. HONIGMANN.’

* Does not appear in Minute Sheet or File

(H) KV 6/113 (Honigmann)

Serial 56A, copy in PF/68261/Y, shown to Col. Vivian by B1 on 7.7.47 on ‘Alice (Lizzy) HONIGMANN @ FEAVRE nee KOLLMAN or KOHLMANN’.

‘Alice HONIGMANN @ LIZZY FEAVRE first came to notice in September 1945 when she was reported to be a member of the British Communist Party and a shop steward, and to belong to Edith TUDOR-HART’s circle of Communists and Communist sympathizers’.

(I) KV 6/113 (Honigmann)

Serial 57a, from Bagot (B1c) to Milne of MI6, 9.7.47

‘Alice Lizzy HONIGMANN, alias Lizzy FEAVRE née KOLLMANN or KOHLMANN, height 5 ft. 5ins., possessing black eyes and brown hair, was born in Vienna on 2nd May, 1910. She first came to notice in September, 1945 when she was reported to be a member of the British Communist Party and a shop steward, and to belong to Edith TUDOR-HART’s circle of Communists and Communist sympathisers.’

‘Alice HONIGMANN first came to England in 1933. She acquired British nationality by marriage, but separated from her husband and lived with Dr. Georg HONIGMANN. The latter left England for Germany in May, 1946. Two months later it was reported that Alice HONIGMANN, although still a keen member of Edith TUDOR-HART’s circle, had had to restrain her activities as HONIGMANN had taken up work in the Russian zone. Her contacts abroad were said to have included Magda GRAN-PIERRE, Budapest, 12, Kovas utcza No. 46, who was reputed to be an important agent in the Hungarian Communist Intelligence network.’

‘Alice HONIGMANN left England at the end of August, 1946, and went from Paris to Prague on 5th September. In November, 1946 it was reported that she was in Berlin working with Dr. HONIGMANN, to whom she has since been married’.

(J) KV 6/113 (Honigmann)

Serial 60a from Bagot (B1b) to MI6, 13.8.47

‘We are now informed that this woman (Alice Lizzy HONIGMANN) is travelling extensively in Europe and that she may visit the U.K. in the near future, using her British passport’.

(K) KV 2/2014 (Tudor-Hart) & Extract at serial 61B in KV 6/113 (Honigmann)

Serial 143b, Martin’s interview with LAMB on 3.10.51

‘LAMB met Lizzy PHILBY spasmodically between 1944 and 1946 in London. His impressions of Lizzy were therefore first hand, but his knowledge of her background was derived almost entirely from Edith TUDOR-HART [redactions]. LAMB did not know when or whence Lizzy came to the UK, nor did he (until a few weeks ago) know anything more about her second husband than that his name was Philby. He still had no idea when or where they were married or when they were divorced. His one firm conviction was that Lizzy lived in a flat in Paris before the war on a fairly lavish scale. When asked how he knew she lived well while in Paris, He remembered Lizzy had a bill for £150 for storage of her furniture in Paris throughout the war, from which he had deduced that her possessions there must have been fairly substantial.’ He first met Lizzy in 1944 when she was living with Dr. Georg Honigmann.

            ‘LAMB said that (until a few weeks ago) he knew nothing of PHILBY except that he and Lizzy were divorced by 1944 (note – this is in fact not true). He had the impression, however, that although divorced they were still on good terms.’ [Document torn] ‘Lizzy knew and visited PHILBY’s second [sic!] wife and two children.’

(L) KV 6/113 (Honigmann)

Serial 63A, B4d source report, 16.10.51

‘Edith TUDOR-HART does not know whether Alice HONIGMANN still has her British nationality, but assumes this may be so as the latter once said that was her intention. Edith TUDOR-HART did not know anything about her pre-war activities in France.’

(M) KV 6/113 (Honigmann)

Serial 62A, from Arthur Martin to MI6 [almost certainly Philby], 18.10.51

“We are anxious to obtain any information which may be available in Germany concerning Mrs. Alice HONIGMANN. She was born in Vienna on 2.5.1910, the daughter of Iszo and Gisela KALLMANN (or KOHLMANN), the former a naturalized German of Hungarian origin. Mrs. HONIGMANN first married in Vienna a man named FRIEDMANN of whom no personal particulars are available. In 1934 she married a British subject with whom she lived in the U.K. until 1937. Between 1937 and 1940 she had an address in Paris. 67 Quai d’Orsay, but she frequently visited the U.K. and in 1940 resumed permanent residence here. She met her present husband in 1942, or thereabouts, and lived with him until they both left the U.K. in 1946.’

            ‘We would be very grateful for any information you can obtain about Mrs. HONIGMANN’s past . . .’

(N) KV 2/4091 (Tudor-Hart)

Serial 166a, report by B2a (A. F. Burbidge), 1.12.51

‘From 1945 onwards, xxxxx began to submit regular reports on TUDOR-HART. She was said to have gathered an interesting circle of intellectuals around her and to have organized discussion groups. The circle, which contained such persons as D. N. PRITT, Lizzy FEAVRE, Arthur WYNN and prominent Austrian communists in the United Kingdom, flourished throughout 1945 and up to mid-1946, when it appears to have declined.’

‘Edith TUDOR-HART was first reported to be in touch with Lizzy FEAVRE in the United Kingdom in September 1945, when Lizzy was described as a member of the TUDOR-HART circle. They may, conceivably have been known to each other before that date, having both previously lived in Vienna. Certainly both were in Vienna together between 1931 and 1933. From the reports received from XXXX in 1945 and 1946, Lizzy FEAVRE and George HONIGMANN (with whom FEAVRE was then living) were members of the TUDOR-HART circle . . . .’

‘The parallel of her marriage to Alexander TUDOR-HART and Lizzy FRIEDMANN’s to PEACH is worth some consideration. In both cases the husband, a British national, went to Vienna to marry a woman with a known communist, and possibly R.I.S. or Comintern, background. These marriages were contracted at a time of political turmoil in Austria, when the R.I.S. and Comintern might well have sought such means to protect their agents.’

‘It is also clear that Edith had post-1940 information about PEACH, since she was able to describe him (albeit somewhat inaccurately) as an ace man in M.I.5. This information may, of course, have come from Lizzy.’

(O) KV 6/113 (Honigmann)

Serial 63B, B2a, 9.1.52

‘Cross reference to B.2. A report of an interview with Edith TUDOR HART ostensibly in connection with George HOENIGMAN, the real subject of the inquiry being Lizzie HOENIGMAN and her former husband the subject of PF 604,584. No information of value was gained as a result of the interview, altho’ Mrs. TUDOR HART admitted that she knew HOENIGMAN.’

(P) KV 6/113 (Honigmann)

Serial 66Z, B4d source report, 27.8.52 

re Alice HONIGMANN formerly FRIEDMANN nee KOHLMANN and mentioning George Honigmann [no mention of PHILBY or FEABRE]

(Q) KV 6/113 (Honigmann)

Serial 69A, B4d report to B2a (Simkins), 13.10.52

‘From the enclosed issue of ‘Democratic German Report’ it will be seen that Dr. Georg HONIGMANN, husband of Alice HONIGMANN, formerly FRIEDMANN née KOHLMANN [i.e. no mention of PHILBY!] . . .is at present deputising for the editor of ‘Democratic German Report’ as John PEET is on holiday.”

            [Alice Honigmann annotated as PF 68261: manuscript also indicates ‘Copy to PF Lizzy PHILBY’]

(R) KV 2/2354 (Broda)

 Serial 495A, 14.10.53 in report by Phillimore of B2b

‘April 1946: a vetting inquiry was received for permission for BRODA to lecture in prisoner-of-war camps but P.I.D. decided not to employ him. BRODA was also reported to be in contact with Lizzi PHILBY amongst others.’ [actually KASPAR said ‘Lizzy PHILLY’]


These few entries present several conundrums.

  1. Time-period: There are two entries from August and September 1945, a cluster in the months between May 1946 and August 1947, and an occasional retrospective reference from the early 1950s. Given that Litzi Philby had left the country in September 1946, apparently for good, one might expect that, after that date, any coyness or secrecy about her identity and alias would have been eliminated in the exchanges that took place between various MI5 sections, or even in messages sent to the companion service, MI6. In addition, while the archival material records the existence of the FEABRE alias only after the war, it does not necessarily mean that it was not used earlier.
  • Comprehensiveness:  Apart from the noted missing items (in ‘C’, ‘E’, and ‘F’), the texts hint at an untold story. If LAMB first met Lizzy FEAVRE in 1944 (‘K’) – probably at the time that she and Tudor-Hart joined the CPGB – why was her appearance not remarked upon, and not recorded, until August 1945 (‘B’)? LAMB had presumably been introduced to her by Edith Tudor-Hart, and, given the circumstances, one would expect her entrance to the scene to be worthy of attention. In ‘N’, Burbidge speculates about a possible acquaintanceship between TUDOR-HART and Litzi PHILBY, and even suggests that TUDOR-HART may have gained her knowledge of Kim PHILBY from Litzi –  well before 1945.
  • Formulation: The name ‘FEABRE’ (or ‘FEAVRE’) is presented in multiple ways. Item ‘G’ refers to her as ‘Lizzy PHILBY@FEAVRE’, which strongly suggests that ‘FEAVRE’ is a cryptonym, the ‘@’ sign being a convention used by MI5 to denote agents working under cover. Elsewhere the name ‘Lizzy Feabre’ is used as a simple denominative, as if it were her only name (e.g. ‘B’, ‘C’, ‘D’, ‘E’).  And then it sometimes appears as one of her many names, as in ‘I’, ‘Alice Lizzy HONIGMANN, alias Lizzy FEAVRE née KOLLMANN or KOHLMANN’, where it is undeniably presented as an assumed, not a real, name.
  • Authenticity: The brief biography introduced in ‘B’ (and bizarrely echoed in ‘M’) is clearly bogus. Senior officers in MI5 surely knew when, and to whom, Litzi had been married, and yet a spurious story about her marrying an Englishman in France (with the very un-English surname of ‘FEABRE’) is allowed to flourish. Extraordinarily, Arthur Martin repeats this myth as late as October 1951, in his memorandum to MI6 (‘L’), where he feigns to admit that he does not know that Lizzy had once been married to his addressee, but also omits to record the name of the Englishman whom Litzi had married in France. (It should be borne in mind that Martin had been recruited to MI5 from the Radio Security Service on Kim Philby’s recommendation, so reading between the lines may be appropriate here.)
  • Cognition: Officers in various sections of MI5 display an unbelievable level of cognitive dissonance. For example, why, if Derbyshire in B4c (‘G’) can openly equate Lizzy FEAVRE with Lizzy Philby in the space of one memorandum in November 1946, how is it that Bagot in B1c fails to record the equivalence a few months later (‘I’)? Why would the report by Burbidge (‘N’) fail to connect directly the two identities of Lizzy Feavre and Lizzy Philby?
  • Integrity: The evidence on FEABRE comes almost exclusively from MI5’s agent LAMB, also known as KASPAR, who had inveigled himself into Edith Tudor-Hart’s confidence. He submitted reports to B2, but he would not have had access to MI5’s intelligence gained from telephone or postal surveillance – something that was imposed on Tudor-Hart throughout the war. LAMB is nevertheless reported as describing mail that Litzi has received under her alias: no other evidence of that appears in the archive. Moreover, his apparent knowledge of her correspondence (acquisition of travel tickets, bills from Paris) cannot be explained. It suggests that MI5 officers were perhaps ascribing intelligence gained through telephone and mail interception (about which they might have been embarrassed) to agents who had managed to get close to their targets, and they even inserted such facts into transcripts of an interview (‘F’ & ‘K’).
  • Contradictions:  The statements of LAMB (massaged, no doubt, by his handlers) are frequently contradictory. He originally reported (‘B’) that Litzi had married a man called Feavre in France, but in his interview by Martin (‘K’) he states that ‘he did not know when or whence Lizzy came to the UK, nor did he (until a few weeks ago) know anything more about her second husband than that his name was Philby. He still had no idea when or where they were married or when they were divorced.’ Yet he soon after claims they were divorced in 1944 (an assertion that Philby had already reinforced in 1943, according to Ian Milne’s memoir). In ‘F’ he is reported as saying that Litzi had already got her passport and visas and also the ticket of the Air France, issued in the name of Lizzy Philly [sic]. He adds: ‘. . . which seems to be her real name, though she has always been called FEAVRE and even received mail under this name.’ The use of ‘always’ is ambiguous: on the one hand, it could mean ‘for the longest time’, or on the other, ‘exclusively’, ‘without exception’. Irrespective of which meaning was intended, it is not clear how LAMB could make that claim, since he did not have complete access to all her movements. He was surely not in a position to see her mail, and, in any case, was such mail addressed to FEAVRE or FEABRE? One would expect only one version of the name to be used in correspondence. Maybe Tudor-Hart informed him, but it sounds as if this intelligence came from elsewhere.
  • Deception: In whatever way the evidence is examined, it is clear that a large amount of information is being withheld, or misinformation is being distributed, or that deception (namely the dissemination of disinformation) is being carried out. Either the scribes are in ignorance or misinformed (but then why do their recipients or supervisors not correct them?), or they have been instructed to conceal or distort the truth, or chaos exists to the extent that no one really knows what is the real identity of the person known as FEABRE. For example, why would a really sharp and experienced officer such as Bagot conceal the relationship with PHILBY when she writes (in ‘I’) about Litzy KOHLMANN/FEABRE/HONIGMANN? Why would Litzy’s status as sometime wife of PHILBY be overlooked in ‘Q’?

One highly significant aspect of the fragments, however, is the process of ‘extracting’ or ‘copying’ to other Personal Files. In almost every incidence where the name ‘FEABRE’ or ‘FEAVRE’ appears in a document, a handwritten annotation indicates that the item is to be copied to the PHILBY Personal File (PF 68261), sometimes to the ‘Y’ (Confidential’) folder. This activity strongly suggests that, at the time an original memorandum, letter, or report was written, when it was filed in its native location, the item was recorded in the multiple corresponding files belonging to the persons referenced in it [see extracts from KV 2/1013 below].

KV 2/1013, serial 68a (page 1)
KV 2/1013, serial 68a (page 2)

Why can I be confident that these entries were made at the same time? From a procedural standpoint, it would have been most efficient to populate the relevant files at the time of the event: a later trawl through the archives to discover necessary duplications would have been not only a time-wasting process, but would mean that the files would unavoidably have been out-of-date for a while. Moreover, the annotations look as if they have been made in the same script and ink-colour as other comments. On the figure above, the date ‘16 SEP 1945’ boldly indicates the date the report entered the archive.

Thus it is safe to conclude that the equivalence of Lizzy Feabre and Litzi Philby was known – at least to senior officers, and to the custodian of the Registry – at the time each entry concerning FEABRE/FEAVRE was made. In that case, one has to consider, again, why this fact was not generally known among the junior officers.

One Theory

As readers will recall, I recently presented the hypothesis that Kim and Litzi Philby had approached MI6 (and, vicariously, MI5) in the guise of reformed characters who, in the wake of the Nazi-Soviet pact, wanted to assist the services in countering Soviet subversion. The alternative theory (and the one that has persevered in the literature) is that the Philbys were working exclusively for the NKVD, and successfully concealed their activities from MI5 and MI6. This hypothesis, however, is unable to accommodate a number of startling events, from Kim’s arrangements to bring Litzi home from France at the end of 1939 with the support of the Home Office, through the failure to explore the hints from Krivitsky and the lax surveillance of Litzi during the war when she bore two identities, to the reluctance to interrogate her during the summer of 1946 after Honigmann had absquatulated from a position with the Control Commission in Germany to join the Communists in East Berlin.

My research colleague Keith Ellison is not [yet?] convinced of my thesis, although he has failed to advance any rival theory that can address the paradoxes and enigmas of the archival record. As an example of his scepticism, he has challenged my interim conclusion that ‘FEABRE’ was a (maybe accidental) nomenclature exploited by MI5 to disguise its imagined manipulation of Litzi Philby, and suggests that it was Litzi herself who constructed her alias as a way of disguising her identity from her Communist associates – apart, of course, from her close friend Edith Tudor-Hart. His argument runs (as I understand it) as follows:

Kim Philby did not have MI6 looking over his shoulder in late 1939 when he was helping Litzi in and out of the country, and thus the Secret Intelligence Service would not have known of her existence and movements. Litzi needed to protect the good name and reputation of Kim when she became involved in Communist Party (CP) work in the UK, and thus adopted the alias. She appears (to Ellison) to have been a member of the British CP acting as a liaison to the Austrian CP represented by Edith Tudor-Hart. Since there is no mention in MI5 files of Feabre until September 1945, and no evidence of a link between Feabre and Philby until the report from KASPAR in 1946, it is safe to assume that this was a recent discovery by the Security Service. KASPAR’s report confirms that the communists that she met (apart from Tudor-Hart) all knew her as Feabre, not Philby. The first time that she came to the notice of MI6 in her own right is when she applied for a job in 1943, and used Kim Philby as a referee. In August 1946, Philby approached his boss, Valentine Vivian, to let him know he wanted a divorce: this was the first time that Vivian had heard of Philby’s marriage to a Communist, and he requested a ‘trace’ from MI5. After the war, MI5 exploited Litzi’s alias when they corresponded with external organisations (primarily MI6), although the reason for that strategy is obscure. Likewise, when MI5 corresponded with junior staff in MI6, yet failed to make clear that Feabre and Philby were the same person, they were trying to perform some unexplained cover-up ‘for the record’.

I see several problems with this hypothesis, namely:

  1. My first instincts were to imagine that, during the late 1930s, Litzi’s movements across Europe had probably been closely monitored by MI5, abetted by MI6, which was responsible for surveillance activity on foreign territory. After all, that is what happened to multiple other suspected Communist subversives, and Helenus Milmo’s report on the Philby interrogations strongly indicates such a process. Yet I concede that Keith Ellison is probably correct when he asserts that Milmo’s conclusions may have been derived exclusively from an inspection of Litzi’s passport. That theory raises many more questions, however: Milmo’s project was rushed, and he had no opportunity or time to initiate fresh investigations into Litzi’s past. Thus, if MI5 had indeed acquired Litzi’s old passport in a project between the disappearance of Burgess and Maclean and the presentation of files to Milmo, why did Dick White not exploit the results in his November report? (This is a complex but very important issue, and I plan to analyze it in more detail in a future coldspur bulletin.)
  • Valentine Vivian’s claim about his ignorance about Litzi’s past must be utterly phony. He entrusted his recall of events from August 1946 to Seale and McConville, the biographers of Philby, shortly before he died, but he was surely trying to whitewash his past. He presented himself as Philby’s boss at the time. No independent verification of his assertions is possible, and his attempt to present himself as an ingénu in the whole Litzi Philby saga is simply feeble. What is more, Philby himself supplied information to his Moscow bosses that Vivian had been moved aside to his staff Security position in March of 1946, information that can be confirmed from other sources. Vivian was no longer Philby’s boss in August 1946, and John Easton (to whom Philby now reported) would not have looked kindly on Philby’s bypassing the chain of command.
  • There would have been nothing more obvious to the authorities that Litzi was involved in surreptitious behaviour than an attempt by her to create a new identity. (She would not have dared assume any such role without NKVD’s approval.) Moreover, if she was working exclusively as an agent for the NKVD, the first thing that she would have been instructed to do was to avoid the CPGB. The NKVD knew it was bugged, and the whole point of Moscow-controlled subversive operations was to have them undertaken by non-party agents. It is probable that Litzi joined the CPGB only towards the end of the war (probably in late 1944), as the archive suggests, but, if Litzi seriously wanted to ‘protect the good name and reputation of Kim’ under orders from Moscow, she would have stayed firmly away from the Party.
  • Philby joined MI6 only in 1941, and did not regain the confidence of his Moscow masters until 1944. Before then he was the subsidiary figure to Litzi. Moscow was in no way embarrassed or threatened by having their failed agent Kim Philby associated with Litzi, and even believed that her marriage to him needed to be protected in order for her to maintain residential status.
  • If Litzi had been seen to mix in communist circles at all, and presented herself as ‘Litzi Feabre’, the interest of MI5 would have been perked immediately. She visited the Bentinck Street apartment rented from Lord Rothschild by Blunt and Burgess, and showed her marital status with Kim quite openly. It appears that they were not uncomfortable about her new identity. And she confidently approached her husband for a reference for a job in 1943, not hiding under any spurious alias. Yet a fresh ‘legend’ was suddenly attached to her. The MI5 agent LAMB reported that Litzi had arrived in the UK in 1934, and then moved to France, where she married an Englishman, consequently gaining British citizenship. Apart from the anomaly that an Englishman would be unlikely to bear the surname ‘Feabre’, if Litzi presented this as fact, she would have risked being imprisoned for bigamy, or being deported. If she had been viewed by MI5 as a potentially dangerous Communist agent, presenting a false biography would have immediately gained MI5’s attention. That this did not happen suggests that she was not the source of the story.
  • It would be utterly irresponsible for anyone in MI5, knowing that Litzi’s cover as ‘Feabre’ was bogus and criminal, to pretend that it was not so, and to decide to exploit that subterfuge to deceive their contacts in MI6 by disguising her real identity. LAMB’s note of July 20, 1946 indicates that he then believed that her real name was ‘PHILLY’ (sic), but, up until then, he had not expressed any uncertainty about her name of ‘Feavre’.
  • In the same memorandum, LAMB claimed that Litzi had ‘always’ been called ‘Feavre’, which suggests a far more long-standing arrangement, or a degree of knowledge that he could not possibly claim. While he stated that he had become acquainted with her only in 1944, that assertion either indicates a closer and more enduring awareness of Litzi’s history than is referred to in the archival material, or perhaps reveals what he had been told by others, conceivably Edith Tudor-Hart, but more probably MI5 officers. Moreover, it would hardly make sense for Litzi to live openly as Mrs. Philby for five years, before deciding to change her name.
  • LAMB mentions mail that Lizzy has received under her alias, but no other evidence of that appears in the archive. LAMB, as an agent of MI5, would not have been privy to warrants intercepting mail, and his apparent knowledge of her correspondence, including the acquisition of travel tickets, cannot be explained. This would appear to be an example of MI5’s mis-attributing the acquisition of intelligence through clandestine means such as Post Office Warrants by means of indications that human agents in contact with targets are the source.
  • This narrative cannot explain the extraordinary events of the summer of 1946. Georg Honigmann absconded at the end of May: his relationship with Litzi was well-known. If Litzi had been a hostile Soviet agent, she would immediately have been interrogated, and restrictions placed on her travel. The archives show signs of panic on the part of MI5, yet they never take any steps to re-inspect Honigmann’s curriculum vitae, or explore the connections that Honigmann might have had with other subversive elements. Instead the major activity in this scenario appears to be a contrived negotiation between Kim Philby and Valentine Vivian to organize his divorce from Litzi.

An Alternative Scenario

I believe the sequence of events was more on the following lines:

In September 1939, Kim Philby achieved a deal with MI6/MI5 whereby, since he and Litzi had renounced any sympathies for the Soviet Union after the signing of the Nazi-Soviet pact, he and his wife would work for British interests. While it took Kim a while to be recruited by any intelligence service, Litzi was free to start her infiltration of Communist organizations in Britain, including the Austrian Council run by Eva Kolmer and the CPGB. She would have confided the subterfuge to her friend of long standing, Edith Tudor-Hart, who introduced her to her contacts, including her lover Engelbert Broda, the chairman of the Austrian Communist Party in exile. No doubt, in the spirit of conspiratsia, Litzi’s true name had to be concealed from some less reliable colleagues, and her surname may not have been revealed. Security was tight: Tudor-Hart withheld Broda’s address and telephone-number from other members of the group.

Litzi was active while Kim was trying to make his mark and reputation. She was probably responsible for the long report on the Austrian Council of March 1941 (i.e. before Operation Barbarossa), which was presented in Tudor-Hart’s file anonymously, and she later acted as a courier for Broda, carrying secrets on atomic weapons research. She assumed herself safe, as she visited Lord Rothschild’s apartments at Bentinck Street, accompanied by her husband. But, at some stage, her presence was noted by outsiders, such as the MI5 agent Josef Laemmel (KASPAR/LAMB), and hints to her identity appeared.

According to KASPAR, Litzi did not join the CPGB until about August 1944. Whether this came from pressure by MI5, or an order from the NKVD, is not clear. Even if she had joined earlier, the NKVD would have had to condone the move in the knowledge that she was pretending to be an MI5 snooper. After all, MI5 might have started to make demands on her to deliver more, but she surely would not have dared to disobey Moscow. If she did adopt the ‘FEABRE’ alias at this time (unwittingly or not), it would have been very convenient for MI5 to have her real name disguised, even though it may have happened by accident. There are other aspects of the CPGB connection that may be important. In 1943 Dave Springhall had brought the CPGB into disrepute with Moscow because of the Desmond Uren espionage business, and the NKVD may have wanted to purge the organization. They knew the HQ was bugged, from what Blunt told them. Moreover, Kim Philby had recently been restored to better favour after the doubts of Modrzhinskaya had been dispelled, and Litzi’s project with Broda had been completed. Thus the shift of emphasis moved from Litzi to Kim. The NKVD could not withdraw Litzi from activities altogether, as that would provoke suspicion from MI5.

If MI5, under the delusion that they were in control of Litzi Philby, suddenly heard that she was presenting herself as ‘Litzy Feabre’, they would have asked themselves (and her) why that was. On the other hand, if they believed that she were possibly a hostile element (i.e. a true subversive not under their control), they could have arraigned her for her fable of marrying an Englishman in France, which would mean that she had entered the country under false pretences. Yet when she introduced herself under her real name for the job application in 1943, they were not taken aback by the news at all. Edith Tudor-Hart surely did not imagine that the alias and back-up story would come to the notice of MI5, but Litzi clearly did.

Why FEABRE/FEAVRE? It sounds vaguely French, which might point to her recent residence in France, although that does not tally with the claim that she had married an Englishman there. Why would she (or anyone else) come up with such a strange name? The form is unusual: one might expect an acute accent on the first ‘e’. What is its origin? Is it related to the more familiar French name ‘Lefèvre’, meaning ‘Smith’ (cf. homo faber) – a rather feeble stab at a plausible but not easily traceable heritage? I note that the French traitor in SOE at the time, Henri Déricourt, owned the alias ‘Henri Fabre’ until he became too conspicuous by it, and it was dropped. And the name FEABRE or FEAVRE does not appear to have existed in any register from that period.

Alternatively, was it a phonetic representation of a name that the (Austrian) witness heard – even a distortion of ‘PHILBY’? The fact that it appears in two spellings suggests it might have had that origin, and the duplication is reinforced in the archives. Senior MI5 officers may have been pleased with the fact that there was apparent confusion over her name, even though they knew perfectly well who she was. Every entry to the archives of Tudor-Hart, Honigmann and Broda that mentioned FEABRE/FEAVRE was routinely copied to the PHILBY file. The fact that some experienced MI5 officers (e.g. Bagot, Martin) appeared to go along with the deception in rather a clumsy fashion, while other junior officers (e.g. Derbyshire and Burbidge) seemed to be genuinely in the dark, suggests that control over the archives was strictly administered, and that not everyone was authorized to inspect the files.

Thus when Litzi’s lover, Georg Honigmann, having been approved in April 1946 for a propaganda position with the Control Commission in Germany, decamped to the Soviet Sector, MI5 must have reacted with alarm. At first suspecting that Honigmann may have been kidnapped (as was revealed by Litzi herself, who must still have been close to her ‘handlers’ in MI5), they had to face a stark reality. They had believed that they had been controlling her and Kim, but had to face the possibility that they had made a serious misjudgment. Yet, for two more months, they apparently did nothing. If they interviewed Litzi about her intentions, there is no record of it, and Litzi left the UK for Paris, probably in late August, and moved on to Prague on September 5, taking the ashes of FEABRE with her. We can deduce from the archive that no attempt had been made to prevent her gaining a passport and visa. Perhaps by then MI5 had concluded that having her dumped behind the Iron Curtain was the best outcome, in the same manner that MI6 decided upon the disposition of her second husband seventeen years later.

(A close inspection of the timeline shows how logistically difficult it would have been for Kim and Litzi to have gained their divorce. Since Litzi left Paris for Prague on September 5, it is unlikely that she would have returned to the French capital by September 18, the date on which  – according to Ben Macintyre – Kim found her there, and arranged the divorce, just one week before Kim’s ‘marriage’ to Aileen in London on September 25.)

It is probable that the NKVD undertook a rigorous interrogation of Honigmann in order to verify the loyalties of his mistress, and those of her husband. Indeed, that might have been the prime purpose of his ‘kidnapping’. The doubts about the possible manipulation of Philby (and his Cambridge cohorts) by British Intelligence, which had occupied Moscow minds so earnestly in 1944, had possibly never been completely quashed. The fact that they did not mind drawing attention to Honigmann’s abscondment suggests that they were at that stage quite prepared to sacrifice Kim and Litzi, and that Honigmann might even have been the biggest fish in this particular pool. Having been assured by Honigmann of the Philbys’ reliability, they then gave the go-ahead for the divorce, brought Litzi ‘home’ (since her role was complete), and allowed Kim to pursue his career working for the KGB.

The shock of recognition that the service had been betrayed might explain the curious set of messages sent soon after by Mitchell, Bagot and Martin to MI6. Litzi was from the Philby camp, and her absconding to the Communists must have steeled the collective disgust of MI5 officers for their ‘colleague’ in the Secret Intelligence Service. Thus some acidly disguised pro forma requests concerning Litzi, and MI6’s familiarity with her, could serve both as the correct protocol for due diligence, while also causing the maximum amount of embarrassment to their rival.

The Honigmann Files


I explained the story behind the eventual release of HO 382/255 in my bulletin last month (see ).  My first reaction on learning that a separate file on Honigmann had been created (and retained) was: ‘Why had it been considered necessary or desirable?’, since KV 6/113 contains information about Honigmann’s 1936 application for naturalization. But I quickly realized, since this was a Home Office Aliens file, H 5439, that there may well have been circumstances that MI5 (responsible for maintaining the KV series) was not aware of, and that other political considerations may have come into play. KV 6/113 dips fairly regularly into the HO file on Honigmann. (This account below corrects some minor errors from my previous analysis.)

KV 6/113

Since the bulk of HO 382/255 concerns the naturalization request, it is worth recapping what is covered in KV 6/113. The file starts with Honigmann’s registration as an alien on his arrival on February 23, 1931 at Harwich, coming from the Hook of Holland. (His Wikipedia entry postdates his arrival to 1933, perhaps to suggest that he was a victim of Hitlerism.) At some stage he must have married his wife, Ruth née Bachert, as she appears in an extract from the Aliens file H 5439. (The exact date is recorded later, qv. infra.) The next record is a request to the Special Branch for any information on Honigmann, dated August 15, 1936, as the subject had applied for Certificates of Naturalization on April 18 of that year. The application was refused on July 24, 1937. Several months later, on March 29, 1938, an intervention by Kenneth de Courcy is noted: DeCourcy writes personally to Sir Samuel Hoare, the Home Secretary, stating that Honigmann wishes to ‘go to the Far East to continue his journalistic career’, and, since he has no passport, needs a document of identity, something that was granted exactly four months later.

Exactly where Honigmann went next is obscure – probably not the Far East. On December 17, 1938, he returned to Dover, on his way to see Dr. Nello Zezi, as ‘correspondent of Czech newspapers’. Helpfully, he bore introductory letters from the Foreign Office in Prague. Apparently, Exchange Telegraph wanted to employ him as a journalist for their new service to continental countries. MI5 recorded the request on February 17, 1939, and declared it had no ‘obs.’ (presumably ‘objections’). Honigmann’s career seemed to be flourishing. On April 13, 1939, the BBC sent in his name to MI5 as one to be ‘vetted’.

Soon afterwards, events took a rather bizarre turn. On behalf of an outfit called Moenckemeyer Press Photos in New York, Honigmann wrote on April 14 to the War Office requesting ‘photographs relating to British Rearmament, Recruiting W.A.T.S. etc. for publication in American newspapers and periodicals’, which caused an alarmed Public Relations Officer to contact MI5 to determine what they knew about Honigmann and this relationship. H. H. Bacon replied on April 27, in some confusion, since he believed that MI5 had first taken an interest in Honigmann when he arrived in 1939 (to which someone annotated ‘31’), adding that Honigmann’s 1936 request for naturalization had been refused by the Home Office. Yet, soon after, on August 21, Honigmann again applied for naturalization, and another request to the Special Branch for information on him was made. The result came back: ‘Nothing recorded against’.

This was not a suitable time for German nationals (even if they had had their native passport renewal declined) to be applying for British naturalization, and his application was suspended. The status and presumed loyalties of all German exiles were inspected. While MI5 reported ‘no objections’ on November 9, Honigmann appeared before a tribunal on December 22, but was nevertheless cleared, his bona fides clearly seen as acceptable. Indeed, he was mentioned on a list of persons to be vetted for employment at the Press and Censorship Bureau (of the Ministry of Information, presumably) on January 29, 1940, and he was granted exemption from internment on March 15, 1940.

When Churchill took over from Chamberlain in May 1940, the fears about a ‘Fifth Column’ were mistakenly and artificially intensified, and internment was applied much more rigorously. “Collar the lot” became the watchword, and most Germans and Austrians fell into Category A * as the tribunals met. Honigmann had to face a firmer test on July 19, and was consequently interned on the Isle of Man, and eventually sent to Canada. A later extract from his Home Office file, dated August 7, 1940, declares that a Metropolitan Police report determined his fate: “ . . .as a journalist he would know all the channels for sending information abroad; he had been refused naturalization and did not favourably impress the Chairman.” A minute by MI5’s H.K.D.R. to the Home Office runs as follows:

            We have nothing recorded against this alien, but observe that his application for naturalization was refused in 1937. Further, he was placed in Category “B” by the Tribunal and it may therefore be assumed that he did not make a good impression upon it.

Recent events have presumably restricted the opportunities for propaganda in the Balkans, and the case as it stands at present hardly seems to us to warrant the release of a Category “B” enemy alien.

[* “Upon the declaration of war on 3 September 1939, some 70,000 UK resident Germans and Austrians became classed as enemy aliens. By 28 September, the Aliens Department of the Home Office had set up internment tribunals throughout the country headed by government officials and local representatives, to examine every UK registered enemy alien over the age of 16 (since 1914 all aliens over the age of 16 had needed to register their details at local police offices, a requirement of the 1914 Aliens Registration Act (4 & 5 Geo. V c.12). The object was to divide the aliens into three categories: Category A, to be interned; Category B, to be exempt from internment but subject to the restrictions decreed by the Special Order; and Category C, to be exempt from both internment and restrictions.” from the National Archives website.]

There follows a fascinating report, extracted partly as summaries from the Home Office file, including a detailed timeline of Honigmann’s career since applying for naturalization. It states that he married Ruth at Frankfurt-am-Main on December 12, 1932, and lists items of correspondence that were exchanged after the Naturalization Application was refused. (A Special Branch report of March 1944 indicates that the couple was granted a divorce on November 23, 1942.) The items include summaries of two letters sent by Sir Charles Peake on behalf of Exchange Telegraph, the latter (dated June 7, 1940) claiming that Honigmann ‘is doing important work in the national interest for the company’, and the scribe notes that ‘Sir Charles has heard good reports of him’.

The Home Office appears to be performing some of MI5’s work for them, since the final long paragraph (‘FROM MINUTES’) casts doubt on the indispensability of Honigmann, indicating that he now works for Reuter’s, and explains:

REUTER, working in close co-operation with Ministry of Information, have a very complete service, although I understand they have thought it wise to discharge a number of ‘C’ Class aliens formerly in their employ. HONIGMANN is ‘B’ Class, and on that account alone it would be difficult to justify his release. I understand from a confidential source that this application emanates from a certain SMOLLETT, a naturalized British subject, formerly SMOLKA of Austro-Czech origin. This man was formerly employed by EXCHANGE TELEGRAPH CO., and has succeeded in obtaining a post in Ministry of Information. He was at one time in the service of the ‘Times’, but was dismissed.

The anonymous author then hands over the file to MI5 for follow-up.

Questions over Honigmann’s reliability after his internment (‘arrest’) triggered a search by Special Branch of his premises, a sub-let in Russell Court in Woburn Place, W.C.1., and a few of the items retrieved appear in the file. Among some copies of amateurishly created letters sent to the Home Office pleading his case is a letter dated October 31, 1939, addressed to the Under-Secretary of State. It challenges the restrictions placed up on him by the tribunal of October 19, and is of interest because it lists a diverse set of referees willing to speak on his behalf, including Sir Wilfred King (Chairman and Managing Director of the Exchange Telegraph), Count Huyn (late Press Attaché of the Austrian Legation, c/o British Broadcasting Corp.), Brigadier Lawson (General Manager, The Daily Telegraph), J. Rea Price (City Editor, The Star), and H. P. Smollett (c/o Ministry of Information).

As early as August 20, 1940, a person named H. H. Prestige suggested that Honigmann should be released under category 6, and a Home Office minute of September 12, recorded that the Ministry of Information ‘urgently require this man’. Honigmann was eventually released from internment in Canada, and arrived back in the UK on 11 January 1941, yet still under restrictions with a ‘C’ classification. It took more than a year for Peter de Mendelssohn of the Exchange Telegraph (who features importantly in later events) to write to J. H. Brebner, the Director of the News Division at the Ministry of Information, to request his help in having these restrictions removed. Brebner wrote to the Home Office; the Home Office contacted MI5; and on March 20, 1942, F.B. Aikin-Sneath of E2b (formerly head of F3, I note) reported that the section had no adverse record of Honigman – or any of the other three journalists listed. Another extract from the Home Office file states that Honigmann was originally refused naturalization (in 1937) because ‘not enough evidence of identifying himself with this country and had married a German wife in 1932’ – hardly a convincing and copper-bottomed reason, one might think. Meanwhile, an informer had let MI5 know that Ruth had expressed un-British opinions, but on April 5 G. G. Hardie of E5 dismissed the allegation, and expressed confidence in both Honigmanns.

Yet the doubts continued. A spy in the German League of Culture (‘M.D.’) reported to E7(S) in MI5 of questionable alliances by Georg. A report dated June 8, 1942, runs as follows:

            . . . . . HONIGMANN, a journalist with the EXCHANGE [TELEGRAPH] and Dr. Jan PETERSEN, also believed to be employed by the same press bureau both play a very important part in the Kulturbund. Although they are not members of the Communist (KPD) they take part in certain meetings of the Party. Their connections with British circles are very valuable to the Party. Apart from this they provide the “Inside Germany” office with very important news items. They both belong to the propaganda department of the Kulturbund and look after its archives. At the moment they are in the process of building up the newly created Press Department of the Kulturbund. Ilse KRONER, former member of the KJVD who now has an important job in the “Inside Germany” office works in the closest collaboration with them.

This revelation piqued the interest of a certain ‘W.A.Y.’ (in fact W. A. Younger) in B2, who accordingly on July 7 wrote to Milicent Bagot in F2b, letting her know that the Party was concerned about Honigmann’s ‘attachment to Communism coming out in the open’, and seeking her opinion on the subject. KASPAR reported on July 24 that Honigmann had been accepted as a member of the communist National Group of German Trade Unionists, and a further memo on August 10, based on a Special Branch report, indicated that Honigmann had joined the “Kader Organisation” and was receiving training in Red Guard techniques (from 1917) in order to prepare for the revolution after Hitler’s fall from power. This was a serious development.

Bagot detected an anomaly, however. On September 20 she made a request to E5 for any information that KASPAR could provide on Honigmann, ‘as it seems curious that a man who has been backed in the past by Kenneth de Courcy should now be described as a Communist and a member of the Cadre Organisation set up by the Central Committee of the German Communist Party here’. (De Courcy was a notorious right-winger who caused constant trouble to the authorities when distributing his Intelligence Digest, as is shown in Guy Liddell’s Diaries.) Bagot had clearly picked up the fact of de Courcy’s earnest support of Honigmann back in 1938 (qv. supra). Perhaps because of this unlikely alliance, in a memorandum of October 25, Bagot expressed her scepticism of the danger, and judged that Honigmann’s status had been exaggerated. By then, however, the Home Office had supplied her with further items from its Aliens file.

Kenneth de Courcy

A memorandum (from the Home Office) to the Special Branch, dated September 24, points out that, contrary to the statement made by de Courcy, Honigmann almost certainly never went to the Far East. It requested the Branch to acquire further information about the members and Headquarters of the Cadre. On October 1, E5, using intelligence gained from LAMB, wrote to Bagot in confident tones:

            There can be no doubt that this man belonged to the German Communist Party for many years. He comes from a bourgeois family, and never took part in political activities in Germany, where, as here, he adopted a bourgeois camouflage. It is only during the last few months that he came into the foreground in the press section of the Kulturbund, in which he has developed considerable activity.

This assessment would appear to grant the rather timid and indecisive Honigmann a deviousness and guile that he probably did not possess. Moreover, I recall that it was the same LAMB who told Martin that he did not believe that Honigmann had any firm political views until he met Litzi. On the other hand, it was possible that Honigmann had been indoctrinated by the communist agitator Leopold Hornik while in internment in Canada, and he kept up correspondence with him after his (Honigmann’s) release – letters that were intercepted by the Post Office and Special Branch. Nevertheless, Bagot was concerned, and wrote a memorandum to Younger (now mysteriously identified as ‘M.S./London/WAY/C’), drawing his attention to the recent Special Branch report, and the fact that Younger’s testimony of July 7 had not been included there.

Thereafter, the Home Office and MI5 appear to be tracking each other’s investigations, and extracting each other’s reports into their files. Rather surprisingly, an E5 memorandum relays that LAMB had now established that Dr. Honigmann of the Kulturbund is the same person as Dr George [sic] Friedrich Honigmann who appears in MI5 files. This is represented in Home Office files as coming from source ‘Hi’, and is in turn extracted by MI5. ‘Hi’ (namely LAMB) had reported that, at the Annual General Meeting of the Kulturbund, a new committee was elected, under the administration of three returning officers, the notorious Jűrgen Kuczynski (brother of SONIA), Louis Holzinger, and Alfred Ungar, and that Dr. Hoenigmann (sic) was elected as a London delegate.

The archive then becomes more fragmented. On July 7, 1943, Honigman is reported to be a member of the “Advanced Progressive” Group of the KPD, and thus a hard-liner, even while he is still working at the Ministry of Information. By August 23, he has joined the staff of the Freie Tribűne, as E5 reports to Bagot (F2b). On November 16, Miss Wendy Ogilvie in F2a is told that Honigmann will soon be leaving the Exchange Telegraph for a job with Reuters, as Co-ordinator of Foreign Services. In April 1944, Special Branch issues a dossier that sums up Honigman’s career (including the date of his divorce), and includes the fact on September 9, 1943, he had sent a telegram of support to Erich Weinert, the chairman of the National Committee of Free Germans in Moscow. A further revelation from KASPAR (aka LAMB) on November 4, 1944, states that Ruth Honigmann is ‘largely in sympathy with Communist aims’, but was not so active politically as her former husband.

This section of the file concludes with Honigmann’s military permit to travel (on a one-way ticket) to Hamburg at the request of the Control Commission. A note from a Colonel J. H. Adam (probably attached to the Home Office) to the Intelligence Staff, dated May 7, 1946, notifies the addressee (Lt.-Col. A. W. McMurray) of the permit, but adds:

            Our records show that he has belonged to the German Communist Party for many years, though it is only recently that he came to the foreground in the Press Section of the Kulturbund, in which he has developed considerable activity. Prior to this he kept Communist activities under close cover.

It would appear to constitute a very equivocal endorsement of such an appointment. McMurray should have been alarmed. On May 10, B. H. Smith of F2ab wrote a letter to Kim Philby (in this case clearly named at the foot of the letter, including his O.B.E.) reproducing for him Honigmann’s bio, and letting him know that, even though Honigmann was not actually employed by the Control Commission, he would be working in the Hamburg area. No doubt Litzi had already told Philby of this assignment. As the ‘Sources’ above confirm, Honigmann had by the end of the month joined the Communists in Berlin.


This detailed study provoked multiple reactions and questions in my mind, which I group in four major sectors: Chaotic Surveillance, Honigmann’s Ideology, Relationships, and Selection by the Control Commission.

Chaotic Surveillance:

What strikes me as extraordinary – almost unforgiveable – is the shambles of the surveillance of Honigmann, and the failure to analyze the evidence properly. Apart from the fact that the Home Office appears to be carrying on its own investigations, the attention to Honigmann is scattered all over the map of MI5. Memoranda are passed around the divisions, speculative profiles are created, claims and assertions are lazily echoed, but no one wants to own the problem. It is not for lack of resources, since vast amounts of time were obviously spent in tracking Honigmann’s movements, but not a single officer has the perspicacity and energy to try to make sense of it all, and to sort out the wheat from the chaff. Even Milicent Bagot, normally the shrewdest of operatives, is diffident, perhaps unsettled by the de Courcy endorsement.

Thus all manner of signals are missed or underestimated: the funding of foreign travel in the 1930s, the phony visit to the Far East, the employment by the Exchange Telegraph, the communications with Hornik, the support from Smolka/Smollett, the associations with Communist groups, including Edith Tudor-Hart’s circle, the appointment to the Kulturbund, the connection with Jűrgen Kuczynski (at a time when Honigmann is working for the Ministry of Information), the slowness of reconciling two ‘Honigmanns’, the Cadre training for violent insurrections, the telegram of support to the ‘Free Germans’ in Moscow. All this is complicated by the contradictory testimony of KASPAR/LAMB, who cannot be sure when Honigmann was first radicalized. It is all a mess.

Honigmann’s Ideology:

Was Honigmann actually a deep Soviet agent from the start? One has, perhaps, to be sceptical of the later obituaries that presented him as a wishy-washy milquetoast figure who was easily swayed – and did not become a convinced communist until he met Litzi. (He would not have met Litzi unless he were already closely involved with Communist groups.) The fact that Moscow exfiltrated him first in 1946, perhaps as a way of verifying the loyalty of Kim and Litzi, could well lead to the conclusion that he had been an important asset for many years. Thus the influence that Hornik was claimed to wield over him in Canada could also be illusionary. If so, the endorsement by de Courcy was a master-stroke, and Honigmann must have performed a clever job in convincing the disciple of the far right (though not a Fascist) where his sympathies lay.

Otherwise, his progress in the ranks shows the determination of the typical apparatchik. As a member of the new department of the Exchange Telegraph formed to promote anti-fascist propaganda to central and eastern Europe, he quickly gained respect. After release from internment, he joined the ranks of the necessary communist organizations, and made the right noises (although his attendance at meetings was rather spotty). It would have been difficult for any serious analyst to doubt his commitment, with the only possible reservations emanating from the fact that, post Barbarossa, he was working in the cause of a ‘gallant ally’, and between 1941 and 1944 speaking up against the Soviet Union had its political disadvantages in Britain.


But where was Litzi in all this, when did their relationship take off, and why was her intimacy with Honigmann not investigated more closely? First of all, I have to dismiss (again: see ) the claim that Kim Philby made when he spoke to Phillip Knightley, namely that, when he returned to London in the summer of 1940, he found that she was living with Honigmann (The Master Spy, p 75). If that had been so, Honigmann’s wife, Ruth, would presumably have been up in arms and clamouring for a divorce much earlier. Moreover, Honigmann was re-arrested, interned on the Isle of Man in July, and sent to Canada on August 7, 1940 (not in June, as I reported in that earlier posting).  And Georg made a determined effort to get Ruth released from internment after his return from Canada at the beginning of 1941, which suggests that their relationship was still on stable footing at that time. When his lodgings were inspected during his absence in 1940, there is no indication that Litzi was holding the fort for him.

I find it much more probable that Honigmann met Litzi after he was introduced to Edith Tudor-Hart’s circle. Indeed, as I have also previously recorded, Helenus Milmo’s Appendix to the PEACH case specifically states that Litzi started living with Honigmann in 1942. This liaison must surely have been authorized – or even ordered – by Moscow Centre. The fact that the Honigmanns were granted their divorce in November of that year suggests that Ruth discovered the relationship fairly soon after it was established. She may, of course, have been party to the whole arrangement. The archive suggests that she was not a vigorous communist, although she was broadly in support of her husband’s political activities, and thus she was not likely to have sought a divorce on grounds of some philosophical incompatibility.

Yet the dominant question remains. Given the knowledge of Litzi’s background and activities, why did MI5 and the Home Office not make more of the association to determine Georg’s role, and why did the NKVD encourage such a liaison that could, and should, have drawn unneeded interest to the subversive activities of their agents?

Selection by the Control Commission:

What is astounding is the fact that Honigmann, with all his ideological baggage, should have been selected as a suitable person to help with the denazifying process in the British Zone of control. The makers of notes on file seem completely comfortable with the fact that, despite Honigman’s track-record as a Communist agitator, he should be approved (with a one-way ticket, admittedly) for a position in Hamburg. This was May, 1946, after all, when the Cold War was well under way. All that B. H. Smith, representing F2ab, can say, to Major Mars in C1 on May 1, 1946, is that Mars should probably warn his link with the Control Commission that their man is a Communist. I note here that Honigman’s colleague, Jűrgen Kuczynski, was selected by the OSS to help in survey work, and with vetting agents for insertion into Germany, but OSS was a notoriously pro-Communist organization, unlike its British counterparts.

It may be worth recording that Anthony Cave-Brown, in his biography of Stewart Menzies (pp 694-695), asserts that Honigmann was ‘a man who was known to SIS and MI5 as a Soviet secret agent’, and he implies that Litzi was a subsidiary character in such activities. He provides no source for this affirmation, but is characteristically slipshod in his account of that summer, since he has Philby’s request to Vivian ‘for leave to request a divorce’ occurring when Litzi had already arrived in Berlin, and was cohabiting with Georg. Cave-Brown declares that Philby’s marriage was bigamous, but never explores the obvious conundrum that, if his bosses believed that Litzi were already in East Berlin, the mechanics of the couple’s gaining a divorce would have been practically impossible.

I have noted beforehand the fact that Peter von Mendelssohn of the Exchange Telegraph had recommended Honigmann for the Control Commission post, and that he was distraught when he learned that his man had flown the coop. Mendelssohn may well be innocent, as he was not directly involved with the communist cell set up under the banner. It is much more likely that Honigmann’s crony Peter Smollett (aka Smolka), occupying an influential post at the Ministry of Information, had helped set him up. I note also that Honigmann had joined Reuter’s in November 1943, and had at some time become head of its European service. While that appointment begs the question of who was responsible for hiring him, it helps to explain the prestige he owned. Yet it is still dumbfounding that, unless the Control Commission was riddled with personnel who believed that the best way to neutralize ex-Nazis was to inspire them with Communism, anyone in authority would have accepted Honigmann, given his track-record, and his presumed objective of having the British Sector of Germany incorporated into the Soviet Empire. I recall, however, that in 1946 the Labour Party was at its most vocal in chanting ‘socialist revolution’ as the remedy for the sins of Nazism (and the errors of the Tory Party at home), and it would not have regarded a friend of Moscow such as Honigmann as an unsuitable appointment.

In conclusion, I then turned to HO 382/255 in the hope that it might answer some of my questions.

HO 382/255

I remind readers of one of the paragraphs I received from the Kew Security Officer when it informed me of the (partial) release of the file:

We have applied the Section 23(1) exemption to information in the file relating to the Security Service. We shall continue to protect such information for the personal security of the individuals involved and the national security of the United Kingdom. It is in the public interest that our security agencies can operate effectively in the interests of the United Kingdom, without disclosing information that may assist those determined to undermine the security of the United Kingdom and its citizens.

This was tasty, hinting at sensitive secrets that I might be able to winkle out by spotting the reacted segments, and applying some analysis. But how could the security interest of 2023 be possibly undermined by passport information recorded over sixty years ago?

The file is in one respect vastly disappointing. It contains 260 pages: the first 228 consists of Honigmann’s Home Office file. This initial section contains only one redacted item of information – apparently an MI5 report on the letter of March 1942 from a Swiss-born Mrs. Penton to her friend Mr. Bluett in the Internment Camps Division, denouncing Ruth, and making accusations about her loyalty. (Was this perhaps related to the alienation of her husband’s affections by Litzi Philby?) The file thus serves mainly to contribute details to the story of Honigmann’s internment and occupations during World War II, but really adds little of importance to the account that can be derived from reading KV 6/113 and 6/114, apart from the presentation of some relevant documents. In fact it offers a much sparser account of his travails. The sensitive material that must have provoked the file’s retention is contained mainly in the second section, which includes correspondence and items relating to a short visit made by Barbara Honigmann, the daughter of Georg and Litzi, to the UK in 1960.

The reader can thus learn from this first section more details about Honigmann’s application for naturalization, including his turning for professional help after working by himself to start with. A Metropolitan Police Report of December 12, 1936, gives full details about his life, employment and finances. It claims that Honigmann ‘does not appear to have any subversive inclinations or associations’, and ‘appears to be respectable and loyal to this country’. (Yet the refusal to grant naturalization was based on a judgment that Honigmann ‘has not yet sufficiently identified himself with this country’ – a bizarrely expressed opinion, to say the least.) The backgrounds of his referees are listed.

Honigmann made his first request in 1936, which was refused in July 1937. He then turned to a solicitor, who made an appeal, offering the names of several prominent citizens who would support his cause, including the M.P. for Smethwick, A. R. Wise, and Kenneth de Courcy. In fact de Courcy wrote two personal letters to Sir Samuel Hoare, the Home Secretary, the first on March 16, 1938, and the second on March 29, which would appear to be a gross abuse of the acquaintance he had with that politician. The first letter is a long appeal on Honigmann’s behalf, since the journalist reputedly wanted to go to the Far East. (Someone has scrawled: ‘Honigmann is [redacted] good’ on the second letter, which suggests a pejorative remark.) Hoare informed the firm that he could not re-consider it, but declared that Honigmann could submit a fresh application, although ‘no undertaking can be given that it will be successful on this occasion’.

After a few entries concerning Honigmann’s successful application for a Certificate of Identity (essentially a Nansen passport for a stateless person enabling him to travel) the file moves to restrictions placed on Honigmann’s mobility after the outbreak of war. His second application for naturalization – again endorsed by de Courcy – had been interrupted. Honigmann wrote an appeal to the Under Secretary of State on October 31, pleading his case for tight travel restrictions to be removed  – and incidentally telling an untruth when he claimed that he had ‘remained in England’ ever since 1931. (His earlier request for identification papers had listed multiple holiday trips he had made around Europe, as well as an extended visit to the USA.) One remarkable entry is a letter to Sir Alexander Maxwell (the new Permanent Under-Secretary at the Home Office), dated June 14, from a gentleman whose name is indistinct (see Figure below). It includes the following statement:

As I explained on the telephone, I know Dr. Georg Honigmann and his wife and also her sister and brother-in-law, Baron and Baroness von Hirsch who have been living at my country house near Haselmere for some months.

This must be Baron Donald von Hirsch, the first husband of Ruth Honigmann’s sister Katherine Bachert, who had fled to England from Merano in September 1938.

Letter from Sydney Arnold

The ingenious sleuth Phil Tomaselli was able to inform me that the author of the letter was Sydney Arnold, 1st Baron Hale, formerly both a Liberal and Labour MP and a one-time Paymaster General (see,_1st_Baron_Arnold). Furthermore, in Sept 1939 the von Hirsches were staying with Arnold at Marley Corner [maybe Marley Manor?], Haslemere: the host rather mysteriously described himself as ‘a retired stockbroker’. What is striking about this relationship is that Arnold was a noted appeaser who had been a co-signatory of a letter to the Times advocating conciliation with Hitler.

Honigmann gained fresh championing of his cause to be released from travel restrictions, including the ever-present de Courcy, on December 1, 1939. But then the clamp-down of May 1940, when the Fifth Column scare was loudly trumpeted, ensured that both Georg and Ruth were interned as members of Class ‘B’, the order being issued on May 26, with the process itself occurring on June 13. On July 4, Honigmann sailed to Canada on the S.S. Sobieski, while Ruth remained on the Isle of Man in Port Erin. Almost immediately, pleas were made on his behalf. On July 19 MI5 informed the Home Office that nothing justified his release, but Sir Charles Peake of the Exchange Telegraph soon started to apply pressure, which was reinforced by the Ministry of Information. The Ministry identified several other journalists whose ‘release is regarded as in the national interest’ including Fritz Kessler and Ernest Meyer. In a report compiled by the Exchange Telegraph, the relationship between the service and the Ministry was clearly outlined:

            Since the outbreak of the war, the Continental Dept. of the Exchange Telegraph Co. have to a growing extent cooperated with the Foreign Publicity Dept of the MOI with the result that they have now completely sub-ordinated themselves to the MOI and are virtually acting as one of the Ministry’s direct publicity channels in neutral countries.

The outcome was that a decision to release Honigmann was made on September 23, and a request to do so was sent to the High Commissioner for Canada (in London) on October 11. He wrote a letter agreeing to the decision on November 6, but because of an unexplained delay Honigmann did not land in Liverpool until January 11. A Home Office letter to his solicitors, written as late as December 20,  states that ‘it has been decided to bring G. Honigmann back from Canada’. His wife was also affected: a strong testimony to her loyalty to Britain was communicated by prominent names at the Manchester Guardian, but unfortunately, a bureaucratic mix-up contributed to Ruth’s still being held at the time of her husband’s arrival. Georg had to write a letter of appeal: she was interviewed on January 24, and declared that she wanted to go back and live with her husband again. Her release order was issued on February 3, and she and Georg were reunited at the flat of Ruth’s mother at 2 Hillsleigh Road, London W.8.

What of the remaining section? It seems that MI5 had approached the Home Office in February 1953, sending some information that caused the file to be given a higher secrecy rating. This fresh initiative was surely prompted by the recent arrest for questioning of Georg and Litzi in Berlin, since KV 6/114 records that it was decided on February 19 that Honigmann would not be allowed back in the UK. (This occurred after J. D. Robertson, maybe unwisely, had suggested to MI6 that overtures should be made to the disgraced Honigmanns with a view possibly to bringing them back to the UK so that MI5 could learn more about Soviet espionage. Unsurprisingly, this idea apparently did not go far.) The file thereafter underwent a review process around every seven years. A letter that month from Chief Inspector C.P. J. Ruck to the Immigration Officer appears to articulate a concern that Honigmann might visit the UK some time soon. It requests that his ‘UK address, and particulars of foreign visas and documents of interest, arrival and departure’ should be obtained ‘discreetly’ and sent to MI5. As supplementary evidence, Honigmann’s application for a new military Certificate of Identity, dated April 11, 1946, is enclosed: Honigmann stated that he might plan to return to the UK ‘if occasion arises’.

A note dated February 19, 1960 indicates that the file has been reviewed, that the present classification should remain, and that MI5 should be approached again in another seven years. Part of the message to ‘Box 500’ (MI5) of March 3, 1967 has been redacted: a week later, a note echoes the process (with some acceleration), indicating that the ‘Almanack’ should be reviewed on February 25, 1970. On that date, MI5 is again consulted to determine whether the ‘S.C. No. 18465’ has to be retained. A further, more substantial, segment has been redacted, and another, on February 25, 1974. On that date a Mr Anderson notes to Miss Spencer: “Honigmann is no longer listed in the Directory of S.I.F.O.s. Perhaps you could discover if Box 500 still have an interest in this man.”

What ‘SIFO’ stands for I have no idea (Suspect Index for Observation?), but it is clearly a file of suspicious persons of some sort. Spencer further writes, on August 22, 1974: ‘Have you any recent information on this man or comments on the cancellation of the suspect circular for him?”. And the saga continues – more reviews, more redacted segments, until a stamp on October 4, 1977 boldly declares: Deleted from Suspect Index’. What is also clear is that, in June 1965, Honigmann’s file had been amended from ‘Secret’ to ‘Confidential’.

The last few pages concern the May 1960 application for an entry visa for Honigmann’s daughter, Barbara, aged 11, who has been invited to stay with her father’s friends, the Newmarks, in Tring for four weeks. The Home Office can see no reason why it should not be granted. It is specified that her parents will not travel, but what is remarkable is the fact that her mother, Litzy Honigmann, is never mentioned in the exchanges. The visa was granted, Barbara arrived, and MI5 presumably breathed a sigh of relief when she returned to East Germany, and they had avoided having to deal with her two notorious parents. It seems that the planned retention period of a hundred years (2060) was probably coincidental to Barbara’s visit, however.


Two primary questions occupy me: ‘Why was Honigmann’s application for naturalization refused in 1938?’ and ‘What prompted the consternation in February 1953?’. Both questions may, of course, be directly related to the initial decisions to maintain his file as ‘Secret’, and then ‘Confidential’. Considering them might help contribute to a better understanding of his status, and the alarm it caused.

The rejection by the Home Office is very strange. Honigmann appears to have all the qualities that an applicant should display: he is cultivated, urbane, manifestly anti-Nazi, and has sophisticated and respectable allies and sponsors who testify to his merits. The fact that this list includes both the right-wing de Courcy as well as the leftist Smollett might suggest that he was an intellectual of some independence of mind. On the other hand, Smollett (who had first arrived in Britain as Peter Smolka in 1930) successfully applied for naturalization in 1938, upon which event he changed his name. Yet Smolka had been expelled from France as a spy, was known to have voiced communist opinions, had travelled to the Soviet Union twice during the 1930s, and published a book sympathetic to the Soviet regime.

Honigmann was overtly rejected because he had ‘not yet sufficiently identified himself with this country’, even though the Metropolitan Police gave him a positive assessment of his loyalty, and MI5 harbored no objections. By 1938, ‘anti-fascism’ rather than ‘anti-communism’ would have been a more acceptable ideology. He apparently did not carry himself well in his interview, but it is difficult to see how he could have spoiled his chances unless he had been very clumsy. Did the Home Office have access to other information that might have disqualified him? After all, the rejections occurred before all the subversive incidents catalogued above occurred, and he was considered reliable enough to be offered the position by the Control Commission in 1946. Thus it seems unlikely that he had been identified by the Foreign Office as a dangerous subversive: Smolka (agent ABO of the NKVD) had been constantly surveilled and his correspondence intercepted, yet managed to evade any intense scrutiny when he pursued a similar path.

The timing of the request from MI5 in late February 1953 for a watch to be kept on Honigmann’s possible entry to the UK is exquisite. Georg and Litzi had just been released from prison in a Stalin-directed purge of Jews and agents who might have come under ‘bourgeois’ influence abroad. When MI5 learned about this from the press, they might have imagined that the couple would seek to flee back to the UK. (The fact that the DDR would have denied them that capability would have eluded the Security Service.) If they did so, any number of awkward secrets might be revealed. The file suggests that Honigmann’s papers would have entitled him to return: he had declared a possible intention in 1946 when he submitted his application. Yet KV 6/114 (ser 84a.) of February 19 clearly states that Honigmann would not be allowed to return: “Please inform P.C.O. [Passport Control Officer: alias for MI6 representative] Germany/Austria that the above should not be granted a visa to enter the United Kingdom without reference to this office”. On the other hand, Ruck’s message to the Immigration Officer requests information to be telephoned to MI5 ‘on arrival or departure’, as if the objective of prohibition were unenforceable.

It is not clear whether Litzi’s passport was still valid in 1953. It will be recalled that she had gained a renewal in the summer of 1946, and her status as a British subject would not have been annulled simply because of her divorce from Kim. (KV 6/113 – Item ‘J’ – does refer to an August 1947 rumour that she might be planning a return visit to the UK.) At this stage, however, the Home Office would not have maintained a file on Litzi. They were not aware of her relationship with Georg when the latter departed in May 1946. MI5 was surely issuing the same edicts for Litzi, however, but they would have been stored in the ‘Philby’ file. Perhaps the redacted segments in HO 382/255 introduce Litzi to the Home Office’s consideration of the equation.

A few weeks later, Stalin was dead, which gave enormous breathing-space, and eventual rehabilitation, to the Honigmanns. So had the danger quickly passed? Apparently not, because of the continued moratorium on the files. MI5 was presumably still concerned about a re-appearance of the pair. But who might have been damaged by any revelations? It cannot be the Honigmanns and any offspring they had. Recall that the wording in the response to the FOI runs as follows: “We shall continue to protect such information for the personal security of the individuals involved and the national security of the United Kingdom.” MI5’s sensitivities cannot extend to concerns about two probable KGB agents, both of whom died decades ago, even if one of them might have kept an expired British passport  . . .

I suspect that it is more likely that the security of certain British subjects was under consideration, and the obvious candidates were the offspring of the Kim/Aileen marriage, and their successors. It is undeniable that the first three children were born out of wedlock, and Aileen was pregnant with their fourth when the wedding ceremony took place in September 1946. If Litzi had confided to Georg that a divorce from Kim had not actually taken place (as Cave-Brown and Easton claimed), that would have made Kim a bigamist, and cast a shadow over his innocent descendants. Moreover, it would have caused a real black eye for MI6, who presumably had no evidence of the divorce proceedings, found the sequence of events as implausible as I have, and wanted to shut the whole matter up – until 2060, by which time anyone would presumably have lost interest. Are there any other theories out there?


Honigmann remains a mystery. Why was the KGB so interested in him? He was neither an influential propagandist, nor did he have the opportunity to gain access to secret material. He openly displayed his pro-communist leanings in his associations with the Kulturbund, and he was presumably approved to take on the role of Litzi’s lover and confidant. Maybe it was because of his essential blandness that he fell beneath the radar screen, and was chosen to keep an eye on Litzi. Yet his absence in East Berlin in the summer of 1946, while Litzi remained in Britain, inviolate and relaxed, must constitute one of the oddest aspects of the Philby affair. In the hope that it might reveal a lot more, I ordered Barbara Honigmann’s memoir of her father, titled simply Georg. It arrived towards the end of the month, and I have now read it. It is beautifully written, exploiting both MI5 and STASI files, as well as what Georg communicated to his daughter both orally and in writing. It does indeed contain some fascinating insights, and it will cause some dramatic changes to be made to my conclusions above – unless, of course, Georg was not telling the truth . . .  I shall report fully in a couple of months’ time.

‘Georg’, by Barbara Honigmann

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Filed under Espionage/Intelligence, General History, Management/Leadership, Politics

Summer 2023 Round-Up

J. L. Austin



The Cyber-Attack

Kim Philby

‘The Scarlet Papers’

What’s New at Kew

Intelligence Officers

The Lady Novelists

Beverly Gage and ‘G-Man

Summer Biographies

  • Ellis, Ker-Seymer, Déricourt, Austin, Orwell, Berlin

The Love-Lives of the Philosophers

Coldspur: Method, Archive & Topography


For this August bulletin, I decided I needed to take a break from the intensive research into Kim Philby that has occupied me over the past few months. I suffered a nasty bout of Covid in June, which knocked the stuffing out of me, and also put a dent in my research agenda. So, in this summer round-up, I take instead the opportunity for the more leisurely exercise of catching up with various intelligence-related events and activities. This tour d’horizon has turned out to be a bit more expansive than originally planned: I hope every coldspur reader will find herein something of interest.

The Cyber-Attack

My website suffered a short-lived, but alarming, disruption in early June. I was working from my iPad when I was suddenly unable to access any coldspur page except the home page. I immediately went to my PC, only to find that the same problem occurred, with some message indicating that the page I was seeking was unavailable. This happened in the evening, so I sent off a message to the support desk of my web hoster, and awaited a response. Early the next morning I received a message back suggesting that I clear my browser cache, and, having done so, I saw the apparent return of the complete coldspur site.

So I turned to my PC, and then discovered that there was no cache problem there: the site was available likewise, so I quickly concluded that something else had been at fault. Moreover, I then noticed that a few of the recent comments made by visitors were no longer visible. It looked as if there had been a problem in the regular back-up/recovery procedures. I brought this fact to the attention of the support person, who then dug an even greater hole for herself by stating that such procedures were not the responsibility of her company, and that I needed to get in touch with the outfit that actually hosted the site. Her company was responsible only for managing the WordPress environment.

Now, there are few things that rouse my ire more quickly than technical support organizations who guess, or bluff, or try to deceive me. I have no business relationship with any other entity, and, indeed, I have to declare this outfit as my ‘web hoster’ each year when I renew my contract for with GoDaddy. I thus contacted the President of the company in some frustration, and asked him to sort it out. The outcome was that he did get involved, and had to apologize for his support person, who ‘misspoke’, yet he himself was guilty of some prevarication. He started off by stating that the management of the site had indeed been entrusted to a ‘third party’ (which suggests a separate legal entity to me), but he then backtracked somewhat in asserting that the management of all WordPress sites had been consolidated on to a single server. When I pressed him, he admitted that part of his business was in fact outsourced to another company. He could not explain what had happened, but confirmed that the few missing comments were indeed lost for ever.

I am not happy about this at all, and have requested a more thorough approach to data archiving and data quality. In the meantime, I apologize to those couple of coldspur readers whose comments were lost, and especially to David Coppin who took the time to try to re-create his comments.

And then, on the morning of July 30, coldspur became completely unavailable. I informed the web hoster, and soon received an acknowledgment, as well as a message from the President of the company that his team was working on the problem, and that it would contact me as soon it made progress. I wondered whether the outage was due to Chinese malware, since a disturbing story appeared in the New York Times the same day, alerting readers to the exposure of critical national infrastructure by China’s malicious actions. I reflected, however, that the availability of coldspur is probably not vital to the safety and integrity of the social fabric of the United States. I thought it far more likely that MI5, anticipating another blistering post on August 1, and suspecting that coldspur’s defences would be on low alert on a Sunday, had decided to disrupt its availability.

The site was down for about twelve hours. I learned later that the problem had not just affected coldspur: it had been in fact been caused by a Chinese DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attack! No virus or malware had infiltrated the servers, but a blitz of messages brought the installation to its knees, and a range of new IP addresses had to be added to the firewall. Who would have thought a relatively minor installation in North Carolina would come under attack? Was this random? Or did the Chinese have some knowledge of which websites were maintained by this hoster? I was also interested in whether the Department of Homeland Security keeps track of all such attacks. The President of the company told me that he had reported the onslaught to his upstream provider (a wholesale manager of IP addresses and traffic), but it does not seem that there is a requirement to inform the government. Given the source of the invasion, and the current ferment over China’s cyberattacks, that strikes me as odd.

Kim Philby

In the Spectator of June 10, Douglas Murray wrote a column ‘How to dismantle history’, selecting as his subject the TV adaptation of Ben Macintyre’s Colditz. He introduced the author in the following terms: “He is a fine popular regurgitator of history who has previously brought to public notice such things as the hitherto untold story of a spy named Kim Philby.” Apart from the fact that the adaptation of A Spy Among Friends apparently contains some creative flourishes that would tend to undermine its reliability as a historical record (I have not watched it), I was struck by the paradox: if the story of Philby is ‘hitherto untold’, how could Macintyre ‘regurgitate’ it?

I did not expect, a few months ago, that I would be dedicating so much of my research and writing time this year to Philby. I know that several coldspur readers have devoured everything they could find about Philby over the years, and I have been much the same – but without paying really close attention to the details (apart from my inspection of all the accounts of his recruitment by the NKVD in 1933-1934, as laid out in Misdefending the Realm.) Thus I succumbed to the familiar broad-brushed arc of his career: the marriage to Litzi, the recruitment by Arnold Deutsch, the assignments in Spain, the attachment to SOE, and then to MI6, the near disastrous exposure by Volkov, the interlude in Turkey, the posting to Washington, the secrets revealed by VENONA, the postulated ‘Third Man’ role with Burgess and Maclean, the investigations, the time in the wilderness, and the eventual escape from Beirut.

Dominating this career was Philby’s memoir My Silent War, which seems to have been cited quite indiscriminately by any number of writers, including the ‘authorized’ historian, Christopher Andrew, even though its source and sponsorship should have given grounds for severe scepticism. I have pointed out before that, when in that text Philby identifies his past employer as MI5, it serves as a kind of radio security check, whereby he informs his readers in Britain that they shouldn’t really take all that he writes very seriously, as everything is under the control of the KGB (who in general never understood the difference between MI5 and MI6.)

Then, at the beginning of this year, a few queries from coldspur readers (and especially some exchanges with Keith Ellison) prompted me again to dig into aspects of Philby’s career, gather a few archives that I had overlooked, re-inspect some folders that I already had on my desk, and start building a chronology for some of the more controversial events in Philby’s career. Writing the reports of the past few months has been a fascinating experience, and has made me believe that a brand new biography of Philby is required, one that would not automatically ‘regurgitate’ all the falsehood of his memoirs, and the exculpatory asides of those officers who were supposed to have been monitoring him, but instead point out some of the anomalies and confront the fact that, on many aspects of his troublesome life, we simply do not know exactly what happened.

And there is more work to be done, for example on the origin of the Litzi Feabre alias, verification of what must have been a very shaky divorce settlement, what was known about Burgess’s connections before 1951, the Foreign Office post-mortems, and the mysteries of Philby’s last few years with MI6, including the falsehoods passed on by Nicholas Elliott. In that context, while reading recently Burton Hersh’s history of the CIA, The Old Boys, I came across the following passage: “He [Wisner] downplayed American annoyances at the pigheadedness of the English at suggestions that they get busy or flutter their people, stop mincing around and bring the Philby situation to a head. At Dulles’s urging, Wisner got close enough to Roger Hollis [1959] to break loose ‘a really valuable body of evidence about Philby,’ Cleve Cram says, ‘which filled in a lot of the chinks and helped overcome the horrified reaction around the Agency when we were given to understand that MI6 was running him still’.” What might Hollis have known, and what could he possibly have told Wisner that would have calmed the concerns of the restless Americans?

Moreover, in recent weeks, fresh leads have sprung up to be investigated: Vivian’s dissimulations of August 1946; Philby’s postwar presence in Vienna and the missing Bruce Lockhart tape; the surprising addition of Philby to the circle of acquaintances of the psychiatrist Eric Strauss; the debate about ‘STEVENSON’; and a suggestion in a recent book by Charlotte Dennett (Follow the Pipelines) that Philby was involved in the 1947 death of her father, the CIA agent Daniel Dennett, in an aircrash. I have ordered the book, and shall report more later. Perhaps most significant is the acquisition of the MI5 December 1939 Staff Lists from the National Archives, that include a ‘Miss Furse’ working in C2b. Keith Ellison has pointed out to me that Yuri Modin wrote, in My 5 Cambridge Friends, that Philby, at the time he was recruited by MI6 in 1941, ‘was having a passionate love affair with Aileen Furse, who worked in the MI5 archive department’. So was Aileen already working for MI5 when she met Kim at the Solomon/Birch luncheon? And was she thus able to wield some power over him?

‘Among Others’ by Michael Frayn

Lastly, towards the end of the month, while reading Michael Frayn’s new collection Among Others: Friendships and Encounters, I learned that Frayn had innocently introduced his college (Emmanuel, Cambridge) friend John Sackur to Harold Evans of the Sunday Times in 1967. The encounter did not go well, since the paper was deep into its investigation of Philby, and Evans discovered (from his deputy editor, Frank Giles) that Sackur worked for MI6. Frayn postulates that Sackur may have been sent to Evans on a mission to try to control the narrative, and that he, Frayn, was used as a channel. Frayn led me back to Evans’s account in his memoir My Paper Chase (which I had read when it came out, but had forgotten the episode), but that did not seem to me to represent the whole story. Where else had I read about it?

Evans refers to Phillip Knightley’s belief that Sackur was a member of a dissident group inside MI6. Knightley had argued in 1998, in an article in British Journalism Review, that Sackur was in fact a member of a ‘ginger group’ who wanted the Philby inquiry to go ahead, so that further Soviet agents could be unmasked. My first thought was that was equally unlikely, and a check on Chistopher Moran’s Classified seemed to confirm that what the Sunday Times was about to reveal was way beyond the control of MI6, or even the UK government. It would have been pointless and clumsy to try to encourage the investigation in person. Moran had suggested that Sackur had probably been sent as a spy to discover exactly what the Sunday Times had put together, and that he reported to his bosses the extent of the possible damage.

I needed to find the article. David Spark, in his book Investigative Reporting, sources Knightley’s comments as Volume 9, Number 2 of the British Journalism Review, in June 1998, where an abstract of Knightley’s riposte to a critical piece by his ex-colleague Bruce Page piece can be seen ( It reads: “In the last issue of the British Journalism Review Bruce Page criticired [sic] a former Sunday Times colleague, PHILLIP KNIGHTLEY, for his role in the paper’s investigative campaigns 30 yearr [sic] ago. Knightley now exercises his right of reply.”Yet nothing by Bruce Page in 1998 can be found via a search on the Review’s website. In fact, Page did write a piece criticizing Knightley in Volume 9, Number 1, with his authorship not indexed, but his focus was apparently on thalidomide. I needed to find out how the riposte switched to Philby.

After a while, I managed to get a copy of the Knightley piece, titled ‘The inside story of Philby’s exposure’. The facts are predictably elusive but the interpretation of what happened comes down partly to timing. Knightley starts off by setting the introduction by Frayn to Evans as occurring ‘when The Sunday Times was sniffing around the story’ of Philby, i.e. when any conclusions would have been very tentative, and he reports that Sackur appeared to be taken aback when Evans told him that the paper was looking into the life of ‘your old Foreign Office colleague’, Kim Philby. Sackur’s response was extreme: he immediately elevated the potential political embarrassment such an investigation would provoke, and described Philby as ‘a copper-bottomed bastard’. This exchange would suggest that Evans and his team did not yet know that Philby worked for MI6, and that Evans learned of Sackur’s employer only soon afterwards, when Sackur met Giles. Naturally, Sackur’s outburst encouraged Evans to pursue the case even more determinedly. (Evans recounts all this in his memoir.)

The disagreement between Page and Knightley comes down to the reason why Sackur appeared in Evans’s office. Page believed that it was coincidence, and that Sackur genuinely wanted to leave the ‘Foreign Office’ (i.e. MI6) for a journalistic career, while Knightley was convinced that Sackur was one of the ‘young Turks’ who were disgusted that their senior officers in MI6 would not let him (and Stephen de Mowbray and Arthur Martin) continue their molehunt, and Sackur thus wanted to encourage the exposure of Philby. In this scenario, Sackur must have gained a smell of what the Sunday Times was up to: his surprise was feigned, and his melodramatic response deliberate. Yet Evans’s conclusion was that Sackur ‘was not a plant, but a young man whose conscience would give him no rest’.

Moran, writing in 2013, had had access, however, to the private papers of George Wigg, the Paymaster-General in Harold Wilson’s government, which confirmed that Sackur had indeed gone on a fishing-trip, and, having learned the extent of the investigation, alerted his bosses and sent Whitehall in a tizzy. Maybe his behaviour in front of Evans was to gain the trust and confidence of Bruce Page, which certainly occurred when the leader of the ‘Insight’ team took Sackur for a liquid lunch at Manzi’s seafood restaurant in Soho. In this scenario, the disclosure of facts that Sackur revealed to Page at their meeting may have been a deliberate attempt to distract the paper from the more serious crimes of Philby. Evans even records that Sackur gave broad hints about Philby’s transgressions in World War II rather than in the Cold War, which his team ‘eventually’ was able to determine as relating to Germany’s plans for a separate peace, and the purging of Catholic opposition to the communists in Germany – actually after the war. All very odd. As Frayn describes, Sackur was a deceiver par excellence.

And what happened to John Sackur? Frayn and Evans write that he died young. Outside Frayn’s vignette (Sackur’s non-appearance at a college reunion inspired Frayn’s play Donkeys’ Years), I have been able to find a few references to him. Daphne Park’s best friend was a Jean Sackur. Was she related, I wonder? The answer came from Paddy Hayes, the author of Queen of Spies, his biography of Park. He had interviewed Jean Sackur, who had been married to John, and divorced from him some time in the 1960s. confirms that Christopher John Sackur was born in Wharfedale, Yorkshire, on February 8, 1933 (his mother née Humphries), and died on January 24, 1986, in Bury St Edmunds. (see He married Jean La Fontaine in the summer of 1958, in Cambridge, married a woman named Morgan in 1974, and further married Joanna Butt in May 1985. Hayes writes that Sackur was offered a job by the Sunday Times ‘Insight’ team, but that MI6 would not let him go there, after which he became a successful management consultant. Another report states that Sackur was one of those officers ‘burned’ by the revelations of George Blake to his Moscow bosses, and that John Quine, head of MI6 counter-intelligence, decided that Sackur had to resign. As with all such stories, the truth is hard to pin down.

The Scarlet Papers

As I was drafting the section above, I came across, in the May issue of Literary Review, a short review of a novel by one Matthew Richardson, titled The Scarlet Papers. It started off as follows:

This magnificent spy novel sees disappointed academic Max summoned to a secret interview with Scarlet King, an elderly woman he has never met. His expertise being the history of the intelligence services, he knows that she was once the most senior woman in MI6 and one of the greatest specialists on the Soviet Union.

‘The Scarlet Papers’ by Matthew Richardson

After giving a glimpse of the plot (without really spoiling the reader’s future enjoyment) the author of the review (Natasha Cooper) continues:

Richardson uses plenty of real names to provide authenticity, from John le Carré and Vasily Mitrokhin to Sergei Skripal, Maurice Oldfield and even Churchill’s confidant Professor Lindemann. He draws upon his own experiences as a researcher and speechwriter in Westminster, with the result that his political and civil service characters behave in ways that are entirely convincing.

Well, up to a point, Ms. Cooper. I of course had to acquire the book after this endorsement, and was entertained by the smoothly-written novel. Perhaps it does not need to be mentioned that Kim Philby plays a semi-prominent role, something that piqued my attention even more. But authenticity requires more than dropping in famous names from the world of intelligence, using all the established jargon of spycraft, and scattering dozens of well-known (even overused) anecdotes that have populated the literature over the past fifty years. It requires chronological exactitude, and attention to detail in background, careers, expertise, achievements, psychology and motivations.

The problem starts with Scarlet King herself, who is described as being in her nineties at the time of the action – in fact given more precisely as ninety-five in one passage. Her first assignment with MI6 was in Vienna in 1946. Thus, if she were, say, twenty-five years old at the time, the action would probably be no later than 2016. (At one point, Richardson writes that she was only twenty-one when she took on her first assignment for MI6 in Vienna in 1946 – highly improbable!) Yet, in one scene, Scarlet is accused of possibly meeting Philby at the SOE training school at Beaulieu in Hampshire, since she had worked previously for SOE. Philby was dismissed from SOE in the summer of 1941, however, and soon after joined MI6, which, to require King to be of a reasonable age to be employed by SOE, would probably bring the current events forward a few years. And then we learn that she attended Lady Margaret Hall at Oxford University, gaining her degree in Modern Languages, which means that she must have completed it in the summer of 1939 or 1940 (at the latest) to be recruited by SOE, which would give her a probable birth-year of about 1917.

Now matters start to get stretched the other end. From ‘authentic’ remarks made by MI5 officers, we learn that ‘current’ events must be occurring after 2018, since the attempted assassination on Skripal in Salisbury is referred to as an event worth recalling. Next, we learn that the year must be in the 2020s, as Brexit (January 2020) is referred to as a past happening. Thus Scarlet King suddenly would have to be a centenarian – and a very sprightly one, at that. But then Richardson informs his readers that King was born in 1923, and was ‘recruited’ (by what organization I shall not divulge) at the tender age of thirteen. She then is described as appearing in sub fusc at Oxford, which meant she must have been admitted to the university at a very young age to be ready to work at SOE in 1940. Yet later in the book, we are told that she went up to Oxford after the announcement of the Nazi-Soviet pact in the autumn of 1939, which would make her recruitment in by SOE in 1940 utterly impossible. Nevertheless, King continually draws on her experiences during training at the SOE school in Arisaig. She is again described as being aged ninety-five in what must be 2021 or 2022. It is all a mess.

The curriculum vitae of the historian embroiled in the plot (Max Archer) is just as dubious. He is aged forty-two at the time of the events, which has him born in (say) 1980. He earned a double-first at Cambridge (under Christopher Andrew), took a Master’s degree, and then, having been rejected for a job in MI6 at the end of 2001, was accepted to take a Ph.D. at Harvard. He then returned to the UK, working as an assistant professor at the London School of Economics, which must have taken him up to about 2005. He went on to write two books that gave him his reputation: a volume titled Double Agents: A History, and The Honourable Traitor: An Unauthorized Life of Kim Philby. No dates are given for these publications, but they did apparently necessitate some heavy years of toil. Yet Max is described as having been a consultant to the BBC series The Cambridge Spies (not something one should be very proud of, by the way, because of the way it played around with the facts). That production came out in 2003, however, when Max was presumably completing his doctorate in Boston.

Moreover, the two publications in his name cast serious doubts on Archer’s professional excellence. Richardson himself throws around the term ‘double agents’ carelessly (using them to categorize Philby and Blunt, for example), when what he really means is ‘agents in place’, ‘penetration agents’, or simply ‘traitors’. Just because a person betraying his country happens to work for an intelligence service does not make him a ‘double agent’. (Michael Holzman, Ben Macintyre, Tim Tate, et al., please note.) That Richardson is aware of this semantic error is made evident in a speech that he allocates to Max Archer (p 264): “‘My academic research is on double agents’, he said, steadying his voice. ‘Intelligence officers who officially work for one side but secretly work for the other. The thing is, technically, some intelligence historians dispute the use of the term “double agents” for professional spies like Philby and the Cambridge Five.’” Why, if he were a serious historian who wanted to make his reputation, Archer would go against the grain of what ‘some’ intelligence historians affirm (how many are there, anyway?), and promote an incorrect and unrecognized classification, Richardson does not explain.

Likewise, the account of his biography of Philby is unconvincing and ambiguous. Archer is supposed to have spent years in the archives digging out the facts about Philby, but the whole point of Kim is that there was practically no archival evidence available about him – certainly not in the early 2000s, and the books about him relied largely on the secretive investigations and interviews conducted by the Sunday Times ‘Insight’ team, unreliable memoirs from his colleagues, as well as Philby’s own highly dubious account, My Silent War. Yet Archer is described as taking four years to write his biography, and the Endnotes took twelve months. What they could have contained, for a professedly serious academic publication, would have been very thin gruel. (Even if he had had access to the same MI5 files that Christopher Andrew was able to inspect – impossible, by the way, since there were no historians ‘authorized’ before Andrew – most of his Endnotes would simply have stated ‘Security Service Archives’.) Yet Archer later explains that both his books were tuned for a less demanding market (p 228): “He’d glamorized them, emphasized the sex and the danger, even hoped they might be optioned in a splashy bidding war by Hollywood and hungrily consumed by the masses.” That is absurd: you cannot be the pot-boiling Ben Macintyre and the dryasdust Michael S. Goodman at the same time.

I could cite more – but enough. The book is pure hokum – quite enjoyable hokum – but still hokum. If the fictional characters are too closely tethered to real figures, credibility is quickly undermined, while if they also lack their own coherence in the imagined world, the whole edifice crumbles. What publishers in this sphere need are not Sensitivity readers but Authenticity Readers.

What’s New at Kew

In March of this year, I submitted a Freedom of Information Request to the National Archives at Kew. I had noticed that HO 382/255, a file on Georg Honigmann and his daughter Barbara (by Kim Philby’s former wife, Litzi) relating to their passport status, had been withheld, not to be released until 2061! This was shocking. I could not understand why information on the Honigmanns could still be regarded as sensitive. After all, Georg had absconded to East Berlin in 1946, seventy-seven years ago, and Litzi had joined him soon afterwards, whereupon they were married.  Barbara was born in 1949. The file was closed, it seems, in December 1960, and an arbitrary retention period of one hundred years allocated. Why would the Home Office need to maintain information on these people for so long, and who might be affected by its disclosure? Was something embarrassing about Litzi included, perhaps?

The initial response was not encouraging, but due process was followed. At last, on June 28, I received the following message from the Quality Manager at the National Archives:

Thank you for your enquiry regarding a review of:

HO 382/255 – HONIGMANN, George [sic] Friedrich Wolfgang: German. HONIGMANN, Barbara: German

Please accept our apologies for the delays in responding to your Freedom of Information request.

I can now confirm that a redacted version of this record will be made available for public viewing at The National Archives, Kew by 5 July 2023. We have outlined your options for accessing the record at the end of this response.

We have had to carry out a public interest test.  This was because some of the information you requested is covered by the Section 23(1) exemption, which by virtue of Section 64(2), becomes a qualified exemption where information falling within it is contained in a historical record in a public record office, such as The National Archives. Section 23 exempts from public disclosure, information that is directly or indirectly supplied by, or relates to, certain organisations dealing with security matters listed at Section 23(3).

After careful consideration, the public interest in releasing some of the information you have requested is outweighed by the public interest in maintaining the exemption. 

We have applied the Section 23(1) exemption to information in the file relating to the Security Service. We shall continue to protect such information for the personal security of the individuals involved and the national security of the United Kingdom. It is in the public interest that our security agencies can operate effectively in the interests of the United Kingdom, without disclosing information that may assist those determined to undermine the security of the United Kingdom and its citizens.

The judiciary differentiates between information that would benefit the public good and information that would meet public curiosity.  It does not consider the latter to be a “public interest” in favour of disclosure.  In this case disclosure would neither meaningfully improve transparency nor assist public debate, and disclosure would not, therefore, benefit the public good.

I scanned a copy of a police report from this record in order to obtain the Metropolitan Police’s approval to release their Special Branch generated material, (something I am obliged to do under the Freedom of Information Act).
As they have stated that they have no objection to release, I have attached a copy of the scan so that you at least have some details to look at while waiting for the file to be made available in full.

The file has now been returned to the repository.

My London-based researcher has recently viewed and photographed the file, and I received it on August 9. There does not, at first glance, appear to be anything controversial in it, apart from the fact that Barbara Honigmann (who is still alive), the daughter of Georg and Litzi (sometime Philby) Honigmann applied to spend a month in the United Kingdom when she was eleven years old, in 1960! No doubt there are other secrets within. I shall provide a full report on it in my September bulletin. One thing that had struck me is that Honigmann is described in the header as being ‘German’, yet a sample of the file sent to me by the Quality Manager reports on Honigmann’s application for British naturalization in 1936, on the basis that he promised that he ‘he had no intention for making application to the German authorities for permission to retain his German citizenship if granted British naturalization’. Puzzled, I returned to the Honigmann files previously released, and then discovered that Honigman’s application for naturalization was rejected because of his communist sympathies.

Intelligence Officers

I frequently ask myself: what makes a good intelligence officer, and were those recruited by MI5 in wartime well-suited to their career? Selecting a profession has a high degree of chance about it, in my opinion. I almost went into teaching (and took a post-graduate degree in education), but I think I would have been a very poor schoolmaster. (Several persons I have encountered said that I should have been a lawyer.) Fortunately I joined IBM instead, and finished my career in a job of technology analysis that I believe was ideal for me, demanding business acumen, technical knowledge and experience, good analytical and communications skills, and a healthy lack of idealism. And one thinks of doctors: presumably all doctors who pass their final examinations must be qualified, but one would expect a vastly different set of skills between those who passed with flying colours and those who always confused the ileum with the ilium.

Were the Oxbridge dons, lawyers, and acquaintances from the Club uniquely suited to the positions found for them in MI5 when it was recruiting furiously in 1940? Perhaps on the principle that smart persons can adapt to the demands of any particular job, it made sense, but training and preparation were practically non-existent, and the management infrastructure was woefully inefficient. Moreover, there were different kinds of skill required: more cerebral, contemplative assessment of evidence, with a background of history and politics required; interrogatory skills in challenging and verifying the stories of suspected spies; the more people-oriented capabilities of emotional intelligence and patience in running agents.

Allen Dulles

I recently came across what Allen Dulles, the head of the CIA, wrote about ideal intelligence officers. In The Craft of Intelligence appears the following:

                “When I recently addressed a class of junior trainees at CIA I tried to list what I thought were the qualities of a good intelligence officer. They were:

            Be perceptive about people

Be able to work well with others under difficult conditions

Learn to discern between fact and fiction

Be able to distinguish between essentials and non-essentials

Possess inquisitiveness

Have a large amount of ingenuity

Pay appropriate attention to detail

Be able to express ideas clearly, briefly and very important, interestingly

Learn when to keep your mouth shut.”

As afterthoughts to what he presented in his lecture, he added other desirable characteristics: an understanding of other points of view; no rigidity or closed-mindedness; lack of ambitiousness or rewards in fame or fortune.

It’s not a bad list: I wonder whether his trainees were screened before they were hired, or whether he thought that some of the qualities could be inculcated into them? I might add a hard-headed, even cynical, perspective on how the world works, a degree of humility, and a sense of humour, even to the extent of not taking oneself too seriously. (Are you listening back there, Angleton?) And I was reminded of the sentences that Stella Rimington included in her memoir concerning Peter Wright (that I used in my July coldspur):

            But it [counter-espionage work] is not the quick jumping to conclusions and the twisting of facts to meet the theory which Peter Wright went in for in those days. He was in fact by then [1972] everything which a counter-espionage officer should not be. He was self-important, he had an over-developed imagination and an obsessive personality which had turned into paranoia. And above all he was lazy.

Wright would have failed the Dulles test quite dramatically.

But what about his colleagues, in MI5 and MI6? Were they much better? Consider the very smart and cerebral but rather romantic and impressionable Guy Liddell, lacking confidence in expressing his opinions forthrightly; the ambitious and political Dick White, who manipulated others to protect his position; the bumbling and easily influenced Arthur Martin, who certainly could not keep quiet when he needed to; the insightful but neurotic and demanding John Curry; the vain and detached Valentine Vivian, suffering from depression, who did not have the brain-power to recognize what he was up against; the unpopular and heartless loner Claud Dansey, whose deviousness led him into some dismal traps; the well-intentioned but cautious and unbrilliant Roger Hollis, who really just wanted to stay out of trouble and play golf; the misplaced Percy Sillitoe, treating counter-espionage as a police exercise, who had to call in from the USA for instructions. In comparison with this lot, I suspect that Jasper Harker and Felix Cowgill may have received an undeservedly bad press.

On the other hand, I believe the true stars were more junior officers like Jane Archer (née Sissmore), Michael Serpell and Hugh Shillito, who had their fingers on the pulse, but for various reasons were pushed aside or became disheartened. And one has to recognize that it would take a very persistent and confident MI5 leadership, with carefully prepared arguments and principles, to withstand some of the political pressures. If Petrie, Liddell and White had insisted to the Ministry of Aircraft Production, just after the Soviet Union had entered the war as an ally in the summer of 1941, that Klaus Fuchs should in no circumstances be employed on the Tube Alloys project because he was a known Communist, their careers might have been put in jeopardy.

And what about all those MI6 officers with Russian connections – Alexander McKibbin, Henry Carr, Paul Dukes, Stephen Alley, George Hill, Wilfred Dunderdale, Harold Gibson, George Graham, and maybe others? They were selected because they spoke Russian, and knew the country: some of them had wives from tsarist times. Obvious candidates to handle agents behind the lines. But of course those qualifications represented a massive exposure. Their skills and background stood out a mile to the various Russian Intelligence Services over the years, and they were ideal candidates for manipulation by the NKVD through the issuance of threats to family members still residing in the Soviet Union. Unimaginative heads of MI6 could not spot the danger, and the cause of counter-intelligence – injured of course by Philby – was mortally damaged.

It was not easy. And re-discovering a passage in the 1944 Bland Report (which made recommendations about the future organization of MI6) caused me to reflect that the leadership of the Services sometimes failed to come to grips properly with their missions. Keith Jeffery cites a statement inserted by Stewart Menzies (after influence from the rather flimsy Peter Loxley, Alexander Cadogan’s Private Secretary, who was tragically killed in an aircraft accident on his way to Yalta), which tried to steer an apolitical track:

            We think it is important that those concerned [eh?] in the S.I.S. should always bear in mind that they ae not called upon to investigate such organisations [Nazis, Communists, Anarchists, etc.] because of their political ideology; and that they should therefore only engage in such investigations when there is prima facie evidence that the organization in question may be used as instruments of espionage, or otherwise when specifically requested to do  . . . We consider it to be of great importance that the S.I.S. should avoid incurring any suspicion that it is the instrument of any political creed in this country, and we believe therefore that C would always be well advised to seek guidance from the Foreign Office as to what political parties in foreign countries need special watching, and for how long.

This seems to me to be taking neutrality too far. (It was at a time when factions in the Foreign Office were strenuously promoting ‘co-operation’ with the Soviet Union.) Defending the Realm, the Constitution (no matter how dispersed or vague it was) – even the Empire – was presumably what MI6 and MI5 were supposed to be doing: confounding the knavish tricks of those who wanted to overthrow them could hardly be construed as adopting a political ideology. This must have raised a few guffaws in the Kremlin.

In conclusion, after reading the biography of J. L. Austin (q.v. infra), I realized that it was a figure like him that MI5 (and MI6) desperately needed to coordinate intelligence about Soviet intentions and practice in all their aspects – Leninist and Stalinist doctrine, the Comintern and its successors, Moscow’s relationship with the CPGB, the role of spies, illegals and agents of influence, the use of propaganda and subversion. Austin’s capacity for hard work, his ability to learn, his excellent memory, his historical sense, his patience, his lack of sentimentality, and his synthetic abilities in interpretation all gave him an unmatched capability. Two heads of the CIA, Walter Bedell Smith (q.v. infra) and William Casey, were both highly impressed with Austin’s work, and tried to bring his disciplines to work in reforming the organization.

But instead, MI5 and MI6 got Hollis and Vivian.

The Lady Novelists

If W. S. Gilbert’s text for The Mikado had had to undergo the surveillance of a ‘sensitivity reader’, we would have been spared the appearance of ‘the lady novelist’ in Ko-Ko’s list of persons who ‘never would be missed’. Lest anyone be under the misapprehension that I carry any bias against members of this category, I hasten to point out that I am an enthusiastic fan of Angel Thirkell, Helen MacInnes, Olivia Manning, Barbara Pym, and Elizabeth Taylor. Thus I trust that my recent criticisms of Kate Atkinson, Rebecca Stanford and Charlotte Philby will not be interpreted as a sad case of male chauvinism. As is evident, I mete out the same harsh treatment to characters like Matthew Richardson.

Unfortunately, when I wrote to Charlotte Philby, suggesting that her obvious talents might be better applied to writing a non-fictional account of her grandfather’s marriage with Litzi instead of an imagined tale of his relationship with Edith Tudor-Hart, she reacted badly, believing that I was being facetious. (An unremarkable conclusion, should she have happened to know me, but in this case I was behaving utterly sincerely.) I immediately tried to repair the damage, but heard no more from her. I wonder whether she has been tracking the saga on coldspur. . . .  Nevertheless, I remain a sucker for picking up these creative attempts to write convincing fiction based on a distortion of historical events.

The latest in this genre that I read was a title that caught my eye on the Barnes & Noble best-selling table – The Paris Spy by Susan Elia Macneal. Since it involved an SOE agent in 1942, as the plans for the ‘invasion’ of France are being made, I thought I should give it a go. Heaven knows, the author might have dug out some new source I had overlooked. When I inspected the bibliography at the back, I could tell that she had immersed herself deeply into the goings-on with F Section, Buckmaster, Déricourt, Atkins, Dansey, Khan and company.

‘The Paris Spy’ by Susan Elia Macneal

The novel turned out to be another mess of fiction and ‘authenticity’. At times, Macneal introduces real characters in her plot, but introduces the main actors by hiding their real-life models behind imagined names. Thus James Lebeau is based on Henri Déricourt, Henry Gaskell on Maurice Buckmaster, Diana Lynd on Vera Atkins, and George Bishop on Claude Dansey. (Occasionally she forgets where she is, and refers to such characters by the names of their prototypes.) The author admits, proudly, that her story is ‘fiction, pure fiction’ but then acknowledges her debt to Phyllis Brooks Shafer, retired Berkeley Professor, as well as Ronald J. Granieri, director of research and lecturer in history at the Lauder Institute at Wharton at the University of Pennsylvania, for their contribution by checking her manuscripts for historical accuracy.

But what can ‘historical accuracy’ mean in such a scenario? The plot is quite absurd, with a larger-than-life appearance by Coco Chanel, implausibly simplified radio transmissions, miraculous escapes – one aided by an accommodating Nazi officer – the seizure of prisoners of the Germans, and an unlikely flight back to the United Kingdom in which the Déricourt character pilots the Lysander, but has to be subdued and rendered unconscious, whereafter the heroine (who has never flown a  plane beforehand) manages to bring it home with the help of a groggy RAF officer. It is not to say that the book lacks style: wartime Paris is described with obvious care, and Macneal has a good knack for dialogue. All harmless nonsense, I suppose, and it seems that there is an audience for such hokum which does not care about the extravagances and distortions.

Beverly Gage and ‘G-Man’

‘G-Man’ by Beverly Gage

One of my summer reading assignments was to read Beverly Gage’s critically acclaimed and Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of J. Edgar Hoover, the long-lasting director of the F.B.I. Now, I have never regarded Hoover as a very estimable or sympathetic figure: I detected a high degree of hypocrisy in his private life, and judged his commitment to dirty tricks disgraceful. I considered that his approach to segregation and civil rights, and his obstinacy in deeming the movements behind them as being inevitably controlled by Soviet intelligence, were simply foolish. I had also been disturbed by Hoover’s inappropriate championing of the Catholic Church – something that Gage dispenses with fairly sympathetically in just three pages – and was thus intrigued to read, in the July issue of History Today, a review of a new book on his influence in this sphere, titled The Gospel of J. Edgar Hoover: How the FBI Aided and Abetted the Rise of White Christian Nationalism, by Lerone A. Martin. The reviewer, Daniel Rey, writes: “From Hoover’s petty squabbling over biblical disputes to his flagrant abuse of the separation of church and state, the details in Martin’s book are astonishing.” I doubt whether I shall get round to reading this – one can take only so much Hoover in one decade – but it just shows that the ‘definitive’ biography will never be written.

Yet Gage manages to describe Hoover as a vaguely respectable character, politically savvy and ready to adjust – obviously something he would have had to perform if he managed to fulfill his duties under eight different US presidents, from Coolidge to Nixon. If a biographer is going to spend that amount of time on any character, he or she will probably present a mostly positive angle on the subject. I was surprised, however, given what I recalled of Anthony Summers’s 1993 biography of Hoover, how little time she spent on Hoover’s secret files on politicians, items that he used to threaten anyone who challenged him. Why, for instance, could Richard Nixon not bring himself to fire Hoover when all his aides were pressing him to do so? Gage also has no room to explore the way her subject was sometimes lampooned. In 1964, the satirist Art Buchwald wrote a column claiming that Hoover was a ‘mythical person first thought up by Reader’s Digest’, which magazine took the name from the manufacturer of kitchen equipment. Hoover was not amused.

Hoover had appeared on my screen because of his demand to have Fuchs interrogated in prison by an FBI officer, because of the episodes involving Philby, Burgess and Maclean, because of his energetic anti-communist stance, and because he had tried to prevent the CIA learning about VENONA. I had always been a bit puzzled about his relative patience with the visits of MI5 chiefs and vice-chiefs (e.g. Sillitoe, Liddell, Hollis) who had gone to Washington in an attempt to appease him, since he must have considered the set-up at the Security Service impossibly leaky and not managed on the strict procedural and hierarchical lines that he prided himself on developing for the FBI. In fact, Hollis and Liddell do not appear in Gage’s index (there is no mention of Hoover’s gift of golf-clubs to Hollis), and Sillitoe is mentioned only in the context of his giving an honorary knighthood to Hoover at the British Embassy in 1951. Gage is very weak on matters of international intelligence, such as the complicated relations between the CIA and the FBI when it came to the handling of Soviet defectors and agents-in-place, most notably Michał Golenewski. That all goes to show, I suppose, that you can write a rich 837-page biography without touching some of the critical aspects of a life, and that Gage has a naturally domestic focus.

Gage overall writes quite elegantly (I do not understand why she capitalizes ‘Black’, but not ‘white’, but observe that this anomalous usage extends to the pages of the Times Literary Supplement), and her narrative moves forward strongly. Yet I wondered whether her perspective lost some of its individuality in the process of writing. In her Acknowledgments she gives credit to no less than one-hundred-and-twenty-eight individuals, and it is difficult for me to see how she could listen to the opinions of that many persons without compromising her independence of voice. For example, she shows a less than authoritative stance on the issues of ‘racial and social justice’, and the competition between ‘capitalism and communism’, and sometimes evades judgments where a more confident scholar would have put her oar in. The sources she gives are overall thorough, although it worries me when a respectable academic relies on Ben Macintyre’s A Spy Among Friends and Phillip Knightley’s The Master Spy for her intelligence on Kim Philby, and she also cites Amy Knight’s highly flawed When the Cold War Began for her information on the Gouzenko case. How can I trust her authority on the topics and authors with which I am not familiar?

One of her woollier assertions really stopped me in my tracks. On page 418, she writes: “One Venona cable even hinted that Walter Bedell Smith, director of the CIA beginning in 1950, might have been turned by the Soviets during his time in Moscow as American ambassador.” No commentary is supplied: no source for this claim is given. I judge that observation so shocking, with highly grave implications if true, that it should never have been allowed to appear in the text so baldly. If the evidence is flimsy, the observation should have been omitted. If it is not, a proper analysis should have been offered. I can find no reference to Bedell Smith in either of the two primary American works on the VENONA project, namely the book by Haynes & Klehr, and that by Romerstein & Breindel. Moreover, I cannot imagine anyone less likely to have been ‘turned’ (whatever that means in this context) than Bedell Smith. I accordingly sent a polite email to Professor Gage, asking her to provide me with the source statement, and to explain exactly what she meant. (Writing emails to authors is frequently a thankless task: non-academics tend to hide behind their agents or their publishers, but academics normally display an email address somewhere on the institution’s website, and that is how I was able to target Professor Gage’s inbox – or spam folder.)

I received no acknowledgment or reply. I put her on the List.

Summer Biographies

It is a rich summer for the publication of biographies. Jesse Fink, who declared himself a coldspur enthusiast a few months ago, is a British-Australian author. His latest offering, as he posted, is a life of the intelligence officer Charles ‘Dick’ Ellis, titled The Eagle in the Mirror, and his objective is to refute the common claim that his subject was a ‘scoundrel’ – contrary to what I, like many others, believed. In order to get my hands on this book as soon as possible, I ordered it from, and eagerly look forward to its arrival, and learning what the facts about this mysterious character are.

I also read in a recent Spectator a review of a recently-published biography of the photographer Barbara Ker-Seymer, written by Sarah Knights. Attentive coldspur readers will recall that I covered this little-known character in a piece from February 2019, Two Cambridge Spies – Dutch Connections (1) ( , where I explored Ker-Seymer’s links with Donald Maclean, and whether she was the elusive ‘Barbara’ to whom Goronwy Rees referred. Duncan Fallowell’s review in the magazine was hardly compulsive: “She took some attractive photo-portraits before the war in her studio above Asprey’s and that was it.” I wondered, if Ker-Seymer was so insignificant, why Knights deemed her worthy of a biography. Was anything about Maclean to be revealed in the book? I doubt whether I shall bother to acquire it, since Knights may not have advanced so far as I did in my researches. Maybe somebody out there reading this report will know more, and inform me.

At some stage I am also expecting the arrival of Robert Lyman’s book on the double-agent Henri Dericourt. Lyman, a somewhat arrogant New Zealander (in his self-promotion, he always prefixes his name with ‘Dr.’, in my mind a rather pretentious habit when exercised by those who are not medical practitioners), appears not to have been chastened by the drubbing that Patrick Marnham gave him recently on coldspur (see ). For example, it has been reported to me that Lyman was enthusiastically touting his ‘new’ researches at the Chalke Valley History Festival in June. Patrick and I are very sceptical that Lyman will have come up with any fresh insights after his time at Kew, and it seems to us that he is being set up by Mark Seaman and the other Foreign Office propagandists as the successor to the now much subdued Francis Suttill. I suppose I shall have to acquire his book when it comes out, in the cause of research completeness, but, again, if any coldspur reader can perform the job for me first, and advise me accordingly, I should be very grateful.

‘J. L. Austin’ by M. W. Rowe

On August 4, I received my copy of M. W. Rowe’s J. L. Austin: Philosopher and D-Day Intelligence Officer, which was reported (in a Spectator review) to have a fascinating account of the Oxford philosopher’s contribution to intelligence in World War II. It weighed in heftily at just over two pounds, with 660 pages. I completed it on August 19: it is a monumental work, a tour de force in many aspects, but ultimately unsatisfactory. The problem is that it actually consists of three separate books: a conventional biography of Austin, a study of military intelligence in World War II, to which Austin contributed mightily, and an account of Ordinary Language Philosophy in post-war Oxford. None of these three subjects is probably worthy of a separate volume, yet, when merged together, they produce something rather indigestible.

Austin tragically died very young, of lung cancer at the age of forty-eight, and the events of his life, outside the war service and the linguistic battles at Oxford, do not contain enough of interest to fill a biography. The cause is not helped by a very stodgy and irrelevant genealogical introduction, which, by focussing on only one patrilineal thread, does not do justice to the scope of Austin’s heritage, and sentimentally makes some rather unrigorous conclusions. I cite here an example of Rowe’s whimsical day-dreaming: “It is pleasing to think that two mordant intellects and fine prose stylists – the J. Austen who wrote Sense and Sensibility and the J. Austin who wrote Sense and Sensibilia – are related, even if their closest common ancestor is to be found in the late fifteenth century.” That is a rather desperate effort.

On the other hand, the middle section, on intelligence on wartime, is fascinating, and sheds vital fresh light on Austin’s contribution, especially concerning the D-Day landings, that has not been published beforehand. Yet the author chooses to include a host of ancillary information about the conflict that has little to do with Austin’s life. The last section is simply tedious: Austin’s apparent obsession with the detailed inspection and promotion of ‘Ordinary Language’ to solve ‘philosophical problems’ (that are undefined) seems to this reader quite futile, since that school of philosophy combines a mixture of the palpably obvious with a failure to understand that language is an infinitely deceptive tool, and that the spoken form, through emphasis and intonation, introduces a whole fresh dimension of significance and meaning. Rowe quotes something that Isaiah Berlin, in a typically arch and equivocal manner, wrote about Austin, as the philosopher was dying, that, to my mind, ironically undermines the whole principle of ‘Ordinary Language’: “  . . . I think on the whole that he is the cleverest man I have ever known – in curious ways also the nicest, perhaps not the nicest, but wonderfully benevolent, kind, good and just, despite all his little vanities, etc.” Analyzing the difference between ‘the nicest’ and ‘the nicest’ could have occupied a whole seminar. I recall reading, in my late teens, Language, Truth and Logic, by Austin’s adversary, A. J. Ayer, followed by Austin’s Sense and Sensibilia, and then Ernest Gellner’s Words and Things, which tried to demolish the kernel of Austin’s ‘Ordinary Language’ ideas. My vague recollection is that I found Gellner, despite his rather lush and imprecise prose, the most convincing.

‘Sense and Sensibilia’ by J. L. Austin

The book is not helped by a too rich set of distracting Footnotes, mostly clarifying who some rather obscure and less obscure persons were – all of which could have been relegated to a Biographical Appendix, so that the reader could more easily discover what nuggets and insights the author wanted to mention that he did not judge were appropriate to include in his narrative. This clutter is reflected in a less-than-useful Index, which is dominated by the same hundreds of personal names, while ignoring many of the more vital entities (such as wartime Operations) in which I had interest. I was also puzzled that no analysis of Austin’s precipitous demise was given. He had been a dedicated pipe-smoker – like thousands of his generation – but why did he succumb so early to squamous cell carcinoma? (My father, who was born a month before Austin, also smoked a pipe intensively until the 1970s, but outlived him by forty-five years.) And how come that Austin, a resolute atheist, was given a grand memorial service in the University Church of St. Mary the Virgin? I should also have liked to learn more about the contribution of Austin’s loyal and admirable widow, Jean, who, as I picked up from a New York Times review of Nikhil Krishnan’s A Terribly Serious Adventure, carried on teaching philosophy at Oxford after her husband’s death. So – a necessary read, in many ways, but it is hard to see at which audience this dense tome is targeted.

And then there are the reissues of two famous works: D. J. Taylor’s biography of George Orwell, and Michael Ignatieff’s revised life of Isaiah Berlin. I have an extensive supply of Orwell-related literature in one of my bookcases, including Taylor’s Life, the biographies by Crick, Meyer, Bowker, Shelden, and dozens of volumes that inspect various aspects of Orwell’s life and works, as well as an almost full set of the magnificent Complete Works of George Orwell, edited by Peter Davison. In view of my breakthrough research in 2004 suggesting that Orwell had Asperger’s Syndrome – a diagnosis later confirmed by Professor Michael Fitzgerald in his 2005 book The Genesis of Artistic Creativity (see ), I was keen to learn how Taylor had treated this information in Orwell: The New Life. I had written to Taylor many years ago, and pointed him to my article posted on coldspur, so he must have been aware of the theory.

‘Orwell: The New Life’ by D. J. Taylor

The book duly arrived. I checked out the index: no mention of Fitzgerald or Percy or Asperger’s. Yet the flyleaf declares that the book uses ‘a wide range of previously unknown sources’, and that it is ‘poignant, far-reaching, and critically astute’. I read all of its 540 dense pages, and enjoyed it, but did not learn much more than I gained from the 2003 version, and it sometimes is simply too encyclopaedic. Indeed, the resident literary lampoonist and satirist at Private Eye captured the spirit of it in a short parody published a few weeks ago. While his contributions are always presented anonymously, I know that the author’s identity is – D. J. Taylor.

So what happened? I was apparently not the only reader to wonder about Taylor’s disdain. Alexander Larman, in a review of the biography in the July issue of The Spectator World, wrote:

“Taylor shies away from any suggestion that Orwell was on the autism spectrum, but judging by many of the actions depicted in this necessarily lengthy but never self-indulgent book, he suffered from at least a moderate form of Asperger syndrome, which might explain his often uncomprehendingly forthright attitude towards his fellow writers.”  Yet that is only partly true. Taylor does not ‘shy away’: he never even engages with the hypothesis, which represents a very bizarre way of treating fresh research. Ignoring coldspur is perhaps pardonable, but pretending that the relevant publication by the very prominent Professor Fitzgerald had no merit is surely inexcusable. Since a review of the book also appeared in Literary Review, I sent a letter to the Editor of that excellent magazine describing my puzzlement, and drawing attention to both my article and the book by Professor Fitzgerald. He declined to print my letter.

Soon afterwards, I read in the Wall Street Journal of August 12-13 a very positive review of a book titled Wifedom, a biography of Orwell’s first wife Eileen O’Shaughnessy, by Anna Funder. The reviewer, Donna Rifkind, wrote:

            Ms. Funder clearly believes that Eilleen’s role in Orwell’s life has been undervalued. She balks at the ways Orwell views “women – as wives – in terms of what they do for him, or ‘demand’ of him.” His exalted status, she implies, has obscured how tyrannical this hater of tyrannies could be, how insensitive he was towards the women who best understood him.

It has been shown that Orwell treated several women in his life in a severely abusive manner. Taylor definitely soft-pedalled this aspect of his hero. It sounds as if a new version of his work is called for . . .

And then there was Michael Ignatieff and Isaiah Berlin. I learned from a Facebook post by Henry Hardy (Berlin’s long-time amanuensis and editor) that a revised edition of Isaiah Berlin: A Life, first published in 1998, was to appear this summer. I awaited its appearance eagerly. After all, in my study of Berlin, most prominently in my 2015 History Today article The Undercover Egghead (see, in my comprehensive coverage in Misdefending the Realm (2017), and in my elegiac contribution in Isaiah in Love (see, I had done much to disclose Berlin’s involvement with intelligence, frequently of a highly dubious nature, which Berlin, in his conversations with Ignatieff, and in his own writings, had very strenuously denied. Surely Henry Hardy would have alerted Ignatieff to my contributions: Hardy had attended the lecture at Buckingham University where I first unveiled The Undercover Egghead, he was familiar with Misdefending the Realm, and had complimented me (he is not one to dispense praise easily) on Isaiah in Love.

‘Isaiah Berlin: A Life’ by Michael Ignatieff

I had enjoyed the first edition of the Life, but thought it intellectually lazy. I do not know how one can write a serious biography when one is mainly dependent upon the reminiscences of the subject himself. Ignatieff brought a cultured and refined perspective to the incidents in Berlin’s life, but it was far too hagiographic, focused too much on Berlin’s frequently garbled thinking without analyzing it critically, and lacked objectivity and discipline in covering the essence of Berlin’s ‘Jewishness’ (whatever that means), and his adherence to ‘Judaism’ and Zionism. Thus I had great expectations that the new edition would address many of the faults of the first, and take into consideration the bulk of what has been written about Berlin in the past twenty-five years.

The arrival of the book was a colossal disappointment. It is described as a ‘fully revised definitive edition’, ‘a magisterial biography’. No new blurbs are listed, however: Doris Lessing’s tribute is highlighted, but she died in 2013. That was not a good sign. In his Preface, Ignatieff writes that ‘a steady stream of articles, books and commentary have explored Berlin’s ideas. In this new edition, I have tried to incorporate as much of this new material as possible’. He claims that he has also ‘tried to clarify Berlin’s relations with important figures’, but his interest is superficial. He maintains the individual chapters that carved up the first edition. His Endnotes reveal only about three books that have been published since 1998, and two of those consist of reminiscences of Berlin, one of which is by Henry Hardy himself. ‘Definitive’ it is not. Even Hardy agrees that a proper authoritative and objective life of Berlin remains to be written.

Thus we read no fresh analysis of Berlin’s activities in the intelligence world. The story that Guy Burgess was on a mission to Russia, for MI5 (an error, since any overseas engagement would have been undertaken by MI6), and that he wanted Berlin to be appointed as a Press Officer at the British Embassy in Moscow, is carelessly repeated, as is Berlin’s denial that he ‘had ever been sent on a secret mission anywhere by anyone’, in response to Goronwy Rees’s assertions in his People article in 1956. None of the many incidents that I describe in my articles, from the visit to sub-Carpathian Ruthenia in the summer of 1933 (see , through the strange negotiations with Chaim Weizman at the end of 1940, to the furtive meetings in Washington with Anatoly Gorsky, the previous handler of the Cambridge Five in London, starting in December 1944, is covered.  I also note (something that I overlooked in the first edition) that Berlin ‘gave every assistance to Peter Wright . . . .who called in search of any other accomplices Burgess might have had inside academe or the Establishment’. What possibly might Berlin have known if he was never involved with Intelligence?

Henry Hardy (who worked closely with the author on the notes and sources, and the editing of the book) agrees with me that Ignatieff is guilty of misleading his audience, and wrote to me declaring that ‘he shouldn’t have pretended to have done more than he did, and he should have made the case for leaving the book essentially unaltered’, adding that he didn’t think Ignatieff could be bothered to perform any more research. It is all rather sad, and the Pushkin Press should be embarrassed over this sorry effort to present the thing as a ‘fully revised definitive edition’. I have not seen any reviews yet, but I shall watch out to detect whether anybody has the same reaction as I did. (The Summer Special issue of Prospect carried an encapsulation of Berlin’s ideas by Ignatieff, suggesting that his Concepts of Liberty could act as guidance for the political challenges of today, but I found it too abstract and unconnected – as useless as the ideas of his adversary, John Rawls, Daniel Chandler’s biography of whom was reviewed a few pages on.)

The Love-Lives of the Philosophers

As I read Ignatieff’s book, I made notes on items that I thought were incorrect, or examples of sloppy or imprecise writing. I sent these to Henry Hardy, and some lively exchanges followed. One particular item that caught my eye was a sentence in the first paragraph of Chapter 15, where Ignatieff describes a scene at a beach outside Portofino in 1956. He lists some characters visible in Aline Berlin’s home movie, including ‘Stuart Hampshire and his son Julian Ayer’. Ayer? What did that mean? Had a few words been omitted? I know that Hampshire and Ayer (A. J. or ‘Freddie’, the logical positivist) were closely associated, but why would Hampshire’s son be called Julian Ayer? (Hampshire is of intelligence interest to me, since he worked with Hugh Trevor-Roper in the Radio Analysis Bureau of the Radio Security Service in World War II, and, despite a slightly questionable reputation, was invited by the government to conduct an audit of Britain’s intelligence services, and specifically GCHQ, in 1965.) I also checked out the first edition: there the text runs simply ‘Stuart Hampshire and his son Julian’. So I asked Hardy about it: was this a mistake? His first response was to inform me that Julian was indeed Hampshire’s son, but was known as Ayer. From straightforward research on Wikipedia, I established that Hampshire had married Ayer’s first wife, Renée Lees, and I assumed that Julian was thus his stepson.

Stuart Hampshire

Yet further investigations pointed to something more sinister. Hardy then told me that Julian was not Hampshire’s stepson: he was Hampshire’s biological son, ‘conceived before his parents were married’. This, however, turned out to be something of an understatement, and I sent my consequent discoveries to Hardy: “A long time before his ‘parents’ were married! All very strange. Julian was apparently born in 1939, but Ayer did not divorce Renée Lees until 1945, and Hampshire did not marry her until 1961. Thus Julian’s status at Portofino in 1956 was indeed ambiguous. On-line information on him describes him as Ayer’s ‘adopted son’”. Moreover, when I returned to Hampshire’s Wikipedia entry that morning, references to Julian (that I had picked up a couple of days ago) had disappeared, even though the last date of change was given as July 23. It seems that Hampshire’s daughter, Belinda, was also a product of his liaison with Renée Lees.

I detect some awkwardness over these events. Sadly, Julian was drowned in the tsunami disaster of 2004: maybe Ignatieff judged that it was time to open up about these relationships. By simply adding ‘Ayer’ to ‘Julian’, however, he provoked far more questions than he closed. What were his motivations?

And then, the very same day on which I was pursuing this inquiry, I read a column in the Spectator of July 22 by Charles Moore where he explained that the father of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, was Churchill’s private secretary Sir Anthony Montague Browne. His mother, Lady Williams of Elvel, admitted that she had gone to bed with Browne, ‘fuelled by a large amount of alcohol on both sides’, probably the night before she eloped with Gavin Welby. DNA tests gave a 97.78 probability that Montague-Browne was Welby’s father. What is it about the sexual mores of the Great and the Good, and what do they think they are they up to, lecturing to us about Morality? I knew that Freddie Ayer was a relentless satyr, but it seems that his habits were adopted by many of his friends and contemporaries. One of the fresh revelations in Ignatieff’s book is that Isaiah Berlin, after his marriage to Aline, not only carried on his affair with the sometime Soviet agent Jenifer Hart (which I had learned from Nicola Lacey’s biography of her husband H. L. A. Hart), but also conducted one with the Oxford sociologist (and later head of Newnham College, Cambridge) Jean Floud. Floud, née Macdonald, had married Peter Floud, and joined the Communist Party with him in 1938. Peter Floud’s brother Bernard was probably a member of the Oxford Group of spies, and committed suicide as the net closed in in 1967. Maybe it was over details concerning that circle that Berlin was able to clarify matters for Peter Wright.

Coldspur: Method, Archive & Topography


It occurs to me that it might be useful to describe the method(ology) behind my conclusions posted on coldspur, and how I treat comments submitted by readers. My researches are undertaken with the suspicion that most accounts of events in the world of espionage and counter-espionage are probably inaccurate, and a detailed study frequently reveals anomalies in time, geography and psychology, as well as conflicts between different records. (The full methodology I applied when performing my doctoral thesis can be inspected at )

My writing is designed to counter the baleful influences of at least four groups: 1) Those who write memoirs, or confide ‘remembrances’ to their biographers, when their primary objective is to beautify their reputation; 2) The bureaucrats, such as the ‘Foreign Office advisors’ who guide (for example) SOE researchers away from embarrassing material, and government employees (current or retired) who display indulgence to their ‘colleagues’ for sentimental reasons; 3) The amateur historians who distort the facts out of carelessness or a desire to glorify their subjects, or look for publicity by promoting melodramatic theories; and 4) The authorized historians who breach their professional objectivity by agreeing with their sponsors to constrain their areas of research.

What I am doing is, I suppose, ‘investigative reporting’, but of recent history, not current events. The experts in this subject encourage the maintenance of a large number of human sources – giving as an example the Sunday Times team researching Philby. Yet it requires an open mind and a good nose to distinguish between probable facts and possible disinformation when dealing with such sources: Bruce Page with Sackur, Seale and McConville with Vivian, Chapman Pincher and Anthony Glees with White and Reilly. Thus ‘sources’ can be a two-edged sword. I have enjoyed the contributions of very few ‘live’ inputs during my research. Moreover, it probably explains another dimension of the 70-year rule for releasing archival material. That limitation is frequently explained as a mechanism to protect the living, or their relatives. Yet it is just as useful for the authorities in preventing the insiders from being interrogated by inquisitive researchers, since they are no longer with us.

As I process the information available, and publish my conclusions, I am of course merely developing hypotheses. I never pretend that they are the last word on the subject, and I encourage challenges to them. Contrary to the belief of some, an accurate account of what really happened is not going to magically appear from an exhaustive presentation of all the ‘facts’. Some records may never be released, disinformation has been inserted into the archives, and memoirs are notoriously unreliable. I note the following statement from M. W. Rowe’s biography of J. L. Austin, where the author comments on the challenge of dealing with less than conclusive evidence: “ . . . truth is ultimately more likely to emerge from a bold, crisp and refutable claim than a range of hesitated options; and a full discussion of every option would weigh down the story and take up too much space.”

Well, I suppose my texts could be crisper, but I do believe that recording a detailed exposition of my material is essential for the benefit of posterity, since it will not appear anywhere else. I develop my hypotheses from a meticulous examination of information from multiple sources, and try to interpret/transform a series of discrete events into the structure of a plausible theory (such as my recent hypothesis that in 1939/40 Kim and Litzy Philby presented themselves to MI5 and MI6 as turncoats from Communism). Now a thesis such as this, which helps to explain a number of riddles and paradoxes, could be refuted, but that will not happen simply because one (or more) of the links in the chain can be broken. For example, some readers have challenged my suggestion that the informant to MI5 in 1953 was Graham Greene, and they may be right. Yet, even if that person is never correctly identified, it cannot detract from the fact that someone, almost certainly from MI6, told MI5 that the psychiatrist Eric Strauss knew more than he should have about Philby’s exploits in Turkey.

Thus most of the comments that I gratefully receive on coldspur help me to refine the arguments, and correct errors. So far, no one has submitted any evidence that causes me to retract a theory, though I am ready to do so, if appropriate. To any sceptics, I sometimes reply: “Show me an alternative explanation that fits the facts!”, but that may be unreasonable, as they have neither the time nor the interest to go that far, and they might disagree with me over what the ‘facts’ are. I should love to participate in a forum that explored these rival ideas, such as a debate at Lancaster House (probably not chaired by Mark Seaman), but that is unlikely to happen. Coldspur under WordPress is not the most efficient chat-room for exploring rival ideas, but it is what I have, and the ability to follow up controversies in my own space and time enables me to avoid the noise and muddle of other media. 


As I have previously written, I have been trying to find a home for my substantial library, and a custodian for coldspur, for the time when I am no longer around. I believe I have found a suitable educational institution who is eager to house my collection and provide a portal to my research and other archival material, but I have nothing in writing yet, so I am reluctant to say any more until a firm agreement has been reached. What has emerged from the discourse so far is the requirement to have my collection of books catalogued, and I have thus been involved in working with a website called LibraryThing ( to enter the details of the relevant volumes in my library.

So far I have entered about fifteen-hundred items on intelligence, history and general biography, with a few thousand still to be processed. (It may be that the institution will not want all my library, which contains a large selection of fiction, books on language, poetry and humour, including a particularly rich assortment of volumes of comic and nonsensical verse.) It has been a fascinating exercise: LibraryThing offers a choice of search engines to locate a title, normally by ISBN, such as amazon, the Library of Congress, and the British Library. I have found that amazon is by far the fastest and the most reliable. Very oddly, even when a book is identified with a ‘Library of Congress’ number, for instance, that search capability usually fails to come up with a candidate. For older books, of course, when no ISBN number existed, I have to enter search arguments by title and author, and make annotations. Occasionally no entry at all can be found, and I have to input all the details (publisher, date, etc.) myself. I place a little sticky label on each book entered, in order to control where I am.

One revelation for me has been how chaotic the ISBN system is. It looks as if it maintains an erratic ‘significance’ in its coding (and we data modellers know how error-prone such coding systems can be, as, for example, that used for postcodes in the UK), but I don’t know what it is, and there appears to be little consistency between what should be related entries, and books republished in a different format frequently own vastly different identifiers. I also found that some newish books remarkably have no ISBNs printed within them, and that some have them, but they are wrong, or have been used by other books before them. One of my on-line correspondents has made a detailed study of ISBNs and formats, and I may return to this issue at some stage.

A fascinating benefit from this exercise is that the user of LibraryThing can determine how many other users own the same volumes. This feature is a little unreliable, however, as it does not distinguish between different editions, but works only by title. Thus my owning a very rare nineteenth-century edition of a memoir, for example, may appear to be echoed in a count of other registers when the latter probably reflect much later re-prints. Occasionally, I find that I am the sole owner of a particular volume, which is a pleasing discovery.

I hope to report more on this project soon.


As the volume of research on coldspur has increased, I find it more and more difficult to track down references, statements and conclusions that I have made. (My bulletins have been going on for over eight years now, comprising what I estimate to be about one-and-a half million words – not all of serious import, of course.) An Index would be highly desirable, but I do not think the creation of one is going to happen. The internal search capability within WordPress is somewhat useful, but it identifies only the entry that contains the reference(s), and is thus very laborious. I do preserve the original Word version of each posting, so I can go back to an individual report and execute a search that highlights each reference. But I have found that an inadequate mechanism.

I know that there are procedures out there that can convert text, even extracted from coldspur itself, and convert into a PDF, maybe with Index entries, and that would be a great help, but would not go far enough. For an Index to be useful, it needs qualification of the entry (how many of you have been frustrated to look up, say, ‘Philby’, in the Index of a book, and find a list of twenty-eight page numbers without any indication of what aspect of ‘Philby’ each covers?). I know, from my experience in compiling the Index for Misdefending the Realm how desirable such a capability is, but also how tedious an exercise it is. 

The other aspect of this dilemma is the fact that I now detect multiple linkages between my research projects that were not obvious beforehand, such as the manipulation of the FBI/CIA by Dick White in 1951 and the investigations into Philby that summer, or the involvement of Claude Dansey in the attempts to ‘turn’ Ursula Kuczynski, Henri Déricourt, and, possibly, Litzi Philby. Thus I plan to provide some sort of guide to the coldspur archive, organized along chronological lines, that will highlight important threads and related events, and provide direct pointers to the urls, as well as the position of the relevant text within the report itself, so that the required information may be found more easily. That is my hope, anyway. I plan to start this project soon, and I hope to deliver the results before the end of the year. 

(This month’s Commonplace entries viewable here.)


Filed under Espionage/Intelligence, General History, Literature/Academia, Management/Leadership, Personal, Philosophy, Politics, Technology

The Folly of Solomon

Flora Solomon



Flora Solomon’s Life

The Mysterious Stevenson

Aileen Philby’s Admissions

At Lord Rothschild’s (1)

At Lord Rothschild’s (2)

Arthur Martin’s Report

The Aftermath

Anatoly Golitsyn

The Rimington Investigation

Analysis of the Rimington Report




In the old days, before I immersed myself in mid-twentieth century European history, I was wont to confuse pairs of semi-famous figures from the period. Nancy Astor and Nancy Cunard: both Americans who became European socialites. Ernst Toller and Stefan Zweig: Jewish authors, writing in German, who both committed suicide in the Americas. Ignace Reiss and Ignaty Reif: both Soviet illegals in the 1930s – did Stalin have them both killed? Simone Weil and Simone Veil: both French intellectuals of uncertain influence. Hans-Peter Smolka and Engelbert Broda: both Communist spies, but who did what? And Moura Budberg and Flora Solomon: both Jewish grandes dames from Russia, but which was the mistress of Alexander Kerensky, and which that of H. G. Wells? And were they both spies?

I believe I have straightened matters out now, and this month’s bulletin is about the highly controversial Flora Solomon. She reputedly plays a significant role in the Philby saga because she revealed to Victor Rothschild in 1962 that she had known that Philby was a Communist agent since he had approached her to join him in ‘working for peace’. According to some accounts, that disclosure apparently helped MI5 seal the deal against the traitor. Indeed, that tireless investigator into Philby’s naughty deeds, Ben Macintyre, characterized Solomon as his ‘hero’ in a typically error-strewn piece in the Guardian of April 4, 2014. (see  One might almost forgive the overwrought cliché ‘changed the course of British history’, but the byline ‘Flora Solomon provided MI5 with the evidence they needed to arrest Wilby’ is simply comical.  ‘Wilby’ was not arrested, but fled from Beirut in 1963 after giving a half-baked ‘confession’ to Nicholas Elliott. And, in any case, why did Solomon maintain her silence for so long? She would have been much more of a ‘hero’ if she had gone to the authorities with her knowledge in 1951, when Burgess and Maclean absconded.

This story is, however, much more complex, imbued with the prevarications and dissimulations of Solomon herself, as well as a hefty dose of self-deception and obtuseness on the part of MI5 officers. The sources are primarily the three files on Solomon held at the National Archives (KV 2/4633, 4634 & 4635, not released until October 2022). These files have been quite heavily redacted – a rather surprising phenomenon, given the subject, and the passage of time. My analysis below will offer a reason why.

The archival material is complemented by various memoirs and biographies, of which the main volumes are Solomon’s own contribution From Baku to Baker Street (1984), Peter Wright’s Spycatcher (1987), Nicholas Elliott’s Never Judge A Man By His Umbrella (1991), Tom Bower’s The Perfect English Spy (1992), Genrikh Borovik’s The Philby Files (1994), Phillip Knightley’s The Master Spy (1998), Stella Rimington’s Open Secret (2001), and Ben Macintyre’s A Spy Among Friends (2014). (In A Spy Among Friends, Macintyre includes as an Afterword a text given to him by John le Carré, which the latter published in a slightly expanded version in The Pigeon Tunnel (2016). It is essentially a record of what Nicholas Elliott told the author about Philby and other personalities in MI6.) I mention also the disclosures from Soviet archives revealed in The Crown Jewels, by Nigel West and Oleg Tsarev (1999), while Christopher Andrew’s Defend the Realm (2009) provides some vital insights.

Flora Solomon’s Life

Born Flora Benenson in Pinsk (now in Belarus) in 1895, the subject of this profile moved with her parents to Britain in 1914, leaving the family’s considerable wealth, in oil and gold, behind. Her father’s face had been disfigured by a jealous mistress, and they sought medical help abroad. After a circuitous route via Stockholm and Hamburg, they landed in Newcastle. In 1917, Flora was introduced to Colonel Harold Solomon, and married him the following year. The couple then spent several years in Palestine, where Solomon was an aide to the British High Commissioner, Herbert Samuel. In 1921, Flora returned to the United Kingdom to give birth to a son, Peter Benenson (who founded Amnesty). In 1923, Harold was paralyzed in a hunting accident, and the couple returned to London, effectively leading separate lives thereafter. In 1927, Flora met the former Russian leader Alexander Kerensky in New York, and began an affair with him, which continued when Kerensky established himself in Paris.  Her husband died in 1930. Flora was active in Zionist causes, but ideological splits between her and Kerensky, specially concerning Kerensky’s disgust for Stalin, caused them to break up. In the 1930s, after meeting Simon Marks at a dinner, Flora had become a vigorous defender of workers’ rights at Marks and Spencer, and served as the only woman in the company’s executive ranks. She remained an energetic Zionist all her life, and died in 1984.

‘From Baku to Baker Street’

Flora Solomon’s memoir, From Baku to Baker Street, written with the help of Barnet Litvinoff, a Zionist historian of some repute, appeared that same year. (Litvinoff had an interesting history. He was born in London of Russian immigrant parents in 1918, was in the Army for six years, seeing action at Dunkirk, and was captured during Rommel’s advance in the Western desert, surviving three years as a prisoner-of-war in Italy and Germany.) I here focus on the various statements Flora made about her relationship with Kim Philby, and on Communism in general, as they represent useful signposts to the archives that were released many years after her death.

Her first exposure to Kim was in 1921, when she met St John Philby and ‘his attractive wife Dora’ in Jerusalem, the elder Philby working at that time for Samuel. She recalled the ‘stammering young son’, who would have been aged about nine at the time. (She later recalled that he was eleven.) Flora’s application of chronology is rather wayward, but, from the surrounding narrative, it would seem that she met Philby again at some time between Oswald Mosley’s rally at Olympia in June 1934 and the promulgation of the Nuremberg Laws of September 1935. Flora’s ‘muddle-headed’ friend Dulcie Sassoon invited her to her house in the country, and Philby was also present. He did not recall the previous encounter, but ‘he introduced me to his Jewish wife, the Viennese Litzi Friedmann, and I gave them my address (I was living in Addison Road). Gradually a friendship developed.’

Flora went on to write:

            It caused me no disquiet when my housekeeper, Bella Meyer, a refugee from the Continent, informed me that she had known Litzi’s family in Vienna, and that Kim’s wife had been a Communist. Only years later, after Kim’s defection to Russia, did I learn with everyone else that he had a cover job with a pro-Nazi organization, the Anglo-German Fellowship. The Kim Philby I got to now was not a talkative man; he had a gentle charm, never drinking to excess at my house, and mingled easily with my friends.

Among such friends were noted left-wingers like John Strachey and Stafford Cripps, and ‘a liberal sprinkling of my Zionist contacts.’ It is perhaps puzzling how Philby managed to keep his new affiliation secret in such adversarial company (he joined the Fellowship in January 1936).

And Philby did not succumb to Flora’s Zionist propaganda:

            He evinced not the slightest interest in the Palestine conflict. Neither did Guy Burgess, who occasionally arrived with Kim. My recollection of the latter is borne out by what others have written of him: he was a grubby, uncouth specimen but a fascinating conversationalist.

One reflects on how Flora might have recalled this friendship after the disappearance of Burgess and Maclean in 1951.

The next encounter is marked as occurring just before Philby left for Spain in 1937. This must be his second visit, after he had been commissioned by the Times to work as an accredited journalist, sometime in June (he left on June 10). Flora describes it as follows:

            Kim Philby came to see me before leaving for Spain in 1937. I attached no significance to the news that he was to report the war from the Franco side. I remember the day well. I think he wanted to tell me more. ‘I’m doing important work for peace’, he said. ‘You should be doing it too, Flora.’

Her response was distinctly incurious:

            ‘I have my own cause,’ I observed. ‘Who’s going to help the persecuted Jews, if not their own people?’

There is no suggestion that she did not understand clearly what ‘working for peace’ meant, and she was not at all surprised that Philby, married to a committed Communist, would be engaging in subterfuge by reporting the war from the Franco side.

Sometime after this (according to Flora’s account), she introduced Kim to a woman called Aileen Furse, who was the cousin of a colleague of Flora’s at Marks and Spencer, Neil Furse, and whom Flora had hired as an assistant. Maddeningly, no date is given, but the suggestion is that it must likewise have occurred after Philby’s spell as a freelance journalist in Spain (he returned on May 24, 1937), and before his posting as an official Times correspondent. Yet Flora’s timetable does not make sense, since she describes it as follows:

            Aileen Furse soon established herself as one of my principal assistants, all of whom dropped in at my home for the occasional drink. She was there one day when Kim Philby arrived, now separated but not divorced from his Litzi. Kim plonked himself in an easy chair and began talking about Spain. He found an avid listener in Aileen, and the two left together. The next I knew they were sharing a flat.

This account is markedly at variance with descriptions she later gave her MI5 interrogators (in one of which Kim met Aileen the day war broke out, in another the encounter occurred after Dunkirk): it is difficult to imagine how Flora could have misattributed it so badly.

Yet she compounds her problem by next placing Kim and Aileen at her house ‘just before Munich’, i.e. in about August 1938, when another momentous exchange took place:

            As they left a party in my home – this must have been some time in 1938, just before Munich – Kim took me to one side, looking morose. ‘I want to tell you’, he said, ‘I’m in great danger’. It dawned on me then that he was still associated with the Communist Party, the cause that he had espoused at Cambridge. The statement was extraordinary, perhaps, but the intimation of his affiliation provoked no suspicion. What was dangerous in Britain about being a Communist? In some circles of the intelligentsia it was the done thing.

If part of this story is true (i.e. that Philby did confide to Flora his imminent danger at that time, but not when accompanied by Aileen), it would point to a hitherto unreported return to the United Kingdom by Philby during his second stint in Spain. From all the accounts I have read, Philby did not return to British soil until August 1939.

So was Flora Solomon making this up completely? I think it unlikely. What I believe is far more probable is that she received a message about Philby’s danger, either from Litzi or from Guy Burgess, but felt that she should pretend that she was not on such familiar terms with either. She showed a good amount of disingenuousness, however, in her comments. What had Cambridge University to do with the case? She knew that Philby remained a committed Communist because of the ‘working for peace’ slogan. And she grossly misrepresented the danger that Kim must have sensed. It was not the British authorities by whom he felt threatened: it was Stalin and the NKVD. 1938 was at the height of the purges. In 1937, Brian Goold-Verschoyle, a courier in Spain, had been abducted to Moscow for defying orders, and was probably shot soon after. Philby had just failed in the operation to assassinate Franco. In July, Alexander Orlov, Philby’s handler in Spa, had defected. Philby’s past mentor, Theodore Maly, had been recalled to Moscow, and shot as a foreign spy in September. Ozolin-Haskin, who ran Philby from Paris, was later shot.

Philby probably did not learn all these facts at the time, but the menace was clear. So why did he contact Solomon? It must have either been because of an emotional connection (some suspected that they had an affair, but Solomon denied it) or because he believed that she was influential enough that she might be able to help him by putting in a good word. Yet I do not believe that anyone has picked up the chronological impossibility of his issuing a cry for help in person.

The next major event that Solomon records is the marriage between Aileen and Kim, and her account is predictably strewn with errors:

            Litzi Friedman, partner in Philby’s first uneasy exercise in matrimony, had lived the war out in London with another man. In 1945 he took a post in East Berlin and before joining him there she and Kim were divorced. So it was at last possible to do the right thing by Aileen. Would I, asked Kim, be a witness?

She covers the Burgess and Maclean abscondment, the suspicions over Philby, and the death of Aileen in puzzling circumstances after she had been abandoned by Kim, before moving to ‘one of the more distasteful episodes of her life’, namely her revelations over Kim to Lord Rothschild. Solomon had become disgusted with the anti-Zionist tones of Philby’s articles as an Observer correspondent, and when she encountered Rothschild at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot in 1962, her frustration erupted:

            In my exasperation with the Philby articles I suddenly exclaimed to Victor, ‘How is it the Observer uses a man like Kim? Don’t they know he’s a Communist? You must do something!’ Victor appeared startled, replying: ‘I will think about it’.

Now, an observant reader of this anecdote might surmise that, for a person in Rothschild’s shoes, learning that Philby was a Communist would have been as shocking as hearing that the Pope was Catholic. After all, a careful study of his file in 1951 (see ) would have indicated with little doubt that Philby had been a Communist of long standing. Why would the hearsay testimony of a perhaps bitter woman change the equation in any way, since Philby could simply continue to deny everything?

Nevertheless, Rothschild did follow up, and a confidential meeting was arranged at Rothschild’s flat in London ‘with a security official’ [Arthur Martin, unidentified]. According to Solomon, she disclosed several items: Philby’s invitation to work for peace; the belief that he expressed after the fall of France that the Fascists could be beaten only with Russia’s help (hardly a heretical opinion for the time); his intimation of being in great danger; and a voluntary statement from her that she believed that Philby’s close friend Tomás Harris was probably involved in the same game.

            Apparently this was enough to complete Philby’s dossier. The rest we know: Philby disappeared from the scene, turned up in Moscow, received citizenship, wrote a book, and entered the chronicles of treachery as the ‘Third Man’.

What Solomon does not mention is that Harris was killed in a suspicious motor accident in Mallorca in January 1964, and that she might therefore have contributed to his demise.

A notable oversight in Solomon’s story is that she writes nothing about Frank Birch and the enigmatic interview he had with Philby for a position at GCHQ early in September 1939, in an episode where the record of the first encounter between Kim and Aileen clearly contradicts her published story. This was a narrative that emerged from her interviews in 1962, and from inquiries that followed them, and she obviously felt uncomfortable about it, maybe believing that the disclosures would remain buried and secret in the MI5 archives. What she does reveal, on the other hand, is that Eric Strauss, the psychiatrist who was ‘her dearest friend’ – and who plays an important role in this saga as it develops – was in fact a homosexual, intelligence that contradicts the assumptions made by MI5 officers that he was her lover. She also informs her readers that her son Peter (who took the name Benenson at the request of Flora’s father) worked on ULTRA decrypts at Bletchley Park.

In many ways, therefore, Solomon’s memoir is a mendacious account. It reflects the internal struggle that some Communist sympathizers or activists (such as Klaus Fuchs) experienced after they had spent some years in Britain – that there was something decent about life there that deflated all the egalitarian but cruel dogma that emanated from Communist ideology, and it was thus incumbent upon them to play down their previous political beliefs. Flora Solomon’s sympathies gradually changed, and she came to feel disgust for Kim Philby’s betrayal of values that she had come to treasure. Yet her lies and contradictions bespeak a more furtive occupation. Perhaps in an attempt to blur it, she wrote, at the end of her memoir, in cadences that were almost Orwellian or, since she was a Russian émigreé, that could perhaps be more aptly described as Berlinesque:

            Finally, I feel I must voice my gratitude to the country of my adoption. The British, it is frequently said, are an intolerant race, yet I have seen enough of this country and its people to know that being a foreigner is no obstacle to fulfilment here. My Russian accent has never proved a disadvantage. The British must surely rank as the most exasperating, illogical, hypocritical of peoples. But they have a generosity of mind, too, and a humility, and a capacity for endurance which is necessary for true greatness.

The Mysterious Stevenson

Like many things, the Solomon archives can be divided into three parts. There is the physical division into three separate files. And there is a logical compartmentalization, consisting first of the early, mostly desultory combination of postings concerning Flora’s background, and insubstantial events like her reporting a possible German spy; second, the intense interview in 1962 with Rothschild and Martin, recorded surreptitiously, and its after-effects; and third, the later re-inspection of the files in 1971 by Stella Rimington, then a trainee officer, who would become the first woman director-general of MI5.

Among the routine and unexciting entries in the first file (KV2 /4633) lie two extraordinary memoranda, the first dated December 28, 1953, and the second (concealed in the Minute Sheet that introduces the file) three days later. The first item (serial 21A), heavily redacted, has been written by G. R. Mitchell, the head of D Division, and I feel it is so important that I reproduce most of it here:

            On 16 and 21 December Xxxxxx Xxxxxx [assumed two words] visited this office to discuss the case of Aileen PHILBY with D.1 and me. He also rang up on 18 December. No very coherent thread was discernible in the story which Xxxxxx told us on these three occasions. The gist of a confused narrative was as follows: –

            [about eight lines redacted]

Xxxxxx Xxxxxx had a good deal to say about Flora SOLOMON, the subject of PF.604,692. Flora Solomon is, he said, an arrogant and domineering Jewess and the sort of woman who can exert a strong influence not only over Aileen PHILBY but also over “latent homosexuals like Kim PHILBY” (STEVENSON’s words). (I asked Xxxxxx what the Expression “latent homosexual” might mean, but received no intelligible reply.) Flora Solomon was many years ago the mistress of “KORONSKY”. We asked Xxxxxx who was KORONSKY; did he mean Alexander KERENSKY? Xxxxxxx, who did not seem to have heard of KERENSKY, did not know. Later, during the 1930s, Flora SOLOMON became Kim PHILBY’s mistress. It was she who introduced PHILBY to his present wife. Aileen was at that time living with Frank BIRCH, formerly a senior official in G.C.H.Q., and now, as I understand, both an actor and a don at Trinity Hall. According to Aileen, before the war Flora sent Kim on a mission to Spain to contact a communist who was in trouble with the Falangists. The date of this trip was unknown to Xxxxxx. Aileen had told Xxxxxx long ago that Flora was a communist. After Kim’s resignation xxxx xxx [from SIS?] in 1951, Aileen asked Flora whether she could find employment for Kim in Marks and Spencers, in which firm Flora holds an important post as Welfare Officer. Flora would not do so.

Xxxxxx Xxxxxx xxxxxx Aileen to be still much under the influence of Flora SOLOMON. The latter is at present believed xxxxxxxxxxxx to be the mistress of Dr. Eric STRAUSS, described by STEVENSON as one of the leading London psychiatrists.

[two lines redacted]

Xxxxxx Xxxxxx xxxxxx that STRAUSS knows a great deal more about the security and espionage suspicions connected with PHILBY, BURGESS and MACLEAN than he has any right to. For example, he recently mentioned xxxxxxxxxxxxx that he knew that there was a damning incident in Kim’s past relating to Turkey. Xxxxxx Xxxxxx assumes that STRAUSS gets his information on these matters from Flora SOLOMON, who in turn gets it from Aileen.

            One evening during the week ended 12 December 1953 Aileen was on the brink of committing suicide.

Aileen later poured out confidences relating to espionage on the part of Kim, etc., to attempted murder by Kim, to suicide and other colourful stuff. One possible reason xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx for these crises on Aileen’s part was a recent remark made to her by Kim. “I suppose I shall be universally blamed as the sort of chap who could desert five children”. She interpreted thus as an indication of an intention on Kim’s part to flee the country.

What should be made of this astonishing testimony? Who is the witness? What can we conclude from the evidence? It is clear that he knows Aileen and Kim well. (He refers to ‘Kim’ in his account, and Aileen told him some time before about Solomon’s Communism.) He seems less well-acquainted with Flora Solomon, but is obviously on close terms with Eric Strauss, who has confided to him a number of ‘secrets’ about Philby with which he is familiar himself, but which, in his judgment, Strauss should never have been told. Strauss appears to have concealed the source of his intelligence from the witness, since the latter assumes, based on the intimate relationship between Strauss and Solomon, and Solomon’s close friendship with Aileen, that Solomon was the messenger of the information. To have gained access to Mitchell, the witness must be someone with authority, probably within MI6, if he was aware of the ‘damning incident in Kim’s past relating to Turkey’ (which must surely be the Volkov affair). It is unlikely that he learned about it from Kim himself if he represented the events in those terms. Moreover, he presents the information in a way that suggests that the facts were obvious to both MI6 and MI5, but were dangerous if delivered to public outsiders. Mitchell is not surprised to receive an approach from the gentleman, even though he expresses surprise at the lack of coherence in his story. Yet the precision of the supposed statements made by Aileen would cast doubt on the fact that they had been passed through an intermediary.

‘The Enemy Within’

I believe the informant was probably the author Graham Greene. He had been Philby’s deputy in Section V, he had a close friendship with Kim, and he was fascinated both by Philby’s ambition and by his duplicity. Moreover, Greene was a patient of Eric Strauss. In Graham Greene: The Enemy Within, Michael Shelden writes:

            The only time that Greene’s behaviour ‘really frightened’ Jocelyn [Rickards] was the day he announced his desire to receive shock treatments from his psychiatrist, Eric Strauss. She could not understand why he would want such drastic therapy.

For most of the 1950s (adds Shelden), Greene was one of Dr. Strauss’s regular patients. Strauss was ‘a prominent psychiatrist at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital and the coauthor of a textbook called Sexual Disorders in the Male’. Moreover, he was a model for a character in Greene’s The Potting Shed – Dr. Kreuzer – who tries to help James Callifer come to terms with his dark memories of childhood.

Greene had resigned from MI6 before the Volkov affair, but may have kept in touch with ex-colleagues, or might even have been confided in by Philby himself. Shelden offers a more complicated explanation for Greene’s resignation than that conventionally given when Philby took over Section IX – that he was shocked at Philby’s naked ambition – writing:

            Keeping him at a distance made sense, especially when he began to talk about taking over the new anti-Communist section in the service. Philby’s Communist wife, his determined opposition to Otto John and other conspirators, and his desire to keep anyone else from getting the anti-Communist post – it was all much too suspicious for comfort. And if Philby did prove to be a Soviet mole, it would not be wise to become established in SIS as his protégé, the man he had handpicked to take his old job. The best thing was to keep quiet and get out quickly, far in advance of any promotion for Philby. Greene’s later objection to his friend’s office politics was correct, but it was only half the story.

I suspect that Greene was highly torn over what he had discovered. It would be unusual for an MI6 officer to share confidences with his MI5 counterparts, but his dismay at Philby’s obvious treachery might have been coloured by the mindless defence of his friend conducted by the ‘robber barons’ now in charge at MI6. The impression he gives is that, since he and MI5 know about Philby’s transgressions, he is not betraying his friend through these disclosures. In that mood, therefore, he decided that he should alert Mitchell and his colleagues to the fact that Philby’s secret is known outside the circle of intelligence, while at the same diverting responsibility to a woman whom he represented as something of a she-devil.

But what about ‘Stevenson’? This seems to be a clumsy attempt to conceal the identity of the informant, made, perhaps, in the belief that no one would be able to work out from the alias given from such a name. I swiftly discarded the intelligence officer Bill Stevenson (who wrote the biography of BSC chief William Stephenson) on the grounds of age. But I did notice that Greene’s mother was the cousin of Robert Louis Stevenson, and it might have seemed a cute way of veiling Greene’s identity by granting him this cryptonym – perhaps suggested by Greene himself. Whether Greene would have been ignorant of the existence of Alexander Kerensky is a little problematic, but not enough to collapse the whole theory. The last comment I would make is that Greene appears more sympathetic to Kim, despite the ‘damning’ evidence, than he does to Aileen. Instead of criticizing Kim for his treachery, Aileen for her loose lips (although, unknown to him, delivered in supposed confidence to her psychiatrist), or Strauss for his passing on of gossip, Greene turns his bile primarily on the hapless and non-participating Solomon. Overall, that will come as no surprise to those who have read Greene’s Introduction to My Silent War: Greene may have disparaged Aileen’s apparent betrayal of her husband more than he disapproved of Philby’s treachery towards his country, but he resented Solomon’s presumed gossipiness even more.

Aileen Philby’s Admissions

Follow-up to Stevenson’s contribution appeared to be swift, although the spin and emphasis are slightly different. The second remarkable entry in the Solomon files is a memorandum by Evelyn McBarnet (D1A in MI5), dated December 31, 1953, drawing attention to Flora by virtue of an extraordinary note concerning Aileen Philby. It runs:

            It has recently been reported that Mrs. Aileen PHILBY, who has known her for many years, has alleged that Mrs. SOLOMON was a Communist and that she had been concerned in sending H.A.R. PHILBY on a mission to Spain to contact a Communist there.

Note that McBarnet’s memorandum does not refer to the Stevenson insights, nor does it mention Turkey. The use of the passive voice is itself revealing, but provokes many questions and reflections. To whom did Aileen offer this report, and how did it reach the ears of MI5? Why was Mrs. Philby apparently so keen to cast aspersions on both her husband and Mrs. Solomon? This was a time when Philby was in the wilderness, searching for employment, but he was also spending much time away from Aileen, since he had a mistress in London. Without a doubt, however, it shows that Aileen knew much more about Kim’s activities than had previously been credited by MI5, and that she was expressing some sort of grudge against him. But it also places Solomon in a much more dominant and authoritative role, as if she had been responsible for leading Philby astray.

McBarnet’s recommendation is not to follow-up with Aileen, however (which would only publicize the fact of their confidential source), but to apply for letter and telephone checks on Flora Solomon, a move that might appear somewhat unproductive, given that the events had occurred over twenty-five years beforehand. The checks take place for several weeks, until McBarnet concludes on February 9, 1954 that there is no evidence that Solomon is a Soviet spy, or even a Communist, and recommends that the checks be discontinued. In this letter, however, she does record: “Dr. Eric STRAUSS has appeared in the telephone check and it is fairly obvious that he is an intimate and long established friend. They are very discrete about their relationship.”

What clues are there that might point to the source of this extraordinary intelligence? Ben Macintyre offers a typically unverifiable claim, writing (p 179): ‘He [Philby] told friends that Aileen had denounced him to the Foreign Office, and this had prevented him from getting a decent job. He even claimed she had tried to kill him.” No source is provided for this insight, but he was obviously given ‘insider’ information, since he also writes that ‘MI5’s telephone intercepts would eventually fill thirty-three volumes’. Macintyre does, however, cite Nicholas’s Elliott’s memoir, Never Judge a Man By His Umbrella, asserting that Elliott ‘tried to shore her up with financial and moral support’. This is a slight distortion of what Elliott wrote (p 186): “Aileen herself became so hard pressed for cash that she took a job as a cook in London to people living in Eaton Square, where she was close enough to our house in Wilton Street to spend her off duty hours with us.”

‘Never Judge a Man by His Umbrella’

Yet it would be highly unlikely that Elliott, Philby’s closest friend in MI6, would have passed on such confidential information to his adversaries in MI5. (If Philby truly had told friends that Aileen had shopped him, he must have been confident of his colleagues’ support.) The truth is rather more shocking. Macintyre refers to an astonishing passage in Christopher Andrew’s history of MI5, correctly categorizing the behaviour behind it as ‘secret and unethical’, since it was in fact Aileen’s psychiatrist who was passing on information to MI5.

Andrew’s text is shabby and hypocritical. Describing surveillance carried out on Philby at the time (p 433), he writes: “The checks did, however, also reveal much about Philby’s sometimes squalid private life which has escaped the attention of his biographers.” (Since Andrew’s sources are unidentified ‘Security Service Archives’, to which no one else has had access, his pronouncements are especially sophistical.) Andrew continues, without expressing any judgment on the legality of the operation:

            Philby’s most abominable behaviour was towards his mentally fragile second wife, Aileen, by whom he had five children. Aileen’s psychiatrist told the Service that among her problems was her belief in her husband’s guilt – which was at least partly responsible for Philby’s attempts to ‘smash Aileen up’: ‘He is convinced that she possesses important security information about her husband and her own Communist past  . . . In [Aileen’s]opinion and that of her psychiatrist, Philby had by a kind of mental cruelty to her “done his best to make her commit suicide”.’

It amazes me that MI5 allowed Andrew access to such incriminating material, which shows the Security Service in very poor light. (This is another example of the reprehensible practice whereby an authorized historian is allowed to make categorical assertions that are unverifiable.) But it is also noteworthy, in two dimensions, that this lead was not followed up. First, it shows that MI5 in 1954 was quite unimpressed with any insight that would confirm Philby’s activities on behalf of the Communists in Spain. (Recall that the dossier which MI5 compiled on him in 1951 confirmed that he was the agent in Spain identified by Krivitsky.) The service was overall probably complaisant with MI6’s story that he was an ex-communist who had switched his allegiance. Second, no one appears to have picked up the fact of MI5’s unethical behaviour, or tried to identify the person to whom Aileen Philby had confided her thoughts and fears. Whom would she have chosen as a psychiatrist? It seems obvious to me that her sponsor, Flora Solomon, whom she admired handsomely, might have introduced her to her good friend Eric Strauss. And indeed, if Strauss was providing MI5 with confidential information derived directly from Aileen, that fact would explain many of the mysteries of the Solomon saga.

Obituary of Eric Strauss (British Medical Journal)

What is extraordinary – almost outrageous – is the suggestion that Strauss had an agreement with MI6 as well. Nicholas Elliott told John le Carré that ‘the office shrink’ (suggesting an in-house resident role rather than an external source) rang Elliott up. Strauss had been treating Aileen (thus confirming my assertion above) and he said to Elliott: “She’s released me from my Hippocratic Oath. I’ve got to talk to you.” No date is given for this episode, but if accurate, it would indicate that, contrary to other reports, Elliott had been convinced of Philby’s guilt some time before, since he even claims that he himself passed on the hint from Solomon to MI5. He also told le Carré that he had ‘always had the feeling that Philby himself would like to get the whole thing off his chest and settle down  . . .’. (That ‘always’ is absurdly exaggerated.) I pick up and analyze this highly contentious testimony later in this piece, but his comments would seem to be more a retrospective recrafting of what he believed at that time because of his embarrassment at being hoodwinked so badly by his close friend.

An explanation would be that, after the exchanges with Stevenson, MI5 made a return call on Strauss, and gathered further information. There is no suggestion that Strauss had learned of the secrets from Solomon: the implication is that Aileen had told them to Strauss herself. And Strauss (perhaps being softly blackmailed because of his homosexuality?) continued to keep MI5 informed of what Aileen was telling him. Yet the overriding conclusion is that MI5 was not interested in following up any possible confirmation of damaging suspicions about Philby. The Security Service presumably accepted them all as true, but either considered it pointless pursuing them in the face of MI6 obstinacy, or deemed that they were irrelevant in the backdrop of Philby’s freshly understood role. The aspect of Volkov’s betrayal in 1945, however, should have represented intelligence of a vastly different calibre from that of the pre-war activity in Spain.

The last enigma is Andrew’s reference to Aileen’s ‘Communist past’. How could Aileen not know about its security implications, if she really had been a communist, whether party-member or merely sympathizer? Was Philby implying that his wife knew damaging facts that had not been known by MI6? Borovik offers a tantalizing passage from a report that Philby wrote for his Moscow masters in 1943, in which he describes the relationship between Aileen and Frank Birch:

            They met regularly. When the war began, ‘Birch’ was appointed head of the Naval Section in Bletchley (GC&CS) and she went there with him infrequently, that is, on agent assignments. Her role in these instances was as a cover (that is, when they were together, it looked completely normal and did not arouse suspicion). I never succeeded in finding out why ‘Birch’ was interested in things of this nature, since his work was entirely different (he was involved with cryptography, and not the affairs of others). I also did not question her about this activity for understandable reasons: because I completely respect the secrecy of ‘Birch’s’ work and because I want her to respect the secrecy of my work. In any case she has not met ‘Birch’ since the autumn of 1940.

While Philby underplays the level of intimacy between Aileen and Frank, he hints at much darker goings-on. Was Birch a secret communist, too? What were these ‘agent assignments’, and what was Birch up to that required cover and secrecy? Again, one cannot trust completely what Philby writes, but it is difficult to see why he would provide gratuitous disinformation on such matters.

Finally, it must be remembered that this archive is the Solomon file, not the Philby file, and fresh initiatives concerning Philby may have been recorded elsewhere. Yet Philby thereafter carried on, with fits and starts for a number of years, and was even exonerated by Foreign Secretary Harold MacMillan in 1955. It seems that McBarnet ignored the more damaging evidence against the traitor, namely the dispatching of Volkov to his death, and fruitlessly turned her attention to looking into Solomon’s maybe murky past. And she was supported by her bosses.

At Lord Rothschild’s (1)

The rest of the 1950s decade saw Philby partially re-established. I shall not re-tell the events in detail: Ben Macintyre’s A Spy Among Friends gives a lively (and, so far as I can see, mostly accurate) account of the period, although his explanation of sources is very skimpy. Thus readers can remind themselves of the Petrov defection, the refutation of Milmo claimed by MI6, the revelations in the American media, the Lipton challenge in the House of Commons, the Macmillan exoneration, Philby’s spectacular ‘Third Man’ denials, the re-recruitment of Philby by MI6 under journalistic cover, and consequent dispatch to Beirut, the controversial death of Aileen in 1957, and the fresh revelations by the defector Golitsyn. All was prelude to the less than impressive episode involving Flora Solomon and Lord Rothschild in Israel.

The disclosures of 1962 appear in four separate items in KV 2/4633 & /4634: i) Victor Rothschild’s description of what Solomon told him, dated July 5; ii) the transcript of Solomon’s meeting with Rothschild on July 19 (a microphone had been installed at his flat in London); iii) the transcript of a further meeting with Solomon, when Rothschild and Arthur Martin were in attendance, on July 28; and iv) Martin’s summarization of the meeting, signed off on August 8.

I had noted earlier the absurdity of Rothschild’s being spurred into action by the revelation that Philby had been a Communist (as Solomon claimed in her memoir).The reality is that Rothschild handed to Roger Hollis, MI5’s Director-General, at a meeting of the Joint Intelligence Committee, a note prepared by MI5 that focused on Solomon, citing the evidence that we know came from ‘Stevenson’ (whose identity has been redacted). It echoes the belief that Solomon had been Philby’s mistress at one time, and stresses the claim made by Stevenson that Solomon was responsible for introducing Kim to Aileen, and that she exerted a strong influence over both Aileen and Kim. Almost as an aside, it declares that Solomon ‘has now told Victor Rothschild that she knew that Philby was working for the Russians at the time of the Spanish Civil War’. (It seems that the recent revelation by Solomon to Rothschild has been relegated to a minor role.)

Martin Furnival Jones, head of D Division, supplies a note that explains that Rothschild had added that ‘Mrs Solomons [sic] said that PHILBY had tried to recruit her to report on the White Russian community in the U.K.’, and that she believed that Philby was currently writing ‘violently anti-Israel articles’ on Russian instructions.

Signs of Solomon’s dissimulation in her memoir are already clear. She wanted there to minimize the degree of her collaboration with Philby, declaring only the ‘communist’ aspect, while the story about the ‘White Russian community’ is obviously fabricated. In The Crown Jewels (pp 314-315), West and Tsarev cite reports from Philby to his controllers that indicate that Solomon gave Philby privileged information based on her acquaintance with one of Beaverbrook’s chief advisers, a man called Rootes. While passing on such information does not really constitute high espionage, it was clearly inappropriate behaviour by Solomon, knowing, as she did, Philby’s true loyalties.

Phillip Knightley is one who has pointed out (in The Master Spy, 1988, page 213) the ambivalence of Solomon’s actions. He declares that, although Philby wrote favourably about Nasser, in his articles he showed no bias against Israel, and the Observer would not have tolerated any such unbalanced commentary from a reporter. (No one at MI5 appears to have followed up by investigating Philby’s published contributions.) Thus Solomon’s sudden accusation to Rothschild that Philby was a Communist sounded artificial and sophistical. Provocatively, when Knightley asked Philby in Moscow what he thought about his betrayal by Solomon, Philby wanted to talk more about Rothschild. Knightley does not express this idea, but could Rothschild have been the agent who leaked her testimony to the KGB somehow? Later in life, Rothschild was desperate to have Margaret Thatcher affirm that he had never been a spy – something the Iron Lady sagely said she could not do. (For further analysis of Rothschild’s dubious role as an ‘agent of influence’, see Misdefending the Realm, Chapter 6.)

In any event, on July 9 Arthur Martin discussed the coming briefing with Peter Wright, who miked up the flat. Martin then applied for telephone and letter checks on Solomon. The meeting with Rothschild duly took place, with Rothschild’s objectives being to soften her up, and prepare her for a more rigorous interrogation, to be carried out by a ‘decent man’. Yet Rothschild was blunt: he told her that he believed that she had been Philby’s mistress, something she vehemently denied. Rothschild ‘confirmed that Kim had been infatuated’ (it is not clear how he knew this), and Solomon did not disagree. They moved on. Solomon said she was prepared to talk: she had nothing to hide, although she admitted that she might well be asked why she hadn’t come forth much earlier. She did not, however, want Philby to know that she had talked: she thought that he relied on her completely, from when she last saw him at about the time of the Burgess/Maclean events. (Neither Rothschild nor Solomon could recall the exact year when Burgess and Maclean had absconded!)

Solomon rambled somewhat after this, but did reveal that Philby and Burgess were close friends, since Burgess had moved into the flat she owned after she had offered it to Philby. Rothschild disingenuously remarked that he had not known that Philby and Burgess knew each other so well. After a puzzling exchange about Burgess’s political views, Solomon switched the subject to say that she wanted to find out what had happened to Litzi before the coming interrogation. Rather than pick up this thread, Rothschild clumsily moved on to Aileen, and asked how Kim had met her. “Through me”, Solomon replied, at which point Rothschild declared that he had been told that Aileen committed suicide. Solomon said that Aileen had absolutely nothing to do with Philby’s activities for the Soviets, and remained in ignorance of them.

And here is where the chronology starts to crumble. Solomon claimed that Kim and Aileen had met at her house before the war, since Kim ‘had been interested in Jewish democrats and was always around’. But she interrupted her own story to ask Rothschild if he remembered Aileen: he did so vaguely, having encountered her at Bentinck Street, and added the provocative comment that Aileen had been ‘in love with’ Mrs. Solomon, something that Flora did not deny. They next return to the love affair between Aileen and Kim, and Solomon said that it had all happened in 1940. She regretted not warning Kim about Aileen’s neurotic temperament (she had an addiction to self-harm), and Rothschild suggested that he had married her to gain a front of some respectability as cover for his subversion.

The discussion shifts to Burgess’s disappearance. Solomon said that Neil Furse (Aileen’s cousin) had suspected that Philby was involved. Astonishingly, Rothschild (without being prompted) responds that Furse had been to the War Office to make that claim, something Solomon could not remember, although she stated that she had denied to Furse that a Philby connection existed. Yet she affirms that she had known that Philby was not just a Communist, but a Soviet agent, ‘from the beginning’. She again says that she did not believe that Aileen knew anything about Kim’s activities. Rothschild then declares that he ‘thought he remembered that Mrs. S. had told him that Aileen had been to some psychologist’ (a strange way of describing what must have been a recent declaration), but her response was inaudible.

Flora does not challenge Rothschild’s claim that Aileen had committed suicide, merely saying that Aileen was ‘mad’. It appears here that Aileen’s ‘psychologist’ (i.e. Eric Strauss) had kept Solomon informed, and had recommended that Aileen stay in her flat. Rothschild then brings up the name of Tommy Harris, and Solomon indicates that he and Philby were very close. Unfortunately, the next part of the conversation was largely inaudible, but they probably discussed Anthony Blunt: Solomon was prepared to incriminate only Philby and Harris. Enigmatically, Solomon admits that she as told by an unidentified man that Harris was guilty, and Rothschild appears to understand about whom she is talking. Matters petered out after this, the exchange concluding with Solomon’s desire to have the serious interrogation with Rothschild’s man, so that she could get everything out of her system.

This was a strange interview, with many leads not followed up, and Rothschild making many interjections, some irrelevant, some inappropriate, some revealing. A few disclosures are important: both Solomon and Rothschild accept the fact that Aileen committed suicide; Rothschild volunteers information about Neil Furse’s approach to the War Office; Rothschild pretends he did not know about the Burgess-Philby friendship; Rothschild is familiar with the role of Eric Strauss; Rothschild cannot contradict Solomon’s assertion about Aileen’s ignorance of her husband’s guilt because it would reveal the illegal exploitation of Strauss; Solomon struggles to tell a consistent story. Yet, if the interview had the objective of making Flora Solomon feel comfortable about a more serious examination, it was successful.

At Lord Rothschild’s (2)

The second interview took place on August 1, conducted by Arthur Martin, with Rothschild present for most of the time. It lasted for over four hours, and the transcript runs to seventy-six typed pages (available at KV 2/4634). As I have noted before, Martin was not a skilled interrogator – poorly prepared, impatient and prone to interrupt, and easily distracted. Here I try to assemble some raw conclusions, focusing on inconsistencies with other accounts, and items that I believe may have been overlooked.

The major impression I had is how vague and incoherent Solomon was, in contrast to the crisp way that she recalled dates twenty years later in her memoir. She claims that the years 1937 until 1939, when war broke out, were ‘muddled’: “So here it is, I met Kim Philby, I couldn’t tell you when, but I mean in the course of those years.” She then localized the encounter to 1936 or 1937, thus contradicting what she would later write in her memoir. She then refers to Kim’s marriage to Litzy as his second marriage, to be corrected by Martin. And when she realizes that she is contradicting herself, while describing her introduction to Litzi, she has to emend her statement to state that she must have met Kim before 1936, as her assessment of the couple took place before the Spanish Civil War. She claimed that Kim disappeared from the scene when the Civil War started, and she was shocked to learn that he was attached to the Nationalist side. She then relates the story of the son of a nephew of a friend of hers who was captured by Franco, and that Philby helped secure his release, which made her conclude that he wasn’t really a Franco supporter. Thus, when Philby returned to London in 1937, she gained an impression of where his true loyalties lay.

At a later stage (when the Civil War was over), Solomon claimed that Philby became very attached to her, but that they never had an affair. (I point out that Philby did not return from Spain until July 1939, and by early October he had left with the British Expeditionary Force to France.) He invited her out to dinner, saying he was in a terrible state, and then confided to her:

            Don’t you see that I am 100% on the Soviet side, and that I am helping them, that I am carrying a terrifically important and difficult assignment, and I am in danger, and I am terrifically tense?

Martin has the sense to probe on the chronology, asking if Philby went back to Spain after the confession (which would place it in a period of a few weeks in May 1937). Solomon is confused: all she can add is that ‘it was well before the war’, contradicting her earlier statement. She then suggests that it was ‘in the Munich year’ (which she and Martin work out was 1938), and that Kim had made his statement to her after Munich. It was then that he tried to enlist her help (at the restaurant), whereupon she declined, while expressing admiration for what Philby was doing. (This again contradicts what she later wrote in her memoir.) Shortly after that she received a strange telegrammed request from Paris which she attributed to Philby’s devices. He confirmed that the telegram was connected with their conversation over lunch [n.b. not ‘dinner’!]. Martin at least has the inspiration to ask how long after the dinner the telegram event occurred, but he does not pursue Solomon’s evasive reply.

(Incidentally, Peter Wright, who set up the miking of the interview, makes a hash of the event in Spycatcher. He has Solomon becoming agitated at the prospect of giving public evidence, expostulating over what happened to Tomás Harris since she spoke to Rothschild. Wright notes that Harris ‘had recently died in a mysterious car accident in Spain’. But Harris did not have his fatal accident until 1964.)

Alexander Kerensky

Quite a lengthy discussion of her lover, Kerensky, follows, something not really germane to the inquiry, except for the fact that Philby and Kerensky, not surprisingly, disliked each other. She does disclose that she disagreed with Kerensky, who, from London and Paris, was still hopeful of installing a liberal regime in Russia – and that may have been the cause of the reference to the ‘White Russian community in the U.K.’, which Rothschild noted. But that topic never comes up in the transcript. (As an aside, in a recent book review in the Spectator, Nigel Jones wrote that Kerensky ‘was a well-meaning drama queen who made the double mistake of continuing a hopeless war with a mutinous army and not shooting Lenin when the Bolshevik leader returned with the seductive slogan: “Peace, Land and Bread”’.)

Flora then returned to Philby’s ‘danger’, which she could not explain, adding that, at that point, she realized that the relationship between him and Litzi was a ‘completely business relationship’. Suddenly, she shifts to 1939, and asks Martin for confirmation that Philby went to France. She then says: “And the next I remember, Kim being one of the first people who came back after Dunkirk. And he came and stayed at my house, that I remember.” Only then does she describe the fall-out that occurred because of the Nazi-Soviet pact, when Kim ‘began to see me not as a friend any more’. Nevertheless, she places her introduction of Kim to Aileen in this period (summer 1940), stating that Neil Furse had convinced her to hire Aileen ‘at the time of the phoney war’ (i.e. after September 1939). Kim and Aileen fell in love: Flora warned Kim about Aileen’s neuroticism; she also told him that he had to get a divorce from Litzi, at which Kim said he couldn’t divorce Litzi because of her refugee status.

What is absurd about this farrago is the total amnesia over the events of September 3, 1939, when Aileen met Kim at a lunch arranged by Flora, attended by not only Eric Strauss, but also Frank Birch, after which Birch interviewed Philby for a job at GCHQ.

Flora, undaunted, then switches the subject to Litzi, indicating that she was on much closer terms with her than intimated elsewhere: “Well, Litzi knew that I knew the history, but it was never discussed between us, everything was assumed  . . .” When Martin presses her, she admits that Litzi knew that Kim had confided in her, and Litzi spoke to her as if she were in the picture completely. Furthermore, Litzi and Kim were totally committed professionally (not that that should have come as a surprise to Martin and Rothschild). Flora then trips up when returning to the cohabitation of Kim and Aileen: ‘they met in ’39, no when was Dunkirk ’40, ’40 and they lived together, and they had a home’. Only now does she introduce Frank Birch, and her claim that ‘it was through Frank Birch that Kim came into your work’, and blusters about her failure to inform Birch of Philby’s politics. Yet the moment passes without inquisition: Martin asks no questions about the timing, or to what position Birch facilitated Philby’s recruitment, merely observing that he thought it was Burgess who brought Kim in, without indicating whether it was the SOE or the MI6 appointment.

Thereafter Solomon rambles somewhat, hinting at her involvement with some SOE work at Baker Street. She then describes the time that Philby and Burgess shared her flat , thus indicating a more intimate friendship than had presumably been understood by her interrogator, that she assumed that they were working together, and how she threw Burgess out because of his drunkenness and his remarks about Jews. She then spends a lot of time talking about Aileen’s self-destructive disease and declares that ‘she eventually committed suicide’ (something she learned from Neil Furse, she later explained). She saw a lot of Philby during the war, but thought he did not trust her any more. At one stage, Flora asked him whether Aileen knew everything about him, and Philby replied, resentful that she had asked the question, that Aileen knew nothing.

When the Burgess/Maclean story broke, she saw Philby once, and he just looked at Flora ‘pathetically’. It was at this point that Neil Furse told her that he was going to inform somebody of the close relationship between Philby and Burgess, and asked Flora whether she would do the same. She declined, but believed that Neil went ahead. She next spends a lot of time justifying her silence and describing how the intervening eleven years have changed her perspective, and why Kim’s anti-Zionist articles provoked her so much. If she had been approached in 1951, she claimed, she would have spoken up – but not off her own bat.

Next she turns to Philby’s friends. She thought that Guy Burgess knew that Kim had confided in her. Martin then asked for more specifics on how Philby had invited her to join the cause: she replied that she had cut him off before he could even explain what activities she might have assisted with. She believed he was still committed to working for the Soviets, since, if he had changed his views, she thought he would have told her. So, when she asked him again: ‘Does Aileen know?’, instead of replying ‘there’s nothing to know’, he merely repeated his denial.

Tomas Harris

Lastly, she incriminates Tomás Harris, whom she instinctively thought was tied up in Philby’s work, because of their intimacy. Flora could not identify anyone higher up with whom Philby could have communicated, but believed that Harris was some kind of intermediary. She would not mention any names beyond Burgess and Harris: Martin brings up the name of Michael Stewart, and she murmurs recognition. He introduces Anthony Blunt, and she immediately confesses that she knew him very well, while denying that he could have been involved. Martin sensibly asks why not, since the friendship between Blunt and Philby was similar to that of Harris and Philby. She waffles. They return to Litzi, and Flora has a hard time explaining why she saw so much of her when she was so unsympathetic to her character and role. Towards the end of the war, Litzi apparently came to Flora to ask whether she could help in some way.

Martin picks up her confusion, observing:

            Please, if you’re right in saying that they were partners, they were professional partners, then it seems to me more likely that Litzi could be the means of contact with the Russian Intelligence Service rather than Kim, I means she had her communist doctrine, she was an open Communist, there was never any doubt about that, and of course she was going backwards and forwards to Paris.

Flora has to acknowledge the possibility, but the conversation meekly drifts to Kim’s feeble reasoning for not divorcing Litzi. Flora thought it ‘absurd’. Martin asks her about Edith Suschitzky: she says the name rings a bell, but she doesn’t know her. The conversation meanders again, retreading the ground about the telegram from Paris. Because of Kerensky’s futile hopes, she never believed that the Soviets would be seriously interested in her as an informant. She returns to Philby’s role in Spain, and her belated recognition that operating under cover was one of the pre-requisites of being an effective spy. Martin expresses total confusion about Philby’s joining the Anglo-German Friendship, stating that it happened in 1937-1938, ‘when he came back from Spain’. (Philby joined in January 1936.)

The quality of the exchange further deteriorates. They discuss Goronwy Rees, whom Flora knew vaguely. Martin points out that they have never discussed Donald Maclean: Flora says she never met him, and then turns the tables by interrogating Martin about the relationship between Burgess and Maclean. They wind up by observing how splendidly Philby had recovered from all the accusations about him. And then Martin asks a provocative question about Turkey, and whether Flora had heard anything in connection with Istanbul. Flora assumes that Martin is asking about Philby’s posting to Turkey, while Martin is presumably fishing about the Volkov incident. They come to a conclusion with a rather bizarre offer by Flora to determine what happened to Litzi, and a commitment by Martin to discover what it was that Neil Furse reported.

Arthur Martin’s Report

Martin’s report is dated August 8. It comes across as a competent executive summary, pressing all the right buttons, except for the fact that it glosses over all the inconsistencies and anomalies in Flora Solomon’s testimony. Any serious intelligence officer who had done his or her homework thoroughly, and studied the transcript in detail, would have raised a number of red flags. Martin introduces his subject by writing, rather equivocally:

            Mrs. SOLOMON is an intelligent, flamboyant woman, quite capable I would judge of lying convincingly. Although I believe that she may have withheld some information from me, I do not think she lied.

Why Martin believed himself to be an exception to the deceptions that Flora was perceived to be capable of was not explained.

The compilation is lazy. Martin writes that Flora first met Philby as an adult when he returned from Vienna with Lizy [sic] – her on-the-fly correction. He describes Kim’s intervention in the release of an International Brigadier from Franco’s prison, Philby already in Spain accredited to Franco’s side: there is no comment on the claim made by Stevenson that Solomon had arranged Philby’s mission to Spain [“According to Aileen, before the war Flora sent Kim on a mission to Spain to contact a communist who was in trouble with the Falangists.”- above]. Philby’s return from Spain, where he had the fateful meal with Flora, is given as ‘probably 1938’. The Kerensky business is covered reliably, and Martin describes Solomon’s disillusionment on the announcement of the Nazi/Soviet Pact, at which point their sympathies diverged.

This is followed by the appalling laxity in not checking the timing of the first Aileen-Kim meeting: “In 1940 Kim met Aileen FURSE at her house.” Solomon warned Kim about Aileen’s neuroticism: Martin then jumps to ‘perhaps 1943’, when Flora asked Kim whether Aileen knew of his activities, and Kim assured her that she did not, Flora concluding from this statement that Kim was still heavily committed to working for the Russians. The reason that I judge these observations with such disdain is the evidence provided by the important memorandum that I cited in an earlier post ( ), where the September 3, 1939 lunch attended by Philby, Strauss, Solomon, Birch and Aileen is described – see Figure below.

Extract from Solomon File (KV 2/4634: Serial 91B)

It is clear that this Note has been copied from the Philby file to the Solomon file on March 27, 1963, i.e. after Elliott has visited Philby in Beirut, and Philby has debunked to Moscow. Yet the memorandum must have been created much earlier. Since it describes activities of Aileen (‘she was introduced’, ‘she was with’), it must have been created in response to evidence provided by Aileen herself – or possibly by her psychiatrist, Eric Strauss, although it is unlikely that she would have confided such facts from several years ago to Strauss. But Aileen died in 1957, followed by Strauss in 1961. The incontrovertible conclusion is that Aileen was feeding MI5 information in the years between 1951 and 1957, and that this intelligence was stored in the shared ‘PHILBY’ file. (Note that the serial number of the entry in the PHILBY file, PF 604,584, is the very high number of 767a, indicating the bulkiness of the file.) Surely Martin must have had access to this file, and what he discovered would have immediately indicated that Flora’s evidence was a pack of lies: why did he not exploit it? Is it conceivable that its existence was concealed from Martin by his superior officers? (The paragraph I cite below concerning Aileen suggests that Martin knew more than he indicated, but that she was instructed to conceal the information.)

We have other indications that Aileen was passing on her suspicions about her husband to the authorities. I had earlier indicated how Aileen was unwittingly channeling her concerns and problems through her psychiatrist to the Security Service, but this excerpt represents stronger evidence that she was speaking to MI5 directly. The inscrutable and irresponsible Christopher Andrew, again relying on identified Security Service files, wrote:

            There is other evidence [what?] that Aileen had finally realized her husband’s treachery and this had become a potential threat to him. One of her friends [who?] later claimed that she heard her blurt out one evening to Kim, ‘I know you’re the Third Man!’ That realization, combined with Kim’s mental cruelty, accelerated her decline into alcoholism and despair.

We know, from Rothschild’s testimony, that Aileen’s cousin Neil had contacted the War Office. It would not be surprising if Neil advised Aileen to make a similar direct approach to MI5. The very brief paragraph in Martin’s report includes the following provocative sentence: “Although I probed, she made no reference to statements about Kim which Aileen is known to have made xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx [redacted].”

Andrew also commented on Aileen’s death:

            After her death, her psychiatrist said ‘that he had suspected that Aileen might have been murdered’ by Philby. That is highly unlikely – not least because by then Philby had moved to Beirut to work as a journalist.

Of course, Philby was not considered as the agent of death himself, but he might have requested the services of the KGB to perform the dirty work for him.

After confronting the stupidity or disingenuousness of MI5 over the Martin report, I found it hard to take seriously the remainder of what the hapless officer wrote. He skims over Litzi and Aileen, then mentions Burgess and his approach to her to help a colleague get a job with Gestetner. He records her suspicions about Tomás Harris, and her vagueness about when she first met him. He makes a brief reference to Frank Birch, stating that he was Aileen’s lover before Kim appeared, and reproduces without comment or challenge that Birch had been responsible for getting Philby his job in British Intelligence, without identifying the date or the position. He describes how Solomon declined to join Neil Furse in informing the authorities of the close friendship of Burgess and Philby. He closes by echoing the main reason Solomon gave for wanting to unmask Philby  – his role as a Soviet propagandist against Israel.

It is difficult to see the point of this mess. As a deposition to intensify the fact of Philby’s guilt it is so unworldly and full of holes that a coach-and-horses could have been drawn through it. If MI5 (and MI6) intended to use its findings as a way of convincing Philby that they had proof of his espionage, he would have laughed in their faces. When he was under attack in November 1955 as being he ‘Third Man’, Philby rejected the accusation by declaring that the idea of a ‘Third Man’ was completely hypothetical. He could then have pointed out that, since he was in Washington at the time, it would have been impossible for him to engineer the escape. Similarly, if confronted with the ‘fact’ that he had tried to recruit Solomon at an unknown date in 1938, he could have pointed out that he was in Spain at the time, identified the other untruths in her story, and dismissed the allegations as the ravings of a deranged woman.

The Aftermath

What happened thereafter is all very tame. The telephone and mail checks were quickly cancelled, as they revealed nothing – as had the checks imposed on her back in 1953, when Stevenson made his verbal assault on her. On October 17, 1962, Martin wrote a summary of the Flora Solomon case for his boss, noting that ‘We are busy preparing a re-assessment of the PEACH case which I will let you have as soon as it is ready.’ This summary is bland in the extreme, reproducing Stevenson’s accusations as the main plank in the argument, while also listing what Flora told Lord Rothschild. How this paper could have contributed to a ‘re-assessment of PEACH’, given what information MI5 already held on Philby, is hard to imagine. Peter Wright wrote that ‘McBarnet drew up a voluminous brief in preparation for the confrontation’: it is not clear whether Elliott was given this to read before he set out, at short notice, in Martin’s stead, to challenge Philby. A copy of the brief presumably lies in the Philby file.

The archive is silent for a few months, until an awkward memorandum appears, dated February 26, 1963, written by Evelyn McBarnet. She is asking for the telephone check on Flora to be renewed, since ‘Mrs. SOLOMON is known to have been a contact of H.A.R. PHILBY, and we are anxious to know her reactions to the news of his disappearance.’ Elliott had arrived in Beirut on January 10, 1963, and had met Philby two days later. Philby had temporized and given a partial confession. On January 23 he absconded.

The unmasking of Philby was probably enabled primarily by the defection of Anatoli Golitysn in December 1961. (In Agent Sniper, Tim Tate writes, using CIA archives, about defector Michał Goleniewski’s claims concerning Philby. After Philby’s escape Goleniewski wrote that he had, over a period of two years, provided hints to MI6 about him, but had been rebuffed because of supposed flaws in his intelligence.) In the spring of 1962, Golitsyn visited London and pointed to the Cambridge ‘Ring of Five’. Christopher Andrew, in an Endnote, remarks:

            Golitsyn did indeed possess intelligence, whose importance he exaggerated, about the Cambridge ‘Ring of Five’; though Philby did not realize it, he did not have information which clearly identified Philby as a member of it.

Yet it would not have taken much imagination on the part of the occasionally sluggish officers in MI5 to conclude, given the dossier they had on Philby, that, if such a pentad existed, Philby was by far the most obvious candidate for one of the remaining three. (Nigel West writes that Philby’s identity as STANLEY in the VENONA transcripts was not discovered until after he had defected.) Suggesting that, on the contrary, MI5 became distracted by alarms from the Soviet defector, Andrew supplies in his text the following insight (again exploiting one of those unidentified Security Service archives):

                        The defection of a KGB major, Anatoli Golitsyn, to the CIA in December 1961, both provided significant new intelligence on the Five and sent the Service investigation as a whole seriously off course [i.e. on mole-hunting within MI5]

Furthermore, he quotes a memorandum sent by Furnival Jones to the Home Secretary in 1966 that expressed concern that the network of five had expanded beyond that number, and thus infiltrated the Service.

Yet Andrew then appears to go off the rails, ascribing the Solomon revelations as the ‘breakthrough’ in the ‘prolonged and generally dispiriting Security Service investigation of the Philby case’. Echoing Solomon’s story that Philby had tried to recruit her before the war, Andrew bizarrely uses as his source Kenneth Rose’s 2003 biography Elusive Rothschild (ignoring, or being ignorant of, Solomon’s 1984 memoir: his Index contains no entry for her) instead of exploiting any part of the Solomon archive. (Perhaps his minders decided that it would be best if such files were concealed from him.) Andrew then offers the dramatic conclusion:

            Armed with Solomon’s information, Philby’s friend and former SIS colleague Nicholas Elliott flew out from London at the beginning of 1963 to confront him in Beirut, where he was working as a journalist.

While grossly exaggerating the quality of the Solomon testimony, Andrew finesses the whole episode where Elliott (who had been Philby’s stoutest defender) was chosen as a late replacement for Martin. The hypothesis that Dick White, now head of MI6, engineered Philby’s escape through the offices of Anthony Blunt is perhaps better left until another day, but it is useful to record here White’s account of the proceedings. White was firmly convinced of Philby’s guilt, and he was persuaded even more so by Golitsyn’s evidence. He appeared not to consider the Solomon revelations as a breakthrough, and instead created an imaginary KGB informant to help convince Nicholas Elliott that Philby had been, and still was, a Soviet agent. White’s agreed strategy with Prime Minster MacMillan was to offer Philby immunity in exchange for a ‘full’ confession, but he surely must have known that that could have been a hollow, one-sided affair, and, after all, what would have happened to Philby after the deal was done?

‘The Pigeon Tunnel’

Elliott’s role in the adventure is uncertain: the reading public relies solely on him for the record of what he and Philby discussed in Beirut, and his claims could be utterly false. In the conclusion presented by le Carré in his version of the Elliott interviews, words that do not appear in Macintyre’s Afterword, appear the following sentences:

            Whether by then he [Elliott] was under orders to give Philby the space to obtain a confession, we’ll probably never know for sure. Whether he was or not, he fooled me, just as he was fooling himself.

The problem is that Elliott never offers a convincing explanation of why he was suddenly convinced of Philby’s guilt, and he is deceptive over the circumstances, and his description is impossibly incongruous. In 1962, he had been head of station in Beirut, and told le Carré that he received a cable from Dick White saying ‘they had the proof’, that White wanted him to go and confront him, and that Elliott then ‘flew to Beirut’, without any questioning of the evidence, or request for a personal briefing for what would have been a very delicate operation. (From where did he fly, might one ask? Yet le Carré did not challenge him). Macintyre then reports that Elliott, having been offered a promotion in October 1962, with responsibility for Africa, had returned to London from Beirut, and was at that stage told the news by White in person – a far likelier scenario.

Lastly, Elliott gives a very idiosyncratic and provocative account of his dealings with Strauss. He told le Carré:

            So I went and saw him and he told me Philby was homosexual. Never mind all his philandering, never mind that Aileen, whom I knew pretty well, said Philby liked his sex and was pretty good at it. He was homosexual, all part of a syndrome, and the psychiatrist, on no evidence he knew of, was also convinced he was bad. Working for the Russians. Or something. He couldn’t be precise but he was sure of it. He advised me to look for a mother figure. Somewhere there’ll be a mother figure, he said. It was this woman Solomon. [Flora Solomon who introduced Philby to Aileen in 1939.] Jewish woman. She was working in Marks and Spencer’s, a buyer or something. She was angry with Philby over the Jewish thing. Philby had been working for Colonel Teague, who was Head of Station in Jerusalem, and Teague was anti-Jewish, and she was angry. So she told us some things about him. Five (MI5) were in charge by then, and I passed it all on to Five – get the mother figure, Solomon. Wouldn’t listen of course, they’re too bureaucratic.’

I find most of this preposterous. One would expect a sexologist (and a homosexual at that) to know the difference between a homosexual and a bisexual – if, indeed, Philby could be placed in that latter category. (The evidence is flimsy, and Philby was a dedicated chaser of women.) Kim already had a quite capable and loved ‘mother figure’ – his own mother. Why Strauss would assert to him that Philby was ‘working for the Russians’, on no evidence, yet be sure of the fact, is inexplicable unless Aileen had discovered the truth, yet Elliott does not explicitly attribute that insight to Aileen. There is no evidence that Solomon went to MI6 (Rothschild was an ex-MI5 man, of course), and the notion that MI5 ignored Elliott’s hints is belied by what can be viewed in Solomon’s file. Moreover, Elliott never mentions the Arthur Martin business. Another unaccomplished dissembler, whose evidence should never be trusted.

To complete the coverage, I record that some further fascinating items from the 1960s can be seen in the Solomon archive – including the transcription of interviews between Martin, Peter Wright and Anthony Blunt dated February 5 and February 19, 1965. A long note from Wright, dated December 5, 1966, records another attempt to interview Solomon, who declared that she ‘did not like Arthur Martin and was fed up with Victor Rothschild’. She appeared to be concerned about her safety, perturbed about the incompletely explained death of Tomás Harris. She complained about Moura Budberg, who had in her cups one evening confessed that she had worked both for the Foreign Office and the Russians. Peter Wright’s account of these episodes runs as follows:

            The most important help Victor gave me was persuading Flora Solomon to meet MI5 again. I knew from her session with Arthur that she knew far more than she was saying. She had obviously been in the thick of things in the mid-1930s, part inspiration, part fellow accomplice, and part courier for the fledgling Ring of Five along with her friends Litzi Philby and Edith Tudor Hart. After her meeting with Arthur she refused to meet MI5 again. She had a typically Russian paranoia about conspiracy and treachery. She was convinced we would double-cross her, and put her in prison. Or that she would be assassinated by the Russians, as she believed had happened to Tomas Harris.

When he did, despite her protestations, gain his interview, Wright’s introduction of new names to her (Dennis Proctor and Alister Watson) shed some further revelations, but this topic should likewise be left for another day. Instead, I move on to the third of the physical files, concerning Peter Wright and Golitsyn, and the investigation by Stella Rimington.

Anatoly Golitsyn

Anatoli Golitsyn

In November 1969 Peter Wright had a further interview with Anatoly Golitsyn, codenamed KAGO. By this time, Golitsyn’s reputation had been tarnished: his initial claims about penetration agents had been correct, but vague, and he was by now promoting conspiracy theories about deeper infiltration of Britain’s intelligence services. Arthur Martin was one who had become enthused about what Golitsyn said. In Defend the Realm, Christopher Andrew offered an equivocal summarization of Martin:

            Martin was a skilful and persistent counter-espionage investigator [shome mishtake, shurely?] who was awarded the CBE in 1963, but he lacked the capacity for balanced judgment and a grasp of the broader context. Director B, John Marriott, had written of him in 1955: ‘In spite of his undeniable critical and analytical gifts and powers of lucid expression on paper, I must confess that I am not convinced that he is not a rather small minded man, and I doubt he will much increase in stature as he grows older.

(Just the man for a gong, obviously.) Golitsyn’s knowledge ranged over a wide field, but lacked depth, according to Andrew, and, like most defectors, he was trying to justify his dinner-plate by keeping the pot boiling.

What Golitsyn wanted to know (wrote Wright) was how Philby had been tipped off in 1962, and Wright told him that MI5 and MI6 between them had noticed that Yuri Modin, Philby’s controller, had visited the Middle East in September 1962. Wright added that ‘we know from Mrs. Philby [i.e. the former Eleanor Brewer] that some time shortly after this PHILBY became very upset and began drinking heavily’. It was only at this stage that Golitsyn was told about the Flora Solomon episodes. Wright told Golitsyn that ‘it was her evidence together with KAGO’s that had clinched the case.’

Golitsyn then asked whether MI5 was sure that Flora was not under Russian control, casting doubt on her assertion that she had not agreed to work for Philby. At this juncture, matters became even murkier, since Wright, in an aside comment, wrote:

            I did not tell KAGO, but one has to take into account the letter that BLUNT told us about which was amongst BURGESS’ books after Burgess went, which was a letter from PHILBY to BURGESS telling him that if ever he was in dire trouble he could take this letter to Flora SOLOMON who would help him. BLUNT claimed he destroyed this letter.

Wight appeared to accept this story, but it smells very phoney. Burgess and Solomon knew each other well. Why would he need a letter from Philby? Why would Burgess have to go to Solomon if he were in dire straits, and how would she help him in ways that his regular contact could not? Why would Philby entrust such a sensitive message to paper rather than simply telling Burgess? What other information did the letter contain? It sounds to me as if Blunt were trying to shift some blame somehow, or maybe appear to be fulfilling part of his agreement to give a full description of the extended Ring.

Wright questioned Golitsyn: why would the Russians want to shop Philby – that is, presumably, by using Solomon to betray him at this stage? Golitsyn’s subsequent logic is tortuous.

            KAGO said that in his view the K.G.B. would have assessed that he [Golitsyn] had sufficient information to give us to enable us to prove the PHILBY case. If PHILBY knew, as undoubtedly he did, other important agents in the United Kingdom the K.G.B. would be anxious to withdraw PHILBY as soon as possible. KAGO asked was it possible that the K.G.B. had tried to persuade PHILBY to go to Russia and PHILBY had refused to go. PHILBY might well have argued with the K.G.B. that the evidence that KAGO had was not strong enough to be a real danger to him. The K.G.B. would not have believed this but would have been unable to have made PHILBY defect without further pressure. KAGO said was it possible that Flora SOLOMON had been briefed to pass on the story she did in order to ensure that we had the evidence to prove the PHILBY case.

For someone who apparently did not know of Flora Solomon’s existence until a few minutes beforehand, this could be viewed as a bold leap in the dark by Golitsyn. And the assessment seems to reflect an ignorance about how both MI5 and the KGB worked. The KGB was apparently under the impression that Philby would name names under torture – the method they would use. Yet Philby had survived severe interrogation already simply by denying everything. And the KGB did not rely on patient argument to achieve their results. If they considered Philby’s continued presence a real danger, they would either have ordered him to abscond, or simply disposed of him, just like Tomás Harris or any of the other victims they selected. And why would the KGB trust Solomon to tell the right story? She might herself give away far more than they planned, or, if MI5 were shrewd, the Security Service would pick up incongruities in her story. The idea that the confused and unreliable testimony of Solomon would somehow seal the deal strikes me as ludicrous.

All this heady theorizing was too much for Wright to process, and he let Golitsyn’s words pass without comment. Golitsyn had the last word in the memorandum:

            KAGO went on to say that the implication of this theory was that the K.G.B. had sufficient penetration that they could control our action over PHILBY so that we would not recall him and arrest him but probably do what we in fact did do.

And what was it that they did? And did Golitsyn know what that was? The implication by Wright is that MI5/MI6 never had the objective of bringing Philby back to the UK, but perhaps planned instead to warn him and let him escape. Golitsyn implied that this strategy was masterminded by the Kremlin, as opposed to what Wright insinuates, that it was one devised by White, constituting the most advantageous escape-route, politically, for the intelligence services. Vairy interesting!

At this point, I venture to quote what Stella Rimington wrote about counter-espionage work, and Peter Wright’s suitability for the task (p 117 of Open Secret):

            But it [counter-espionage work] is not the quick jumping to conclusions and the twisting of facts to meet the theory which Peter Wright went in for in those days. He was in fact by then [1972] everything which a counter-espionage officer should not be. He was self-important, he had an over-developed imagination and an obsessive personality which had turned into paranoia. And above all he was lazy.

The Rimington Investigation

‘Open Secret’

Stella Rimington (who was Director-General of MI5 between 1992 and 1996) never actually mentions Solomon’s name in her autobiography, Open Secret. That reticence appears unnecessarily coy, given the frankness with which she describes several of her exploits with the Security Service. She joined in 1969, and in 1973 was promoted to an officer, which meant that she ‘was allowed out to do interviews on my own’. She added:

             . . . one of those interviewed at that period was a rather grand old lady, who had been the Head of Personnel in a large company, but was then retired. She had been a friend of the Philby family and had known since the beginning the important fact, which Philby had successfully disguised, that he had been a communist since the early 1930s.

Rimington goes on to explain that her superior officers believed that Solomon knew a lot more than she had admitted to Peter Wright, and Rimington was deputed to visit Solomon to try to determine whether she could reveal to them how Philby had been recruited. But Solomon was unresponsive, and ‘had Rimington on toast’, since the MI5 officer could offer no inducement to make her talk.

This anecdote shows that even the most outspoken of MI5 officers is prey to deception or distorted (or selective) memory. It was of course Arthur Martin not Peter Wright who carried out the interrogation. Moreover, Rimington, as a trainee, had been deputed in 1971 to write up a full analysis of the Solomon case. Her report, dated November 4, covers twenty-one pages. Why Rimington did not use any of the evidence she gathered in this exercise to challenge Solomon in 1974 is not clear.

The report contains much re-hashed material, as well as some useful new insights – and several redacted passages. Capturing the highlights does not lend itself to the creation of a fluent narrative, so I shall instead bulletinize the most illuminating observations:

  1. Her citing of the 1953 evidence (the ‘Stevenson’ material) is redacted to conceal the source.
  2. She explains that Solomon, when she approached Rothschild in July 1962, volunteered the information that she had known at the time of the Spanish Civil War that Philby was working for the Russians and had tried to recruit her – i.e. not the bland claim that Philby was simply a Communist.
  3. She claims that Solomon, in August 1962, when denying that she had ever been involved in espionage, refused to answer questions about anyone other than Philby. That was not true (e.g. Harris, Burgess).
  4. She notes that MI5’s file on Kerensky for 1933-1940 was destroyed.
  5. She echoes Solomon’s claim that she first met the adult Philby in either 1935 or 1936 without referring to the conflicting accounts that Solomon gave.
  6. She adds the intelligence gained from Solomon’s sister, Marie [Manya] Harari, that Philby swept Solomon off her feet after 1934, when her affair with Kerensky was fading. She writes: “According to Mrs. HARARI, Flora SOLOMON has an area of her mind of a vast and limitless stupidity which makes her liable to be used by dangerous people.”
  7. It appears that the Stevenson source had been reacted in the files, even for Rimington, since she expresses ignorance of the 1953 source who claimed that Solomon had become Philby’s mistress, and that ‘Aileen PHILBY had told his wife long ago that Flora SOLOMON was a Communist’. [This latter clause – appearing to introduce gratuitously the wife of ‘Stevenson’ – does not appear in the Solomon files.]
  8. She echoes the claim that Philby ‘as a journalist went backwards and forwards between Spain and England’. [I still await verification of such movements.] She repeats what Solomon said: that on one of these return visits, she asked Philby to intervene in the case of a relation of a friend of hers who had been imprisoned by Franco.
  9. In commenting on the period when Philby began to see a lot more of Solomon, she makes the illogical and incorrect statement that ‘She dates this as 1937 but it is more likely to have been 1938 as PHILBY was in England only between April and May 1937’. Philby was in Spain throughout 1938.
  10. She echoes Solomon’s claim that ‘after his assignment to Spain was over (she thought this was in 1938, after Munich) he rang her up in a state of great agitation’. [This was the assignation when Philby spoke of the danger he was in and tried to invoke Solomon’s support.] Philby did not return from Spain until July 1939.
  11. She relates the account that, in a conversation with her sister in 1966, Solomon said that she first suspected Philby when he received a medal from Franco. Rimington dates that event as happening in 1940: a hand-written correction indicates it was probably 1938.
  12. She notes that MI5 held no contemporary information on Solomon between 1937 and 1939, nor any comments from third parties that were relevant to that period.
  13. She confirms Solomon’s work with SOE during the war.
  14. She echoes Solomon’s claim that Philby visited her in her flat when he returned after Dunkirk. He brought friends to her flat, and Solomon described them as ‘vetting’ opportunities, designed to test their suitability for recruitment for intelligence purposes’. Rimington does not comment on the startling idea that Solomon was senior and experienced enough to execute such a role, especially if such candidates were being considered for British intelligence.
  15. She relates the appearance of Tomás Harris, whom Solomon believed was involved with Philby’s work for the Russians. She records that, in an interview in 1966, Solomon learned that Harris had been a courier and contact man for Philby in Spain. Anthony Blunt was a ‘great friend’.
  16. She is confused about the first meeting between Aileen and Kim. She records how Solomon had been responsible for introducing them, but does not date it, finessing the issue by hinting that they met only after Dunkirk, and soon started living together.
  17. She introduces the fact that Aileen had been living with Frank Birch before she met Kim, and that Philby went into intelligence work because of Birch’s assistance. Rimington appears to have ignored the documentation of the September 3 luncheon.
  18. She notes that, whereas Solomon claimed that she did not know Edith Tudor-Hart, in February 1971 Edith was able to identify a photograph of her. [Incidentally, Arthur Martin introduced her as ‘Edith Suschitzky’ in his first questioning of Solomon.]
  19. Only now does Rimington recognize the September 3, 1939 lunch, listing the attendees. She fails to address the conflicts. In a redacted comment on Eric Strauss, she notes that there was a report that he might have been a Communist as an undergraduate at Oxford. His sister was an open member of the CPGB.
  20. She records the episode of the letter that Blunt found in Burgess’s papers, where Blunt professed not to be able to remember the woman’s name. When prompted, Blunt claimed that he did not know Solomon well. Rimington fails to point out that that assertion contradicted how Solomon had described her relationship with Blunt.
  21. She describes Dudley Danby (private secretary to Lord Lloyd), who was surprised to see Philby at a Solomon party attended almost exclusively by Zionists.
  22. Item 29 is redacted completely, as are Items 31 and 32.
  23. Rimington volunteers the information that, in 1953, Aileen had been promised that Kim would be offered a job at Marks and Spencer, but after Flora Solomon was consulted, the offer was withdrawn.
  24. She echoes the Stevenson report claiming that Solomon was the mistress of Strauss: Stevenson’s identity is redacted.
  25. She provides the information that Yuri Modin travelled from USSR to Iraq in June 1962 and departed from Beirut to Vienna in August 1962. Rimington makes the rather lazy comment that ‘this visit of Modin’s to the Middle East was made at about the time when Flora Solomon first told her story to Lord Rothschild’, but it is clear that Modin’s tour could not have been prompted by the Solomon approach in Israel.
  26. Items 43 through 46 are redacted.
  27.  Rimington introduces Phoebe Pool to the equation. Blunt reported in 1968 that Pool had told Willie Townsend not to go to Flora’s flat. (Pool, an acolyte of Blunt’s, would later commit suicide.)
  28. Rimington says that Solomon volunteered in 1967 that she thought that Danby had been a close friend of Philby’s in Beirut in 1962, and in 1969 she told Rothschild that she thought Danby was spying on behalf of Russia.
  29. She reproduces the discussion between Wright and Golitsyn without comment.
  30. She summarizes what is known about Solomon’s character (which is not flattering), but interprets it to suggest that her story is essentially true. She accepts Solomon’s story of helping Philby even though Flora had become disillusioned with the Soviet Union after 1939.
  31. She accepts the story that Golitsyn was the prime source of intelligence on Philby’s espionage, and that Philby was unwilling to leave when the Russians pressured him to do so. She swallows Golitsyn’s argument that Solomon’s evidence clinched the case against Philby. Yet she wonders why Solomon waited so long to denounce Philby.
  32. She accepts that the anti-Zionist reports submitted by Philby may have prompted her action, but does not consider why she did not approach the authorities in London, instead of waiting to go to Israel.
  33. She considers it very plausible that the Soviets would have chosen her as an agent for their purposes, but clumsily adds ‘it is not necessary to suppose that if what she did was convenient to the Russians she knew about it’. It is difficult to work out what Rimington means by this.
  34. She does at last draw out the conflict in Solomon’s and Blunt’s conflicting views of their friendship, and rightly questions the likelihood of Philby’s leaving such an incriminating message with Blunt. Her assessment here of Blunt’s possible motives is shrewd, but she does not regard the episode as sufficient reason to doubt Solomon’s story.
  35. She sums up by stating that Solomon’s story is ‘just about satisfactory, as ‘there is not a shred of evidence to disprove it’, a rather ingenuous conclusion.
  36. On the other hand, she points to all the ‘fishy’ aspects of her story that could point to illegal activities. On that basis, however, she sensibly opines that the Russians would have brought her to MI5’s attention in 1962.
  37. She believes that Solomon knows far more than she has told MI5 so far, but believes it will be difficult to extract anything else from her now.

Stella Rimington was identified as K3/8. As an addendum, it is worth recording that another trainee (presumably), B. Palliser, was designated K3/6, and in July 1971 undertook a detailed inspection of Philby’s articles in the Observer. He established that Philby’s name was appended to only four articles on the Middle East between October 1, 1961, and July 8, 1962, and they could hardly have been construed as being anti-Zionist. He adds a perceptive comment:

            The statement of Flora SOLOMON which I quoted at 134a, that she said that PHILBY was ‘now writing violently anti-Israel articles and she believed that he was doing this on Russian instructions’ is taken from57a in Volume 1. 57a is a note by D [Furnival Jones] of 5th July, 1962, recording the handing over to the D.G. [Hollis] by C [White] of a note about a report made to Rothschild by Flora. The quoted statement appears, therefore, to be probably fourth-hand, from Flora to Lord ROTHSCHILD to C to the D.G. to D, and might have become slightly changed in its passage from one to the other.

Analysis of the Rimington Report

Dame Stella Rimington

What was the purpose of Stella Rimington’s project – ‘Summary and Assessment of the Case of Flora Solomon’? Was it merely a training exercise, or did it constitute a serious re-appraisal of the evidence? I believe the former. It does not appear to have been sent to anyone higher than P.F. Stewart (K 3/0), who sends it on, with complimentary words, to someone identified as ‘K/Advisor’. Moreover, a typed comment at the head of the report runs: “This file summary does not necessarily include all significant information and should not be used as a substitute for study of the whole file if a comprehensive picture is required”. This suggests to me that Rimington was not given carte blanche to inspect the relevant records (i.e. surrounding files concerning Philby et al.), and probably was not allowed to inspect even the complete set of Solomon files themselves.

This is in fact evident from her selections and comments, where she shows a mixture of astonishing ignorance (e.g. concerning the inclusion of ‘Stevenson’, or the redacted passage that surely identifies him) to her total lack of appreciation of the role that Eric Strauss played in the affair. As I have shown, Christopher Andrew was shown this absolutely vital evidence, but it no doubt came from the Philby files, where information on Aileen’s and Kim’s activities were stored. On the other hand, Rimington occasionally introduces new material (e.g. the puzzling reference to the unidentified Stevenson’s wife). Since she does not include copies of the material that she had inspected, it is difficult to tell what selection she was guided to, or whether certain information was even redacted so that junior personnel – not to be trusted with such confidential information – were automatically protected from viewing such sensitive material. After all, Rimington was a trainee. If she failed the test, and had to return to the wide world, what might the exposure be?

Thus no one could be expected to offer a serious re-appraisal of the Solomon material without inspecting much more. And the dilettante aspect of the project is reinforced by the very casual way that the anomalies on Solomon’s testimony are treated. Rimington is very indulgent with the woman, as if she guessed that a report with that slant was what was expected of her. Thus she skates over the conflicts over the first meeting of the adult Philby, the dating of Aileen’s and Kim’s first encounter, the precise facts about Kim’s invitation to Flora at the lunch (or dinner), the period when Kim and Flora saw much more of each other, the depth of friendship between Blunt and Solomon, the implications of Birch’s interview, the incongruities of Modin’s and Solomon’s travel in the summer of 1962, the precise reasons why Solomon decided to speak up, etc. etc. She seems far too trusting of the capability of Solomon’s intervention to be the clinching argument in proving Philby’s guilt.

Thus it is difficult to conclude that anybody in MI5 was serious in wanting a proper re-evaluation of the case. For example, a full analysis of the Strauss disclosures would have been an essential component of such a study – but MI5 must have been mortally embarrassed that they had conducted such an exercise. And they failed to follow up in so many areas. Why was Frank Birch not interviewed before he died in 1956? He probably was, as he was investigated as a possible member of the extended Cambridge Group, but no record appears to have survived. In a 1998 essay, Christopher Andrew included him in a list of those who had been falsely accused of being Soviet spies, a rollcall that contained Peierls, Rothschild and Mann, but Andrew did not explain on what grounds he was able to absolve them all so confidently.

Did Birch in fact facilitate the entry of Flora Solomon’s son, Peter Benenson, into Bletchley Park? Why were Philby’s movements between Spain and England during the period 1937-1939 not investigated, to see whether his presence in London tallied with Solomon’s account? Why was ‘Stevenson’ not followed up, to determine what he had learned about Aileen, and how, and to verify the claim he made that Flora had somehow sent Philby on his mission to Spain? Why was Neil Furse’s approach to the War Office (acknowledged by Rothschild) not followed up and examined? Above all, the absence of any analysis of the complex relationships between Aileen, Kim, Strauss, Solomon, ‘Stevenson’ [Greene] and Birch is very telling. It all points to an acceptance that there were too many skeletons in the closet, and that they should not be disturbed.

In summary, the Rimington Report is an historical curiosity, released probably because of its author’s later prominence. While giving an opportunity for Rimington to show her analytical potential, it is an exercise in futility. It sheds no real fresh light on the Solomon case, merely confirming that MI5 wasted an enormous amount of time on counter-espionage charades. (I have searched for an email address for Dame Stella, in the hope of asking her what she recalled about the project, but in vain. Can anyone out there help?)


As with many of these cases, the fog has thickened fast. I offer my interpretation of the events.

  • Solomon was a gossipy, attention-seeking, mendacious busybody. She was probably of no great danger to anyone but was well capable of causing trouble.
  • Solomon was probably regarded by the KGB as an ‘agent of influence’ – someone who could help the Communist cause without being infiltrated into any sensitive position.
  • If Solomon initiated the contact with Rothschild, she must have felt immune herself, and was thus probably not severely guilty.
  • It is very unlikely that the KGB would have invoked Solomon in a project to encourage Philby to escape, for strategic, logistic and chronological reasons. It was out of character, and very risky: they had conventional means of disposing of irritants.
  • Solomon’s approach was tardy and half-hearted, its motivation suspect. She could have acted in London if she had been serious. The approach to Rothschild seems very casual.
  • If MI5 took her testimony seriously, they should have applied far more rigour to their analysis. The fact that they were so indulgent with Solomon’s lies and inconsistencies suggests that they did not regard it as a clincher.
  • MI5 had enough evidence in their Philby dossier to confirm Philby’s guilt without any wild and belated claims from a rather unbalanced woman (as her sister described her).
  • MI5’s intelligence on Philby had been sharpened by the information that Strauss gave them from his client consultations – a highly embarrassing project that MI5 failed to cover up.
  • Golitsyn’s initial claims about the Cambridge Five (before he went off the rails) are far more likely to have been the trigger for confronting Philby.
  • White was even more convinced of Philby’s guilt by Golitsyn’s testimony, but instead of using Solomon’s evidence invented a KGB source to convince Elliott.
  • Nicholas Elliott was a proven liar, and any contributions he made to the story should be severely distrusted.
  • The comments of Wright would tend to reinforce the theory that White viewed Philby’s escape as the least embarrassing endgame.
  • White’s professed strategy was, however, feeble: giving Philby immunity in exchange for a ‘full’ confession. How would they know? (There is an exact analogy with the Blunt case.) What would happen to Philby afterwards?
  • The shocking revelations made by Christopher Andrew about the information unethically passed on to MI5 by its informer, Eric Strauss, constitute a convincing reason why the files had to be so heavily redacted, both internally, and before release to the National Archives.

Lastly, consider the following outline for a screenplay: 

It is 1953. A notable homosexual psychiatrist, who had been a member of the Communist Party at Oxford, has been persuaded by MI5 to divulge confidential information that his clients have told him. One of his private clients is a famous writer who used to work for Kim Philby. Another is Philby’s common-law wife, Aileen Furse, distraught over her husband’s mistreatment of her, and suspecting that he is the infamous ‘Third Man’ who in 1951 alerted Burgess and Maclean about the net closing in. Kim Philby’s closest friend in MI6, Nicholas Elliott later claimed that Strauss, with Aileen’s permission, had at this time revealed her suspicions about Philby to him. An intimate friend of the psychiatrist is a Russian Jew, Flora Solomon, who was a Communist herself, and is suspected by some in MI5 of being a Soviet spy. Philby was at one time emotionally attached to her, but she later claimed that they never had an affair. In turn, Aileen, a psychotic woman given to self-harm, had been infatuated with Ms. Solomon, who gave her a job after Aileen’s cousin, Neil Furse, who worked with Solomon, had recommended her to Flora. In September 1939, Solomon had also been responsible for bringing Philby and Aileen together, prompting Aileen to leave her current lover, Frank Birch, and live with Philby, who was in fact still married to his wife, Litzi, a Soviet agent. That same month, at Solomon’s instigation, Birch, who had taken up an important post at Bletchley Park when war broke out, interviewed Philby for a job in Intelligence, although Solomon never told Birch about Philby’s true allegiances. Solomon may also have used Birch to gain a position at Bletchley Park for her son. Now, in 1953, the famous writer, shocked at the discovery that the psychiatrist knows far more about Philby’s shady activities than he should, approaches MI5 to warn them of the leaks about his treachery. Unaware that Aileen shares his psychiatrist with him, the writer accuses Mrs. Solomon of exerting an evil influence on Philby, leading him astray, and passing on confidential information told her by Aileen. Aileen and her cousin Neil decide to approach the authorities directly about Philby’s close friendship with Guy Burgess, a supposedly vital clue that should help confirm Philby’s guilt.

Such a project would surely have been rejected as too far-fetched, but, if put in the hands of Alan Bennett or Tom Stoppard (or even Charlotte Philby) it would have made A Spy Among Friends look like Noddy Has An Adventure.

(This month’s Commonplace entries can be viewed here.)


Filed under Espionage/Intelligence, General History, Management/Leadership, Politics

Kim Philby’s German Moonshine

Philby & ‘Spycatcher’

[This report was updated on July 17, 2023, to include information from reports submitted by Philby to his Soviet controllers in 1945 concerning his visits to Europe, and some brief analysis. The information comes from Genrikh Borovik’s ‘Philby Files’.]

I use this month’s report to address an outstanding question regarding Kim Philby and his actions on taking over Section IX of MI6, namely:

  • What was Philby up to in Europe in 1945?

During this analysis, I shall be bearing in mind the subsidiary questions:

  • Which of the dates and locations of Philby’s visits can be verified from other sources?
  • What authority and what mission did Philby carry at those times?
  • What was the strategy of MI6 at the time of these visits?
  • How did the activities of Section IX relate to military strategy at the end of the war?




Memoirs and Biographies

A Small Town in Germany



Kim Philby’s travels in Europe in 1945, described in his memoir My Silent War, may turn out not to be highly significant, but they are worth inspecting because they occurred at a critical time in the post-war evolution of MI6 (SIS), and because his account of them contains some implausibilities. The details are not easily verifiable, suggesting some possible deception. What fascinates me is the fact that Philby’s undisciplined account has, so far as I know, not been challenged anywhere (although it has been distorted). This suggests to me either a) that no one with any knowledge of the background has paid much attention to the anomalies inherent in his account, or b) that it is more convenient to let Philby’s fantasies endure, since they obscure some more embarrassing secrets that the authorities probably wanted to remain concealed.

Philby had only recently (October 1944) been appointed to head Section IX of MI6, which had been established in March 1943, dedicated to Soviet counter-espionage and counter-intelligence. Philby replaced John Curry, who, having been loaned by MI5 to MI6 to lead and build the unit, returned to MI5 in November 1944.  Section IX was an outgrowth of the wartime Section V that targeted the Abwehr and other Nazi intelligence groups, in which Philby had led the Iberian section.  Such resources and skills that drove Section V’s success were now required for the task of frustrating the Soviet Union’s designs for communist subversion. Philby had managed to persuade Valentine Vivian to give him the job in place of the natural candidate, the diligent but difficult Felix Cowgill, who had managed very well Section V’s operation of Special Control Units embedded with the British Army. Cowgill had, however, made himself unpopular with MI5 because of his reluctance to share decrypted ULTRA intelligence, and Philby skillfully courted his allies (Liddell and White) within MI5 to secure the position.

Philby gave a grudging appreciation of Cowgill’s skills in a report to his Moscow bosses, crediting him with an enormous capacity for work, aided by a prodigious memory, and combative in standing up for his principles. But he had few social graces, was unable to delegate and failed at any task of diplomatic negotiation. Thus Cowgill’s ambitions were quickly snuffed. He returned from a visit to the USA, and a further journey to Germany, in November 1944, and resigned in a huff when he discovered how he had been stabbed in the back.

It is not my intention here to offer a comprehensive analysis of the evolution of Section IX – a difficult enough challenge anyway, given the paucity of sources. Rather it is my goal to provide an accurate context for Philby’s initiatives after he assumed leadership of the Section, thereby shedding light on his movements in 1945, and maybe revealing more about how he was viewed in MI6. It was a critical and sensitive time. As the war began to wind down, and the fresh threat of Soviet expansion in Europe and Communist subversion of the democracies was recognized, a gradual shift in resources took place. Yet the assumption evident in the expressed plans was that the transition from performing counter-intelligence against one totalitarian state to building an organization to thwart the incursions and threats of the Soviet Union would be relatively smooth. That was an analysis that at first failed to register some significant differences.

The strength of Section V had been the successful exploitation of wireless traffic undertaken by German military and intelligence units. Operating on occupied territory, the enemy forces had been required to use radio instead of more secure land-lines. A massive investment in message capture (by the Radio Security Service) and decryption (by the Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park) of the so-called ULTRA traffic had allowed Section V (in collaboration with MI5) to build up an extensive map of German units, movements, officers, and missions, alongside information about their deployment of agents. This was supplemented by intelligence gained from air reconnaissance, as well as contributions from citizens of these occupied territories who could provide ancillary information to fill out the inventory. A vital storehouse of data was captured and maintained that helped the Allied military effort.

The situation with the Soviet Union was very different. First of all, it was still technically an ally, and there were factions, especially within the American Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and in the Foreign Office, who looked forward to cooperating with the Soviet Union after the war. They would have tried to suffocate any plans for expanding Soviet counter-intelligence. Work on the external communist threat had however been sadly neglected during the war, both in MI5 and MI6. Wireless traffic was still very much a closed book. Even though some Soviet messages may still have been collected, decryption efforts had stopped after Barbarossa in June 1941. Not until 1943, when renewed efforts by the exiled Poles at Boxmoor, and a successful project based at Berkeley Street in London, under Denniston, to decrypt ex-Comintern communications in Eastern Europe, was the process of intelligence-gathering resumed. In addition, the Soviet Union was a heavily-guarded citadel: SIS had no agents at all on its territory, and SIS’s officers in outlying stations were known to the NKVD. For example, when Archie Gibson moved from Turkey to Sofia in September 1944, he was expelled a couple of weeks later. What SIS officers (apart from Philby, of course) were not aware of was that details of their complete organization, personnel, and mission had been regularly handed over to Moscow. It was not a level playing-field.

My Silent War (Kim Philby, 1968)

Philby’s own account of his travels is elliptical. He starts: “At the beginning of 1945, when the section [IX] was adequately staffed and housed, the time came for me to visit some of our field stations”, and, after a paragraph complimenting himself on the way that he had repaired the damage done by Harry Steptoe (according to Philby Number 2 in Section IX under Curry – whom Philby spells as ‘Currie’: any writer who lazily follows Philby’s example should be treated warily), with his station commanders universally approving Philby’s decisive sacking of the man, he offers an assessment of the state of counter-intelligence:

            Our real target was invisible and inaudible; as far as we were concerned, the Soviet intelligence service might never have existed. The upshot of our discussions could be little more than a resolution to keep casting flies over Soviet and East European diplomatic personnel and over members of the local Communist parties. During my period of service, there was no single case of a consciously conceived operation against Soviet intelligence bearing fruit. We progressed only by means of windfalls that literally threw the stuff into our laps. With one or two exceptions, to be noted later, these windfalls took the form of defectors from the Soviet service.

One wonders whether he presented such a bleak outlook to his bosses at the time: this would have seemed to be no recipe for success, and he would surely have had to present a more positive and energetic front to justify his expansion plans.

He went on to describe his sorties:

These trips, which covered France, Germany, Italy, and Greece, were to some extent educative, since they gave me insight into various types of SIS organization in the field. But after each journey, I concluded, without emotion, that it would take years to lay an effective basis for work against the Soviet Union.

Indeed. He then regaled his readers with a series of anecdotes from ‘that summer’ including ‘the wine-glass of chilled Flit which I drained in Berlin’, under the impression it was Niersteiner, as well as memories from Rome, Bari, and Larissa (in Greece).

My instant reaction on re-reading this recently was one of disbelief, for several reasons. First, the timing is impossible. The implication given is that Philby visited such stations early in 1945. For Paris and other liberated cities, that would obviously have been practicable, but for Germany it would have been absurd, since the Nazi surrender did not take place until May 7.  And we should remember that Philby was back in London in August 1945, just before the Gouzenko and Volkov events took place, jarring interruptions that disrupted his peace of mind. In any case, were the outlying stations in previously occupied Europe reconstituted that quickly? And would it not have been easier for Philby to have briefed the station-leaders in London? The second is to do with responsibilities. Since Philby had been appointed to head Section IX only in October 1944, it would have been premature and inappropriate for him to refer to ‘his’ station commanders, who reported to a different section. Moreover, Philby had been with MI6 for only three years, had been working in what was essentially a desk-job (analysis), and had no experience in recruiting and handling agents (operations). The third is to do with MI6’s strategy and organization at the time. I recalled vaguely that a deep study of MI6’s post-war structure and mission was carried out during 1944, with a report not coming out until the end of the year, and that further studies continued well into 1945. Thus the new structure, job definitions, and personnel assignments, as well as the methods by which the roles of counter-intelligence officers would be carried out, would not have been established until several months had passed.

I had to start digging around in the literature. First, the histories.


The Secret History of MI6 1909-1949 (Keith Jeffery, 2010)

Even though it is not the first, chronologically, Keith Jeffery’s authorized history of MI6 (SIS) was the obvious place to start. In many ways I find this a frustrating volume: it is crammed with facts, but Jeffery dances around the chronology so erratically, preferring to concentrate on exploits by geography, that he misses the chance to offer real integrative analysis. No account of the activities of Section IX in its short lifetime was to be found – an extraordinary omission. I consequently discovered that I had to compile my own interpretation of what decisions were driving what events.

Jeffery judged that the three-man committee under Nevile Bland, chartered with reporting on the future organization of the S.I.S., did deliver, in October 1944, a document that was ‘crucial in the history of the service’. Since this was the same month in which Philby had been appointed to head Section IX, the timing of his career ascent was not the most auspicious. Apart from the controversial recommendation that the functions of SOE be absorbed into SIS, the report seems largely unsurprising, making (for example) the case that that SIS be kept independent of MI5, its tone poignantly echoing the name of its chairman. It did discuss a more professional approach to recruitment, recommended that SIS improve its communications with its consumers, and took on the thorny problem of how SIS officers abroad should be disguised. It emphasized the growing importance of scientific and technical intelligence, and managed to stave off a push by the Joint Intelligence Committee to make SIS more subservient to military needs.

Yet matters did not move quickly, as if nothing should happen until the war were won. Moreover, Menzies wanted more deliberations. Jeffery wrote: “Menzies, in fact, had begun planning for the postwar Service early in the spring of 1945, evidently as a response to the Bland Report, with the C.S.S. committee on S.I.S. organization” being established. This entity consisted of Maurice Jeffes, who had been Director of Passport Control since 1938, Dick Ellis [yes, him who had the dubious past], Bill Cordeaux and Kim Philby. The Committee did not report until November 13, 1945, long after Philby’s reputed excursions around the European stations, and just after the Gouzenko and Volkov episodes, which one might expect to have coloured both the conclusions of the report as well as the formal reception of it.

What this Committee recommended was a wholesale re-organization of SIS, to be divided into four main branches, namely Requirements, Production, Finance and Administration, and Technical Services (which absorbed much of SOE). The largest section of the Requirements Branch was to be the counter-intelligence section, headed by Philby, and Jeffery oddly notes that this section would absorb ‘its predecessor’, Section V, but fails to offer any acknowledgment of the recent birth and presence of Section IX. (Only in an observation concerning 1948, when R5 was split into two, does Jeffery mention Section IX. But Philby had long been despatched to Istanbul by then.) At the same time, the report prescribed some streamlining of the Production Branch, which essentially consisted of the field stations gathering intelligence, and confounding enemy thrusts to undermine them. This new system of five Regional Controllers did not, however, operate until ‘late 1945’. Remarkably, Jeffery offers no names to fill all these exciting new posts (apart from Philby in Requirements, and Wilfred Dunderdale, heading his mysterious so-called ‘Special Liaison Controllerate’), perhaps responding to SIS’s desire for anonymity of its officers.

The adoption of these new structures took place in 1946, and only here does Jeffery inform his readers that the Requirements Directorate came into being that spring under Claude Dansey. Yet that does not make sense. By all accounts, Dansey had retired by then, and he died in 1947. Jeffery eventually lists those who took over responsibility for Production in January 1947 (Sinclair overall in charge, with Ellis, Cohen and Teague as his Chief Controllers). The infrastructure and achievements between the end of the war and 1947 are thus a sorry blur, and Jeffery records nothing about any sorties by Philby into Europe. In fact, almost immediately after he had settled in, towards the end of 1946, Philby was summoned by Sinclair (according to Philby’s account) and informed that it was time for him to have a tour of duty overseas. (Might Sinclair’s decision to move him out conceivably have been provoked by the alarming news of Philby’s bigamous marriage in September 1946? That is something over which Anthony Cave Brown speculated.) Jeffery is completely silent on this appointment, until he reaches 1948 in his saga, when, in an aside to the description of a disastrous exploit to infiltrate a couple of Georgians (the ‘Climbers’) into the Soviet Union, he mentions that they were welcomed in Istanbul by the head of station, Kim Philby. It is all a very unsatisfactory performance by the authorized historian, but he was severely inhibited by the selection of material shown to him.

The Friends: Britain’s Post-War Secret Intelligence Operations (Nigel West, 1989)

At times, the narrative in Nigel West’s account would appear to be describing a different world. As an introduction to SIS’s transition from war to peace, West (who never mentions Bland) refers to the fact that Findlater Stewart, the former head of the recently disbanded Home Defence Executive, was commissioned by Winston Churchill, before he was ousted by Attlee, to recommend how the British Intelligence Services should be organized to meet changing needs. Stewart delivered his report on November 27, 1945. West imputes this study as applying to both MI5 and MI6, and gives as an example for such initiatives as having SIS incorporate the rump of SOE in its organization, including several key officers, such as Robin Brook and Dickie Franks.

What is bizarre about this analysis is firstly that the Stewart report actually concerned itself with MI5 (as the National Archives reveal to us), including only marginal comments about relationships with MI6. Attlee and Petrie negotiated over its recommendations until as late as April 1946, when Attlee signed off on it. Secondly, Christopher Andrew completely ignored the existence of such a report and subsequent process in his authorized history of MI5. West acknowledged at the time that the Stewart report had never been published: it was an imaginative guess on his part to attribute to it the mandarins’ recommendations for MI6, but he had been wrongly informed. Thereafter, West provides a little more detail on the new SIS organization than was to be provided by Jeffery, two decades later.

First, he disposes of Cowgill, without mentioning Philby’s role, describes the continued structure of the Sections, including both V and IX, and introduces three Deputy Directors to Menzies, representing the three services, Cordeaux, Payne and Beddington. Then he starts to coincide with Jeffery, outlining the members of the committee that Menzies established in the summer of 1945, adding Hastings, Arnold-Forster and Footman to the list, but dropping Ellis. The structure of the eventual recommended organization is identical: West states that Menzies approved much of the report, but offers no date. He does identify the nine ‘R’ (Requirements) sections, with Philby’s Counter-intelligence being R5. And he adds the fact that Kenneth Cohen was appointed Director of Production, and that three European regional controllers, Gallienne (Western Area, namely France, Spain and North Africa), Carr (Northern Area, namely the Soviet Union and Scandinavia) and King (Eastern Area, namely Germany, Switzerland and Austria) served under Cohen. (Andrew King had to resign from MI6 in the 1960s for concealing his Communist past; a fact not admitted here by West.).

West spends a fair amount of space in describing the role of Passport Control Officer that continued to serve as cover for SIS officers abroad, despite the fact that it was an open secret. He reveals a surprising fact: that during the immediate post-war period, Charles de Salis and John Bruce Lockhart were manning the SIS station in Paris, and two MI5 officers were also on the staff, namely Jasper Harker (the old chief who was lampooned by Jane Archer), and Peter Hope. This might be relevant in that Paris was one of the stations Philby claimed to have visited, and (as will be revealed) the one with the most solid evidence of his presence.

Allied Control Commission: Berlin, May 1945

We can find nothing in West’s study about the activities of Section IX before the reorganization took place, but he does provide some useful information about the Allied Control Council, the entity that governed Germany, the members of which were drawn from the separate Allied Control Commissions. He writes:

            SIS had offices in the British Control Commission for Germany (BCCG) at Lancaster House on the Fehrbelliner Platz and requisitioned a building adjoining the Olympic Stadium, where SIS opened a station in 1946. Since the BCCG was eventually to employ a total of 22,520 staff, it was easy enough to provide further cover by attaching SIS personnel to the BCCG’s Intelligence Division (ID), a small unit run discreetly by Brigadier J. S. (‘Tubby’) Lethbridge.

The Berlin connection is interesting: but, of course, it post-dates Philby’s assertions about his travel to that city. West also informs us that, in the year following Germany’s surrender, numerous SIS outposts were established in Germany, the most important being located at Bad Salzuflen, between Düsseldorf and Hanover, under the command of Harold Shergold.

West stresses how important the BCCG was as the frontline of the intelligence war: it was for this group that Dick White of MI5 worked for a year or so, and thereby gained experience and a reputation that helped him in his future career. As West puts it: “  . . . dozens of sites throughout the occupied lands sprang up to house intelligence personnel, train forces, provide wireless interception bases, debrief potentially useful sources and interrogate suspects.” He points out that the focus on denazification, complemented by Soviet-appeasing noises from the Foreign Office, meant that anti-Soviet operations received short shrift, and were frustrated in any case by the communist spy Leo Long, who had been given the responsibility of running agents into the East. Another well-placed spy worked in the BCCG’s Press department, but West was unable to name him in 1989, as he was still alive. While admitting that he had been a Communist, this character denied having spied for the Reds.

The author dedicates a whole chapter to Philby (‘Kim Philby and VALUABLE’), providing some additional facts. When Philby took over Section IX, he left his Westminster schoolfriend Tim Milne in charge of Section V, ‘which also happened to employ Philby’s younger sister, Helena’. West gets the date of Section V’s formation wrong, stating that it was in September 1944, indicating that Curry and Harry Steptoe led it, when that was in fact the time that Curry gave up the post, and returned to MI5. He does record that Steptoe had been selected to make a tour of the Mediterranean stations to rebuild SIS’s organization after the invasion of Italy, an event that would tend to undermine the fact that Philby had to perform this task again himself. Steptoe later became Head of Station in Tehran, but West provides no dates. One might interpret from these sparse sentences that Steptoe was sent to Iran before he could carry out his Mediterranean tour. West’s narrative here could be interpreted to assert that SIS’s reorganization (where R5 replaced Sections V and IX) occurred before the end of the war. His chronology is distressingly vague.

After providing a detailed exposition of Philby’s career, West returns to 1945. Unfortunately, he relies almost exclusively on what Philby wrote in My Silent War, adding a flourish of his own:

While in his new post, Philby made several sorties abroad during the summer of 1945. He visited France, Germany, Italy and Greece, partly to reconnoitre the facilities that might be available for extending SOE’s covert war against the Soviet Bloc, and partly to indoctrinate SIS’s field personnel into Menzies’ plan for continuing irregular operations into the peace.

Where does this embellishment come from? It is not clear. What ‘facilities’ had to be inspected? What ideas did the unimaginative Menzies come up with for ‘irregular operations’? And what was a counter-intelligence officer doing promoting and explaining plans for subversive operations? And all this apparently occurred before Menzies’s internal study was completed in November 1945. It does not make sense.

Yet West continues the myth. Thus:

            Since it was ex-SOE personnel who were going to be expected to spearhead SIS’s anti-Communist campaign in the Balkans, Philby undertook a length tour of inspection. His journey in the summer of 1945 took him to visit Charles de Salis and John Bruce Lockhart in Paris, Monty Woodhouse in Athens and SOE’s outpost in Bari.

Paris would have been a very critical element in Balkan subversion, of course. And what happened to Germany? Moreover, SOE was not formally closed down, and absorbed by SIS, until January 1946. It would have been highly irregular for Philby to be nosing around in sabotage or subversive plans at this time, and Gubbins would have been in uproar. There were no deployable ‘ex-SOE’ personnel in existence at this time. The whole account is nonsensical. ‘The importance of chronology’ raises its head again.

MI6: Inside the Covert World of Her Majesty’s Secret Intelligence Service (Stephen Dorril, 2000)

Dorril presents a slightly different time-line. He erroneously has Menzies re-constituting the anti-communist Section IX in March 1944, under Curry, with Philby taking charge of Section V in May, while Cowgill was negotiating agreements with the Americans on intelligence exchange – BRUSA. Philby led a team of 250 officers who performed a valuable task of compiling records on members of the German security services. Before long, however, Valentine Vivian gave him his new assignment:

            In August 1944, Philby, who had expected to begin work on the illegal organisations of the Nazi Party and, when the war ended, to work in Berlin as chief of counter-intelligence, was informed that Vivian wanted to appoint him the operational chief of MI6’s anti-communist work in place of Curry.

This came as no surprise to Philby, of course, since he had been manœuvering for it ever since his Soviet bosses told him how imperative it was that he win it. Why ‘operational’ is italicized is not clear.

Dorril goes on to describe how SOE’s demise was arranged, quite quickly, by a committee set up in June 1945, composed of Cavendish-Bentinck, Menzies, Gubbins, and representatives of the chiefs of staff and the Treasury. Gubbins was outnumbered, and accepted the inevitable dissolution of his province as early as July 16, 1945. With the war over, Menzies apparently sent Philby to Athens, and then Frankfurt, ‘where he saw the chief of Allied Intelligence in Europe, General Long’. Thus an apparently genuine confirmation of Philby’s travel appears – but no mention of Berlin. Elsewhere, Dorril appears to accept Philby’s description of his visit to Bari in summer 1945, although he very illogically asserts that this event confirms that SOE was still operational. It was, but Philby had nothing to do with it.

On the other hand, some new intriguing links appear. Dorril frequently refers to Tom Bower’s biography of Dick White for this period – and Dick White was working at the time for Montgomery as chief of counter-intelligence at Bad Oeynhausen, a few miles north of Herford in Rhine-Westphalia. Dorril also reports that that highly dubious character Goronwy Rees – up until the time of the Nazi-Soviet pact an enthusiastic supporter of the Comintern – was also installed there as a person of some influence, senior intelligence officer to Sir William Strang, political adviser to Montgomery. Rees, the character whom Guy Burgess had sought permission to assassinate just a few years ago was now ‘responsible for diplomatic relations with the Russians’.

Dorril, also relying on Tom Bower’s The Red Web (1989), describes how Philby enthusiastically picked up what the old MI6 warrior in Scandinavia, Harry Carr, was trying to organize with Alexander McKibbin – anti-Soviet guerrilla activity in satellite nations like Latvia, Belarus and Ukraine.

As Dorril wrote:

            War planning soon became an integral part of MI6’s activities and much thought was given to the setting up of anti-Soviet Stay Behind (SB) networks throughout Europe.

Furthermore, Dorril wrote that Philby was helping with the links to the various exile movements, and was even ‘recruiting among the exiles’.

Stephan Bandera

The archival evidence, however, for exactly what contacts Philby had with such rogues as the Ukrainian nationalist Stephan Bandera in the summer of 1945 is sketchy at best. In his history of the CIA, The Old Boys, Burton Hersh wrote (1992):

It had been Philby’s job all through the postwar months as Chief of Section 9, the Soviet intelligence branch of the SIS, to revise British control over anti-Bolshevik malcontents, and he was quickly in touch with Bandera and his Ukrainians along with the Abramtchik schismatics. Before long the cost of subsidizing these émigré encampments was breaking the English. Unloading ‘the Communist-infiltrated Abramtchik organization upon the all-too-eager Wisner’, Loftus writes, would stand as ‘Philby’s biggest coup.’ ‘Philby also threw in the entire NTS network to serve as the foundation for a Pan-Slavic anticommunist bloc in exchange for access to the intelligence produced.’

Yet this seems to me a mangling of chronology. The author he cites, John Loftus, provided in The Belarus Secret (1982) no archival evidence that Philby was in touch with Bandera at this time, and his text suggests – Loftus is likewise irritatingly vague over his dates – that Mikola Abramtchik (president of the Belarusian Democratic Republic in exile) was not recruited until 1947 or 1948. Nevertheless, Philby was no doubt causing mayhem in many ways already. Such connections and rivalries, and the dampening effect of White’s pragmatism, would probably turn out to be a major influence on subsequent events.

With SOE taken care of, Menzies then set up his Reorganisation Committee (although Dorril presents the deliberations as occurring in October and November 1945). Dorril names the usual suspects, adding Alurid Denne, who, rather improbably, is described as having ‘control of the USSR region’. (Some region: some control.) Philby would indicate that Denne was in fact the secretary to the committee, ‘a careful, not to say punctilious, officer who could be relied on for complete impartiality because he had a comfortable niche awaiting him in the Shell Oil Company’. Hardly the man to cause knee-quaking in the Kremlin. (Dorril attributed the details of his coverage of this committee to West’s book analysed above.)

The outcome, according to Dorril, was similar to that described by West:

            Philby was still responsible for supervising the worldwide collection of all anti-Soviet and anti-communist material, intelligence which, according to Philby’s reports to the Soviets, was used ‘to discredit individuals in Soviet embassies and communist activities in other countries, to create provocations against them, to force or encourage them to defect to the West’. A great deal of attention was paid to interrogating former Soviet POWs and other displaced Russians. Philby discovered that the mostly low-level defectors did not know very much about the Soviet Union but were ‘very eager to tell whatever they thought British intelligence officers wanted to hear’.

Dorril here uses Noel Annan (Changing Enemies, p 230) and Borovik as his sources. Yet it all sounds very exaggerated in Philby’s words, and was in reality a poor cousin of what the KGB was actually doing at the time. Indeed, Annan’s message sounds to me antithetical to the sentiments expressed here. Annan wrote, from the page Dorril cited:

            It was almost impossible to plant agents in Russia or its satellite states when security was so intense that diplomats were not free to travel where they wished. Yet although the nomenklatura were reluctant to learn that the working class were not starving in the West, the steady stream of defectors, some from the KGB itself, showed that truth did penetrate the Soviet defences.

One yearns for more details here. Who carried out these interrogations – solely Military Intelligence? Were some defectors brought to London? Or did Philby travel to the places where the defectors were detained? And how were the Requirements formulated? What did Philby’s Section IX actually create and distribute in the way of intelligence? Again, details on the work of Section IX are very hard to come by, and the historians try to bluff their way through the fog.

The Cambridge Comintern (Robert Cecil, 1984)

In 1984, Christopher Andrew and David Dilks edited an intriguing set of essays published under the title The Missing Dimension: Governments and Intelligence Communities in the Twentieth Century.  One of the contributors was Robert Cecil, who had replaced Patrick Reilly as Stewart Menzies’s private secretary in the summer of 1943, and then moved to the Washington Embassy in April 1945. His essay, The Cambridge Comintern, is notable because he was intimately involved with the creation of Section IX.

Cecil makes some background observations: for example, that ‘contrary to what is asserted by Philby in his book, the Foreign Office had no hand in the manœuvre by which he ousted Cowgill’. When it came to delineate the size and scope of the new anti-Communist section, ‘consultation with the Foreign Office was doubly necessary’, owing to budgetary concerns, and the sensitivities of Heads of Mission who might object to MI6 officers working under their wing. As the intermediary to the Foreign Office, Cecil was given the courtesy of seeing, ‘in late February or early March 1945’ a document written by Philby. It was the proposed ‘charter’ of Section IX. Here Cecil discloses that the proposal described how MI6 officers overseas would be reporting directly to the head of Section IX, and it was couched in language that emphasized the challenges of increased surveillance, and thus the requirement for deeper diplomatic cover. Cecil objected, but was not determined enough:

            My vision of the future was at once more opaque and more optimistic; I sent the memorandum back to Philby, suggesting that he might scale down his demands. Within hours, Vivian and Philby had descended upon me, upholding their requirements and insisting that these be transmitted to the FO. Aware of the fact that I was in any case due to be transferred in April to Washington, I gave way, but I have since reflected with a certain wry amusement on the hypocrisy of Philby who, supposedly working in the cause of ‘peace’ (as Soviet propaganda always insists), demanded a larger Cold War apparatus, when he could have settled for a smaller one.

This is a strange passage. Did Cecil simply give way, and pass the document on to the Foreign Office? And did that mean that Permanent Under-Secretary Cadogan automatically approved it? In the absence of any countervailing evidence, one presumably has to accept that Philby and Vivian got their way, and might thus have become carried away with the idea of promoting their mission at stations abroad. The notion that an analytical department head would have officers in stations abroad reporting him seems, on the surface, quite absurd, and would surely have received fierce opposition from the operations leaders. And such a move would fly in the face of the more deliberate approach by Menzies to activate a committee during the remainder of the year to make recommendations on MI6 organization. Menzies would surely have had to approve the foreign travel. Etc., etc. The anecdote does, however, reinforce the fact that Vivian was thick with Philby at this stage, and thus would not have been easily discouraged when the business of the Litzi divorce came up the following year.

Triplex (edited by Nigel West and Oleg Tsarev, 2009)

Perhaps the most remarkable contribution to the investigation comes with the collection of secret documents passed on by the Cambridge Five to their Soviet masters, published as Triplex. What is unique about these items is that they have never appeared in their native English form: they are translations back from the Russian of documents passed on to their handlers by the spies, which were then put into Russian by the NKVD/KGB. It was my old friend Geoffrey Elliott who performed the re-translation, along with Dina Goebbel, and the two of them did an extraordinary job of creating material that appears almost totally accurate and plausible.

Philby has a generous allocation of thirty documents, although, for some inexplicable reason, Nigel West does not present them in chronological order. It is possible, nevertheless, to trace a narrative that shows how the fledgling Section IX found its feet (and wings). Valentine Vivian, with the title of DD/SP (Deputy Director, Security) described the problem of ‘Communist activity’ (XK) in a memorandum of September 6, 1944, and, in an adjacent note, pressed for the appointment of Curry’s successor, and for accelerating hiring, bringing his readers’ attention to the ‘heavy load of investigative and collation work needed to enable PCO and SIS officers to handle operational tasks abroad’. The material needing to be analyzed was probably the ISCOT (i.e. Berkeley Street-Comintern) decrypts, since he referred to the fact that ‘in the subsequent fifteen months’ (since Section IX was created), Section IX had become significantly more effective, and had drawn up a picture of how ‘organised Communism is moving at the present time and its ties with the Soviet government’. He continued: “The staffing of Section IX as a whole needs discussing and then resolving, with an eye in particular to the handling of top-secret material within the section and the changes needed to rectify the shortcomings of CR (the Central Registry).”  Vivian then laid out an ambitious scheme for staffing up in stations around the world.

What is fascinating is that Vivian then introduced a very comprehensive paper submitted by Harold Steptoe – ‘22850’s very clear report’. Steptoe had just completed a ‘major swing through the Middle East region to train selected representatives in SIS requirements’ (thus clarifying the vague comments that West made), and Vivian highlights Steptoe as being ‘fully trained’ for the purpose. Philby included the report in his dossier handed over to his NKVD controller, and it makes fascinating reading, showing that Steptoe was a very capable officer who indeed had some excellent insights into the state of the game. Thus, if Vivian thought so highly of him, it is somewhat perplexing why Philby boasted of getting him fired so promptly. (After all, Dorrill wrote that he was moved to head of station in Tehran, which was the job that Vivian sought for him. Philby surely never imagined that Steptoe’s report would ever come to light.) Maybe Philby saw him as a threat, since he had been Curry’s leading man, and had had a solid career in Shanghai as consul. Sadly, Steptoe died just a few years later, on March 15, 1949, at the young age of 56. He suffered a heart attack while serving as the minister to El Salvador. I trust his demise was not suspicious, but in the cases of ex-intelligence officers who came too close to the action, one can never be sure.

At the end of the month, Menzies responded by issuing a memorandum that described the mission of Section IX, and outlined an important directive for overseas work.

In the overseas system the work of Section IX should not be confined to Section V personnel stationed abroad. Although the training and techniques of Section V officers make them the best suited for Section IX operations, nevertheless only Section V officers occupying posts appropriate for the task are to be employed for this purpose.

While clumsily worded, this suggested that not all Section V officers were suitable for communist counter-intelligence, and that, despite the considerable size of Section V, suitable staff would have to be drawn from other sections. Menzies hereby announced that Philby would take over Section IX on October 1, and would be ‘ready to assume executive authority’ by November 13, at which point John Curry would return to MI5.

Somewhat surprisingly, Philby’s impulse (in a report of a meeting that he submitted in December) was to argue against the idea that officers of Section V attached to the military staffs in Italy and France should be used for investigating the Communist movement. He wanted a more careful selection of certain Section V officers to be recalled from other military staffs and first trained for this work (something that I actually suggested, in the passage above, would have been sensible). The other attendees at the meeting apparently agreed with him, identified two officers in Rome and Vienna who were suitable, and resolved that ‘all heads of station should in future receive instruction in this field before taking up their posts’. Whether Philby really wanted the cream of the crop, and how he might go about training such persons, are not clear.

In a memorandum from the month before, to Menzies, Philby had made a very noteworthy recommendation, actually proposing a more pro-active approach to intelligence-gathering, echoing ideas that his predecessor, Curry, had made:

            However, recent events and especially the position described in Curry’s memorandum have led me to wonder whether we should not in fact be looking at the problem as an integral part of the military situation, intelligence on which might be of real significance for the foreign secretary and the prime minister in determining policy and which should at a minimum provide reliable and useful background even before hostilities cease and far in advance of the peace negotiations.

While this suggestion would appear to contradict one of the key proposals of the Bland Committee’s recommendations, one can perceive how paradoxical Philby’s situation was becoming: in trying to be more effective in his role, he would presumably be aiding the military cause of preparing for conflict with the Soviet Union. One wonders to what degree the Kremlin internalized this message. At the same time, he may have hoped, by working more closely with Military Intelligence, to learn about plans for conflict in a scheme that would benefit his masters. This initiative may have influenced his travel plans for 1945.

The record for the first half of 1945 is bare. Yet evidence of Philby’s pre-occupations is present in a report that he submitted on July 6, when he described how eight meetings of Menzies’s reorganization committee had taken place over the past month (another important chronological pointer). Menzies was nominally chairman of the Committee, but attended only the first meeting, after which he was represented by Arnold-Foster (sic: actually Christopher Arnold-Forster, Chief Staff Officer). The deputy chairman was Maurice Jeffes, and the permanent members were the naval representative, Colonel Cordeaux (whom Philby respected), Dick Ellis, and Philby himself. Gambier-Parry, Hastings, and Footman were ad hoc members, called upon for specific issues. Philby’s observations on the careers and personalities of all these characters are enlightening, and he gives a detailed account of the resolutions and recommendations of the committee.

One of the most vital insights is the fact that Section IX was designed to become a much more aggressive counterintelligence organization rather than a more passive counter-espionage unit. The distinction is important. Since MI6’s charter was to cover non-British territory (and thus not Imperial domains), the role of counter-espionage would necessarily have been restricted – presumably to the movements of agents of Soviet espionage sometimes operating on alien turf, and efforts to infiltrate British embassies abroad. Philby and Vivian had far more grandiose ambitions: Philby’s paper talks openly of ‘targets’ and ‘penetrating the USSR’. “The whole purpose of the operational regionalization is to facilitate penetration of the USSR from the north, south, east and west.” This was of course a futile gesture, but also a monstrous provocation.

Yet what is puzzling about Philby’s early exposition is that he refers to four directorships – for functions identified as Production, Operations, Administration and Technical Services. This scenario would attempt to grant Production (the division designed for Philby himself) a much greater influence in the whole set-up, since the division would be ‘concerned with evaluating, collating and distributing to user departments  . . . all material obtained by British intelligence’. As has been shown above, Philby’s vaunted ‘Production’ was reduced to ‘Requirements’, and the ‘Operations’ sector became ‘Production’. Philby must have had his wings clipped during the subsequent negotiations. What is clear, however, is that – contrary to the way some accounts have represented it – the Operations Division would be organized on tight geographical (as opposed to functional) lines ‘since penetration was the cornerstone of the effort’.

An intriguing letter dated two weeks later (July 16) reflects some fascinating light on the fortunes of some of Philby’s colleagues, while enabling the KGB to prepare for the coming assaults. Major Charles de Salis ‘looks after Western Europe’, and is scheduled to be posted to Paris ‘around August 1945’ – an important date, given Philby’s itinerary. On his move to France, he will be replaced by Sir Colville Barclay.  (Attentive coldspur readers may recall that Barclay once came under suspicion of being a Soviet spy himself: see .) And ‘looking after the Middle East’ is none other than Anthony Milne, the sometime lover of Litzy Philby, who had joined Section IX in May 1944, and was forced to resign for concealing the fact – but not until twenty-five years later! The list has its comic touches: John Ivens, ‘a fruit merchant by profession’, has, as his current job, ‘dealing with the Western Hemisphere’. So comforting to know that these regions of the world were in such capable and experienced hands.

Perhaps the most extraordinary item at this time is a report on Commander Dunderdale’s SLC (Special Liaison Control), since it shows that a parallel intelligence-gathering operation was carrying on, containing an ‘Atlantic’ section, dealing with the USSR, and a ‘non-Atlantic’ one, dealing with everything else. As Philby writes:

            The Atlantic section gets intelligence on the USSR from the following sources:

  1. Decrypting of radio telegraph traffic;
  2. Radio telegraph messages en clair;
  3. Radio-telephone intercepts; and
  4. Sundry overt sources such as the Soviet press.

Philby goes on to describe the hush-hush activities of the Poles in this endeavour, with interception stations in Stanmore and in Scotland, and a code-breaking bureau in Boxmoor.

While Philby expresses admiration for the energy executed in his mission by Dunderdale (another character familiar to coldspur readers: see ), he also points out that Dunderdale ‘claims that the barriers erected around the USSR are so watertight that the old methods, i.e. agents, are virtually impossible to use. Moreover, the strict controls existing inside the country make rapid detection of agents virtually certain’. Such a judgment would obviously diminish Philby’s more expansive plans for penetration. It would be fascinating to know how this dynamic was worked through in successive months. Yet, by highlighting what the SLC did, and emphasizing that SIS would have to rely on techniques deployed by it, as described, Philby gave a clear indication to the Kremlin as to where it needed to tighten up its signals security.

No reports are available on the debates that followed the Committee’s ruminations and recommendations, and the next report is dated March 8, 1946, where Philby describes the new organization, although the final touches are awaiting budgetary approval. The report is rather a muddle: one wonders whether the NKVD officers could make any sense of it, since it displays contradictory information about the gathering of intelligence, and how the management hierarchy works. What is evident is that Philby does not exert as much influence as he imagined he would. John Sinclair has been brought in as deputy director, and reportedly has five directorates reporting to him, which Philby describes as Intelligence (including all stations engaged in counter-intelligence), Information, Finance and Administration, and Development. (He seems to have overlooked ‘Production’ in this list, which is led by Kenneth Cohen, responsible for ‘execution of intelligence operations’. Yet Philby then states that such a function lies with the Intelligence Directorate.)

Moreover, the Intelligence Directorate is headed by Easton, now third in the SIS hierarchy after Menzies and Sinclair, and Philby shares only a deputy role alongside Footman. Philby’s R5 section (‘Counter-Intelligence’) is, however, the largest, and is expected to have a staff of fifteen by the end of the year. And Philby draws attention to a vital new section, the Co-ordination section, which has ‘the very important task of comparing the value of intelligence procured with the price of procuring it, a comparison that it is required to make across very region and every issue’. This section is in the very capable hands of one Squadron Leader John Perkins. Of Dunderdale’s Special Liaison Section nothing is said. Philby’s ally Vivian has been moved out to a staff post as Advisor on Security Policy. Philby adds a short note to the effect that a small group from SOE is being merged into SIS, but it is not clear yet exactly what they are going to do.

All in all, a remarkable collection, a tale of knavery and ambition, but also including a number of pointers (dates, personnel appointments) that help shed light on the puzzling travel arrangements of Philby in 1945.

The Philby Files (Genrikh Borovik  – 1994)

An important contribution is made by Borovikh, in that he quotes some of [sic] the reports that Philby wrote for his handler, Yuri Modin, on his ‘inspection tours’ of ‘the European capitals’ in 1945. Because of their immediacy, and the nature of the communication, one might expect these accounts to be of greater reliability than what Philby wrote in his memoir.

The first relevant report is dated March 1945, and describes Philby’s visits to Paris and Rome. He spoke to the MI6 head of counter-intelligence about prospects for anti-Communist work, but the unit was small, and concentrating on ‘German diversionary organisations’. In Rome, the station was more guarded. It had decided ‘to keep Section 9 from any degree of contact with local counter-intelligence service – French, Italian and so on – since they fear that those services could be infiltrated by Soviet agents’.

After reporting (in May) about an OSS project to install a microphone in the building where Togliatti works, the following month Philby recorded a visit to Athens, then Rome, before he flew to Frankfurt (on Menzies’s orders) for a conversation with General Long, chief of Allied military intelligence on the Continent. The objective was to organise ‘gathering of military and political information about the Red Army’. The narrative continues: “S [Söhnchen] reports on his conversation with Long and other members of intelligence in Frankfurt with his material”, indicating that there was further information not disclosed here.

A final relevant report (and I note that these few are probably only a selection) is dated July, and it reflects the deliberations of the committee on how MI6 should be organized best to perform espionage against the USSR. That statement would tend to confirm the suggestion I made earlier that any claims that Philby made about rallying ‘his’ people in the first half of 1945 would have been premature, and that his visits must therefore have been very exploratory. What is significant is the omission of any account of Philby’s and Milne’s expedition to Germany and Austria in July and August. One would expect that the time spent in the hotbed of Allied intelligence would have been of intense interest to Moscow. Philby may have glossed over the whole experience because of the embarrassment of the Niersteiner incident. Alternatively, the KGB might have decided not to release such a report because of its high-level strategic importance. Borovik’s evidence suggests that Philby made only two trips in the first half of 1945: one to Paris, and another to Athens, Rome and Frankfurt. As with many of these records, what is missing is sometimes as critical as what appears. But one can only guess.

*          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *

In summary, the histories told a confusing story.  Much guessing, some inept dating and several unlikely events, a few regular clues, a possible justification for early visits to stations in 1945, as well as some provocative links with Army Intelligence in the British Sector. Perhaps various memoirs and biographies could tell me more?

Memoirs and Biographies

Seale and McConville, Knightley & Macintyre

It is odd how this critical period in Philby’s career is overlooked by many of his biographers. Patrick Seale and Maureen McConville, in Philby: The Long Road to Moscow (1973) took a languid detour around the events of this time. They recognized Philby’s achievement in gaining the headship of Section IX, but laconically dismissed the period as follows: “  . . . from the British point of view the section was not very effective in the immediate post-war period, as its information was largely pre-war and needed extensive updating”. They moved on to the Volkov incident, and then covered the Philby divorce. While they no doubt did not have access to the records now available, they did trust to an excessive degree the surely mendacious account of the events that Vivian vouchsafed to them in letters. After some further rather desperate psychological analysis, and a brief mention of Philby’s contribution on the reorganization Committee (‘in the autumn of 1945’), they recorded Philby’s posting to Istanbul in February 1947.

Phillip Knightley, in The Master Spy (1990), having had the dubious benefit of interviewing Philby in Moscow, had a different spin on this period. He likewise attributed to Philby the achievement of making Section IX a much more aggressive operation, and explained why Cecil was so shocked at Philby’s ambitious goals in wanting to include in his charter the task of gathering intelligence in the Soviet Union. After Cecil backed down, according to Knightley, Philby ‘pushed ahead with the expansion of his section as fast as he could’, with the result that it employed ‘a staff of more than thirty’ within eighteen months – a rather more aggressive build-up than Philby acknowledged to his masters in that summer of 1945.

With no recognition of the reorganization process, or the new structures (had Knightley not even read West’s Friends at this time?), the author went on to write: “In the winter of 1945-6, Philby visited France, Germany, Sweden, Italy and Greece to brief station chiefs on what Section IX planned to do and what it would require”. He had either ignored My Silent War, or decided that he had better correct Philby’s faulty memory (without explaining why), or was simply guessing. Maybe he was using what Philby had told him more recently in Moscow, but it was a very careless treatment. He made, however, an astonishing observation that might point to a strategy that Philby had devised, but one which showed extraordinary naivety:

            SIS was not surprised to discover that some of its agents, arrested by the Germans in the general round-up of 1939-40, had been recruited to work in Eastern Europe against the Soviet Union. With a typical display of pragmatism, some of the agents were now rehired by SIS, which argued that their anti-Soviet experience would be invaluable.

I am not sure what is ‘pragmatic’ about a tactic that concludes that a sweep of ‘agents’, who at that time would have had ‘anti-fascist’ and thus harboured possible communist sympathies, had been able to survive the war by working in Eastern Europe against the Soviets, and were now willing to be recruited to do it all over again, working for SIS, would turn out to be a winning gambit. This fragment, however, does perhaps provide a hint as to what Philby may have been up to in Germany in 1945.

Knightley then provides an anecdote about a Latvian, Felikss Rumniceks, who had reportedly been recruited by Philby in Stockholm in May 1945 to infiltrate Soviet Latvia, and had miraculously survived the Gulag to tell, in 1988, the tale of his betrayal. (The Soviets presented him for an interview: Philby died in May of that year.) This factoid must be highly dubious. The timing of this exploit – right at the end of the war, so early in Philby’s tenure, before the project of re-organization, at a time when SOE was still independent, in conflict with how Knightley dates Philby’s travels – would be a stunning disclosure if verifiable. It is true that the Latvian independence movement had been in touch with MI6 officer McKibbin in Stockholm, and radios had even been supplied, but for MI6 to be recruiting and infiltrating agents at this time seems to me highly unlikely. (McKibbin actually worked for Dunderdale’s SLC: he did later lead Operation JUNGLE in the Baltics. Jeffery on page 709 does record such an operation in 1949, but Philby was out of the picture by then. See also  for more information on this fascinating issue.) In any event, Philby had earlier told Knightley that he was unrepentant over sending agents to their death in such cases, and especially in Albania.

In A Spy Among Friends (2014), Ben Macintyre is both lax and inattentive. He misattributes the setting-up of Section IX to Philby’s idea in March 1944, with Curry initially being placed in charge. While acknowledging that the section’s mission quickly evolved to running intelligence operations, not just counter-espionage, Macintyre then focuses on Philby’s close friend, Nicholas Elliott, before covering the Gouzenko and Volkov incidents, which he places in September 1945 and August 1944 [sic]respectively. He covers the sordid details of Philby’s marriage to Aileen, after ‘an uncontested and amicable divorce’ from Litzi in Paris – with no evidence offered to support his assertion – before moving smoothly on to Menzies’s directive to Philby ‘late in 1946’ that he would be sent to Istanbul as station chief. His replacement as head of Section IX (which in fact no longer existed) would be Douglas Roberts. Of the reorganization, and of Philby’s travels, Macintyre writes nothing.

I next turn to some accounts that contain a little more beef.

The Philby Conspiracy (Bruce Page, David Leitch, and Phillip Knightley, 1968)

The above-mentioned Knightley collaborated with two other journalists on the ground-breaking 1968 publication. I find it impressive in many ways, since it uncovers aspects of the case that could not have been documented at the time, and which many commentators since have ignored. Since their story is based primarily on conversations with other MI6 officers and Foreign Office personnel, it does contain errors, but overall it is insightful and accurate. The authors describe Philby’s moving from Section V in Ryder Street to his new position in Section IX, in Broadway, ‘early in 1944’. They then carry out a sharp analysis of whether the mission of Section IX was counter-espionage or more offensive activities, with one officer informing them that “It was certainly an offensive espionage operation. Philby was supposed to be setting up networks in east European countries for operating against the Russians”. This is not a convincing assertion: the timing must be premature, and Philby had no skills in that domain.

Yet they correctly judge that, because of all the information that Philby passed on, the Soviets must have retained their ‘paranoia’ about the West. They correctly assess that, while the founding of the new section took place before D-Day, its real expansion occurred afterwards. And then they make the very powerful observation about the rivalry between MI5 and MI6 over special intelligence for Eisenhower’s armies, when the responsibility was taken away from SIS, who had expected the role to fall into its lap:

            But it did not. Instead, against what one participant described to us as ‘bitter’ opposition from the SIS, a special intelligence organisation was set up called the Cabinet War Room. This was an extremely successful organization, and it was controlled, de facto, by the star of MI5, Dick White. It would have been difficult to think of anything which could have outraged the SIS more. Theoretically, an SIS man was joint head of the War Room: but White was the more formidable figure, and the practical effect. The undeniable fact was that MI5, together with a gaggle of wartime ‘amateurs’, was running perhaps the most exciting foreign-intelligence operation in British history.

While the statement about White is incorrect (White was in Germany with SHAEF at the time: the MI5 officer who supervised the War Room was T. A. Robertson, of the Double-Cross Committee), the claim that the War Room, which was nominally an instrument jointly managed by OSS and MI6, was usurped by MI5, is right. It was set up in June 1944 to service Cowgill’s Special Counter-Intelligence Units (SCIUs) by providing them with the current intelligence on agents, collaborators, location of documents, enemy premises, etc. as the allied armies moved east. MI5 claimed that its greater experience in managing ‘double agents’, and the strength of its Registry, made it a more suitable body to take charge, and Tim Milne of SIS (who had replaced Philby in Section V) was not felt to be a strong enough character to manage it. (Philby famously described his friend, in a report to Moscow, as ‘a very good brain, though inclined towards inertia’.) Menzies bristled, but had to concede.

The War Room is another phenomenon that has not been adequately covered, although Chapter 15 in Hinsley’s and Simkins’s Volume 4 of British Intelligence in the Second World War gives a thorough account (while scrupulously failing to identify any names), and Edward Harrison adds some useful detail in The Secret World. Surprisingly, Andrew makes no mention of it in his history, although Guy Liddell, in his diaries, is expansive about the feuds with MI6 that surrounded it. The authors make an imaginative point that the increased aggressiveness of Section IX was developed out of pique over this slight, and thus should not have been taken seriously. “It is the very presence of Philby as director of the new section which argues that it could hardly have represented the most serious intentions of the British administration”, they wrote, and went on to marvel at SIS’s naivety. “Once again, the question arises of whether the leaders of the SIS simply knew nothing about Philby’s past or whether they knew about it and failed to investigate and take account of it”, they continued, sentiments that approach very closely my theory about the Philby ‘conversion’.

Malcolm Muggeridge

Page, Leitch and Knightley conclude their account by describing Philby’s visit to Paris to see Malcolm Muggeridge (although they do not date it). This is an important subject to which I shall return. They cite Muggeridge’s statement that Philby pointed out to him the flat where he had stayed with Litzi: Muggeridge did not mention the incident to anyone at the time. They also describe how Philby managed to survive the intense vetting process carried out by SIS in 1946. “Numerous officers were re-vetted, and some were asked to leave the Service. Philby was not one of these: he remained an important departmental executive.” Coldspur readers who have come this far will not be surprised by that assessment. Yet the authors trip over their discovery: they (erroneously) declare that Philby was moved to Turkey ‘early in the summer’ of 1946, without evidently considering that the move may have been associated with the purge of the same year.

The Climate of Treason (Andrew Boyle, 1979)

Boyle’s book was the breakthrough volume that led to the outing of Anthony Blunt. He was helped by scores of persons, many of whom he could not name for security reasons, and, of course, in this process he may well have been led astray by some who wanted to obfuscate the issue. Yet his exchanges with such as Malcolm Muggeridge and Felix Cowgill enabled him to shed some fresh light on the events of 1944 and 1945. Boyle was able to benefit from the publication of Muggeridge’s Chronicles of Wasted Time (1973) – which I inspect below – but also learned some valuable information from exclusive conversations with the ex-MI6 officer.

His treatment of J. C. Currie [sic] as the ‘makeshift’ initial head of Section IX is uncharitable and unfair, although he indicates that Cowgill denied Curry access to ‘the pre-war files’. What these files were, or what they contained, Boyle does not say, but Curry would have been intimately familiar with the files maintained in the MI5 Registry. Boyle then follows Philby’s account of his project to usurp Cowgill as the legitimate head of Section IX, with Vivian (‘a weak character who had long smarted under Cowgill’s self-righteous scorn’) easily being enrolled to the Philby cause. Boyle mistakes Robert Cecil for Patrick Reilly as Foreign Office representative, but observes that, when Philby encouraged Menzies to seek the approval of MI5 officers before he accepted the job, director-general Petrie was less than enthusiastic. Boyle writes: “Petrie, in fact, privately disapproved of the underhand scheming which eventually forced Cowgill to swallow his pride and resign from the secret service.” (That insight was provided by Cowgill himself, and Boyle offers a lengthy paragraph on Cowgill’s fruitless ongoing protests and chagrin over his treatment.)

Yet two outlying critics endured in the persons of Graham Greene and Malcolm Muggeridge. Greene rather ostentatiously resigned when Philby was appointed to head Section IX. As for Muggeridge, after his work in Mozambique, and then tours of duty in Algeria and Italy, he had been despatched to liberated Paris in mid-August 1944. He related to Boyle an incident that had occurred some weeks before the Cowgill business had come to a head, when the Personnel Chief of MI6, Kenneth Cohen, sought Muggeridge’s opinion of Philby. Cohen had ventured that ‘anyone so able and energetic as Kim would almost certainly be found a permanent post’. While this is the only indication I have found that Philby’s employment in MI6 was perhaps only temporary, Muggeridge was vehemently opposed to the idea.

            “You can’t be serious, Kenneth,” Muggeridge expostulated. “I like the man as well as you do, but I wouldn’t give him house room.”

            “Why not?”

            “For one good reason. Kim simply can’t be trusted. He happens to be one of nature’s farouches, a wild man capable of turning the place upside down for his own ends.”

Cohen did not act upon Muggeridge’s advice, and Philby advanced. Boyle then recounts the meetings between Muggeridge and Philby ‘during the bleak winter of 1944-45’ in Paris. I shall leave the details of these encounters (when Muggeridge developed solid beliefs about Philby’s treachery) when I cover Muggeridge’s memoir (and may thus be able to date Philby’s visit more precisely). Muggeridge added other anecdotes, however, that did not make it into his memoir. The first was quite remarkable, and involved Rothschild and Philby. At a heated dinner, Rothschild had vehemently criticized the policy of withholding Bletchley Park intercepts from the Soviets, and Philby had joined him in asserting that such cooperation should override any security concerns. The second incident involved an apparent lack of interest on Philby’s part in Soviet infiltration of the French government, and a contemptuous dismissal of information volunteered by a Colonel Arnould, described as ‘the war-time head of the SIS network in France’.

The major episode that provoked Muggeridge took place after an expensive dinner that Muggeridge had reputedly shared with Philby. He tried to discern why it was that Philby had come to Paris to see him. To fire him, perhaps? No. He didn’t work for Philby then. Muggeridge knew that Philby ‘had lately fired Steptoe, a splendid character, straight out of the pages of P. G. Wodehouse, who’d worked for a while with me in Mozambique and then temporarily succeeded Currie [sic] in Section Nine before Philby’s permanent appointment was promulgated’. He fondly imagined that Philby might have wanted to recruit him (Muggeridge), ‘a well-known anti-Communist’, to his empire. For some reason, Philby funked the offer, maybe because he did not want to be rejected in the way Greene had demeaned him. In any case, Muggeridge made a major point to Boyle that he was distanced from Philby, never worked for him, and had spotted signs of his treachery early.

But why was Steptoe so cruelly let go? And what was he doing as a temporary replacement for Curry when Philby had already been anointed? And how had he managed to cause such ‘damage’ during his short tenure? Here is another testimony to Steptoe’s qualities, yet Philby was able to exert some strange power over him, without a whimper from the allies that Steptoe had in MI6. It is very odd. In The Crown Jewels, West and Tsarev write:

            He [Philby] was not averse to introducing some humour: at the conclusion of this report he adds ‘Rest in Peace’ to the news that Harry Steptoe, formerly the SIS head of station in prewar Shanghai, has been posted to Algiers. Philby despised Steptoe, an old Far East hand who had been interned by the Japanese and exchanged in Mozambique together with other diplomats after long hardship. Steptoe was later to be appointed deputy head of Section IX, the anti-Communist section that was to prove such an irritant to Philby.

Section IX an ‘irritant’? That does not make sense. In any case, Muggeridge was not having anything of it, however. He told Boyle that, after the events in Paris of that winter, he couldn’t get out of SIS fast enough.

The culmination of that social evening with Philby was the incident that Muggeridge does describe in his memoirs, namely Philby’s rather absurd and flamboyant gestures outside the Soviet Embassy, where he appeared to express his frustration at the impenetrability of that institution, and the whole Soviet intelligence apparat. Muggeridge did not know what to make of it, but considered it was ‘most irregular, if not reprehensible, behaviour on the part of a senior MI6 officer’.

Treason in the Blood (Anthony Cave Brown, 1994) & The Perfect English Spy (Tom Bower, 1995)

I conjoin these two volumes because, despite the slender contribution they make, they are contemporary, and together predictably offer further confusion to the chronology. Bower’s biography of Dick White relies heavily on conversations that the chief of MI5 and MI6 had with Andrew Boyle as well as Bower, and I have shown before what a vain and deceptive raconteur White was. Yet he would not obviously have had reason to lie over some of the events in Paris.

Bower has White arriving in Paris at the end of August to join SHAEF, and sharing coarse living accommodation with ‘about ten British intelligence officers from MI5 and SIS, including Malcom Muggeridge, Desmond Bristow and later Kim Philby’. White at some stage saved Muggeridge from being deported by irate Americans over his attempts to aid the escape of P. G. Wodehouse. Bower then described ‘a contretemps over several [sic] meals with Rothschild and Philby’, also attended by Muggeridge. While Bower seems to analyze the events in some confusion, it appears that White was present at a dinner at which ‘shortly after arriving in Paris [sadly undated] Philby and Rothschild had agreed that the Russians should have been given the Ultra intercepts’. Muggeridge disagreed, but Rothschild grabbed some of those precious messages and pushed them through the letter-box of the Soviet Embassy. White was also able to witness Philby shaking his fist at the Embassy, apparently out of frustration at his inability to penetrate Soviet intelligence. What is extraordinary about this testimony is that White claimed that he was present at two of the scenes described by Muggeridge, yet Muggeridge left White out of his chronicles completely.

And then Bower writes: “As autumn approached, the deteriorating atmosphere in the small mess was aggravated by the cold.” Now this suggests to me that these bizarre goings-on occurred in late September, or possibly early October, unless White and Bower got their chronology hopelessly wrong. The ‘approach of autumn’ is far from Boyle’s ‘bleak mid-winter’, and, since Philby did not take command of Section IX until November 13 (see Triplex above), it sounds as if he was on an exploratory tour, and that Muggeridge may have conflated multiple visits into one. For example, how would Muggeridge have been able to comment, in late September 1944, on the firing of the unfortunate Steptoe?

I turned to Cave Brown. His books are always a mixed blessing. His ‘encyclopedism’ (as Trevor-Roper called it in an infamous review) can be infuriating, and he shows little discrimination in reproducing all the insights that have been entrusted to him over the years. His chronology is perpetually chaotic, and he does not have a nose for following up on ambiguous answers or statements. Yet, in between the overblown narrative, one can expect to find some useful nuggets. So it is with his Treason in the Blood, subtitled H. St. J. Philby, Kim Philby, and the Spy Case of the Century.

Typical is his coverage of Section IX. He introduces it by declaring how Churchill, in September 1944, had instructed Menzies to revive his anti-Soviet service. Yet he next asserts that Menzies responded to that command by re-establishing Section IX in March 1944, and then cites Philby’s memoir, where he explains how Philby’s Moscow bosses urged him to win the prize, and outwit Cowgill. Cave Brown then makes a meal of Graham Greene’s resignation from Section V on June 2, 1944, ostensibly because he was shocked by Philby’s intriguing and lust for power. (Other writers have questioned Philby’s role in ousting Cowgill, indicating that he was on the way out, anyway. Liddell, for example, wrote that Cowgill was fired.) Cave Brown then covers the exchanges with Robert Cecil, implicitly undertaken in March or April 1945.

Next comes a typical item of Cave Brownian flim-flam. “More or less immediately Philby began to recruit men of high quality . . .” I do not know what ‘more than immediately’ might mean, but the impression Cave Brown gives is that a stream of suitable loyal Philbyites ‘began to leave London and to situate themselves at every important outpost on foreign territory; their mission was to keep Philby informed about Soviet, American, British, and French intelligence activity in their areas of operations and to establish working relations with the local foreign counterespionage and security systems where they existed’. I am not sure what these gallant gentlemen did in their afternoons, but it strikes me as odd that such a wholesale surge of busyness could occur at exactly the time that Menzies was initiating his project to consider the new organization of MI6.

Now Cave Brown returns to Muggeridge and Paris.

            As each Western European country was liberated, Philby went to its capital to restore the old prewar counterespionage alliance that had formed the basis of the cordon sanitaire against the Soviet Union. The first and the most important of the new liaisons was with General Charles de Gaulle’s Services Spéciaux in Paris. First he sent Malcolm Muggeridge to represent him and then he himself arrived soon afterwards.

Philby was reportedly installed at the Rothschild mansion on the Avenue Marigny – no chilly fleapit for him, then. And then Cave Brown, exploiting Muggeridge’s memoirs, recites the story of the drunken meal with Philby that ended up with the spy gesticulating wildly at the ‘hermetically sealed [Soviet] Embassy’. He also reproduces the spat over the Ultra disclosures carried on by Rothschild and Philby against Muggeridge, but does not source it to Boyle. Instead he refers to pages 186 and 187 of Muggeridge’s memoir, where the incident described did not take place in Paris, but in London, probably in late 1943, and Philby alone was involved, not Rothschild.

The discerning reader will by now have spotted several anomalies. Despite Muggeridge’s protestations that he would have turned down any offer by Philby to work for him, it seems that he was actually on Philby’s team when these events happened. But Cave Brown implies that they happened after the episodes with Cecil, and the roll-out of Philby’s cavalry to points around the world – thus not before April 1945. Given Muggeridge’s period of residence in Paris (see below), that would have been impossible. And Cave Brown’s own timeline is very hazy: if he really meant that Philby’s tours took place ‘as each western European country was liberated’, one might have expected that Paris (liberated August 1944) would have been graced by Philby’s visit a lot earlier. Moreover, the confusion over the place, timing and locale of the Rothschild/Philby protestations about ULTRA is utterly unforgiveable.

Maybe it was time to check what the source (Muggeridge) wrote.

Chronicles of Wasted Time: Number Two – The Infernal Grove (Malcolm Muggeridge, 1973)

Muggeridge is also characteristically vague about chronology. Some events are dated: we learn that he arrived in Paris on August 12, 1944. He soon met up with his MI6 colleague, Trevor-Wilson, and some time after that he was joined by Victor Rothschild, whose arrival enabled Muggeridge to move into the Rothschild mansion in the Avenue Marigny, where Victor Rothschild was de facto head of the family. (His sardonic description of Rothschild could not have endeared him to the ‘Socialist millionaire’.) The business with P. G. Wodehouse took place a few days after his arrival. The memoirist describes the ‘cold fuel-less winter months’ that came along, and confirms that he was representing MI6 in Paris, ‘trying to sort out the position of purported British agents who had been arrested as collaborators by the French police’.

The nearest we get to a specific date appears in the following statement: “When I had been in Paris some months, a directive came from London about a new MI6 department which had been setup specifically with Soviet intelligence activities, including sabotage and subversion. The directive had been drafted by Philby  . . .” It is here that Muggeridge makes a brief reference to Steptoe, again suggesting that Philby had managed to oust him from control of Section IX rather than the maybe more deserving Cowgill. A further pointer is offered by a reference to Ambassador Duff Cooper’s anger over the Yalta Conference (which took place between February 4 and 11, 1945). Muggeridge then writes:

            It was around this time I received an intimation that Kim Philby was coming over to Paris in connection with his new duties as head of the department concerned with Soviet espionage, and that he wanted to see me. He stayed in the Avenue Marigny house, and we arranged to dine together.

After Muggeridge curries favour with Philby by gratuitously insulting Vivian (whose name he mis-spells) and the unfortunate Steptoe, Philby then takes him for a stroll, and points out a block of flats where he had lived with his first wife. Muggeridge writes:

            This was the first time he had ever mentioned a previous wife to me; and it was only afterwards, when his past came to be minutely explored, that I learned that she had been a German Jewess and Communist Party member, whom he had met while covering the Spanish Civil War on the Franco side for the Times, and who was generally assumed to have played an important part in his development into a party activist and Soviet agent.

Several mistakes here, of course. Litzi was not his ‘previous’ wife, but his current one, which suggests that the story of Philby’s ‘divorce’ had been successfully stifled. Litzi was Austrian, not German, and it is not clear where Muggeridge gained his intelligence about how they met. His comment about Litzi’s role in educating Philby (‘generally assumed’) is typically weaselly and evasive. He had obviously not been researching very deeply into the business.

Next Muggeridge presents the oft-quoted passage about Philby shaking his fist at the Soviet Embassy. I emphasize again – Philby alone. There is no mention of Rothschild or White, which prompted me to start thinking about the timing of the claims that incriminated Rothschild in this scandalous behaviour of declaring an unnatural sympathy for the Soviet Union in the business of the decrypts. In 1973, when he wrote his memoir, Muggeridge probably had to be cautious, but he abandoned that concern when he supplied written testimony to Boyle before the publication of The Climate of Treason in 1979. Why did Rothschild, a naturally litigious person, and very sensitive about accusations of his Communist sympathies, not threaten to sue – especially since Muggeridge had vilified him earlier in his memoir?

Perhaps it was because there was a witness who would have supported Muggeridge’s assertions, namely Dick White. Muggeridge and Rothschild both died in 1990, so, when Bower’s biography of White came out, the stage was clear. Moreover, White had apparently also witnessed the melodrama in front of the Soviet Embassy, and was comfortable telling Bower about it at that late stage in the game. Muggeridge had been typically slippery, and had transposed the Ultra incident to an earlier year, and a different location, and to Philby alone in his memoir. Yet he must have felt more aggrieved, or more confident, or less wary of Rothschild, a few years later when he had his intense exchanges with Boyle.

I wondered whether Richard Ingrams’ biography of Muggeridge (simply titled Muggeridge), issued also in 1995, might add some vital evidence to the puzzle. As I recalled when I first read it, it is a rather weak and lazy offering. It says nothing about the Rothschild/White/Philby incidents, includes a paltry list of ‘Books Consulted’ (that does not include The Climate of Treason), but does provide two relevant insights. Ingrams does note that Muggeridge had returned to England by May 18, 1945, which places a bookend to the period in which the shenanigans took place, and he reports that Muggeridge owned a big debt to Dick White, who saved him from being sent back to England when the Americans expressed annoyance with Muggeridge’s tendency to sympathize with those accused of collaboration. This in turn, echoes what Bower recorded about Muggeridge’s indebtedness to White over the Wodehouse business. As a mark of gratitude, Muggeridge may have wanted to spare White from any adverse publicity that may have arisen from tales of his mixing socially with Rothschild and Philby.

Overall, Muggeridge’s writings on the events display a familiar measure of humbuggery and deception. He probably lied about his awareness of the creation of Section XI, and his employment by Philby on it. He contradicted himself in testimony given in his memoirs, and in his communications to Boyle. As with many reminiscences of this kind, his main purpose was to show himself in the best of lights, to display moral superiority, and to settle old scores.

The next place to turn was the memoir of Philby’s old schoolfriend, and deputy in Section V, Ian Milne, known as ‘Tim’. (Tim was the brother of the notorious Anthony, one-time paramour of Litzi Philby, who served with MI6 from 1944 to 1969, and to whom Arthur Martin wrote the infamous 1946 letter requesting information on Litzy Feabre.)

Anthony & Tim Milne

Kim Philby: The Unknown Story of the KGB’s Master Spy (Tim Milne, 2014)

Milne had written his memoir about his experiences with Philby as far back as 1979, and was ready for publication, but had to submit his manuscript to MI6 to gain permission to go ahead. That permission was denied, and it was not until four years after his death, at the age of ninety-seven, that his daughter was able to give permission for the memoir to be published (with some noticeable updates that reflect events since that year). The work does provide a sturdier framework for Philby’s activities in 1945.

Milne took over the headship of Section V in December 1944, when Cowgill resigned. He judged that Philby ‘may have overestimated the difficulties he faced in getting the Section IX job, as Cowgill’s career history, relevant knowledge, and recent contretemps made him a less than ideal candidate’. What is bizarre is the fact that Milne never mentions Steptoe in his account: if Steptoe had been a temporary replacement for Curry, Milne surely should have known about it, which makes the whole imbroglio even odder. Yet he does comment on the War Room, and rejects the argument that its establishment under largely MI5 control was a massive defeat for MI6 and Section V. Only Cowgill bristled over it, and it seems that everyone else was happy with the selection of T. A. Robertson to head it.

The first trip abroad that he made was in March 1945, to Paris (where Muggeridge and Trevor-Wilson were operating), Brussels, and ‘Germany west of the Rhine battle-line’ – a necessary qualification. He does not mention Philby accompanying him on those visits. It was not until after VE-Day (May 8, 1945) that he and Philby came round to thinking that it was time ‘to take a combined look at some of our V and IX people abroad and at SIS stations generally’. Kim’s purpose, Milne wrote: ‘was to examine with the stations the scope for and strategy of future anti-Soviet and anticommunist intelligence work’. Ian also mentioned the possibility of ‘a little relaxation after four very hard years’.

They did not set out until the end of July, going first to Lűbbecke in north-west Germany. Two days later, they drove to Berlin, where a Section V representative, James, was already installed. (The Russians had had exclusive occupation of Berlin until early July, when the first Americans and Britons were allowed in.) James was spending most of his time in drinking-bouts with the Russians, and had acquired, with the help of captured Nazi party members, a comfortable flat for the pair to stay in. Milne points out that he and Philby were in fact reprising the trip to Berlin they had made in 1933, again suggesting there could have been a recreational purpose to the visit.



It was on their last day that the cook-housemaid, who had been working for the Russians, produced a ‘fine bottle of hock’ from the refrigerator, whereupon Philby and James quickly gulped down their glasses. Only the ‘hock’ had been pure Flit, an insecticide, and it left Philby violently ill for 36 hours, while he was driven back to Lűbbecke. Who opened the bottle? Had it been resealed? Did the boozers not even sniff the contents first? Could sozzlers like Philby and James not even distinguish the smell of a Niersteiner from that of an insecticide? * Do the liquids look the same? Why would you move Flit from its normal can, and pour it into a wine bottle? Why would you store insecticide in a refrigerator? How did the attendees establish that it was Flit? Was this a murder attempt? Did they think of seeking out antidotes? Would it have been better for Philby to have rested in place rather than being rushed back to Lűbbecke? Milne provides no analysis of, or speculation about, these extraordinary events. It all reminds me of the attempt to kill Jane Stanford (the cofounder of the university), when someone put rat poison in her bedside bottle of Poland Spring water.

[* Readers who have actually sampled both products are encouraged to write to me with their experiences.]

After Philby’s recovery, the couple flew to Klagenfurt, the HQ of the British zone in Austria, a journey arranged by the local head of station in Lűbbecke, whereby the RAF flew them down in an American Mitchell bomber. After arrival, they motored through glorious scenery to Trieste, where there was time to swim and sunbathe and think of peace. Here they heard rumours of the Japanese surrender, which brings us to about August 12. They then set out to drive back to Klagenfurt, and on to Salzburg, where they heard that the war was over (August 14). They arrived back in Lűbbecke via Frankfurt, and then returned to London. Rather disappointingly, Milne does not date the date of their return, but does suggest that Volkov’s request from Istanbul (August 27, although Milne shows ignorance of the exact timing of Volkov’s approach) took place shortly before their arrival. In that case, there is an unexplained and very provocative couple of weeks in Lűbbecke in the itinerary, about which Milne says nothing.  In December, Milne took up a new position as Staff Officer to Jack Easton, the new Assistant Chief of MI6.

Despite Milne’s obvious oversights and evasions (e.g. the Soviet hospitality in Berlin, the Flit incident, the precise driving arrangements, the hiatus in Lűbbecke), I believe that some major conclusions may be safely drawn from his account.

  • The timing of the major trip (to Germany, Austria and Italy), after the Menzies planning meetings in the summer, and after VE-Day, makes much more sense.
  • Philby’s account of separate trips to four countries would appear to be contradicted by what Milne wrote. [And the Borovik files indicate only two trips.] Philby’s visit to Paris in the spring is well-documented, but outside the scope of the official summer tour.
  • Philby’s assertion about visiting Greece is apparently unverifiable – apart from the Borovik source, which provides no details. Milne skims over the Austria visit, perhaps because it was largely recreational, and there was no SIS resident there yet.
  • Philby vastly overstated the scope and achievements of these sorties. His phrase ‘insight into various types of SIS organization in the field’ is simply eyewash.
  • Milne’s account suggests that the July/August visit was largely for recreational purposes, yet the provision of special travel facilities indicates there was a high seriousness of purpose concerning their exploits.
  • The involvement of the Soviets in the Berlin activities of Milne and Philby is highly problematic, from the drinking sessions with James, through the recruitment of a housemaid who had been working for the Russians, to the extraordinary episode of the Flit in the refrigerator, at a time when Berlin was under massive stress. Would a head of a Soviet counter-intelligence unit in MI6 not have been expected to exercise some caution in making contact with the enemy intelligence force? Should Goronwy Rees have been involved in organizing such an encounter? (I have not discovered anywhere a suggestion that he was behind the attempted poisoning, and it would be reckless and irresponsible of me to hint at such a conspiracy.)

The silence over the final fortnight in Lűbbecke is similarly very enticing. The beginning of that period happened to coincide with the surrender of Japan, and a meeting was probably arranged for various intelligence bodies after the first successful bomb was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6 may not have been entirely coincidental. There was one last source to investigate at this stage, the memoir of an air intelligence officer posted to Lűbbecke in July 1945.

Strange Intelligence: From Dunkirk to Nuremberg (S. John Peskett, 1981)

‘Strange Intelligence’

In early 1945, Peskett was appointed lecturer at the Control Commission School (Air), training officers for the government of Germany and the takeover of the Luftwaffe. After the German surrender, he was promoted to Wing Commander, and was flown on July 13 from Northolt to the German Air Force station at Detmold. Here he was driven to Lűbbecke, the site of the Control Commission Headquarters, ‘a pleasant little town of no distinction whatever lying to the west of Minden’. After settling in, he drove over to Bad Salzuflen, which was to be his home later on.

A German-speaker, Peskett was much involved in travelling round the country gathering intelligence. That included a visit to Berlin ‘about the middle of August’, which would appear to be roughly coincidental with the return of Milne and Philby to Lűbbecke. He describes the passage as follows: “It was a long and tedious journey with the usual delays where the autobahn had been damaged. We passed the Russian check-point at Helmstedt without difficulty and thereafter had to keep going.” (Milne made no mention of the hardships in their expedition either way, by the same road.) Despite what seemed like an extended stay in Berlin, Peskett managed to be back in Lűbbecke to encounter Milne and Philby.

Shortly after his initial arrival, Peskett was moved to Bad Salzuflen, ‘a little spa town in Lippe’, also taken over largely by the military and the Control Commission. (This was where Dick White was working under Field-Marshal Montgomery.) Here Peskett shared a large house with one or two senior officers, and they kept some of the rooms available for visiting dignitaries from London. Peskett’s chronology, like that of so many of these memoirs, is woefully undisciplined, but he provides his readers with the following insight:

            My modest house in Bad Salzuflen was shared first with a senior S.O.E. brigadier and then with a colonel who had been a master at Eton, both stimulating companions to live with. Among our guests from both branches of Intelligence were the late Airey Neave, a man of great charm and ability, to whom I owe my assignment to Nuremberg, the redoubtable Professor Norman, oddly disguised in a wing-commander’s battle-dress, and Kim Philby, who wore no uniform. I found Philby a very pleasant and forceful character, as indeed he must have been to have fooled us all for so long. His speech impediment could be embarrassing but it could have proved an advantage as it gave him at times a good ten seconds to think up an answer. Another guest was Christopher Robin’s cousin [i.e. Milne], which added an odd note to the strange assortment gathered in our exclusive little club.

In other words, a simple confirmation of the presence of Milne and Philby, which must place it at the end of August, but no indication of what the pair were up to at the time.

A Small Town in Germany

British Intelligence Stations in North-Rhine Westphalia

Within this north-east corner of North Rhine-Westphalia, some important allied intelligence units had been set up. The political division of the British Control Commission had been established in Lűbbecke, and Noel Annan had moved there in June 1945. MI6 had set up its main station at Bad Salzuflen, under Harold Shergold (although the date of his arrival is uncertain). SHAEF had moved to Frankfurt in May, and Field-Marshall Montgomery’s Army Group to Bad Oeynhausen, where Dick White was his intelligence officer, and Goronwy Rees was negotiating with the Soviets. What possible concerns might they have shared in August 1945 that demanded an intensive meeting?

In May, the Chiefs of Staff had been instructed to draw up a military plan for opposing the Soviet Union: Project UNTHINKABLE. This supposedly highly-secret project had two aspects – a pre-emptive strike to reclaim Poland in the light of the Soviet Union’s betrayals after Yalta, and a more defensive one, to provide an undercover organization in Germany should Stalin venture further east. The details were refined during July: the successful atom bomb test at Alamogordo on July 16 encouraged the hawks. Churchill imposed restrictions on visits to the Soviet Union. On July 24, Stalin learned about the bomb from Truman at Potsdam, and immediately intensified demands for atomic intelligence, and acceleration of the Soviet Union’s own bomb delivery. After Hiroshima (August 8), Attlee contacted Truman, recommending a joint declaration to exploit atomic power. The project to decrypt Soviet diplomatic traffic was re-initiated mid-month.

With this backdrop, it would not be surprising if such a cluster of intelligence stations did not host a discussion about the threats to security, and their joint ability to handle a number of possibly conflicting challenges. How did the prospect of trying to establish a network of agents within the Soviet sphere of interest co-exist with the requirement to create and maintain a structure in territory that Stalin’s Red Army might be about to overrun? Could supposedly sympathetic German resources be engaged in this task? And how did these demands overlap with the more patient mission of attempting to denazify the country, and have it properly administered by British organs?

The British civilian effort was already under stress: no one wanted to hang around Germany for an extended time. Dick White was one officer who was overwhelmed by the task of attempting to denazify the British zone. As Tom Bower wrote about this precise period:

            Bemusement in the face of Soviet distortions was matched by dismay about contradictory policies followed in the American zone. While the US military government hounded Nazis with ferocity, officers in the Counter-Intelligence Corps and OSS were negotiating with German intelligence officers for their services. Emphatically, White refused any relationships with those Germans: ‘I would have objected to the use of a Nazi as an agent, and the prospect never arose.’ Unknown to him, while he was rejecting outright offers by Abwehr officers to co-operate against the Russians, and while British officers were arresting members of the staff of Richard Gehlen, responsible for military intelligence and counter-intelligence against the Red Army, ‘The Americans were negotiating with Gehlen and didn’t tell us. And that was just the start’.

Richard Gehlen, chief of Fremde Heere Ost, had surrendered in May 1945, promising lists of agents to be used in the coming fight against the Communists. Philby had expressed a desire to get closer to military strategists, and Lűbbecke probably gave him that opportunity. The missing fortnight at the end of August might have been occupied by a meeting of the minds to determine to what extent it were possible to develop a network of ‘stay-behind’ agents who would be a source of intelligence in the event of a Soviet invasion after Allied forces had left. I have found no evidence of such a gathering, and it would not surprise me to learn that no record was made or kept – especially in the light of the fact that the British authorities would have had to acknowledge that a Soviet mole played a large part in the debate. (Andrew Lownie, in his biography of Guy Burgess, Stalin’s Englishman (2015), suggests that Burgess passed to his Soviet bosses a May 1945 report by the Chiefs of Staff on UNTHINKABLE, and states that Oleg Tsarev confirmed the authenticity of the document to him in Moscow in May 2003. The document was dated August 11, 1945. The leaker may well have been Philby.)

Yet, when it came to thrashing out tactics for using clandestine forces, one might imagine that Philby’s desire to exploit tainted Nazi expertise in forging fresh Soviet counter-intelligence networks clashed with White’s moral high ground, and maybe more practical sense of the improbability of being able to probe Soviet defences. White had learned some hard lessons about the French leftists who had fought Nazism quickly aligning themselves with Moscow. (For an insightful analysis of this controversial period, I recommend pages 202-220 of Noel Annan’s Changing Places, including a description of Tom Bower’s critical contribution.)

On the other hand, my loyal coldspur contributor David Coppin has made a suggestion that Philby’s presence in Lűbbecke at this time has something to do with nuclear power matters, and he detects a trend of Philby’s being involved with the dissemination of atomic secrets to Moscow. Coppin notes (for example) that other residents at Bad Salzulfen were members of the ALSOS mission. (The ALSOS mission was a combined US/GB effort to retrieve, dismantle and remove German technological developments, especially in the area of atomic warfare, but was winding down by the summer of 1945. See Intelligence officers such as James Jesus Angleton made much of the fact that Philby was used to pass on disinformation on such subjects to the Soviets.

I find such theories unlikely. The register of guests at Bad Salzuflen is probably coincidental. It is true that Philby would turn out to be a key informant in the cases of Fuchs, Pontecorvo and Nunn May, but not at a level of his understanding any of the technical issues. The Soviets would have been on their guard if any such material had come their way via Philby. They had enough sources elsewhere, and, if Philby understood he was being blackmailed [when?] to pass on disinformation, he would simply have told his handler that that was what was happening. There may be other clues to follow on this theory, but I do not judge any of the above relevant to espionage on atomic weaponry.


Intelligence memoirs are 25% guesswork, 25% bluff, 25% misinformation, and 25% facts. The problem is knowing which quartile is which. And yet ‘serious’ historical works on intelligence promiscuously quote from such works, displaying no methodology in their selection of ‘relevant’ insights. Philby’s moonshine is as bad as Muggeridge’s humbuggery. The historians cannot admit that they do not know whether certain claims are true or false, that they are unable to verify many assertions, and that they themselves are consequently bluffing much of the time. This exercise has not revealed any special new insights, but I believe it has reinforced the fact that without cross-verification, a precise chronology, a consideration of geography, and even – for want of a better word – an understanding of psychology, these broad-based studies of the byways of British Intelligence, delivered so much with the insider focus (‘What Colonel Vivian told me in a private letter’), or presented as memoir with the goal of burnishing the author’s reputation, are practically worthless.

(Recent Commonplace entries are available here.)


Filed under Espionage/Intelligence, General History, Geography, Management/Leadership, Politics, Travel

Kim Philby in 1951: Alarms and Diversions

[I am happy to report that the production of this column was only temporarily inconvenienced by the Hollywood Writers’ strike. I have been able to deploy instead a modified version of an AI Engine that has been carefully tuned to generate plausible conspiracy theories, a product called Conspirobot™. I trust readers will not detect any deterioration in service quality.]

Kim Philby in 1951

In this, the third in a series of bulletins that re-assess the careers of Kim and Litzy Philby, I explore the following question:

  • How did MI5 and MI6 process the evidence of Philby’s treachery when he came under direct suspicion in June 1951?



Chronology & Sources

The White Interviews

American Pressure, and the Resignation

The Dog Days of Summer

Churchill Replaces Attlee

The Milmo Interrogation

Analysis, Outcomes, and Conclusions



‘Wanted’ (Burgess detectable because of his ‘Pidgeon’ toes)

On May 25, 1951, Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean absconded in circumstances that suggested to the cross-departmental committee tracking the case (Strang, Carey Foster, Liddell, Sillitoe & White) that the pair had received advance warning that Maclean was about to be called in for interrogation. It is important to bear in mind the background to the event, namely:

  1. Dick White’s team had started investigating Kim Philby once the HOMER=Maclean equivalence had been made in April. Milicent Bagot then prepared a dossier on him.
  2. Burgess had been the intermediary between Philby and the latter’s handler, Makayev, based in New York. Philby then met Makayev himself, and insisted to him that Maclean should be exfiltrated. The KGB thus would have been able to contact Maclean through the London residency.
  3. MI5 acknowledged that Philby had known about the progress on the HOMER case since early January, but never considered the idea that Philby might have been communicating his knowledge about it to a Soviet controller in the USA.
  4. Philby’s final message to Burgess before he left the United States was that he ‘should not go too’, confirming that he was already promoting the notion of the exfiltration of Maclean.
  5. Burgess arrived in the UK on May 7, was met at Southampton by Anthony Blunt, and was seen meeting Maclean two days later.
  6. Blunt informed Yuri Modin (the KGB controller in London) on May 9 that the search for HOMER had narrowed down to three.
  7. Before Burgess absconded, the committee did not interpret his bizarre return to the UK, and subsequent activities, as anything harmful or suspicious.
  8. Modin wrote that a decision had been made on May 17, on the basis of the proposed May 28 arrest of Maclean, to exfiltrate Maclean (only) – something confirmed by KGB archives. He further stated that Anthony Blunt had been the prime intermediary between the spies and the KGB, but, for safety reasons, Burgess had on his arrival to take over as the sole link with Maclean.
  9. On May 24, a decision was made to defer Maclean’s interrogation to June 18, and it was thus no longer ‘imminent’, as the archival material at KV 6/143 confirms. (Chapman Pincher, Douglas Sutherland, Nigel West, Ben Macintyre, as well as the more respectable Robert Cecil, are among the authors who have promulgated the myth that, on May 25, Foreign Secretary Morrison approved a decision to move up the interrogation to the following Monday, thus precipitating the need to escape. Christopher Andrew coolly indicates that that was not true. In testimony to his biographer, Dick White likewise indicated that the interrogation had been deferred until the time of the hospital confinement of Mrs Maclean in mid-June. Morrison’s signature was purely for formal approval of the interrogation itself.)
  10. Blunt knew about Philby’s coded letter to Burgess, indicating that matters were ‘heating up’ in Washington, which arrived after the decision on Maclean had been made. According to Modin, it was Blunt who suggested that both Burgess and Maclean should go.
  11. Moscow ratified that decision, in order that Burgess could ‘keep Maclean out of trouble along the way’.
  12. Maclean was aware, because of clumsy surveillance, and documents being withheld from him, that the net was closing in.
  13. Despite his known links with the Comintern in June 1940, Burgess had never been suspected of being a Soviet agent until he disappeared with Maclean. Suddenly his antics in engineering a return to London were seen in a new light – a perspective actually encouraged by Philby himself.
  14. When he learned about the flight of Maclean, Philby was astonished to hear that Burgess had accompanied him.
  15. When Burgess and Maclean fled, Philby came under more intense scrutiny because of his friendship and association with Burgess in Washington.
  16. MI5 assumed that Philby must have continued to alert Maclean through some way of communication with Burgess, including the final notice of the ‘imminent’ interrogation.
  17. This implausible ‘fact’ – that he was suspected of abetting in their escape at the last minute – was added as the seventh and final point in the document passed to the Americans.
  18. Both White’s and Milmo’s interviews/interrogations of Philby were nominally focused on discovering how Maclean had been warned just before he was to be interrogated, not whether there was any indication of earlier leakage in the form of warnings concerning suspicions about Maclean.
  19. The enduring debate about the ‘Third Man’ has significantly focused on the identity of the man who alerted ‘Burgess and Maclean’, not simply ‘Maclean’. Philby had no idea that his Soviet masters planned to exfiltrate Burgess as well as Maclean. Indeed, they did not, at first.

In summary: Burgess had ample opportunity to warn Maclean. The KGB had been alerted beforehand. Soviet exfiltration plans had been in the works for a week before the event. The timing of the escape was arranged to pre-empt the originally scheduled day of interrogation. Maclean was, however, not imminently to be interrogated. No further leakage had been necessary. Philby was by this time out of the loop.

Reward Poster for Burgess & Maclean

After the disappearance of the pair, Philby was recalled from Washington, and arrived in the UK on June 12, whereupon he was immediately invited to a series of interviews by Dick White, the head of counter-espionage in MI5. That same day, Percy Sillitoe, head of MI5, accompanied by Arthur Martin, arrived in Washington with the objective of soothing the troubled minds of the FBI and the CIA.

I refer readers to my articles from four years ago, [the second half], and, for a detailed analysis of the events leading up to Philby’s departure, including the delivery by hand of a letter to him on June 6, alerting him that he would shortly receive a formal recall. I have supplemented that research with some fresh findings since then, such as the fact that Guy Liddell (deputy to Sillitoe) was on leave between June 3 and June 12, which helps to explain his general bewilderment as to what was going on. Given the misinformation that has circulated about the sequence of events, I hereby summarize the main facts:

  • As early as May 24, a visit to Washington by Sillitoe had been planned for June 18-25, to coincide with the date of Maclean’s interrogation on June 18. The focus and objectives of the visit changed after the ‘two diplomats’ disappeared.
  • White and Arthur Martin had in hand by the end of May a dossier on Philby, prepared by Milicent Bagot, the essence of which White related to MI6 chief Menzies, on June 4.
  • This dossier had the appearance of being compiled as a result of the Burgess/Maclean absconding, but it is clear that MI5 had been working on it for some time before.
  • MI5’s representative in Washington, Geoffrey Patterson, on May 29 agreed to an ‘ingenious scheme’ by White, and confirmed that he had sent information to the FBI.
  • The decision that Philby was to be re-called was taken by Menzies on June 5: it was not because the CIA had considered him persona non grata, and had demanded his expulsion.
  • Menzies and his deputy, James (Jack) Easton, then composed a letter for Philby that Drew carried to Washington that night.
  • Not until June 6 did the FBI learn that one of the escapees was Maclean.
  • On June 7, Sillitoe proposed that Martin join him on the visit to Washington to appease the FBI. The Americans had become very concerned about intelligence exposures, and even brought up the case of Engelbert Broda.
  • On June 11, Sillitoe and Martin departed, carrying the document with the ‘seven points’ about Philby’s probable culpability. Martin handed the document to Robert Lamphere of the FBI on June 12.
  • Lamphere passed the document to his ex-colleague from the FBI, Bill Harvey, now with the CIA, who was able to pass off the conclusions as his own when he handed it to the chief of the CIA, Bedell-Smith, on June 14.
  • On June 15, Harvey provocatively informed Allen Dulles, the recently appointed CIA’s Deputy Director for Plans, that Philby could be ‘ELLI’, the Soviet spy in British intelligence identified by the defector Igor Gouzenko, a supposition that had been strangely omitted from the White/Martin dossier.
  • On June 16, Dulles handed Harvey’s report to Sillitoe, who was ignorant of the original source of its allegations.
  • Sillitoe and Martin returned to London on June 18, when Sillitoe passed on Harvey’s ‘revelations’, an event that reportedly enabled MI5 to compile a dossier. [!!]
  • Bedell-Smith then wrote to Menzies, stating that Philby would no longer be welcome in Washington.

The main lesson is the fact that White was successful in diverting the main thrust of the challenge to Philby away from MI5 to the CIA, by virtue of the ‘seven points’ confided via Lamphere to Harvey. That ruse served to distract attention from any deficiencies on MI5’s part in not identifying any signs of treachery in Philby’s behaviour, helped to conceal the possibility of any London-based leakage, maintained MI6’s trust in its intelligence partner, and granted MI6 an external excuse for dealing with Philby. Yet the project was not without risk: while White’s memorandum stressed the Volkov affair, with which the CIA could well have been expected to be familiar, it also listed domestic events (such as Philby’s communism at Cambridge, and his cover-story with the Anglo-German Friendship Society) that had probably escaped the attention of the Americans.

Robert Lamphere’s account of Arthur Martin’s document

The fact that these two items could have been overlooked by MI5 was perhaps pardonable, but the third point – that Philby had married the communist Litzi Friedmann – was potentially dynamite, in that it might have uncovered a host of embarrassing incidents, which White presumably believed he could keep securely sealed. For instance, at that time Martin had most certainly not been indoctrinated into the fact that the informant known as Lizzy Feabre was Philby’s wife, which meant that he could be relied upon not to reveal any awkward secrets to the Americans. The fourth item mentioned Krivitsky’s pointer concerning the journalist in Spain, which was dangerously self-incriminating, as it would have been squarely in MI5’s court to investigate, and yet they had not acted. Moreover, the list omitted the Gouzenko reference to ‘ELLI’, a story which was very familiar to the Americans, and which troubled them greatly. That omission must have puzzled Bedell Smith and his team, and it would lead to some uncomfortable exchanges later that summer.

Chronology & Sources

Determining exactly what happened, and when, during this period is difficult, as the sources available are almost exclusively comments made by the slippery Dick White to his biographers, and asides from other MI5 officers. Philby’s memoir is almost devoid of dates, and should in any case be approached with caution. Guy Liddell’s Diaries can be considered (mostly) reliable, since they reflect an immediacy of response rather than a long-term memory, but there is some dissemblance in his observations. The first entry in File FCO 158/27 (the ‘PEACH’ Investigation) is disappointingly a memorandum dated as late as September 27, 1951. PREM 8/1524 (Prime Ministerial papers on the events) contains some useful background information. Christopher Andrew provides in Defend the Realm a narrow but reliable outline of events, exploiting the Mitrokhin archive, relying also on Yuri Modin’s testimony in My 5 Cambridge Friends, yet not using primary British sources. Very little archival reference is made in (for example) Tom Bower’s A Perfect English Spy, or Ben Macintyre’s A Spy Among Friends, beyond Liddell’s Diaries. Anthony Cave Brown’s biography of Menzies, “C”, displays conversations the author had with James Easton in Michigan shortly before he died: the latter’s reminiscences are probably authentic, but Cave Brown’s chronology is rather chaotic, and he struggles to organize his material convincingly.

John ‘Sinbad’ Sinclair

A rather sparse account of these events, complemented by generous extracts from the files, can be found in Chapter 6 of Nigel West’s Cold War Spymaster: The Legacy of Guy Liddell, Deputy Director of MI5 (2018), although Liddell’s involvement in the exercise was in fact minimal. In an astonishing lapse, West also presents ‘C’, the conventional title for the head of MI6, as being John Sinclair during the time of the inquiry, whereas Stewart Menzies was still in harness, and did not retire until 1952. (In 1945 Menzies had brought in two military intelligence officers: John Sinclair to replace Claude Dansey as deputy, and James Easton, who took over from Valentine Vivian, assistant-chief, in November of that year, while the latter was demoted to Chief Security Adviser to Menzies. Vivian retired early in 1951.) West’s book offers no archival references, but relies heavily on FCO 158/27 & 158/28. Unfortunately, he sometimes inserts names to fill redactions without explaining where or why he performs such services (as he does in his editing of the Liddell Diaries): he is probably correct in his emendations, but it is not a commendable practice. His representation of large redacted segments as a simple line of ‘XXXXXXXXX’ also does not perform justice to the size of such passages.

I present here a tentative time-line of the more solidly verifiable events of the second half of 1951, as a set of reference-points for the interested reader:

Jun 10 Prime Minister Attlee asks for details of careers of Burgess & Maclean

Jun 11  Carey Foster (of F.O.) distributes memorandum requesting secrecy over investigation

Jun 12 White conducts first interview of Philby

Liddell returns from leave

Jun 14 White conducts second interview: he asks Philby about Litzi

            Sillitoe cables to ask whether he should reveal to FBI that Litzi was a Communist?

            Sillitoe reports that CIA has declared Philby persona non grata

Jun 15 CIA’s Bill Harvey issues report on Philby (actually fed to him by White & Martin)

            The report suggests that Philby could be ‘ELLI’

Jun 18 Sillitoe informs Attlee visit was a success, and Hoover was most co-operative

Jun 20  Bedell Smith informs MI6 that Philby must be dismissed

Jun 21 Morrison suggests setting up Cadogan Committee to investigate FO security

Jun ?    Menzies tells Philby he will have to resign

Jun 26  Morrison states in House that Maclean had no access to technical information

Jun 27 White has agreed with SIS the form of memorandum to go to FBI

Jul 7    Menzies says Philby will have to be told the Americans suspect him of being ELLI

            Menzies wants the case completed before Philby returns from leave

White recommends that Cussen or Milmo should conduct an enquiry

Jul 12  MI6’s Easton arrives in Washington: he tells Scott he is convinced of Philby’s innocence

Jul 13  Easton tells Hoover & Smith that Philby is guilty of nothing more than ‘indiscretion’

Jul 20? Easton returns to London: finds document that Menzies had withheld from him

            Easton reads evidence of Philby’s bigamy, and nine other points

Easton challenges Philby over document’s claims: presumes Philby guilty

Easton presents conclusions to Menzies

Aug 4  Philby & Elliott are reported to be on vacation, yachting, in Chichester

            Philby is reported to be very active in looking for a job

Aug 16 Liddell tells Patterson about his proposed visit to Canada and the USA

Aug 20 Liddell reports that Washington believes MI5 may no longer be investigating Philby case

            Liddell explains it in terms of interrogation not being useful at this stage

            USA urging GB to interrogate Philby immediately on Gouzenko & Volkov cases

Aug 27 White returns from leave

Sep 18 Philby officially resigns from MI6

Sep 19-21 Liddell is in Washington for meetings with the CIA

Sep 21 ‘H.A.R. Philpott’ reported as journalist in Spain, and decorated by Franco

Oct 1   Liddell returns from leave [!!]

Oct 1   Bedell Smith of CIA is told facts of Philby case were ‘chain of coincidences’

            Liddell reports that case against Philby is ‘blacker’

            Bedell Smith told Menzies MI5 identified Philby as man referred by Gouzenko & Volkov

            Liddell says that that is ‘far from the case’

Oct 2   Edith Tudor-Hart is reported to have been involved in Russian espionage

Oct 3   Martin interviews Laemmel, MI5’s informant known as KASPAR or LAMB

Oct 13 Martin writes to Philby asking for information on Alice Honigmann

Oct 23 Philby explains his retirement from MI6 to Tomás Harris & Liddell

            Philby claims he has been treated very generously: he has no recriminations

Oct 25 Conservative Party defeats Labour in UK Election: Churchill replaces Attlee

Oct 30 Mackenzie of Washington Embassy expresses doubts about Philby’s behaviour in May

Nov 27 Carey Foster of FO warns White of possible damage to Anglo-American relations

Nov 30 White’s report on Philby is submitted and distributed

Dec 3   Terms of reference for Milmo are issued to him

Dec 6   Reilly prepares brief for Eden: says ‘MI5 is ready for interrogation’

Dec 7   Eden expresses deep concerns about Philby case, but is unaware of White interviews

            Liddell informs Churchill that all possible inquiries have only just been completed

            Churchill orders interrogation to occur at once

Dec 10 Liddell tells Burt of cumulative effect of evidence

Dec 12 Interrogation of Philby by Milmo takes place

            Philby denies that any of his previous statements were falsehoods

Dec ?   Milmo issues detailed report, concluding that Philby is guilty

Dec 18 White has completed his draft report for Americans on Philby

Dec 21 MI6 starts counter-attack on Milmo’s findings

Dec 28 Philby is encouraged to comment orally on his previous falsehoods

Dec 31 MI6 & MI5 to send agreed viewpoint on Philby to FBI & CIA

            Martin has made extremely good analysis of position: heavy burden of guilt

            Plan for White to take memorandum to FBI & CIA on January 14

Several broad conclusions can be drawn from these items:

  • A song-and-dance was being undertaken on the report into Philby. It had essentially been completed before June, but was not actually released until the end of November. MI5 pretended to the Foreign Office that the discoveries were all new, while White’s report did not disclose fresh findings unearthed during the summer.
  • MI5 had obviously been in close communication with MI6 throughout, and the presentation of the report to Menzies on November 30 would have been no surprise.
  • White continued to dissemble, presenting his personal submission to Menzies of his report as an act of courage.
  • MI6 was both in denial and in panic. Under pressure from the Americans, they forced Philby’s resignation at the same time that Easton was telling them Philby was innocent.
  • Philby’s resignation occurred more than two months before the official report was submitted.
  • The arrival of the new government under Churchill in October 1951 may help to explain the sudden change in the course of events in November.

The White Interviews

Dick White

During the six months after Burgess and Maclean disappeared, MI5 undertook, on the assumption that there had been a last-minute tip-off, a frequently hesitant inquiry into Philby as its possible source. The process (the ‘PEACH’ case) started immediately after Philby returned to Britain on June 12, when he was asked ‘to help with the inquiries’ into the disappearance of Burgess and Maclean, and underwent three interviews, in quick succession, carried out by Dick White. Since we are dependent almost exclusively on the memoirs or communications of the two participants (with some added commentary from Guy Liddell) for a record of what happened, it is useful to summarize how they each presented the events before I attempt to put the confrontations in context.

Philby had prepared thoroughly for the encounter, since a handwritten letter from Jack Easton had alerted him to the reason that he was being recalled – as if he had not been able to guess it. Easton’s precise role here is uncertain: at this stage he was probably less informed about the background material, least of all the Litzi business. Philby interpreted the message as a friendly warning. Easton was present at the subsequent interviews carried out by White (of which Philby claimed there were ‘several’), but White was not a practiced interrogator: he tried to be friendly, wanting help in ‘clearing up this appalling Burgess-Maclean affair’. Philby prevaricated and distorted the truth, but when openings cropped up, such as the question of the funding for Philby’s first trip to Spain, White failed to follow up his line of questioning. Philby wrote little more about what else was discussed, and concluded his account by describing how he was summoned twice by Menzies, once to be told that Bedell Smith had declared him persona non grata in Washington, and then to be informed that Menzies would have to ask for his resignation. He would be given £4000 in place of a pension. Both events are undated: Philby also misidentified the source of Bedell Smith’s intelligence as William J. Howard when it should have been Daniel Harvey.

As for Dick White’s testimony, Tom Bower (White’s biographer, who inherited substantial notes from Andrew Boyle), relates how White had beforehand visited John Sinclair of MI6 in Broadway Buildings to ‘discuss the unprecedented MI5 questioning of a senior SIS officer’, and how Sinclair had grudgingly agreed to the request. At that stage, White gave the impression that suspicions about Philby barely existed, and that he and Martin were therefore about to start out on their task of research. In light of the chronology given above, it is clear that the idea that a fresh MI5 project allowed it to uncover dramatic new information on Philby was a fiction.

But what shocking information they uncovered! As Bower records:

There was the discovery that Philby’s first wife, Litzi Friedmann, was an Austrian Communist. In 1946, White had been asked by SIS to check on Litzi after Philby had applied for permission to divorce his youthful transgression. White had been told by Klop Ustinov that Litzi was a Soviet agent, but that had not been held against Philby.

(Of course, Bower gives Seale and McConville as sources for this revelation.) But that was no ‘discovery’, if White had been informed of it back in 1946. And Philby did not need ‘permission’ to get his divorce: what he had to do was face the music of informing his boss at MI6 that he was still married to Litzi. Moreover, that factoid was one of the points expressed in the dossier already sent over to the CIA. One can already detect the clumsy attempt at covering up traces, and the absurd pretence that the senior officers in MI5 had known nothing about the Litzi Feabre nonsense.

White described his tactics as relying on ‘an element of quiet probing and deceptive gentleness’, as if his prey would have been easily susceptible to such charms. He quickly concluded that Philby was lying, but he lacked the patience and guile to trap him. According to Bower, White then submitted a report to Menzies ‘which concluded that Philby was suspect’. That precise report (which may have been delivered orally) has not seen the light of day, and it is significant that White’s final version of it was not presented until November 30 – a phenomenon that I shall analyze later. The judgment on Philby’s possible culpability seems very tame: Philby was suspect when he was brought in, and clearly incriminated even more deeply by the time White had finished. Yet Bower appears to have been taken in by White’s claim that he showed great courage in confronting the MI6 chiefs with his suspicions, a dishonourable performance since it was he who had arranged for the indictment that he and Martin had prepared to be used as evidence for Menzies from the CIA.

The last source is Guy Liddell, who was listening in to the interviews (and had only that day returned from leave, it should be recalled). He failed to find Philby convincing when the latter was asked about the Volkov affair, and at the second interview, when White started asking Philby about his first wife, Liddell recorded:

            Dick then questioned him about his first wife. He said that he had married her in Vienna in about 1934, knowing that she was a Communist, but that he had subsequently converted her. His marriage had broken up in 1936 and, so far as he knew, she was no more than a left winger. He had himself never been a Communist, but his sympathies with the left had been strong when he married his first wife in 1934.

Liddell felt uncomfortable about revealing this information to the CIA. Sillitoe had just cabled from Washington asking for guidance as to when he should reveal to the FBI that Litzi had been a communist, and Liddell dithered, writing:

            We have, therefore, left the decision with the D.G., emphasising that if he feels it necessary to communicate this information now, he should make it clear that no proper assessment of Philby’s position has so far been possible, and that they should not prejudge the issue on the information about his former wife. This is to be subject of C’s approval, which we cannot get until tomorrow.

This whole exercise was thus something of a charade. Yet a fresh interpretation jumps out. Menzies may well have been convinced of Philby’s guilt, and thus become party to White’s plot,  before Kim arrived in London. He and White could have decided that, by encouraging the CIA to demand punishment for Philby’s transgressions, it would provide a useful external alibi for what had to be done. Menzies and White both knew about the Litzi-Honigmann business, and must have started to experience horrifying suspicions that they had been utterly hoodwinked by Philby, and that his career with MI6 since 1941 had been a chapter of disasters. Thus Menzies dutifully followed what Bedell Smith advised him to do – dismiss Philby. By that action, Menzies and White probably believed and hoped that the problem would die away. But the events show that the newly appointed deputies to Menzies, Sinclair and Easton, were going to become the flies in the ointment, not having been directly exposed to the shenanigans of 1946. One (Sinclair) remained a staunch believer in Philby’s innocence, the other (Easton) soon felt betrayed by the fact that part of the Philby dossier had been withheld from him, and he became convinced of Philby’s guilt. In their different ways, they would both exert a significant influence on the evolution of the case.

American Pressure, and the Resignation

The ‘negotiations’ of Philby’s resignation (if they can be considered such) are worthy of comment. Menzies ‘asked’ for Philby’s resignation, the implication being that, if he did not do so, he would be fired, presumably for conduct unbecoming an intelligence officer, or because he had lied about his past. One might expect an innocent man to protest violently at the ruination of his career, but Philby did not do so. He not only knew he was guilty: it was evident that his employer had enough evidence to condemn him, even though none of it would stand up in a trial – a procedure that MI6 would be very reluctant to engage in because of the publicity and the possibility of a negative result. After all, Philby had not actually been caught in the act of handing over privileged material to a foreign power, and he had resisted pressure to confess.

Yet letting the man loose had its problems, too. MI6 could hardly expect Philby to put a convincing spin on the termination of his career, and his friends would ask questions. Those in the United States and in the United Kingdom who were convinced of his guilt would demand to know why he had been allowed to get away, and ask questions about unresolved aspects of the case. And those who believed that he had been set up as a scapegoat for the Burgess/Maclean fiasco would make protestations about an innocent officer’s being lost from the service. In fact, all three reactions occurred, which meant that the matter could not be buried quietly.

The actual date of the agreement is elusive. As I showed, Philby himself indicated that it occurred very soon after the White interviews, in June, and that he thereafter spent the whole summer house-hunting. Cave Brown had the encounter occurring at the end of July or the beginning of August. Nigel West bizarrely presents it as happening in November. The argument in favour of Philby’s account is defensible, since Menzies would have needed to respond quickly to American pressure. In his book The Agency, John Ranelagh wrote that Bedell Smith accompanied the Harvey report with a cover letter to Menzies that stated: “Fire Philby or we break off the intelligence relationship”.

Yet other evidence at first suggests that the process was more drawn out. The discussion in July over the ‘ELLI’ question, and White’s continued process of investigations, suggest that Philby’s fate might still have been in the air, with Menzies possibly having second thoughts: he expressed a desire for the case to be completed before Philby returned from leave. Easton’s trip to the United States at that time to inform the CIA that Philby was guilty only of ‘indiscretions’ is difficult to explain if the traitor’s disposition had already been decided, although it would have constituted a tactless response on Menzies’s part after Bedell Smith’s forthright threat by letter. The fact that Philby was recorded by Liddell as being on holiday in early August, ‘looking for a job’, might indicate that the agreement had only recently been made, and the timing of his resignation taking effect only on September 18 would support the Cave Brown thesis, with Easton’s memory being judged more reliable than Philby’s.

Carey Foster

The truth is probably more complicated, and the archive is ambiguous. Philby’s account appears to be superficially correct. A memorandum written by Carey Foster on December 11 specifically states that Philby’s employment was ‘terminated’ in June,’ because of his close association with Burgess’ (a euphemistic way of representing Philby’s culpability). Perhaps he was given three months’ salary, which might explain the September 18 ‘resignation’, the record of which also appears in the PEACH archive. But other events suggest that Menzies issued some kind of suspended sentence, and awaited the results of further research before confirming his decision. These events include the bizarre mission by Easton to Washington.

As the news spread around Washington in late June, pressure started to be applied to the MI6 outpost in the British Embassy, with questions being asked as to whether Maclean had had access to technical information on atomic weaponry. The Foreign Office had to arrange for a question to be asked in the House of Commons whereby the new Foreign Minister, Herbert Morrison, could deny any such knowledge on Maclean’s part. (His predecessor, Ernest Bevin, had given up the post in March, owing to ill-health, and had died a month later.) Moreover, the CIA persisted on the ‘ELLI’ business, which White’s memorandum had naively overlooked. Liddell recorded in his Diary (July 7) that Menzies had judged that Philby would have to be told about the American’s belief that he could be ‘ELLI’, and would even have to explain to the Americans why he was not ‘ELLI’ – a quite absurd proposition, given the murkiness behind the rumour. Of course Philby would not have been able to do anything about it, but it helps to suggest that his fate was still undetermined at this stage, and that Menzies was not fully committed to firing him. It was now that Dick White determined that he had to bow out of the investigation, since he believed that the ‘ELLI’ and Volkov cases were outside his purview (mistakenly, of course, with ‘ELLI’, since the defector had made his assertions on Commonwealth soil). White recommended that Edward Cussen (who had interrogated P. G. Wodehouse) or Helenus Milmo should conduct an inquiry. No doubt he felt the heat around him.

In mid-July Easton was sent to Washington to calm things down. In the words of Cave Brown (who interviewed Easton in early July, 1986):

            At that point [vaguely defined, in Cave Brown’s narrative] “C” decided to send Jack Easton to Washington to see Bedell Smith. But he did not tell Easton about Goldsmith White’s communiqué, nothing about Philby’s involvement in the Volkov affair (Easton had joined SIS afterward), and he enjoined Easton to take the boat to the States rather than fly. He further instructed Easton to tell nothing more than that Philby was ‘guilty of nothing worse than gross indiscretion, but that an inquiry was being instituted into all aspects concerning him’. Indeed, “C” appears not to have been as alarmed as those around him.

This is all very weird, and does not sound authentic. Admittedly, Easton was known and well-respected in Washington, but for Menzies to send him as an emissary with such parsimonious information, on a slow boat to China, while at the same time concealing vital information from him, would have been a colossal misjudgment. Simply because Easton joined MI6 after the Volkov affair was no reason for him not to have been briefed on it, or not to have read the reports. Moreover, Easton had been present at White’s interviews with Philby, so how could he claim such ignorance to Cave Brown? I think it much more likely that Easton was already familiar with the other nine points of the communiqué, but that, on his return, a major assertion about Philby’s marital status stunned him. To mix metaphors, it is much more likely that Cave Brown simply got the wrong end of the stick than that Easton was trying to pull the wool over his eyes. Nevertheless, Washington seemed appeased, and Easton sent a signal to Menzies advising him not to take any action against Philby until he returned – a clear indication that Philby’s fate was still up in the air.

For some reason, on his return, Easton contacted his predecessor, Valentine Vivian, and probably through him discovered an expanded version of the seven-point report compiled by White. This contained many of the familiar claims against Philby (from Litzi’s communism to the gatherings at Bentinck Street, from Burgess to Volkov), but was headed by an astounding, fresh assertion – that Philby’s marriage to Aileen Furse had been bigamous. (The ten points of this document are reproduced in a tight summary in Cave Brown’s book, suggesting that Easton had maintained a copy rather than relying on memory.) It was this finding that appeared to anger Easton the most, as he recalled the occasion when Philby had responded to his congratulations on the birth of his latest child, now shown to be out of wedlock. It confirmed his impression that Philby was a cad, ‘an accomplished liar . . . capable of anything’. Most of all, Easton felt that his professional integrity had been attacked, since he had been called upon to lie to the Americans.

Now this revelation may not come as a surprise to coldspur readers, as I expressed my bewilderment last month over the indulgence of the Chelsea Registry Office in so casually accepting the fact of Philby’s divorce from Litzi. So perhaps it never happened? And thus the Georg Honigmann-Litzi Friedmann/Philby marriage was likewise bigamous? While the comrades might not have concerned themselves unduly with such bourgeois matters, the whole exercise provoked Easton (who had been assigned the Philby case by Menzies) to haul in Philby for another inquisition, where he challenged him about several of the points – including a telling item about ‘the revelations concerning Lizzy Friedmann’s [sic] associations with a Soviet agent in Germany’, which suggested that a garbled version of the Honigmann business had found its way into the chronicle. He asked him about his bigamous marriage: Philby apparently did not deny it. He had no answers to Easton’s questions. Easton told Cave Brown that ‘he looked and behaved like a rat in a trap. I let him go. But his attitude was such that everything being said against him was true and therefore a strong presumption of guilt against him’.

What is disappointing about this account is Cave Brown’s inability to follow up with incisive questions: he appears to be overwhelmed by the material, and can be considered the journalistic equivalent of Arthur Martin. To start with: in what circumstances was the fact of Philby’s bigamy discovered? When did it occur? Who knew about it? Did anyone at the Kim-Aileen ceremony in September 1946 bear false witness? Why was Tomás Harris listed as the only witness when we now know that Flora Solomon – and Frank Birch – also attended (see KV 2/4634)? Did Philby truly not admit that he had never divorced Litzy? And did Easton (who clearly knew about the Honigmann business) ask Philby why he had not arranged his divorce in that summer of 1946 before Litzi left the UK for good? (It is possible that Easton was ignorant of the events of the summer of 1946, and believed that Philby had bigamously married Aileen much earlier: after all, she had changed her name by deed poll.) In any event, Easton then presented his findings to Menzies – it could not have been a comfortable encounter – and soon Menzies realized the seriousness of the situation, and came to grips with his earlier decision that Philby would have to be dismissed. Bigamy was a crime, unlike adultery, and provided solid grounds for dismissal. Thus Philby could be relied upon not to spill the beans about the true cause.

What is also extraordinary about this revelation is that it was Easton alone who provided it, thirty-five years after the events, a few years before his death in 1990. One might have expected someone else to have leaked the secret during that time. So was Easton the only officer who knew about it? Would John Sinclair and his cohorts have been such enthusiastic supporters of Philby had the shocking news been revealed to them?

The Dog Days of Summer

Events moved in a desultory fashion that summer. No doubt many of the leading figures had to take their vacations, holidays and leave. As early as June 11, Carey Foster, the Foreign Office’s Security Officer, had requested other government departments to refrain from commenting on issues related to Burgess and Maclean, as he wanted the Foreign Office itself to handle any communications. Ten days later, the Foreign Secretary, Herbert Morrison, recommended setting up a committee to review Foreign Office security. The Prime Minister, Clement Attlee. approved, but when the group met under Alexander Cadogan’s chairmanship, members were kept in the dark as to the investigations into Kim Philby, with Dick White appearing at one of the meetings to help obfuscate the situation.

One might conclude that, with Philby’s resignation sealed, White and Menzies would have imagined that the troublesome case would quietly die down. After all, the destination of Burgess and Maclean was unknown. Attlee’s administration did not apply any pressure, since the possibility of a ‘Third Man’ had been concealed from them, and Attlee was constantly looking over his shoulder at his Left Wing, sympathetic to the Soviets. White had kicked the ball into the long grass by abdicating any responsibility for looking into the Gouzenko and Volkov cases. Yet the pot started to be prodded from both sides.

Kim Philby’s greatest friend and ally, Nicholas Elliott, had in June returned to the UK from Bern, Switzerland, to take up a new position in MI6. Liddell refers to a visit that Elliot paid him on June 16 (his name is redacted, but the identity is unquestionable), indicating that Philby was using him to determine where he stood:

            Xxxxxxx xxxxxxx came round to see me. Telephone checks had indicated that he had rather got his ear to the ground in S.I.S. and was trying to find out for Kim where the latter stood. He did not, however, attempt to pump me and prefaced his remarks by saying that he knew nothing whatever about the case.

Apart from the ominous reference to telephone-tapping, this was relatively harmless, but Elliott would increase the volume during the following months, especially when Philby felt badly treated by the Milmo interrogations. In the gloom of his betrayal, Elliott’s 1991 memoir Never Judge A Man by His Umbrella clumsily finessed his whole campaign to defend Philby. Ben Macintyre describes Elliott’s efforts in the following terms: “Within MI6 Elliott swiftly emerged as Philby’s most doughty champion, defending him against all accusers and loudly declaring his innocence”, but the author provides no sources for his claims.

The pressure from the accusers annoyingly arose in Washington, where some niggling interest endured, and Guy Liddell gave the impression that it was his job to quell it. On August 16, he informed Patterson that he intended to pay a visit to the USA and Canada, and his diary entries at the end of August (when White was on leave, and Liddell therefore had to take over) indicate that the CIA was expressing disappointment at the speed of the inquiry. Liddell had to explain that it was not useful to attempt to interrogate Philby over Gouzenko and Volkov, since MI5 was still gathering information. The outcome was that Liddell did indeed visit Washington between September 19 and 21, although we have to draw on CIA records for this information, as Liddell gives no indication of the mission in his diaries, rather naively reporting that he returned from leave (again!) on October 1.

Liddell’s task was not eased by the political rivalry between the FBI and the CIA. (In October, Hoover came to be very annoyed on learning that Menzies had explained VENONA to Bedell Smith, and he let Geoffrey Patterson know of his ire in no uncertain terms.) On August 9, Liddell wrote:

            I saw Patrick Reilly and cleared with him, and subsequently of SIS, a letter which the D.G. is sending to Hoover, suggesting the indoctrination of Bedell-Smith into basic material connected with the MACLEAN case. In spite of the fact that Bedell-Smith is Chairman of U.S.C.I.B., the equivalent of SIGINT, he is unaware of the source of our information. [VENONA: coldspur]. This causes his subordinates to worry about S.I.S. and ourselves with wild theories about the disappearance of BURGESS and MACLEAN.

Three days later, he records how the FBI was demanding more stringent interrogation of the suspect based on ‘more sinister allegations against Philby arising from both the Gouzenko and Wolkov [sic] cases’, and Liddell again had to temporize by replying that MI5 was still making exhaustive inquiries.

As summer turned into autumn, the investigation picked up again. What further inquiries were being made at this stage is unclear, and it took until October 1 for Liddell to acknowledge that the case against Philby was now ‘much bleaker’. (His diary for the whole of September is blank.) By now, evidence of Litzi’s multiple travels to the Continent in the late 1930s has come to light. “The inference is that she was then acting as a courier. These facts were never revealed by Kim, although they must have been within his knowledge.” And then, Liddell responds in a provocative fashion to an observation by Bedell Smith, who had apparently told Sillitoe ‘that he thought that MI5 were now confident that Philby was identical with the man mentioned by Gouzenko and Wolkov.’ Liddell’s comment runs as follows: “This is of course far from the case.”

Now this statement could be interpreted in many ways. It could suggest that the figures identified by Gouzenko and Volkov were confidently not identified as being the same individual – a simplification encouraged by the two-dimensional American mind, and abetted by inadequate knowledge. It could serve simply to deny MI5’s confidence that Philby was either ELLI, or Volkov’s counter-intelligence officer. It could imply that MI5 had excluded the possibility that Philby could be one of the pair – perhaps because the ELLI business had already been solved and put to bed. But why ‘of course’? It indicates that certain facts of the case were widely understood and accepted by Liddell and his colleagues. Above all, it suggests that MI5 in general was still very uncertain as to how it could handle the Americans’ persistent objections and inquiries about Philby.

A remarkable new set of items of information arrived, beginning at the end of September, which suggested that further investigations were being taken a little more seriously. The first has a humorous angle. It consists of a memorandum sent by an A. G. R. Rouse, from within the Foreign Office, to Carey Foster of the Security Department, dated September 21, and headed: ‘British Journalists Attached to the Franco Side During the Spanish Civil War’. The writer apologizes for the delay in responding, but he has evidently been making discreet inquiries via Chatham House while avoiding any direct approach to the Times. His main conclusion runs as follows: “There was, however, a British correspondent by the name of H. A. R. Philpott who was evidently decorated by Franco, but we have been unable to trace what paper he represented.”

Apart from the mistake over the name, the obvious question is: what took MI5 so long to trigger this request? It should clearly have been made in February 1940, after the interrogation of Krivitsky, and not as the outcome of an afterthought in the summer of 1951. Yet I offer a darker interpretation. If this disclosure was made only in September 1951, how was it that a confident expression of the connection was able to be made in the dossier of May? It suggests again that the link had been identified earlier, soon after the Krivitsky interrogation, but put into abeyance because of the belief in Philby’s new commitment, until the suspicions about him surfaced at the end of the decade.

Further items followed. On October 2, Edith Tudor-Hart had been interviewed, and admitted to having been involved in Russian espionage, thus casting the spotlight again on her close friend, Litzi. The following day, Arthur Martin conducted his infamous interview of Laemmel, MI5’s informant known as KASPAR or LAMB, which I tried to dissect in my March posting, and cleared up last month. This interview can be interpreted to show just how ignorant or confused Martin was, despite the fact that, according to Liddell’s diary entry of August 20, ‘Martin knows his cases inside out and backwards’. Martin’s bizarre behaviour was then further exemplified by a letter he wrote for the attention of MI6 on October 13, probably to Kim Philby, apparently unaware of the fact that his target had resigned some time ago. He asked for information on Alice Honigmann, revealing that he knew that she had been married to ‘a British subject’ in 1934, but thereby failed to help his addressee at all, since he omitted providing the husband’s name. The text suggests that he had no idea that the new bride of Georg Honigmann had actually been married to (and maybe was still legally entwined with) the subject of MI5’s continuing inquiries, and he makes some clumsy mistakes about the Honigmanns’ marital status. It is at first difficult to determine whether Martin was being stupid, obtuse, or simply devious.

Yet this document strikes me as being a classical example of the ‘Genuine’ but ‘Inauthentic’ article. It is Genuine, because it is correctly dated and authored, and appears in a context that looks realistic, but the letter is patently Inauthentic. Its insincerity is obvious in many ways: the name of the addressee has been redacted, but the suffix of ‘Esq., O.B.E’ has been disingenuously left in place, betraying a clear clue to whom the letter was sent. Martin may or may not have had the facts of Philby’s dismissal explained to him, but the impression he wants to give is that lowlier officers in MI5 like him have properly been kept in the dark. He also pretends to show ignorance of the full history of Lizzy Honigmann, thus not providing full help to the person whose help he is requesting, even though the record of his interview with LAMB a few days before proves that he knows a lot more. And finally, he displays a foggy but very revealing understanding of the marital status of the Honigmanns, first claiming that Litzi lived with Georg until 1946 (i.e. in an unmarried state) ‘when they both left the UK’, next indicating that Litzi ‘joined her husband in Berlin’, before stating that ‘it is believed that the Honigmanns married after they arrived in Berlin’ (clumsiness, simply confusion, or another example of deliberate obtuseness, perhaps?). It all sounds like an awkward put-up job engineered by his supervisor, Dick White, to furnish evidence for the historical record that MI5 was performing its due diligence.

Liddell was actually groping around in the dark at this time, trying to put his finger on the core of the communist conspiracy, all the while blissfully unaware of how he had been betrayed. A telling diary entry of October 22 shows how he had had a private talk with Anthony Blunt, of all people, and had sought insights from him about Burgess’s motives for ‘going away’– like Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio, presumably. He also had a private discussion with Victor and Tess Rothschild, believing them to be loyal and honourable allies, and Tess tried to distract attention from herself and her husband by pointing to ‘a girl who was formerly a secret member of the Party, but has had, she believes, nothing to with it for ten years’. (How she knew that fact so intimately did apparently not cross Liddell’s mind.) He wrote: “I do not know to whom she is referring, it may be xxxxxxxxx’s wife’ [probably Jenifer Hart, Herbert Hart having been being a respected member of MI5 during the war]. Liddell then reflected:

            Tess would be willing to put us in touch with this person, provided it were possible that the information did not go further than Dick and myself. I said that one of the difficulties we were up against was that we had had to revise our opinion about these [sic] sort of people. Formerly we had been inclined to take the view that those who had committed youthful indiscretions and had not showed up in the records for ten years could now be regarded as cleared, but in the light of recent experiences we have had to revise our views.


Yet what probably changed the course of events dramatically was the fact that Prime Minister Attlee called an election for October 25, but lost it. The Tories returned to power, under Churchill’s leadership, with Anthony Eden resuming his post as Foreign Secretary.

Churchill Replaces Attlee

It apparently took several weeks for the new administration to concern itself properly with the PEACH case. When Liddell accompanied Sillitoe to the offices of Prime Minister Churchill and Foreign Secretary Eden on December 7, he observed that Eden did not have a good insight into what had been happening, and what the strategy was, recording:

            Eden was worried about the PHILBY case; he had evidently been extremely badly briefed and had given the P.M. the impression that PHILBY might escape at any moment and that another scandal would ensure similar to that in the case of BURGESS and MACLEAN. The D.G. explained that on the fact [sic] of it this was not at all likely. Eden was evidently unaware that PHILBY had already been interrogated three times, although not quite on the lines of the proposed interrogation which is to take place on the 19th December, on the basis of a number of subsequent enquiries.

Liddell was displaying a good deal of disingenuousness here. After all, the Foreign Office, in the shape of Carey Foster, had done its best to cast a veil over the whole affair, and MI5 was historically not known for its candour with its political masters. Only eighteen months beforehand, in the wake of the Fuchs business, Liddell and White had persuaded Sillitoe to lie to Prime Minster Attlee over the checks that had been carried out on Fuchs’s communism, with the result that Sillitoe had given them a severe dressing-down over putting him in that position. Moreover, Liddell confessed in his diary that he had claimed to Eden that ‘all enquiries which seemed possible had only just been completed’, to which a more competent and alert Foreign Secretary might have riposted: “What is taking you so long?”

Indeed, MI5 must have been sensing some pressure, as White’s dossier had been ‘circulated’ (to whom is not clear) on November 30. Liddell’s comment on Eden’s being left in the dark is ambiguous (Did he not know that Philby had been interrogated at all? Or was he in ignorance that as many as three interviews had taken place?). Yet, since the White report states clearly that Philby was ‘interviewed on three occasions’, it seems safe to assume that Eden had not been granted the favour of being able to read the report for himself. Surely, if he knew of the existence of such, he would have asked for a copy.

The introduction to White’s report is worth quoting in full:

            Ever since the disappearance of Maclean and Burgess the Security Service have been making a study of all available evidence in order to find out how Maclean was alerted just before he was going to be interrogated.

This is a carefully crafted deception. The study had started before the disappearance. It was an inquiry into the probability of Philby’s general guilt, not the specific event of an ‘alert’ to Maclean. The implied immediacy of the interrogation was a lie.

This MI5 dossier listed several items that appear in my catalogue of lapses in last month’s coldspur, citing them as evidence of Philby’s mendaciousness (‘PEACH’s statements are false’). They include his status with the communist Litzi, his relations with Burgess, and his own political views. It then goes on to list ‘information from the Russian defectors and Intelligence sources’, namely (i) the Krivitsky testimony, (ii) the Volkov disclosures, (iii) the changes to the Soviet cypher system, (iv) Philby’s ability to inspect a telegram to Washington (on May 16) concerning the date of the Maclean interrogation (projected then to be ‘immediately after May 23’; and (v) the probable acquaintance of Philby and Maclean when at Cambridge. One notable omission from this list is the Gouzenko pointer to a spy known as ‘ELLI’ in the bowels of the Intelligence Services. Again, one has to wonder whether this was because ELLI had already been accounted for, or because the exposure was too monstrous to admit. Given the Americans’ perpetual interest, I would support the former theory. It also fails to report the fresh revelations about Litzi’s travels in Europe which Liddell referred to in his diary entry for October 1.

The objective of the report, however, was apparently not to make a case that Philby had operated for any length of time as an agent for the NKVD/KGB, but to determine whether or not PEACH was ‘the most likely person to have been responsible for alerting Maclean’. (Note the subtle change from the introductory language: Philby had of course alerted Maclean to the HOMER advances.) And White offered the information that the Security Service had reached the conclusion that it was indeed PEACH who was responsible (how else would that derive, except from him?), stating that he had ‘studied all the evidence’ and agreed with that conclusion. But of course White had done no such thing. He had apparently never considered any other possible leakers (such as Blunt), and ignored the fact that Philby, working in Washington, was surely not best situated to control the course of events. He had of course suggested that Philby was able to intervene only as late as May 16, when he saw the telegram. Moreover, a mass of relevant information that had either been known about for some time, or had been uncovered in the period since (such as the whole Honigmann business) had been omitted from the report.

Rather ingenuously, however, the White/Martin report does not examine how Philby was able to evade any investigation at the time of the various events, a point that I shall re-examine later. For instance, the following text appears, concerning Krivitsky’s evidence:

            In all respects, therefore, PEACH fulfils the description given by Krivitsky. So far as can be ascertained no other journalist accredited to Franco Spain does.

Anyone with any sense of the political background who came across this sentence should have reacted with dismay, even rage, since it reflects dire incompetence on the part of MI5. Nevertheless, Carey Foster was highly positive when he read the report: “I have read your dossier on PEACH which I think has been extremely well assembled.”

Churchill and Eden, presumably basing their judgments on a précis of the report, were less patient. Eden and his Permanent Under-Secretary of State, William Strang (who had been serving in that role since 1949) believed, according to Liddell, that further interrogations would lead to prosecution – an observation that would suggest that Carey Foster had not been keeping his boss Strang (a nasty piece of work, by the way) properly informed of MI5’s deliberations. Somewhat hastily, Prime Minister Churchill ordered that a more rigorous interrogation be undertaken immediately. He and Eden would be visiting Washington in the near term, and they wanted to be able to deal with the case then, whatever the outcome. Helenus (‘Buster’) Milmo Q.C., who had already been selected to perform a more severe examination of Philby on December 19, was ordered to start it a week earlier.

Helenus Milmo, Q.C.

The éminence grise behind the strategizing was Patrick Reilly, the rather ineffectual chief of the Joint Intelligence Committee, who would have been responsible for the smooth transition of intelligence matters between administrations. Yet he may have had conflicts of interest, having served for a year during the War as Menzies’s private secretary, and he notoriously admitted to having a chair-destroying fit when he heard about the disappearance of Burgess and MacLean (see the section ‘Reilly and the Hollis Mystery’ in, where I also analyze Reilly’s mendacious contribution to the affair). I repeat here what I quoted then from Michael Goodman’s history of the JIC: “The JIC’s failure to probe the strategic implications of the damage caused by Soviet espionage is even harder to understand, despite the fact that administrative responsibility for security and counter-intelligence lay with MI5”.

The reason for the expedited second stage of the investigation was the concern that Philby might flee the country: the Foreign Secretary, Anthony Eden, was fearful of a repeat of the Burgess/Maclean fiasco, and advised Churchill accordingly. If Philby (or Moscow) had been hellbent on his departing, however, it would have been arranged whether he surrendered his passport or not. Yet the result was that Milmo did not spend enough time performing research to prepare properly for the case. Since the Foreign Office believed that a prosecution would be the natural outcome of the procedure, and was aware of the Americans looking over their shoulders, it was eager to pounce on any timidity. MI5 was much more wary, knowing that, since the evidence was so circumstantial, only a full-blown confession by Philby would lead to conviction, and a trial could moreover turn out to be very messy.

The result was a rush. It was not that Milmo was unfamiliar with the world of intelligence and counter-espionage: he had worked for MI5 during the war, and had interrogated suspected Nazi spies. But he did not have time to think through the implications of all the information that was passed to him. He was provided with a dossier ‘together with a large number of appendices, statements taken from witnesses and other papers and documents bearing upon the subject matter of the inquiry’. MI5 had by now upped its ante: in its initial recommendation that PEACH be interrogated, it overtly expressed its suspicion that PEACH ‘is, and has been for many years, a spy for the Russians’. It also highlighted the risk of Philby’s fleeing abroad, and what steps should be taken to prevent such an event, and also stressed the importance of keeping the Americans informed because of any possible political fallout.

The Milmo Interrogation

Thus Milmo undertook the interrogation on December 12. I do not intend here to provide a comprehensive summary of Milmo’s findings: Nigel West’s Cold War Spymaster provides a useful reproduction of most of his report, which is in any case available for downloading at no charge from the National Archives as an item in the second PEACH file (see ). What I shall explore are a few fascinating aspects of the process and of Milmo’s findings, namely the following phenomena: 1) the terms of reference and the logic behind Milmo’s conclusions; 2) the items that were left out – or possibly redacted from the published version of the report; 3) the items that were freshly recorded here, and have not been presented anywhere else, so far as I can judge; and 4) the sections of the Appendix, and a later ‘Summing-Up’ that show how Philby later reacted to demonstrably false assertions that he had made in the course of the interrogation.

  1. Terms of Reference:

Milmo introduced his report by writing: “By letter dated 3rd December 1951, I was instructed to undertake an official enquiry into the possibility of there having been a leakage of information to Mr Burgess and/or Maclean resulting in their subsequent disappearance.” I make an important distinction here. Note that Milmo was not instructed to make an inquiry into the method by which Maclean had been warned that his identity as HOMER had been divulged: Burgess was an implicit subject of the inquiry. His mission was to determine how Burgess and Maclean had been warned of Maclean’s approaching interrogation, which action enabled them to escape. That strictly framed the inquiry into the events of late May in the UK, not those of April in Washington. Milmo would later come to link the two sets of circumstances, but his method of doing so was utterly illogical.

Milmo was further instructed, if he were ‘satisfied that such leakage did in fact occur, he was to ‘enquire as to the identity of the officials or official responsible for such leakage and the motive which prompted such leakage’. Yet he did no such thing. He received his instructions soon after December 3, and started the interrogation just over a week later. He had no time to conduct an independent investigation: he admitted that he was completely dependent on ‘a very full dossier on the case’, which he had to assimilate over a few days, complemented by interviews with officers of the Security Service. He never interviewed members of the Foreign Office staff, and for documentation relied on what had been prepared for him. He had no way of knowing how ‘full’ the dossier was, or what had been left out.

He thus made an inconsequential jump in judging that ‘there was no doubt that it was as a result of a leakage that Burgess and Maclean disappeared from this country on 25th May’, and that, since Philby knew Burgess, and that the evidence points to the fact that Philby had been a Soviet agent for many years, Philby must have been ‘directly and deliberately responsible for the leakage which in fact occurred’. A key passage in the Appendix (which may have been overlooked) runs as follows:

            At the end of February 1951 Burgess commits a series of ridiculous speeding offences and the suggestion initiated by Philby himself that this may well have been done deliberately in order to engineer his (Burgess’s) return to London. If Burgess did in fact know at that stage of the danger of Maclean’s position, he would have been only too conscious of the danger in which he himself stood  . . . .

            If one assumes that Philby was also a Soviet agent, the obvious course was to get Burgess, who was not suspect, to London as soon as possible, for then both ends are covered. Philby is stationed at the listening point in Washington and will know exactly what is planned; Burgess is in London to take the necessary action on the information which Philby can easily transmit to him. Before Burgess left it was known to Philby that Maclean was on the short list of Foreign Office official under suspicion.

The poverty of this analysis is dumbfounding. Milmo apparently trusts what Philby tells him. He ignores the fact that Burgess was not a suspect at this time, and thus not in danger, and could have remained unscathed had he not joined Maclean. Burgess did not return to London ‘as soon as possible’: he took months to do so. There was no guarantee that all the decisions being made in London about Maclean would be routinely communicated to Washington, for Philby’s consumption. Philby had no ‘easy’ way of transmitting such information to Burgess. How this nonsense was accepted without question is mind-boggling.

Nevertheless, having summarized the evidence that pointed to Philby’s role as a Soviet agent, Milmo presented his conclusion that ‘everything points to Burgess having been the channel through whom Maclean received his warning that an immediate escape was necessary’, and that, since Philby was being kept up-to-date on what was happening, even though he was in Washington, he must be the culprit. The illogical leap he makes is that, since Philby knew Burgess in Washington, Maclean must have received a late warning in London from Burgess, and that message somehow came from Philby, not elsewhere in the Foreign Office. To try to back this up, he asserts that Burgess and Philby ‘were in communication prior to the disappearance of Burgess and Maclean’, although he offers no dates or evidence of how they maintained this communication – an astonishing lapse that MI6 would pounce on early in 1952.

Milmo relegated to an Appendix the less confident statement about his conclusions, accepting that Maclean’s information could have come from a London source. He qualified that by adding ‘it might equally well have been from a Washington source’, which offers a bizarre use of the word ‘equally’, given the logistical problems of communicating secretly from Washington to London. His final observation in this section should have been challenged by any astute reader:

            The fact that Burgess, who had only very recently arrived from Washington in circumstances to which I will revert later, organized the escape and is now known to have been a Soviet agent and to have been one over at least as long a period as Maclean, is a strong pointer to Washington as having been the site of the leakage. Although I have not completed a full enquiry into the point, I came to the conclusion at an early stage that Washington was the probable source of leakage and thereafter concentrated my attention on the personnel at that end.

This is pure waffle. If Milmo has not completed a full enquiry yet, when will he do so? Yet the more dramatic revelation that appears here is the claim that Guy Burgess is ‘now known to have been a Soviet agent and to have been one over at least as long a period as Maclean’. What evidence had led to that conclusion? [see below]

Milmo’s whole strategy and thought-processes were utterly illogical. The exercise may have been a useful one in synthesizing all the collected details about Philby’s career, but it was essentially tangential to the inquiry. Moreover, the mass of evidence supporting Philby’s role as a Soviet agent apparently helped build a case that alleged the longevity of the treachery of Burgess and Maclean, rather than the reverse. After all, the HOMER investigation revealed only fairly recent incidents of espionage activity.

2. Omitted Items:

The body of Milmo’s report is in truth very short: all the interesting material appears in the Appendix. The substance of his argument is the close relationship that Philby enjoyed with Burgess, and the fact that Philby, during his interrogation, denied that he had known Burgess at Cambridge and that Burgess had been a Communist. Milmo also drew attention to the activities of Litzi Philby, and her frequent visits to the Continent in the middle of the 1930s, travel that Philby could not explain from an expense standpoint. He could also not divine any possible objectives of such trips. Milmo judged that they must have been financed by some Communist or Soviet organization.

Krivitsky and a redacted section

Two paragraphs have been redacted in the copy released to the archive (see figure above). Number 8 is short, and, since it is an independent item, its substance cannot easily be determined. The second is itself a second example of ‘further matters which cannot be wholly excluded from consideration though their probative value is small’. Since the first of these examples is the Krivitsky testimony (which Milmo assessed as almost certainly pointing to Philby), one might expect the second to be perhaps analogous evidence from another Soviet defector, and the likeliest candidate is Konstantin Volkov. I recall that, in White’s report, Volkov appears immediately after the Krivitsky item, and White used the Volkov incident to drive home the pattern between the Volkov and the Maclean disappearances, Philby being the common factor. Why, in that case, when the Volkov story has already appeared elsewhere in the file, it would have been felt necessary in 2015, when the file was released to the public, for such information to be blacked out in the Milmo report, is puzzling.

Moreover, the report says nothing about Gouzenko and ELLI, despite the fact that a memorandum from Reilly, issued on December 6 as a brief to the Foreign Office to introduce it, refers specifically to reports from ‘defectors’ (plural), namely Volkov and Gouzenko, claiming that Philby fitted information from them. From the structure and sequence of the report, it is hard to imagine that Item 8 could constitute a paragraph on that mysterious character, ELLI. It also ignores the suggestion (noted by White) that Philby might have been responsible for the leaking of the news that breaches had been made in the Soviet cryptographic system (VENONA). The real culprit was William Weisband, who had been detected in 1950 and sentenced to a year in prison for contempt (not espionage) in November 1950, but, if British intelligence had not been informed of this by the time of White’s report, it is highly unlikely that Milmo would have learned of it in the short time at his disposal. (The Americans had nasty secrets in their closet, too.)

Another area where Milmo is even less forthcoming than White is in his discussion of Litzi, where he draws attention to the inexplicable trips to the Continent, but does not echo White’s assertion that she ‘has been working for the Comintern’ ever since her marriage in 1934. White even included the observation that she was currently married to a German communist and living in East Berlin, but Milmo overlooks that point. Of course, there is no mention of the embarrassing events concerning the Honigmanns, and the dubious divorce, of the summer of 1946.

What is evident from some of the fascinating details in the Appendix is that Milmo had access to some rich information that must have been maintained on Philby for some time, but which had not seen the light of day, and in some cases still has not, even seventy-two years later.

3. Fresh Items:

Apart from the highlighting of the details about Litzi’s unexplained travel, in my mind, the most astonishing revelation is the firm and confident assertion that Burgess ‘has been a Communist agent since not later than his visit to Moscow which took place in 1934’. By now, of course, Maclean has been identified as HOMER, through the VENONA decrypts and his visit to New York to see his wife, although there is no evidence offered for how long he had been involved in espionage, apart from the fact that he had been a dedicated communist at Cambridge. Thus Milmo’s claim that Maclean ‘had been, it is known, a Soviet agent of long standing’, made in his introduction to the Appendix, is vain and unsupported, with the evasive use of the passive voice.

Burgess, on the other hand, was by most accounts out of any such focus until he absconded with Maclean, and became guilty by default, and by association. For instance, Christopher Andrew writes of Burgess’s state of mind in May 1951 (Defend the Realm, p 425):

            Though Burgess was obviously worried, it was reasonable to suppose that the cause of his worries was the fact that he was facing the sack and the end of his Foreign Office career. The very outrageousness of his behaviour protected him against suspicion that he, like Maclean, was a Soviet agent.

Liddell recorded in his diary on June 27:

            I find it difficult, too, to imagine BURGESS as a Comintern agent or an espionage agent in the ordinary accepted interpretation of these terms. He certainly had been Marxian, and, up to a point, an apologist for the Russian regime, and would have been capable of discussing in a highly indiscreet manner with anyone almost anything he got from official sources. He would have done this out of sheer political enthusiasm without any regard for security.

And Stewart Purvis and Jeff Hulbert, in The Spy Who Knew Everyone (p 257) inform us, when analyzing the account of Tom Driberg, and describing the fevered meetings that Maclean and Burges had that May:

            The more logical and likely scenario is that the two men, one now known to be a KGB spy, and one still undetected, debated their options and made their decisions.

Thus Milmo miraculously, without performing any original research himself, came up with unassailable conclusions about the status of Burgess that had apparently eluded the best minds in MI5, including Liddell. It would appear that some intense research had been carried out during the summer (as reflected in Liddell’s October 1 diary entry that matters had become ‘blacker’ for Philby), but it is not clear which of the evidence discovered had been lying unanalyzed in the files, and which had been revealed through fresh interviews of relevant persons. For instance, Liddell’s diaries show that Goronwy Rees told him in June that Burgess had been a Comintern agent in 1937 (a fact included by Milmo as secondary support: ‘one Goronwy Rees’: the name is actually redacted in the original, but West supplies it without explanation). Milmo reports, however, (in the Appendix) that ‘the records show’ that Burgess was a prominent Communist when at Cambridge, and he also cites a letter sent by Burgess’s friend Derek Blaikie to the Daily Worker dated December 27, 1935 that reports Burgess’s betrayal by becoming involved in right-wing politics.

What I find provocative about such items is the fact that they had been ignored for so long. (Purvis and Hulbert give a good account of how Burgess had been several times vetted by MI5, and his behaviour excused.)  Moreover, Liddell seemed to be unaware of this evidence, continued to disbelieve the allegations against Burgess, and for the rest of the year stoutly defended Blunt when other MI5 officers started taking an interest in him – no doubt because the investigation moved on to check out other figures who had been contemporary Communists at Cambridge. Blunt was an obvious candidate, and his case was particularly poignant since his communism was known when he joined MI5, and he had been discovered passing messages from Leo Long in MI14 to his Soviet contacts in 1944. Such revelations would have been acutely embarrassing to the PEACH inquiry, and it is not surprising that the weight of the argument should so heftily be placed against Burgess and Philby. Since this piece is focussed on Philby, I shall write no more on this conundrum now, but it is very bizarre that Liddell appeared to be excluded from knowledge of the existence of highly incriminating documents.

            4. The Appendix and Summing-Up:

The meat of the evidence appears in the very dense Appendix, which makes riveting reading.

What is fascinating is the amount of detail provided on the activities of Burgess and Philby (especially), indicating that a close degree of surveillance must have been undertaken for some time. Thus, in a matter of a few months in the summer of 1951, MI5 was able to come up with the following gems:

  1. Burgess’s prominent role as a Communist at Cambridge.
  2. Burgess’s visit to Moscow in 1934 with Derek Blaikie, and his subsequent meeting in Brittany, probably with Klugmann, Maclean and Philby, where the decision to sever their ostensible connections with Communism was made.
  3. Burgess’s employment in Conservative Central Office being revealed by Derek Blaikie in a letter to the Daily Worker.
  4. Maclean’s letter to Granta, published in the issue of March 7, 1934, in which he expressed his fervent communist opinions.
  5. Philby’s being refused a reference for the Indian Civil Service by his Cambridge tutors, because he was a ‘militant Communist’.
  6. Philby’s membership of the Cambridge University Socialist Society.
  7. Burgess’s leading a hunger march at Cambridge.
  8. The discovery in Burgess’s possessions of Philby’s Cambridge degree.
  9. A statutory declaration made by Philby’s grandmother on the occasion of his impending marriage.
  10. A 1937 letter from Litzi Philby to Burgess inviting him to visit her in Paris.
  11. Knowledge of Litzi’s friendship with Mrs Tudor-Hart, and the fact that she owned in 1951 a negative photograph of Philby.
  12. Highly detailed information on Litzi’s multiple journeys to continental Europe in 1934, 1935, 1936 and 1937.
  13. Knowledge that Litzi had the authority to draw on Philby’s banking account during that period, and did exploit that benefit in Greece and Austria.
  14. Availability of correspondence between Litzi and Philby that confirms a strained relationship.
  15. Litzi’s mother revealing that Philby was contributing to her maintenance, derived from her application to the Aliens’ Tribunal.
  16. Philby’s letter to the Passport Office of 26 September, 1939, requesting permission for Litzi to go to France, which contains a number of falsehoods.
  17. Litzi’s ability to gain permission to go to Paris in December 1939.

While these items are not all equally significant, it is evident that MI5 had been keeping close tabs on Philby and Burgess for many years. (Nigel West, in his history of MI5, states that Milicent Bagot presented the secretly-classified files to Arthur Martin after he returned from Washington with Director-General Sillitoe.) The contents of the dossier suggest, however, that MI5 must have been grossly incompetent in its failure to exploit any of the material. Of course there is another explanation, based on my analysis from last month: in late 1939 MI5 had been advised to put the Philby file into abeyance, since he was about to become a reputable MI6 officer. Nearly all the Philby-related items in the list above antedate 1940. The file had clearly not been destroyed, and, if it was retrievable in 1951, it is presumably in the same state in 2023.

The document titled ‘A Summing-Up After The Cross-Examination’ (undated, but probably not submitted until January 1952) merits broader publication, since it contains, in a structured form, the evolution of Philby’s statements during the interrogation, the counter-arguments shown to refute them, and Philby’s ensuing written and oral replies to them, dated December 28 (see sample above). The tables show the webs that Philby span for himself, and his feeble attempts to explain his lies, in matters such as his associations with Burgess and Maclean, his wife’s excursions, and his acquaintance with Tudor-Hart and Klugmann.

One entry especially caught my eye, since its subject-matter does not appear in either the report or the Appendix. It is Item 4 (displayed in the extract shown above), and relates to Philby’s recruitment by Section D of SIS, a matter about which I have written with keen interest. The text (with redactions) appears as follows:

First Statement: “In June 1940 I was introduced to Section D by XXXXXXX (a phrase of about thirty-five characters).”

Evidence for its rejection: (a) Statements by XXXXXXX (a phrase of about sixty characters) that PHILBY was recruited by BURGESS. (b) Spontaneous remark made by XXXXXXX (twenty characters) showing that she played no part in PHILBY’s recruitment.

Summary of Second Statement: PHILBY repeated the assertion that XXXXXXX (twenty characters) had recruited him until, faced with the evidence, he withdrew to the extent of admitting that he might have mis-interpreted the circumstances.

Summary of Third Statement: PHILBY continued to maintain that he had mis-interpreted the circumstances of his recruitment to S.I.S. but admitted that he knew that BURGESS had often claimed to have introduced him.

References to a woman (Flora Solomon)

This is an intriguing exchange. First of all, Milmo quite blatantly introduces a female into the story, which must surely be Flora Solomon. (One might have expected readers of the report, if they got that far, to raise an eyebrow or two at the involvement of a woman.) Philby’s first statement seems to indicate that he regarded Solomon and Frank Birch as aiding his entry into Section D of MI6, an account that is supported by the evidence from the Solomon file (see last month’s report). This may well have been the strategy agreed between him and Vivian, so that he could be admitted smoothly, and without controversy. The Evidence for the Rejection is flimsy: some other MI6 officer could well have been encouraged to say that Burgess was responsible, and Solomon’s denial might likewise have not been sincere. Philby must have realized that it would not help him to be too obdurate on this point, since it might antagonize any allies he had in MI6, so made a tactical withdrawal. (In his memoir, he suggests that Burgess was indeed behind his recruitment, Burgess invoking the services of a Captain Sheridan at the War Office to set up a staged ‘interview’ with Miss Maxse of MI6.)

Yet I wonder how much of this Milmo understood. The careless reader at the time might have interpreted his script to indicate that Burgess facilitated Philby’s final entry into MI6, when, as I have explained earlier, Section D was untethered from MI6 into SOE, and, after Burgess was sacked, Philby worked for a year under Colin Gubbins in SOE training. He was then re-introduced to MI6 (so he wrote) through his ex-colleague in SOE, Tomás Harris, now working for MI5, who used his connections there with Dick Brooman-White and Dick White to arrange an appointment with Felix Cowgill of Section V of MI6. Cowgill hired Philby late in 1941. That is not the impression that Milmo’s text and chart suggest.

Analysis, Outcomes, and Conclusions

The Interrogation was a failure. The major point of frustration for MI5 was the fact that Philby, despite all the bluster and embarrassment, and the apparent failure of memory, denied everything. Without a confession, no indictment could proceed, since so much of the evidence was circumstantial, and an open trial would simply have been too embarrassing for both intelligence services. Yet the purging carried out through the process of discovery simply revealed more ills.

Th interrogation was moreover not carried out with precision or flair. The whole process was flawed from the start. Milmo was all too rushed. He failed to push home on grounds where he had strong evidence (such as Litzi’s travels), but was confused over many other points (such as the details of the divorce, and the Honigmann business). Milmo stumbled over the vital question of how and when Maclean had been alerted, and thus failed in his given objective.  He painstakingly went through many of the same incriminating events that I listed last month, and rightly drew attention to many troubling facts, such as revealing the inexplicable activities of ‘Lizzy’, and the failure of the couple to get a divorce. He muddled some issues, however, such as the movements by Philby concerning Litzi’s travel in the winter of 1939-1940, and failed to follow up when he had an advantage. 

At times Milmo appeared to be getting close to the nub of the matter, but was prevented, either because of the terms of his brief (which concentrated on the ‘Third Man’ leakages), because he was not given full information, because he was not give enough time, or because he was discouraged from airing certain topics. For instance, he wrote:

            One wonders whether the real reason there were no divorce proceedings prior to 1945 [sic!] was because it was felt that Lizzie’s position as a Communist agent required her to remain the wife of Philby. The suspicion is reinforced when it is known that from 1942 onwards Lizzie was in fact living with the man to whom she is at present married.

Yet this passage is followed by a redacted segment – perhaps too embarrassing. And, Buster, too much use of the passive voice! Too many vaguenesses! And why did he not ask how the Krivitsky disclosures were not followed up, or whether MI5 and MI6 had tried to track and interpret Litzi’s movements in 1937 and 1938? It was clear that the goal of the inquiry was to determine whether Philby had lied, but not to ascertain why his lying had been so imperceptible.

The problem also was that Milmo was not shown the full dossier, nor did he interview any MI6 officers, as he explicitly admitted. Of course, MI6 officers might not have co-operated (Menzies might have excluded them from the inquiry), but that itself would have constituted intelligence. It looks certain (outside the segment frustratingly redacted) that Milmo was not shown the October interview with KASPAR, or the documents from the Honigmann file. What might he have concluded if he had learned that Litzi Philby’s identity had been withheld from MI5 investigative officers, that Litzi was left uninterrogated when her partner debunked to East Berlin, and that Philby and MI6 concocted some obviously phony story about Reuters while declining to admit that Litzi was still Philby’s wife at the time?

In summary, Milmo stumbled over the vital question of how Maclean had been alerted (or even the predecessor question of whether he had really been alerted just before he absconded), and thus failed in his mission. Having established that Burgess had ample opportunity to warn Maclean, weeks before the escape, that the HOMER investigation was closing in on him, Milmo failed to consider that a plan for escape might have been crafted at that time. His report showed an enormous failure of imagination: if Burgess and Maclean had escaped to Moscow (as the multi-departmental team believed), it would have required KGB operatives to have been prepared and organized in Continental Europe to secure a smooth passage. This obvious fact is ignored by those who claim that the escape was planned at the last minute, even by such a careful and close observer as Robert Cecil: Nigel West even suggests that MI5 doctored the records to indicate that the interrogation had been put back three weeks.

The whole exploit would have demanded careful planning, and a sudden change in schedule would not have been accommodatable. For the diplomats to have known what to do when they arrived in St. Malo they must have been informed of what those plans were. It would have been utterly impossible for Philby to have been that medium (despite what Douglas Sutherland claimed). If there had been a late leak of any significance, someone in London (the ‘Fourth Man’) must have been responsible. Yet Milmo never pursued that angle, nor did he analyze closely the role of Burgess as emissary.

Yes, MI5 had nailed an obvious traitor, and it was thus convenient for the authorities to convince themselves that they had discovered who the ‘Third Man’ was, but they had neither been able to dispatch that issue with confidence, nor had they been able to dispose of Philby in a way that could satisfy his defenders and his pursuers. And the haste with which MI5 officers piled on Philby distracted their attention from the villainous Blunt (maybe intentionally). Why did MI5 undertake such a feeble exploit, the holes of which should have been immediately detectable? Probably because they had a known traitor on their hands, and needed to associate him with a semi-plausible example of treachery, while concealing the more dangerous and embarrassing case of the VENONA leakage, since he had been exposed to its revelations. While senior officials and officers in the Foreign Office and MI6 knew all about the VENONA case, the dossier was compiled primarily for the benefit of Eden and Churchill, who were surely not yet aware of the background. Milmo’s report significantly overlooked the VENONA exposure that White had listed.

Moreover, there is no record of the authorities showing any bewilderment at the supine inability of MI5 and MI6 to have detected anything suspicious about Philby’s activities in the years before. At some stage, one would have expected Eden and Churchill to react with amazement at the fact that so much of a nefarious nature had been gleaned about Maclean, Burgess and Philby during their careers, yet nothing was done about it at the time. If any inquest took place at the time, it has not been recorded.

Thus the irony of the interrogation is that the authorities had indeed alighted on the right suspect, but for the wrong event. Philby was in fact the ‘Second Man’ who had in April 1951 (through the KGB) alerted Maclean to the fact that he had been identified as HOMER, a message that would then be reinforced by Burgess in person. The timing of the escape was determined by a coincidental understanding of the date of interrogation that turned out to be wrong. In their desire to incriminate Philby, the authorities grossly misrepresented the final days of the Maclean investigation. When Burgess and Maclean absconded, however, there had been no immediately precedent leak, and thus no ‘Third Man’, only an unacknowledged ‘Fourth Man’ who passed on instructions, namely Blunt. The phenomenon of that phantom Third Man would however come to haunt Britain’s intelligence services, and the Foreign Office, for decades to come, and even spawn the ridiculous search for ‘ELLI’, which consumed so many MI5 man-hours, and cast a long shadow, especially over Roger Hollis.

My inquiry at this stage does not look beyond 1951, but even before the year was out, MI6 started to question the implied guilt of their star officer. The Secret Intelligence Service predictably did not accept the report’s conclusions with any enthusiasm. As Menzies wrote:

            I cannot bring myself to believe that an enemy agent would sit in our midst and fool MI5 and my service for so long a period, unless one accepts the view that his activities were confined to protecting himself.

That statement constitutes a weird kind of reasoning, but would come back to haunt Menzies. MI5 and MI6 were indeed fooled, and MI6 itself encouraged that behaviour.

Liddell himself expressed a bizarre kind of excuse for Philby in his diary entry for December 16, where he wrote that MI5 ‘was pointing out to Menzies that PHILBY’s activities in recent years may have amounted to no more than betrayals in cases where he thought they were necessary to safeguard his own position’. What the master of counter-intelligence meant by that statement is not clear to me. On December 21, he gave the opinion that Milmo had come down too heavily on a ’positive assertion of PHILBY’s guilt’, and suggested that the evidence was ‘no more than a chain of coincidences.’ Some chain. One marvels at Liddell’s naivety.

And so the year ran down. MI5 informed the Americans that Philby was probably a spy, but that MI6 claimed that the accusations were not proven. Bedell Smith of the CIA agreed with this conclusion. Sillitoe prepared to retire, and Liddell hoped to replace him. As West writes: “The PEACH case was quietly consigned to MI5’s top security Y Box Registry”. MI6 hoped that Philby would be forgotten, but their collective stubbornness in trying to reinstate him ended up hurting them.

Yet I must include one important item from 1953. It opens up a completely new field of inquiry, and casts the spotlight acutely back on that unidentified woman in Milmo’s Summary, Flora Solomon, and her lover Dr. Eric Strauss. It appears in one of the Flora Solomon files, KV 2/4633, and concerns testimony from someone called Stevenson, reported here by Graham Mitchell of D Division, on December 28. Part of the heavily redacted text runs as follows:

              . . .  that STRAUSS knows a great deal more about the security suspicions connected with PHILBY, BURGESS and MACLEAN than he has any right to. For example, he recently mentioned  xxxxxxxxxxxxxx that he knows that there was a damning incident in Kim’s past relating to Turkey. Xxxxxxxxx assumes that STRAUSS gets his information on these matters from Flora Solomon, who in turn gets it from Aileen. . .

Flora Solomon demands further investigation. The saga continues . . .


The disappearance of Burgess and Maclean required a convenient scapegoat, and for obvious reasons Philby – already under suspicion – was selected. Yet Dick White and Stewart Menzies knew that the unveiling of Philby would stir a hornets’ nest of unpalatable facts. The oversights and omissions undertaken over the career of Philby were much worse than those associated with Burgess and Maclean. In its joint investigation, MI5 and MI6 had the impossible task of satisfying multiple constituencies: their political masters, who wanted quick justice; the hawkish Americans, who wanted the stables to be cleaned; the old guard defenders of Philby in MI6, who found the whole process reprehensible; the lower-grade officers in MI5 who did not understand the indulgences shown by their leaders. Yet any truths that came out would incriminate MI5 and MI6 as much as Philby. Philby in turn called their bluff, since he knew that they had done a deal with the devil. White and Menzies could rely on Philby’s silence because of the bigamy charge, but they could not protect themselves and their successors forever from the accusations of Soviet defectors, the leaked hints from disaffected insiders, and the inquisitiveness of investigative journalists.

In his biography of Menzies, Anthony Cave Brown quotes Anthony Montague Browne, Churchill’s private secretary from 1952 until 1965 as saying: “There is one secret left in the Philby case, and that I may not discuss.” Cave Brown goes on to speculate that it might be that Philby was used as some kind of ‘double agent’ to transmit disinformation to the Soviets. I have written before that I consider that idea absurd: how would his manipulators know that Philby was not indicating that he was supplying false information? It is far more likely that the secret was to do with his hoodwinking of MI6 at the end of 1939, and the circumstances of his bigamous marriage in September 1946.

(This month’s Commonplace entries can be seen here.)


Filed under Espionage/Intelligence, General History, Management/Leadership, Politics

Special Bulletin: Patrick Marnham Responds to Robert Lyman

Three months ago, the Editor of The Journal of Intelligence and National Security, Mark Pythian, informed me (see that he was aware ‘that there is some debate and disagreement among historians’ on the question of the demise of the PROSPER network. Not knowing where such a debate was taking place, and, indeed, inferring from some of the statements made by such as Mark Seaman, the so-called ‘SOE historian’, that he judged that the matter had been satisfactorily closed, I solemnly inquired of Pythian: “Could you perhaps inform us [Patrick Marnham and me] which qualified and independent historians are involved in this debate, and where their arguments appear?”

Professor Pythian did not respond to my inquiry. And now, since a new contributor to the study of Henri Déricourt and the PROSPER network, Dr. Robert Lyman, has emerged, introducing some very provocative statements about the topic, I am happy to open the pages of coldspur to an inspection of Lyman’s claims. He has recently issued two bulletins concerning his research into Déricourt. I was mildly interested by the first, although I regarded its arguments with scepticism, but the second I found ill-mannered and arrogant, consisting largely of a reckless assault on Patrick Marnham, and his carefully compiled book on the collapse of the PROSPER network, War in the Shadows. I immediately sent an email to Lyman, expressing my dismay at what I considered a very unprofessional piece. He acknowledged what I wrote, but did not want to discuss it.

On reflection, it occurred to me that Mr. Marnham might want to respond to this undisciplined sally, and he was gratifyingly keen to accept my offer to post a response via coldspur. This Special Bulletin is thus dedicated to reproducing the text of Lyman’s second communiqué, followed by Marnham’s detailed response to several inflammatory or simply incorrect statements that appeared in Lyman’s reports. (For those of you not familiar with all of Mr. Marnham’s publications, I note here that his book, The Private Eye Story: the First Twenty-One Years, appeared in 1982.)

I defer to Marnham, and his eloquent and incisive response, for a thorough dismantling of Lyman’s pieces, but also take some space to record a few of my personal reactions to what Lyman wrote. First, I judged his approach to the research project utterly inappropriate. I found the pompous reference to his ‘Déricourt journey’ when he ‘hoped that the ahistoricisms of the conspiracists would in time die a natural death’ highly self-incriminating. It showed that he had effectively made his mind up before he started his research. In my view, he needs to be strongly criticised for this lack of scholarly curiosity and sense of objective inquiry. Second, Lyman appears to be mightily confused over many matters, but especially those of ‘double agents’, and the events of 1943.

In his first piece, Lyman wrote: “It was clear during the war that Henri Déricourt was a double agent . . .”  Apart from the vagueness and easy refutability of such an absurd statement (clear to whom? – if so, he should have been shot as a traitor), Lyman in the second piece contradicts himself by writing: “The fact that Déricourt was known by some in SOE to have had contacts with the Germans was used as the extrapolated and exaggerated basis for suggesting that he must therefore have been a double-agent, working for the British while pretending also to work for the Germans.” As coldspur readers will know (see, the question of ‘double agents’ is a very complex one. Despite my invitation to Lyman several weeks ago to read (and discuss) my piece, he appears not to have done so, and continues to show his misunderstanding of these matters.

Lyman’s historical knowledge is also defective. He confuses the events of the summer of 1943 with the D-Day landings of June 1944, and poses the question: “Why would Britain go to all the effort to set Europe ablaze only to nefariously put out this fire by handing these nascent networks in France to the Gestapo?” But that is the wrong question. As I have explained before, the appropriate question would be: “Why would the PROSPER network have been encouraged to prepare for guerrilla activity to support an imminent landing when the Chiefs of Staff had recently forbidden the French Resistance to engage in any sabotage or paramilitary action?”

I leave readers to judge for themselves the wisdom of Lyman’s observations, and hope that you enjoy Patrick Marnham’s patient and careful response. I reproduce first the text of Lyman’s second bulletin, melodramatically titled ‘The Origins of the Prosper/Déricourt Conspiracy and the Death of Truth’.

Robert Lyman’s Second Bulletin

As many of you will know, I have embarked on my account of the traitor in SOE, Henri Déricourt. How much of a traitor I will reveal in due course, but suffice it to say he is not the smoking gun of Allied deception as some have and continue to claim. Nor was he responsible for the tragic fall of Francis Sutthill’s Physician reseau in June 1943. The fall of Prosper (Sutthill’s code name) is a tragic story, but Déricourt’s role in it was largely incidental. The story of Déricourt himself is, I believe, one that is simply told. It is one of human frailty and, above all, material greed. From a humble, even socially humiliated background, Déricourt was a man desperate to secure the material guarantors of respectability and build a life cushioned from the embarrassment of being a person of no consequence. Money lay at the heart of everything he did, as was a desire to be liked, to be respected, to be admired. My view – (though there is much more to come) – is that Déricourt was un espion très ordinaire, perhaps even just un petit espion. There is simply no evidence, circumstantial or factual, to suggest otherwise.

Yet over the years the maggots have crawled over the carcase of SOE, building a series of fanciful foundations for a building in which the role of Déricourt is made out to be a puppet in the evil hands of the deep British state. These buildings inevitably fall over in a moderate wind, though it is remarkable how many continue to be built, most by journalists, TV presenters or superannuated researchers for Private Eye. My book will, I hope, be one of those moderate winds, toppling the towers of Babel that the ignorant have and continue, sadly, to create. (Incidentally, as one who has worked in and for the British government, I always laugh at the notion of a ‘deep state’, one so secret that only a small cabal of evil genius’ – inevitably members of Boodles or Whites – pull the puppeteer’s strings. Anyone who has done likewise realises with a shock at an early stage in their career just how shallow this supposedly ‘deep state’ really is.)

Jean Overton Fuller, who spent much of her life fishing for answers in the sea that is the murky history of SOE, traced the origins of the conspiracists to the American journalist Anthony Cave Brown, who was notorious in historical circles for simply making things up. In Bodyguard of Lies, published in 1976, he posited the notion that Prosper had been deliberately fed information about deception measures about the forthcoming invasion of France. Somehow, though the logic of his thinking entirely evades me, members of the resistance would be fed information about the timing and location of the invasion that they would then feed, under torture, to their German captors. Parts of the resistance would thus be deliberately ‘burned’ (brûlée) by double-agents like Henri Déricourt, who in the uncritical imaginings of this argument, must surely have been employed by SIS, to ensure that the Germans would receive this important but false intelligence. Cave Brown never examined the illogicality of this argument. Why would Britain go to all the effort to set Europe ablaze only to nefariously put out this fire by handing these nascent networks in France to the Gestapo? The argument depended on the reality that in London someone believed the resistance to be so expendable that it could be deliberately expended for ‘the greater good.’ This, even to Cave Brown, would have been unbelievable were it not the work of the very highest person in the land, Winston Churchill himself.

Likewise, to believe this one needs also to believe in the malicious cynicism of some people in London who were (bizarrely) happy to aid and abet Gestapo terror. Indeed, the idea that agents of SOE would be deliberately and secretly given information about the greatest secret in London – that of the date and location of D-Day – in the hope that they would then blurt this information to their captors as their fingernails were being extracted, is – let’s call it for what it is – patently stupid. Likewise, the idea that MI6 would be allowed deliberately to set up parts of SOE for burning is equally fantastical. Yet this is what some people, prompted originally by Cave Brown and fed by others after him, seem to want to believe. Incidentally, there is a very well evidenced psychopathology of conspiracy, in which people want to believe in the existence of the puppeteers and their strings, and to build imaginary worlds in which these evil monsters prey on the rest of us. It seems to me to be the responsibility of sensible historians – and I include myself in this number – to do our best to bring these crazy structures crashing to the ground.

Cave Brown was followed by Larry Collins in 1982, with a novel called Fall from Grace in which – in his footnotes – he deliberately blamed Churchill for using Prosper to sow disinformation and, ultimately, to kill lots of brave Frenchmen. This is an obvious lie, as it hangs on a supposed meeting between Sutthill and Churchill. It is one, however, that people seem keen to believe.

Before long the BBC jumped on the bandwagon with a particularly ignorant analysis of Physician in a Timewatch programme in 1986 in which Déricourt was presented without any argument as an SIS spy. The fact that Déricourt was known by some in SOE to have had contacts with the Germans was used as the extrapolated and exaggerated basis for suggesting that he must therefore have been a double-agent, working for the British while pretending also to work for the Germans. The very idea of a double-agent made it very easy for people to make two plus two equal conspiracy and suggest that it was the obvious route by which those SOE agents with the carefully inserted bacillus were identified by the Abwehr and/or Gestapo and burned by the agent working for SIS. Déricourt thus became the puppet on SIS’s string. It was easy, thereafter, to identify the puppeteer. Find a person whom many people disliked within SIS and hey presto, this man, Claude Dansey, fitted the bill perfectly and a myth was created. Dansey and MI6 had suddenly become the evil genius’s of the British deep state that had attempted to burn Prosper and Physician as a means of infiltrating disinformation into German hands. As an aside, all the conspiracists have another weapon in their armoury. This is the accusation that the ‘deep State’ continues to withhold in the ‘SIS archives’ the real secrets of its perfidy.

Except that none of it, as rational people can see, is true. The supposedly logical steps that link these facts only existed in the imaginations of Cave Brown, Larry Collins and the BBC Timewatch team. They were speculations, and ill-founded ones at that. This didn’t stop one producer of the Timewatch team, Robert Marshall, from publishing All The King’s Men in 1988, which made up the calumny that Déricourt was an MI6 agent specifically directed to contact the Gestapo and to ‘burn’ Prosper. As Jean Overton Fuller asserts, and I agree, this was a deliberate libel of ‘three men, all of them dead: Churchill, Dansey and Déricourt.’ In 1992 a further book appeared by an ex-SOE agent Bob Maloubier, published only in France, written in collaboration with the novelist Jean de Larteguy. The same inflated charges were made, in which Déricourt and Churchill were presented as agents, literally, of the devil. Its excited claims make this supposed book of history yet another example of a fictional genre.

When I started out on my own Déricourt journey in 2012 I had rather hoped that the ahistoricisms of the conspiracists would in time die a natural death. In this I was naïve, for in 2021 Patrick Marnham produced War in the Shadows, which added a new spin to this stale story by alleging a link between the arrest of Prosper and that of Jean Moulin. Both men were arrested on 21 July 1943. I find this argument the least convincing of all, for Marnham is the epitome of the deep state conspiracist, alleging all sorts of imaginary policies and relationships on the basis of excited speculation. I too have been through the Déricourt files and simply don’t accept the speculative interpretation he places on a couple of the files and which form the basis of his proposition regarding Déricourt.

My book will be no where as exciting as the semi-fictional accounts presented by Cave Brown, Collins, Maloubier and Marnham, but the facts need to have their say. I hope that mine will do just that. The dead of SOE deserve nothing less.

Patrick Marnham’s Response

In two recent website posts a historian based in Oxford, Robert Lyman, has announced that he is writing a book about Henri Déricourt, the French pilot trained by SOE in 1942 to work in France as an air movements officer. Déricourt was also a paid agent of the Paris Gestapo. In both articles Lyman refers to my book War in the Shadows in which I told the story of the downfall of the SOE network ‘Physician’ (better known as PROSPER after the codename of its commander Francis Suttill).  At the time of its downfall in June 1943 PROSPER was SOE’s largest network in Occupied France.

The conclusion I reached in that book, after many years of research in British and French archives, was that the loss of PROSPER was connected to a deception operation run by British Intelligence codenamed ‘Starkey’, and that Déricourt’s activities on behalf of the Gestapo were known to British Intelligence which had continued to employ him in that deception operation as a ‘double’ agent. In the book I produced documentary evidence that showed, for the first time, a direct connection between the traitor/double agent Déricourt and Claude Dansey, the executive head of MI6, who was one of those directing ‘Starkey’. 

Lyman’s reasons for writing about Déricourt are unclear.  Is he setting out on an open-minded enquiry into the fate of PROSPER?  Or is he simply intending to bolster the longstanding official version of PROSPER’s failure?  – i.e. that it was not connected to a British Intelligence operation but was chiefly due to German police work and the incompetence of Francis Suttill and his colleagues.  I ask the question because Lyman’s chief interest in both papers appears to be discrediting my arguments through misrepresentation and occasional abuse. 

Defending the official version of history is a perfectly reasonable position, although a rather slim basis for a new book.  But in neither of his initial articles does Lyman produce any fresh evidence.  Nor does he attempt to fill any of the gaping holes in the official account. His research is clearly incomplete, because he makes no mention of any of the French archives or authorities.  Yet even before he has completed his research he announces where it will lead him.

Lyman’s criticisms are imprecise and confused. He frequently refers to several earlier books that queried the official account but then muddles up the conclusions reached, over a period of 30 years, by their several authors.  He next attributes conclusions found in their work to mine.  Although his first paper was brief, he found room in it for several factual errors.  Since Lyman fails to publish any new evidence one is left with nothing to dispute. 

In his second article he abandons any pretence of objectivity and digs himself into several deep holes.   

Lyman’s second article     (His words in ITALICS, my response in BOLD).

As many of you will know, I have embarked on my account of the traitor in SOE, Henri Déricourt. How much of a traitor I will reveal in due course, but suffice it to say he is not the smoking gun of Allied deception as some have and continue to claim. Nor was he responsible for the tragic fall of Francis Sutthill’s Physician reseau in June 1943.

The enquiry is into the reasons for the arrest of Major Francis Suttill. Suttill’s name is misspelt, throughout this paper.

The fall of Prosper (Sutthill’s code name) is a tragic story, but Déricourt’s role in it was largely incidental.

Déricourt was not responsible for the arrests of 21-23 June, and I have never suggested that he was.  But his role in ‘PROSPER’s destruction was clearly more than ‘incidental’ since he had been arranging for the Gestapo to observe SOE landing operations, and track the incoming agents, for months.  Furthermore he had been showing SOE agents’ correspondence to Boemelburg at Gestapo HQ in Paris.  This helped the Gestapo to convince Gilbert Norman and ‘Prosper’ – and several other captured agents – that there was a German spy in Baker St. And this made stubborn resistance to interrogation appear to be pointless. In consequence, the arrest of five SOE agents was followed by the identification of hundreds of French resisters.

The story of Déricourt himself is, I believe, one that is simply told. It is one of human frailty and, above all, material greed… There is simply no evidence, circumstantial or factual, to suggest otherwise.  Yet over the years the maggots have crawled over the carcase of SOE…

The ‘maggots’ in this remarkably silly reference are various historians Lyman sets out to discredit – notably Anthony Cave Brown, Robert Marshall and myself.  He does not mention any of the leading French authorities with their contrasting views, such as Azema, Wauquiez, Michel, Noguères, Douzou, Bedarida, Guillaume, Dreyfus, Aron, etc.  He makes no reference to the records in the Archives nationales, the Service historique de la défense or the numerous national and departmental archives available in France.  Nor does he refer to the published work of Resistance and Gaullist veterans such as Cordier, Aubrac, Frenay, Passy, Cremieux-Brilhac and so on. The consensus over the years among many French historians is that the destruction of PROSPER was collateral damage in a British deception operation.

… Yet over the years the maggots have crawled over the carcase of SOE, building a series of fanciful foundations for a building in which the role of Déricourt is made out to be a puppet in the evil hands of the deep British state.

‘Maggots’ are apparently erecting ‘a building’ which turns out to be ‘a puppet’ (?) There is a good rule about writing.  If you are not writing clearly it is probably because you are not thinking clearly.

… a puppet in the evil hands of the deep British state.

This is a clumsy attempt to associate War in the Shadows with the current plague of ‘false news’.  I have absolutely no interest in, and have never theorised about, a peacetime ‘deep British state’.  The evidence of complex depths in the structures of wartime intelligence has emerged slowly over the last 75 years from the work of reputable historians such as Morgan, Masterman, Howard, Hesketh, Bennett, Holt, Mackenzie, Jeffery – and so on.  After the war everything possible was done by the British intelligence agencies to conceal the existence of this wartime structure for predictable and responsible reasons of peacetime policy.

These buildings [we are back with Lyman’s ‘maggots’– see above] inevitably fall over in a moderate wind, though it is remarkable how many continue to be built, most by journalists, TV presenters or superannuated researchers for Private Eye.

Oh dear me… Journalists in the archives!!  Whatever next? Superannuated infantry officers?

The American journalist Anthony Cave Brown… was notorious in historical circles for simply making things up.

Anthony Cave Brown was not American.  He was an experienced British newspaper reporter who counted Philby, Boris Pasternak and Vivian Fuchs among his contacts and covered the Hungarian uprising, as well as wars in Algeria and Vietnam.  After retiring from journalism he carried out a prodigious amount of original research, mostly in US archives, into WWII intelligence matters.  Unfortunately he tended to publish far too much of his raw material.  He was actually better known for exaggerating his conclusions rather than ‘making things up’. Not used by me as a source, except for one brief reference to his interview with the wartime chief of MI6/SIS.  Cave Brown’s book had absolutely no connection with my conclusions.  Where possible I restricted use of Cave Brown, Robert Marshall and JO Fuller to information that could be corroborated from another source.  Lyman fails to mention that, apart from being unevenly reliable, Cave Brown was the first writer to reveal the existence of Operation Starkey. Robert Marshall built on his work by conducting invaluable interviews with wartime intelligence veterans.

In Bodyguard of Lies, published in 1976, Anthony Cave Brown posited the notion that Prosper had been deliberately fed information about deception measures about the forthcoming invasion of France…

I have never suggested that agents were fed false information about D-Day in 1944 since I was concerned with the summer of 1943.   For my explanation of the false info’ that agents were fed during Operation Starkey in 1943 see War in the Shadows, in particular Chapter Seven and pp. 108-113 and 288-290).

The argument depended on the reality that in London someone believed the resistance to be so expendable that it could be deliberately expended for ‘the greater good.’

No. The loss in June 1943 of one SOE network that had already been penetrated by the Paris Gestapo, via Déricourt, did not equate to the destruction of the French Resistance.

…The idea that agents of SOE would be deliberately and secretly given information about the greatest secret in London – that of the date and location of D-Day – in the hope that they would then blurt this information to their captors as their fingernails were being extracted, is – let’s call it for what it is – patently stupid.

Once again, we are in June 1943.  Operation Starkey had nothing to do with D-Day. What ispatently stupid’ is to attack a book – War in the Shadows repeatedly, for material that it does not contain.  Those who were fed false information in the early summer of 1943 about the likelihood of early landings in France included the head of ‘F’ section SOE, Maurice Buckmaster, and the SOE agents Francis Suttill, France Antelme and Claude de Baissac, as well as the political and military leaders of the French Resistance, Jean Moulin and Charles Delestraint.

Likewise, the idea that MI6 would be allowed deliberately to set up parts of SOE for burning is equally fantastical. Yet this is what some people, prompted originally by Cave Brown and fed by others after him, seem to want to believe.

In War in the Shadows there is no question of ‘deliberately setting up parts of SOE’. The deputy head of SOE, and several other senior intelligence officers were among the ‘some people’ who were informed, early in the summer of 1943, that a decision had been taken to ‘make use’ of the discovery that PROSPER had been infiltrated by German intelligence.

Incidentally, there is a very well evidenced psychopathology of conspiracy, in which people want to believe in the existence of the puppeteers and their strings, and to build imaginary worlds in which these evil monsters prey on the rest of us.

Of course there were wartime intelligence ‘conspiracies’.  The repetition of Foot’s original glib dismissal is usually evidence of lazy, convenient and/or officially directed research. The real reason why the official account continues to be queried is because it is so implausible.  It has nothing to do with ‘psychopathology’ – (another discipline in which Lyman may not be entirely reliable).

It seems to me to be the responsibility of sensible historians – and I include myself in this number– to do our best to bring these crazy structures crashing to the ground.  Cave Brown was followed by Larry Collins in 1982, with a novel called ‘Fall from Grace’ in which – in his footnotes – he deliberately blamed Churchill for using Prosper to sow disinformation and, ultimately, to kill lots of brave Frenchmen. This is an obvious lie…,

No.  It’s not.  Larry Collins was a novelist. It’s a novelist’s invention.  Novelists tend to do that.  It’s their job.  I have never read this novel which is totally irrelevant to my own research.

… This is an obvious lie, as it hangs on a supposed meeting between Sutthill and Churchill. It is one, however, that people seem keen to believe.

The groundwork for this ‘imaginary’ meeting between Churchill and Suttill was not laid by a novelist but by Professor MRD Foot, who in 1966 published the wrong date for ‘Prosper’s return to France (SOE in France, pp. 308-9) and did nothing to correct it until 2004.  [See War in the Shadows p. 245, and Antony Percy in Coldspur, 30 January 2023, 31 August 2022, passim].  Incidentally, Lyman does not seem to know that Professor Foot was among those prepared to believe that Churchill did sometimes summon SOE agents to his office in order to deceive them. (see Foot SOE: 1940-46 p.43, and War in the Shadows p. 245).

The fact that Déricourt was known by some in SOE to have had contacts with the Germans was used as the extrapolated and exaggerated basis for suggesting that he must therefore have been a double-agent… The very idea of a double-agent made it very easy for people to make two plus two equal conspiracy… Déricourt thus became the puppet on SIS’s string. It was easy, thereafter, to identify the puppeteer. Find a person whom many people disliked within SIS and hey presto, this man, Claude Dansey, fitted the bill perfectly and a myth was created.

To return to the facts: the sheer nastiness of Claude Dansey is hardly ‘mythical’ and has been vividly described by several of his colleagues. And in War in the Shadows I established both Dansey’s involvement in Operation Starkey and I published for the first time the evidence of his direct interest in the operational activities of Déricourt.

As an aside, all the conspiracists have another weapon in their armoury. This is the accusation that the ‘deep State’ continues to withhold in the ‘SIS archives’ the real secrets of its perfidy. 

And what would Lyman know about SIS/MI6 archives?  Is he in the privileged position of reading them? Or has he been given ‘assurances’ – such as Leo Marks was given before his SOE coding records were destroyed by MI6?  EVERY SIS FILE IN THE SOE ARCHIVE HAS BEEN REDACTED.  Professor Foot (in 1966) said that he was not allowed to consult SIS records, and his research into SOE was closely monitored by an SIS officer. Professor Howard (in 1990) said that he had seen a large amount of information about deception operations which would never, to his regret, be published. TA Robertson – who ran the XX Committee’s deception agents during the war – noted in Déricourt’s security file that he held ‘valuable information’ about Déricourt that would ‘greatly supplement what appears on our files’ (War in the Shadows, p.284). For an intelligence historian Lyman seems to be remarkably incurious.

When I started out on my own Déricourt journey in 2012 I had rather hoped that the ahistoricisms of the conspiracists would in time die a natural death. In this I was naïve, for in 2021 Patrick Marnham produced ‘War in the Shadows’, which added a new spin to this stale story by alleging a link between the arrest of Prosper and that of Jean Moulin. Both men were arrested on 21 July 1943. I find this argument the least convincing of all, for Marnham is the epitome of the deep state conspiracist, alleging all sorts of imaginary policies and relationships on the basis of excited speculation.

It is Lyman who seems to be getting excited. (In his first letter he described me as ‘a great writer and a fabulous researcher’.  Subsequently, I apparently went off my trolley). My arguments are not ‘imaginary’ but are based on interviews with French Resistance veterans, the records of the post-war treason trials in Paris, the depositions of captured SS officers who had worked with Karl Boemelburg and the full transcript of an interrogation of two of the principal characters in the story by six French historians. 

I too have been through the Déricourt files and simply don’t accept the speculative interpretation he places on a couple of the files and which form the basis of his proposition regarding Déricourt.

For Lyman’s information, my conclusions are not ‘based on a couple of’ the Déricourt files in the National Archives at Kew.  They are developed over the length of the book. Research started in the Diocesan Archives in Lyons in 1985 and continued, on and off, over the next 35 years in England and France.  It has led to two books, so far.  The source notes include identified documentary references drawn from five official archives in three countries, with additional information from both Nazi and Soviet records.  The bibliography and notes run to 26 pages, and my research was highly commended by an Oxford University historian considerably more distinguished than Lyman – who described it as an entry ticket ‘for ‘the Oxford History Faculty’.  

My book will be no where [sic] as exciting as the semi-fictional accounts presented by Cave Brown, Collins and Marnham…

When Lyman has actually published a book on this subject and produced the evidence which has so far evaded him it may be possible to have a debate. Until then I hope he will understand if I regard his reflections as ill-informed bluster rather than research.

… The facts need to have their say. I hope that mine will do just that. The dead of SOE deserve nothing less.  

This mawkish reference to ‘the dead of SOE’, is little to Lyman’s credit.  I have at least as much respect as he claims for the men and women who survived, or died in, that war. I certainly knew hundreds more wartime survivors than Lyman has ever met. Their courage and self-sacrifice gave my generation a lifetime of peace.  The study of history depends on discussion, disagreement and revision, not unsourced assertions and personal abuse. The task of all ‘sensible’ historians – 80 years after the death of those gallant men and women – is to respect them sufficiently to continue enquiring into how and why they died.

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Filed under Espionage/Intelligence, General History, Management/Leadership, Politics

Kim Philby: ‘Always Working for SIS’?

Kim Philby denying he was the ‘Third Man’



Philby’s Personal File?

Early Recruitment by MI6?

The Internment of Harry Philby

Edith Tudor-Hart‘s Files


A Theory

Litzy Feabre

Interest in the Honigmanns

Summary and Conclusions


*          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *


In last month’s report, I investigated how it was that the NKVD risked using Litzi Philby so energetically in espionage activities without appearing to consider that such a strategy might jeopardize the cover of her husband. I concluded that, for almost all the time that she was resident in England and France (1934-1946), she was considered a far more important asset than Kim. In this bulletin, I address the first of the two questions left over from that report, namely:

  • Why were Philby’s connections with Litzi and her communist associates not picked up and taken seriously by British intelligence?

My exploration of this topic, which unearthed some startling facts, led me to some fresh conclusions, and provoked me to raise another question worthy of attention:

  • How did MI5 and MI6 process the evidence of Philby’s treachery when he came under direct suspicion in June 1951?

Owing to the amount of detail in the exegesis of the first topic, I shall have to defer analysis of this subsidiary question until next month. I shall also have to hold over once more the third question: ‘What was Philby up to in Europe in 1945?’, and address it later. I shall also cover then the Sun Engraving Company, which Edith Tudor-Hart rather clumsily engaged for propaganda purposes.

I start by cataloguing all the events that could have led to, or contributed to, Philby’s exposure, from the time that he attended Trinity College, Cambridge up to his interviews and interrogation in 1951. I exclude from this list the highly important and very visible project that Philby took on to help the socialists being oppressed in Vienna in 1933, simply because it was so public and obvious. In itself, it might have been explained away as an impulsive action of exuberant youthfulness, yet it was complicated by ancillary activities that should have provoked – and eventually did trigger – severe warning signals about the nature of Philby’s true allegiances. Not all these events were internalized or recorded at the time. Some were noted by observers, but their significance was not recognized until much later.

  1. Treasuryship of the Cambridge University Socialist Club (1932): Philby had joined the Club in 1931. His tutor, Maurice Dobb had founded it, and it was as much the symbolism of Philby’s membership of an extreme left-wing group, as the intimacy with other firebrands, such as the openly Communist James Klugman, that could have incriminated him.
  2. Visiting the Soviet Embassy in Vienna (1933): E. H. Cookridge claimed that Philby had told him that he had made contact with two officials at the Soviet embassy, Vorobyev and Antonov-Ovseyenko, both of whom were NKVD agents. Cookridge apparently did not reveal this fact until he published The Third Man in 1968.
  3. Marriage to Litzi Friedmann (1934): Philby’s decision to marry Litzi, even out of sympathy with her plight, constituted an unnecessary step in his commitment to the Soviet cause. And his failure to disentangle himself quickly from the union would bedevil him for over a decade.
  4. Application to Join (Indian) Civil Service (1934): Philby’s application required references, and he sought out two Cambridge dons, both named Robertson. They drew attention to his unsuitable ‘sense of political injustice’, so he apparently withdrew his application.
  5. Association with Edith Tudor-Hart (1934): Litzi introduced her husband to Tudor-Hart, who was being watched by Special Branch as a communist subversive.
  6. Incomplete Separation from Litzi (1935): When Philby started to express to Jim Lees his rejection of Communism, his sympathy for the Germans and his need to jettison Litzi, he nevertheless failed to cut off contacts with her, or initiate divorce proceedings. (Source: Lees’s correspondence with Seale and McConville.)
  7. Litzi’s travel around Europe (1934-1938): Philby’s interrogator of 1951, Helenus Milmo, revealed that MI5 had tracked Litzi’s movements during this period very closely, although it is not clear whether these were recorded at the time, or harvested later.
  8. Sudden Switch to Fascism (1936): Philby’s joining the Anglo-German Fellowship was a sudden and surprising volte-face for someone of avowed communist leanings. This move would later be questioned by Archer, Martin and Bagot when Philby was being considered as a possible future chief of MI6.
  9. Invitation to Flora Solomon (1937): Philby revealed to Flora Solomon that he ‘was doing important work for peace’, and invited her to join him. She declined.
  10. Funding for Spain Venture (1937): Philby could not have afforded the expenses of living as a free-lance reporter in Spain. He later lied about the source of funds to his interrogators.
  11. Assurance to Erik Gedye (1937): From Spain, Philby sent a message to his friend Eric Gedye to re-assure him that his leftist allegiances had not changed. Gedye apparently revealed this fact to Seale & McConville only after Philby’s escape.
  12. Litzi’s Drawing on Philby’s Bank Account (1937): Milmo wrote that Litzi had no money to support her travels, and was using her husband’s bank account to the tune of £40 per month.
  13. Interrogation of Tudor-Hart over Camera (1938): In 1938 receipts for a Leica camera used by the Percy Glading group to photograph documents stolen from Woolwich Arsenal were made out to Edith Tudor-Hart. This showed that the Austrian Communist cell was not a purely intellectual group, and Philby could have been linked through Litzi to its felonious activity.
  14. Introduction to Aileen Furse & Cohabitation (1939-1940): Flora Solomon introduced Philby to Aileen Furse on September 4, 1939, the day after war was declared. They met again, and Aileen and Kim decided to cohabit, when Philby returned from France. Since Philby declined to divorce Litzi, Aileen changed her name by deed poll. Aileen would later suspect that Philby was a Soviet spy.
  15. Litzi’s Mother’s Request on Internment (1939): Milmo’s report indicates that Litzi’s mother (recently extracted from Vienna), in an application to relieve internment restrictions, pointed out that Philby was paying £12 a month towards her (presumably the mother’s) maintenance.
  16. Litzi’s Permission to Go to France (1939): Milmo reported that Philby had requested permission for Litzi to return to France on September 26, as if she had been stranded in the UK when war broke out.
  17. Vetting Form for MI6 (1939): An MI6 Vetting form for Philby was recorded in his father’s Personal File, dated September 27, 1939. This probably resulted from a meeting Philby had with Frank Birch, who had just re-joined GC&CS. Any job application might consequently have drawn attention to his dubious career, and his statements to Flora Solomon. It alternatively may have been related to the initiative from Michael Stewart to have Philby recruited. Further notes indicate correspondence concerning ‘G. Egge’ and Litzi Philby.
  18. Litzi’s Permission to Return to UK (1940): The Personal File on Philby’s father indicates that a Form of Interrogation, after intervention by the PS (Private Secretary) to the Secretary of State on December 8, 1939, was sent to Newhaven for the purpose of cross-examining Litzi on her arrival from France in early January. Philby admitted that he had applied to the authorities to facilitate her return (but omitted to mention the earlier request to allow Litzi to passage to France).
  19. Evidence from Krivitsky (1940): During his interrogation in London, the GRU defector Walter Krivitsky told Jane Archer that the NKVD had deployed to Spain ‘a young Englishman, a journalist of good family, an idealist and fanatical anti-Nazi’.  This lead was not followed up.
  20. Residing with Aileen Furse and Burgess at Flora Solomon’s (1940): Philby unwisely advertised his association with Burgess by inviting him to join him and Aileen at Flora Solomon’s residence.
  21. Interview for position in Section D (1940): According to Cave-Brown, in June, Vivian interviewed Philby for a position in the sabotage unit Section D, before it was taken away from MI6 and incorporated into SOE (in August).
  22. Deceit on SOE paperwork (1940):  Philby lied about his marriage when entering SOE (Cave-Brown).
  23. MI6 recruitment & Vetting (1941): After a recommendation from Tomás Harris, Philby was approved for a position in MI6’s Section V. Valentine Vivian believed his name may have come from a pool of potential recruits: his process of vetting was to have lunch with Philby’s father.
  24. Deceit on MI6 Paperwork (1941): Philby lied about his marital status when completing MI6 entry paperwork.
  25. Litzi’s Wartime Associations (1940-1945): Litzi mixed regularly with Tudor-Hart’s circle of Austrian Communist refugees.
  26. Litzi at Bentinck Street & the Courtauld (1941-44): Litzi met Blunt and Burgess at Victor Rothschild’s House at 5 Bentinck Street, and also visited Blunt at the Courtauld Institute.
  27. Litzi’s Job Application (1943): Litzi applied for a government job, and used her husband’s name as a reference. Taken aback, Philby declared that his ‘first wife’ was ‘OK’.
  28. Leakage of Intelligence (1944 & 1945): Maurice Oldfield, then working for SIME in Cairo, believed that Philby might have been involved in leaking information about the defection of the Vermehrens, and the arrest of the head of the LUCY network, Sando Rado. (source: Richard Deacon)
  29. Stalin’s Challenge (1945): Stalin hinted strongly that he had received intelligence about US/GB-Germany negotiations for peace that took place in Bern, Switzerland.
  30. Gouzenko’s Revelations (1945): In Ottawa, the GRU defecting cipher-clerk Igor Gouzenko described a Soviet agent in British counter-espionage.
  31. Volkov Incident (1945): The would-be defector Konstantin Volkov contacted the British in Istanbul, offering to hand over a list of agents in Counter-Intelligence and in the Foreign Office, including the head of a Counter-Intelligence Department. Philby engineered his own role in travelling to Istanbul to investigate. Volkov was extracted by the Soviets, and killed.
  32. Evasion on MI5 Questions concerning Litzi Honigmann (1946): When MI5 officers sought information from MI6 about the Honigmanns in East Berlin, Philby concealed the fact that Mrs Honigmann had been his wife.
  33.  Guy Liddell’s Suspicions (1947):  Liddell told MI6 officer Eric Roberts that he believed that MI6 may have been penetrated by the Soviets.
  34.   East European Failures (1946-1949): Several MI6/CIA exploits in Eastern Europe failed, most spectacularly the project to insert insurrectionists in Albania. Philby played a part in these disasters.
  35. Change to Soviet Cyphers (1949): Three months after Philby was indoctrinated into VENONA, Moscow changed its encryption methods, thus closing off further traffic to analysis by US/GB. (William Weisband was later judged to have been responsible for the leak.)
  36.  Burgess Cohabitation in Washington (1950): When Guy Burgess was posted to Washington in 1950, Philby agreed to take him under his wing, and they shared accommodation.
  37.  Attempted Distancing from Maclean (1950): In Washington, Philby dissembled over his acquaintance and familiarity with Donald Maclean.
  38. Martin/Archer Report (1950): A report commissioned by Menzies and Vivian from MI5 (Archer and Martin) drew attention to Philby’s sudden conversion to fascism in the mid-1930s.
  39.  Tudor-Hart Photograph of Philby (1951): Tudor-Hart was worried about negatives of photographs of Philby that she had kept.
  40.   Kollek in Washington (1951): Teddy Kollek, who knew of Philby’s role and associations from Vienna, and had attended his wedding, warned James Angleton that Philby could be a Soviet spy.     
  41.   ‘Third Man’ Business (1951): After the abscondment of Burgess and Maclean, Philby immediately came under suspicion as the ‘Third Man’ who had warned Maclean of his imminent call to be interrogated.


  1. While the reliability of all these events may not be total, most of them have indeed been verified and accepted. Some possess only thin evidence. For example, Anthony Cave-Brown, in Treason in the Blood, does not offer any source for the events listed at 21 and 22. Yet such assertions are inherently no less respectable than Chapman Pincher’s attributions to ‘confidential inside sources’, Christopher Andrew’s unidentified references to the ‘Security Service Archive’, or even the dubious statements of many memoirists (including those of the subject himself) that have made their way into the Philby lore.
  2. The volume of these incidents is both impressive and shocking. While the outrageous behaviour of Guy Burgess should have disqualified him from ever being recruited by the Diplomatic or Intelligence Services, and Donald Maclean’s outburst in Cairo should have been treated much more suspiciously, the extended pattern of hints and clues displayed by Philby, with an accompanying disregard by the authorities, is exceptional. (These are what Guy Liddell described as ‘the cumulative effect of points against him’, a conclusion reached too late in the game.)
  3. While many of these events have been reported in several books, I do not believe that they have been consolidated into one single dossier anywhere, and thus the possible relationships have not been explored. For instance, was the lethargy in following up Krivitsky’s hints concerning a journalist in Spain related to any change in status of Philby in the considerations of MI5 and MI6?
  4. The declarations by such as Milmo point to the fact that a Personal File on Philby had been created. Indeed, it would have been extraordinary if one had not been started when he went to Vienna in 1933. A burning question is therefore: what happened to Philby’s PF? Was it buried, or closed at some stage? The fact that items concerning Philby were noted in his father’s file towards the end of 1939 suggests strongly that his own PF had been retired by this time.
  5. The same criteria apply to Litzi Philby’s PF. The comments about her from Milmo’s report strongly suggest that comprehensive notes were being taken about her from the time she arrived in the United Kingdom, yet the PFs of (for example) Edith Tudor-Hart are devoid of any reference to Litzi until the bizarre introduction of Litzi Feabre, and a PF pertaining to her, in 1945. The absence of such notations might provide clues to Litzi’s role during this period.
  6. In the absence of the PFs themselves, or supporting memoranda, it is difficult to determine at what stage certain remarks were made. For instance, were Milmo’s descriptions of Litzi’s travels in the mid-thirties collected from observations at the time, and stored, or was a trawl through port and customs records undertaken in the light of later suspicions? A possible explanation is that the annotations were recorded at the time of the events, and were not considered startling or damaging when they occurred, but were ‘discovered’ later by a third party.
  7. One not completely obvious lesson from the events is the fact that sections of the Intelligence Services sometimes kept other groups in the dark, such as when an alias for Litzi Philby was created. This was not an unusual phenomenon, and could be compared with the activities of the rogue TWIST committee in World War II, or the efforts made by senior MI5 and MI6 officers to conceal from their subordinates the project to manipulate Ursula Beurton (née Kuczynski).
  8. In any case, a critical change of circumstances appears to take place after the outbreak of the war, in September 1939. This coincides with several important other events, such as the death of Sinclair and the contest for his successor as MI6 chief, the Venlo incident, after which the European MI6 organization was essentially destroyed, and Claude Dansey’s attempt to merge his back-up Z Organization into MI6, during which activity he returned from Switzerland in November of that year.

What this leads me to believe is that at some stage Philby made an approach to MI6, indicating that any Communist sympathies he may have shown in the past had now waned, and that his wife was no longer an agent dedicated to the cause of the NKVD. MI6 was taken in by this ruse, took Philby to its bosom, and planned to treat Litzy as a valuable source of information on émigré Austrian communist circles. I now present my chain of reasoning as I explored the archival material.

Philby’s Personal File?

One intriguing avenue of research is seeking evidence that Kim Philby had a Personal File (PF) created for him early in his career, and, if so, what happened to it. Information on him is scattered: he turns up frequently in communications between MI5 and MI6 at various times, but data on his activities as someone possibly under surveillance are elusive. I identify seven potential major sources for information on him: 1) The PF on his father Harry St. John Philby (KV 2/1118-1 & -2); 2) The ‘PEACH’ files, that collect information regarding the investigation begun in 1951 into Philby’s possible guilt as the Third Man, ‘PEACH’ being the codename assigned to him (FCO 158/27 & 28); 3) The Personal File on Philby apparently opened at the time of the PEACH investigation (or shortly before, early in 1951), which assembled various facts about Philby from other files (PF 604584); 4) The Maclean/Burgess files created in the 1955 investigation into Philby (FCO 158/175); 5) The file opened for Litzi (of course not released, and thus useful only by external references to it), which is bizarrely identified in the main as being the record of Litzi Feabre, with occasional admission that this person is Litzi Philby (PF 62681); 6) The files on Litzi’s partner and later husband, Georg Honigmann, which, by inclusion or oversight, provide some clues to the relationship (KV 6/113 & /114); and 7) Flora Solomon’s files, which contain some very provocative information, including the annotation that PF 604584 included a Volume 8, a pointer that shows there is much still to be released (KV 2/4633, 4634 & 4635).

John Lehmann

There is a good case to be made that Philby would a priori have had a file opened on him when he travelled to Vienna in 1933 to help the socialists. A precedent is the case of a similar subversive, John Lehmann (KV 2/2253-2255), who also went to Vienna at this time, and was likewise encouraged in his activities by Maurice Dobb, a Cambridge don who was noted as an inspirational mentor with communist convictions. Lehman was tracked very closely, and it is difficult to imagine that Philby would not have come under the same close surveillance. Thus one might conclude that at some stage his file was removed or destroyed as an embarrassment. So what facts can be assembled from elsewhere?

The file on Kim Philby’s father is very revealing, since it contains some early references to Kim’s socialist activity, as well as some fascinating exchanges between Guy Liddell and Valentine Vivian on Philby’s recruitment by MI6 through Section D (which I shall explore later). Thus one has to ask the question: do these items appear here because a) his father’s PF was a convenient postbox for storing Kim’s activities; b) they were put here in error, or out of confusion; or c) they were rightly placed (maybe copied) there because of a genuine link between Kim’s activities and his father’s situation?

The earliest note appears in the Minute Sheet dated September 7, 1933 (as with many such files, not all items listed in the Minute Sheet are preserved in the body of the file), and states ‘Extract-re H.A.R. PHILBY – taken from list in office of ‘Labour Monthly’. A handwritten annotation further informs us that this item was ‘Transferred to PF604584 11/6/51’. Three more entries obviously pertaining to Kim then follow (the last dated 15.11.34), before the substance returns to Harry Philby matters. The next entry related to Kim is dated 27.9.39, and concerns an SIS Vetting Form (although that description has been taped over the original type), and is followed by two more entries (the first relating to Kim, the second to Litzi and a certain G Egge, which are listed with the rubric that they should both be moved to PF68261, i.e. Litzi’s own PF.

Thus the references to Kim in his father’s file constitute a motley assortment, the placement of which reflects no obviously consistent policy. The long void between September 1933 and November 1934, as well as the abrupt termination of any entries thereafter, could mean that these were accidental, and that a more comprehensive account had been maintained elsewhere. Or it might mean that Kim Philby was no longer considered a person worthy of interest, as if it had been determined that he was ‘friend’, not ‘foe’. To consider that aspect, I return to Helen Fry and her suggestions about Philby’s loyalties in Vienna.

Early Recruitment by MI6?

As introduced above, my working hypothesis, as a means of explaining the indulgence shown by MI5 to Litzi Philby throughout her life in the United Kingdom, is that Kim at some stage managed to take advantage of an opening to mislead the authorities about his wife’s true role. The extreme version of this theory would be that Kim was an MI6 asset from the beginning. As I reported last month, Helen Fry makes the suggestion that Philby’s activities in Vienna may have been undertaken with MI6’s approval. In the revised edition of her book, Spymaster (2021), she makes a controversial statement, one expressed, however, in a decidedly equivocal manner:

            It is, however, possible – though not yet definitely proven – that Philby went to Vienna in 1933 to penetrate the communist network for SIS, and was, in fact, working for Kendrick.

There is a large gulf between ‘possible’, and ‘not yet definitely proven’, and it is not clear what kind of proof Ms. Fry expects might appear at this late stage of the game.

Helen Fry

Moreover, Fry’s case is tenuous. She attributes Kendrick’s success in ‘identifying and tracking Russian agents operating in and out of Vienna and the region’ to the wiles of Philby and Hugh Gaitskell (the future Labour Party politician who was attending the University of Vienna on a Rockefeller scholarship), implying, without any evidence, that they had both been working ‘loosely’ for the British Secret Intelligence Service at this time, and had been ‘sent out to Vienna to gather intelligence’. Fry concludes her analysis by asserting that these actions enabled SIS to ‘assess the ongoing threat to western democracy’, and she even identifies Engelbert Broda as one of the victims of this campaign, subsequently tracked by MI5 in Britain.

Yet the irony in Fry’s argument is that MI5 and MI6 failed dismally in their endeavours. They did not assess the threat clearly. They did not prevent Broda being recruited to the Tube Alloys project and revealing secrets of atomic weaponry through Litzi Philby. They even bungled the warnings from Walter Krivitsky. Fry also suggests that the contribution that Philby made explains why he (and Gaitskell) were so easily taken up by British intelligence in 1939-40. She does not explore why, if Kim had been recruited as some kind of asset by MI6, he would not have joined the service officially much earlier. She bizarrely mentions only briefly in passing the complications that marrying Litzi, ‘a high-level threat to Britain as a Soviet agent’, brought to the equation.

I believe it highly unlikely that Kendrick used Philby in any capacity that suggests that he was ‘working’ for MI6.  His previous movements, and guidance from Maurice Dobb, give no indication that MI6 had any role in his endeavour. If Kendrick had had any role in his mentoring in Vienna, he would not have allowed a greenhorn like Philby to contact the Soviet Embassy, and would have been appalled at Kim’s marrying Litzi Friedmann. Kim’s actions in Vienna went far beyond what a more careful observer such as Gaitskell, who was scathing about the adventures of the extreme left-wingers, undertook. The circumstances of Kim’s return to the United Kingdom, and his steps thereafter, do not indicate that MI6 saw him as one of theirs. When Fry considers how Philby succeeded in being recruited by MI6 in 1940 she appears to minimize the bad marks against Kim and Litzy earned during the 1930s, regarding them as somehow less significant than a possible short-lived relationship between Philby and MI6 in 1934. (In fact, Philby was not recruited by MI6 proper until 1941.)

Hugh Gaitskell

And then Keith Ellison pointed out a sentence from Fry’s book, writing to me: “On Philby, Fry writes of one unidentified source who claimed that Philby ‘was working for SIS and always did work for us – though it will destroy the book if you say so openly’ (p 81)”. This was an astonishing revelation. I did not recall the statement. I thus looked up page 81 of Spymaster, but could not find the sentence. We swiftly determined that Keith was using the earlier edition published by Marranos Press in 2014: Fry had removed this startling claim from the Yale University Press edition of 2021. I also own that earlier edition, so I was able to retrieve the relevant section. I immediately sent a message to Helen Fry via her website, asking her to explain why she had dropped this startling assertion, and received the following reply: “In the revised expanded edition of Spymaster, a decision was taken by myself to take out that sentence. I felt it was not my place to keep it in without further evidence to justify it.”

Apart from the evasiveness of this reply (and why not the more active: ‘I decided to take out that sentence’?), I found it perturbing, both from a procedural and substantive perspective. I have earlier noted the perplexing way that the 2021 edition of Spymaster was brought out, with no reference to the preceding publication (see ). For the author to have apparently landed a scoop, and published it, ‘openly’ I suppose, although without contributing anything to the identification of the source or analyzing what he or she meant, and then retracting it, certainly not ‘openly’, seemed to me to be a great dereliction of authorial duty. Indeed, was the first version of her book ‘destroyed’ on that account? One can only wonder what the motivations of her leaker were, to grant her such a loaded rumour, and then threaten her not to deploy it.

It sounded to me that Ms. Fry had been ‘nobbled’, i.e. coerced through some sort of threat, to remove that allegation, however tenuous it was. After all, she makes so many vague and uncertifiable claims about various persons in this business that citing ‘the lack of evidence to justify it’ as the reason for deleting this particular assertion seems particularly feeble. Any scrupulous researcher would have followed up to determine exactly what her informant meant: How long back did “always” go? Had that assertion been made anywhere else? Why was the informant telling Fry if he or she did not want her to publish? Furthermore, why did the authorities (as I believe they were surely involved) move so clumsily over the deletion of the claim? The book was published: the facts could not be erased. Did they really believe that no one would notice the excision that had been made, and simply accept Fry’s ‘expanded’ (but actually ‘diminished’) account?

Yet the outcome is that the reading public could encounter a hint that Philby had at some stage come to an accommodation with MI6. When did that happen? (How long back did ‘always’ go?) The sources are, of course, woefully thin, so first I move forward to a critical moment in Kim Philby’s career.

The Internment of Harry Philby

I turn now to the events of summer 1940, when Philby at last managed to get his foot in the door of MI6. At that time, Guy Liddell in MI5 and Valentine Vivian in MI6 were in intense discussions about the proposed internment of Kim’s father, Harry St John Philby, who was scheduled to arrive in Liverpool in October 1940. (This exchange is covered by Edward Harrison in Young Philby, though I believe he overlooks some of the subtleties of it.) Harry Philby had been detained in India under emergency regulations while travelling from Saudi Arabia to the USA, as his pacifist and pro-Nazi statements expressed in intercepted letters led the Foreign Office to judge that he had been engaged in treasonable activity. In a letter to Liddell of September 12, H. L. Farquahar in the Foreign Office expresses the confident hope that his office ‘can safely leave it to you and the Home Office to deal with him suitably when he arrives’. Farquahar engages in the classic buck-passing procedure of advising his interlocutor to ‘do what’s right’.

Harry St, John Philby

What did Liddell know about the case? Intriguingly, at the beginning of the Harry Philby PF (KV 2/1118-1), a handwritten note in red ink – apparently initialled by MI5 chief Vernon Kell – states: ‘Capt. Liddell knows Philby well and can supply any information’. It is dated June 18, 1932. This item caught my attention: so early, soon after Guy Liddell had joined MI5 from Special Branch. Was he really known as ‘Captain Liddell’ at that time, bringing over some rank from WWI? And how was it that he knew Philby well? It must surely refer to Harry Philby, as Kim would still have been at Cambridge at that time. Was it perhaps Guy’s father, also a retired Captain, to whom Kell was referring, perhaps as a consultant familiar to MI5 officers? No, it could not be, since Liddell père had died in 1929. Nor was it Guy’s older brother, Cecil, who was not brought into MI5 until 1939. It must be Guy, and his knowledge of Harry.

Yet in his letter to Vivian of September 19, where he seeks guidance from Vivian, Liddell signs off as follows: “I recollect that you know PHILBY fairly intimately”, as if he himself were not so well acquainted. I puzzled over this conflict until Keith Ellison suggested that Liddell had long been familiar, not with Harry Philby personally, but with his case-history, since he had been tracking him in some way since his days in Special Branch in the 1920s. Even if that were the case, however, it suggests that Liddell was perhaps not quite the expert that Kell had set him up to be, had possibly let his attention lapse during the 1930s, and was perhaps introducing notions of intimate friendship into the process of professional business a bit too eagerly.

Valentine Vivian

Vivian replies, expansively, on September 24, indicating that Liddell’s letter was ‘one of the hardest letters to answer, which you have ever sent me’. He did indeed know Harry Philby well, ‘a bullet-headed young Assistant Commissioner in the Punjab’, and explained how he had gained the enmity of the Foreign Office and the Colonial Office, Vivian’s final judgment being that Philby was not disloyal, but merely ‘insufferably arrogant’. He then, however, introduces the following aside:

Now, the curious thing is that his son (the person to whom I believe he refers to as “Kim” in one of the letters returned herewith is one of our D. officers. In that capacity I have met him once or twice and found him both able and charming. He himself told me that his father had cooled down in the strength of his views in the last few years, but that would not appear to be so from the letters. Young Philby was, of course, in D’s section being taken over by Dalton, but, as that has happened fortuitously, the son will be more or less under the direction of a man known to his father, with whom I believe the latter has had quite a number of semi-covert dealings. I mention young Philby simply because I think it will make it more difficult to take any repressive measures against his father.

Apart from the ironic way Vivian has been taken in by charm (Harry Philby would later convince Vivian, who was ‘vetting’ Kim for entry into Section V, that Kim had discarded his youthful socialist beliefs), this passage suggests a mismeasure of Vivian’s responses. First of all, it strongly suggests that he had not interviewed Kim personally for the job in Laurence Grand’s Section D. Secondly, he is mistaken about Kim Philby’s position – unless by ‘our’ he means His Majesty’s intelligence forces – since, as he indicates, D Section had by then been split off from MI6 and absorbed into the new Special Operations Executive (July 1940). It was then led, at ministerial level, by Hugh Dalton, a fait accompli that Vivian explicitly recognizes. (It is true that there was a delay in the announcement of the re-organization, but that had all been squared away at Menzies’ level well before the time of this correspondence, as Alexander Cadogan’s Diaries confirm.) But why should Vivian be so sensitive about the reactions of a recent recruit outside his bailiwick, someone who could clearly be sacrificed if necessary, in the light of his father’s detention? Did he perhaps fear the hostility of the much disliked Dr. Dalton, or was he afraid of what the reaction of Philby fils might be? In any case, Vivian cowardly passes the buck as well. He thinks that it is urgently necessary not to give Harry Philby any further grounds for grievance, but acknowledges to Liddell that the Foreign Office and the Government would ‘gladly see you using strong-arm tactics’: “With this uncomfortable problem I must leave you to deal.”

S.S. City of Venice

Liddell’s response was to pass on meekly Vivian’s comments almost verbatim, without indicating his source. The matter was elevated to Wilson-Young of the Foreign Office, who replied curtly on October 12, stating that a Detention Order against Philby had been issued by the Home Secretary, and that the S.S. City of Venice was expected to dock in a few days. In a postscript, he indicates that the Home Office ‘cannot agree with the estimate of Mr. Philby given by your informant’. Liddell’s weakness is shown in his letter to Vivian of October 21, where he, having recently passed on an anonymous report (by Vivian) to the Foreign Office, now complains that an unknown person in that latter department is using the same tactics when questioning Philby’s loyalty to anyone but himself. His letter concludes:

            . . . I cannot help feeling that it may be a very unintelligent remark and that a gross blunder is being committed. Do you think there is anything to be done, particularly owing to the fact that the son is in your employ?

I think this was a feeble but provocative performance by Liddell. Harry Philby was arrested by the Liverpool City Police when he arrived on October 18. All of Liddell’s ruminations were for nothing, and his standing must have been reduced with the Home Office. But why ‘particularly’? Why should that mean so much, especially when Kim Philby was not in Vivian’s employ? And why should Liddell’s professional judgment of Harry Philby’s culpability be so easily undermined by a desire to protect the son? After all, Kim himself had been a member of the Anglo-German Friendship Society, and his affiliation was open. The arrest of Harry, and the thought that ‘the apple does not fall far from the tree’ should perhaps have given Vivian and Liddell some second thoughts about Kim’s recruitment rather than simply expressing concern about Harry’s internment. (The trace requested from MI5 on Kim came up with nothing, according to Edward Harrison.) Maybe it is possible to overread the significance of this very bizarre exchange between Vivian and Liddell, but it suggests to me an unhealthily close relationship between the two weak officers and a junior recruit whose career future should have been a minor consideration for them. In their choice of language, both gentlemen hint that Kim Philby is more closely linked to MI6 than the facts warrant.

Another interpretation comes to mind. Rather than absent-mindedly overlooking the organizational changes with SOE, perhaps Vivian and Liddell were implicitly reinforcing the fact that Philby was indeed considered an asset of MI6 at that time, though not officially on the books. That might point to an arrangement whereby Kim, possibly after being challenged on his past history, had been able to turn the tables, to suggest that he could contribute to counter-espionage in some way. Harry Philby was eventually released on March 18, 1941: it was accepted that his detention had been illegal. When Vivian was asked to endorse Kim’s appointment to Section V a couple of months later, he queried his newly rehabilitated friend Harry about Kim’s communist spell at Cambridge, a somewhat anomalous question in light of the fact that Kim’s latest interest had been Anglo-German Friendship. The inability of Vivian (and Liddell) to detect any artifice in these postures is a sign of their essential unfitness for the jobs they held.

What is also noteworthy is that Liddell makes no mention of the Harry Philby controversy, or his exchanges with Vivian about it, in his Diaries. Moreover, in a diary entry for November 1, 1940, he comes across strongly against any relaxation of detention for prominent B.U.F. (British United Front) members, which would appear to be hypocritical. But where to go next on this trail? I returned first to the Edith Tudor-Hart files.

Edith Tudor-Hart’s Files

While the archival material on Edith Tudor-Hart is very rich, that on Litzi is very sparse. ‘Was that in itself a clue?’, I wondered. If Litzi had been such a close associate of Edith in the Austrian Communist Party cell in London, I would have expected her name to come up more frequently – apart, of course, from the time that she was in France, which ran from early 1937 to January 1940. So I re-inspected the files on Edith, registering the key dates and methods of intelligence collection.

The first batch (KV 2/1012) covers the period January 1930 to October 1938. It consists almost exclusively of reports via MI6 from Vienna, of Special Branch surveillance reports, and many intercepted and photographed letters. It also contains a damaged version of the interrogation of Tudor-Hart after her camera had been used in the Percy Glading espionage activity. Special Branch was also able to determine, from an agent’s report, that Edith was hosting meetings of a local branch of the Communist Party in 1935. Yet one item that stood out for me was the report that Edith arrived with her mother Adela (actually Adele) at Dover on August 27, 1937, Adele being given permission to stay in the country for three months.

What was going on here? Why was the Home Office allowing the parents of known Communist subversives to join their daughters for residence in the United Kingdom? This was an exact echo of the passage of Litzi Philby’s parents from Vienna to England at about the same time. And Adele outstayed her welcome. shows that she went to live in Bournemouth, and, according to the 1939 census, was still living there, supported by ‘private means’. As an alien, she was also fortunate enough to satisfy the tribunal in November 1939 with ‘no restrictions’ applied. Indeed, a profile in Tudor-Hart’s fresh file at KV 2/4091, dated December 1, 1951, records (alongside similar information about Edith’s brother and two cousins) that her mother resided in Cricklewood at that time. Records show that Adele outlived her daughter, dying on May 24, 1980 in The Bishop’s Avenue, London N2.

This apparent charitable behaviour of the British authorities was a puzzling phenomenon, to be stored away. I moved on to the next batch, namely KV 2/1013. This series covers the period from November 1938 to March 1946, although the Minute Sheet tantalizingly contains some additional few entries that take it up to May of that year, but which are not present in the body of the file. Yet the period 1938 to April 1940 is very sparsely covered – merely two entries concerning attempts to rescue CP members from Europe, before the reports start up in earnest in April 1940. The first flurry appears to have been provoked by interest in the activities of Alexander Tudor-Hart, now divorced and with a new partner, Constance, who has come to the attention of the Shrewsbury Police. (The divorce between Alexander and Edith was not made absolute until October 11, 1944: like Aileen Philby, Constance changed her surname by deed poll in order to project respectability.) The file picks up in earnest in March 1941, when the Special Branch’s surveillance efforts are considerably boosted by the work of the agent KASPAR, revealed by Brinson and Dove in A Matter of Intelligence to be Joseph Otto von Laemmel, and also by Kurt Hiller, both members of the Freie Deutsche Kulturbund. (Hiller provided much information on the Kuczynskis.)

A sudden shift in tempo is shown on March 14, 1941, where a very comprehensive report on the Central Committee of the Austrian Communist Party in the UK, compiled by B24G, appears. It lists such luminaries as Eva Kolmer (Secretary), Franz West (Political Leader), Edith Tudor-Hart (Accountant, presumably Treasurer) and Ing. [Engelbert] Broda (Training Leader), as well as fourteen other names. There follow extracts from intercepted correspondence between Tudor-Hart and Martin Hornik in internment in Canada. During 1942, Special Branch kept a close watch on Tudor-Hart’s movements, even inspected her bank account, and reported through B6 to Milicent Bagot in F2B. The file then meanders listlessly through 1943 and 1944 until it covers the clumsy propaganda business with the Sun Engraving Co. Ltd., in 1945.

Towards the end of 1945, an undated memorandum appears that runs as follows:

            Edith Tudor-Hart is said to be in touch with a certain Anna WOLF who is apparently attached to the American diplomatic representative in Vienna, and is a close friend of Lizzy FEAVRE [identified as belonging to PF.Y.68261]

This appears to be the first recorded reference to Litzi Philby’s alias: a letter of September 9, 1945, from E5L to F2B, displays a list of members of Tudor-Hart’s circle, including Loew-Beer, Mahler-Fistolauri, Dennis Pritt, Bunzl, ‘Hafis’, and the infamous ‘Lizzy Feavre or Feabre née Kalmann’ (as described in last month’s coldspur).The last is accompanied by the fictitious legend that she left Vienna for the UK in 1934, and later went to France where she married an Englishman ‘thus acquiring British nationality’. It would appear that E5L has no idea about Feabre’s true identity.

The Austrian group is now nervous and on the alert, after the breaking up of the Soviet spy-ring in Canada (September 1945) has been revealed. MI5’s interest in the Tudor-Hart circle intensifies, and suspicions are cast upon Broda, because of his working for Tube Alloys. Yet it seems that MI5 has an insider still at work. On March 12, 1946, E5L sends a report to Marriott (F2C), describing Tudor-Hart’s newest associates, one of whom, Dr. JANOSSY, employed by ICI ‘has stumbled upon a new invention which may prove to be more effective than the atomic bomb.’

One might whimsically imagine that an appropriate response at this juncture would have been to ‘collar the lot’. Of course, it was not that simple. Yet this file has one more extraordinary surprise to offer: in the very last entry, a memorandum from B2B to Marriott of F2C, dated March 18, 1946, records the arrival of a mystery visitor to Edith Tudor-Hart’s residence, a suspected snooper with an Oxford accent. Tudor-Hart believed that the call was related to Broda, and, indeed, the latter visited her a few days later to report that his landlord had discovered an intruder trying to break into Broda’s room. (This search was no doubt occasioned by Broda’s meetings with Nunn May when the latter returned from Canada, and was arrested and convicted for espionage.) Apart from shedding light on the occasionally clumsy enterprises of Special Branch, an intriguing question must be posed. How did B2B know about this event?

Engelbert Broda

The astonishing fact is that the memorandum openly states that Tudor-Hart opened the door in the presence of LAMB, that name presumably being a cryptonym. Who was LAMB? The reason that this disclosure astounded me is that I had only the same day re-inspected the Honigmann archive that I had received since last month’s posting. A document there reproduces an excerpt from the critical interview between Arthur Martin and an unidentified interviewee from the Tudor-Hart file, where the name was redacted, and I hazarded some guesses about his identity. Only here, the name is not redacted: the name of the interviewee appears as ‘LAMB’. The link was clear. No wonder the interviewee knew Edith Tudor-Hart intimately from 1944 onwards. I shall return to this breakthrough later.

The last volume, KV 2/1014, picks up the story from May 1946, and carries on until October 1951. The watchers continue to monitor Tudor-Hart’s circle, maybe still assisted from inside. A report dated June 14, 1946, starts off by stating that ‘Lizzy FEAVRE has been more active during the last few weeks’, no doubt preparing to join her partner, Georg Honigmann, who had received clearance to travel to Germany on May 10. By June 11, she is reported as having joined Honigmann in Berlin, while Tudor-Hart maintains discrete communications with Broda. She is still trying to foment the revolution in Britain, and Arthur Wynn and Professor Joliot-Curie appear in her list of contacts.

By February 1947, however, Edith has been interrogated, and has ‘at last’ admitted that she used to work for the Russian Intelligence in Austria and Italy in 1932-1933, and had collaborated with a Russian who was also her boy-friend. That was assuredly Arpad Haasze, since she received a letter from him in August 1947. Matters then drift: a report of December 13, 1948 indicates that ‘Edith Tudor-Hart is hardly engaged in any CP activities at present’. Edith took on the alias ‘Betty Grey’, and the authorities were confused for a while, but concluded by August 1951 that the two were in fact one person by analyzing their handwriting. In October 1951, Simkins of B2A requested a fresh Home Office Warrant on Edith’s mail, because of ‘a connection with a current case of suspected espionage’.  And that leads up to the Martin interview of October 3 that concludes the file. From this we learn that LAMB had still been enjoying Edith’s confidences, as he had reported in 1948 on Litzy’s movements, and described the essence of correspondence passed between Litzy and Edith since the former moved to Berlin.


An overriding question concerning the Tudor-Hart disclosures is – how did MI5 glean its information, apart from the mechanisms of surveillance, telephone taps, and intercepted mail? The role of KASPAR is now very evident, as he was a member of the Kulturbund, and was presumably trusted enough by Edith for him to become a close acquaintance, to the extent that he was accepted as a guest in her lodgings. Yet can the very detailed report on the membership of the Central Committee of the Austrian Communist Party be attributed to KASPAR? It is not sourced as coming from him in the Tudor-Hart files *, unlike other reports. And Brinson and Dove, even though they credit KASPAR with this important report – without any explanation, and probably faute de mieux – point out how irresponsible it was for Edith to have confided in KASPAR. They write, after expressing surprise that Broda would even have shared confidential information about atomic energy with Tudor-Hart:

            There is, however, a third and equally astonishing aspect to this report (from September 1946), namely that Tudor-Hart, a Soviet agent herself, would have talked so freely to ‘Kaspar’, that is Josef Otto von Laemmel. Certainly she would have known Laemmel from the earliest days of the Austrian Centre, when both held a position there, but she would also have known that Laemmel would have been forced out of the Centre, and was extremely disgruntled with the Austrian Communists as a result, and that he was a leading member of the tiny Austrian Christian Socialist group in exile and very far removed from her own political position.

[* As I was putting this piece to bed, I noticed that an identical copy of the report in the Broda files at KV 2/2350 explicitly identifies the source as KASPAR. It looks genuine, as if typed at the same time, but I still have reservations, to be investigated at another time. It might have been delivered to KASPAR by someone else, as Brinson and Dove suggest. I cannot believe that Laemmel could have worked so closely with the inner circle of the Austrian CP of GB inner circle, at this time, or any other.]

As I noted, in that extract from the Martin interview in the Honigmann files, the name ‘LAMB’ is unredacted, which led me to think that it was perhaps the interviewee’s real name. But I could not find any diplomat or officer bearing that surname. And then I stumbled on the report in KV 2/1013 that identified indubitably that Edith’s companion at the door was ‘LAMB’. Who could have got so close to her? It was Nigel West who came to the rescue, since in his book that I panned last month, he explains, in his Notes to the chapter on Broda:

            Josef Lemmel’s [sic] codename was changed from KASPAR to LAMB, probably to avoid confusion with a technical source in the CPGB headquarters in King Street, actually a microphone codenamed TABLE and the KASPAR.

KASPAR and LAMB were the same person. [Indeed, Brinson and Dove reveal this on page 158 of A Matter of Intelligence. I had overlooked it. The Broda archive also explicitly confirms the equivalence.]

‘Laemmel’ is obviously a derivative of the German word ‘Lamm’ = ‘lamb’, so the choice of cryptonym was as unimaginative as that of EDITH. Thus the enigma about the identity of the interviewee was solved. It was neither Gedye, nor Ellis, nor Cookridge (né Spiro). MI5 had hauled in one its most effective spies in the Austrian émigré organizations to help flesh out their knowledge of Litzy. Moreover, Laemmel’s career included relevant experience in Vienna, which sealed the deal, and made the testimony recorded by Martin more acceptable. As Laemmel’s Austrian biography detail informs us:

From 1928 to 1933 he held the post of secretary of the Styrian Writers’ Association and was then press officer for the ‘Ostmark Sturmscharen’ until 1938 and emigrated to London via Switzerland because of the threat of persecution. There he joined the ‘Austria-Center’ and worked as head of the library. Because of the increasing communist influence, he left the organization in 1940, was then secretary of the ‘Association of Austrian Journalists in England’ until 1945 and worked on radio programs of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).

His presence in Vienna might thus enabled him to have had exposure to Haasze, but as an Austrian, he would not have been close to the Philby-Gaitskell circle, and therefore would not have known about the Kim-Litzi marriage. It makes sense.

Yet did it explain everything? LAMB explained to Martin that he had become acquainted with Edith closely only in 1944. The report on the composition of the Committee had been compiled in March 1941, and it would have been very unlikely for Laemmel, given his political convictions, to have gained access to the CP’s closest and most secret forums. Brinson and Dove are quick to ascribe reports on the Austrian Communist Group to Laemmel’s own set of informers, but there is no evidence of that. Moreover, in the Honigmann archive lies a note from KASPAR dated September 9, 1945, that reports about Edith Tudor-Hart’s circle of Communist friends and sympathizers, as if this were intelligence freshly gained. It could not possibly have been provided by the same person who had the insider knowledge from 1941.

What struck me in the survey of the members of the CP Committee was the absence of one name that one would expect to be prominent – Litzi Philby. If Litzi had been as dedicated a member of the communist underground as anyone, had been a close friend of Edith Tudor-Hart, and had collaborated and conspired with her during the war, as every historian and biographer has asserted, one might expect that the informer, whoever he or she was, would have listed her name. After all, she was so intimately embedded in the circle that she was chosen to be the courier to meet Broda clandestinely and in 1943 to collect his papers purloined from the Cavendish Laboratory. Yet it is only in 1945 that her name appears, and then under a pseudonym. Was she forced out of the covers by some mischance, and a poorly disguised scheme devised to conceal her true identity? Had Litzy perhaps been the source of the intelligence of the communist cell, and had MI5 perhaps been distracted from her true mission? It would not have been out of character for Moscow Centre to have diverted attention to the earnest but essentially harmless rumblings of the Party itself, while more important work was being performed away from it.

A Theory

This analysis led me to solidify my hypothesis that, at some stage, Kim Philby came out of the cold, and struck some sort of deal with his intelligence opposition. I had at first considered that this might have been performed in 1937, before the parents of Edith and Litzi were so magically spirited out of Austria, but I now think that that phenomenon was simply coincidental, and perhaps the result simply of a legal and humanitarian policy, since both Edith and Litzy were British nationals by then. Before the Anschluss of March 1938, the Home Office was far more relaxed about accepting refugees from Austria. I think it much more probable that the event occurred in September 1939.

The Anschluss

The signing of the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact gave even the most hardened Communist, committed for years to the fight against Fascism, pause for thought. Goronwy Rees rebelled against it, and Guy Burgess wanted him killed for his apostasy. Arthur Koestler abandoned his belief. Harry Pollitt, leader of the CPGB, lost his job by challenging the Moscow Line. To begin with, Philby was incredulous, and, according to Gorsky’s report of May 1940, it took several conversations to bring him around. Yet it would have given Philby a singular opportunity to play a subtle but dangerous game: “Look, it is true that Litzi and I had communist sympathies, but that is all changed now. I have convinced her that the world has changed. With her connections, Litzi is prepared to provide you with insights into the membership and activities of the Austrian Communist Party in exile. And I can work with you to help defeat the Nazis and their allies, the Soviets.” He later tried to maintain this fiction. When Philby was interviewed by Dick White in June 1951, he told him, in an effort to minimize the danger of the Litzy connection, that he had ‘subsequently converted her’ (Liddell Diaries, June 14).

We know that Philby was in some form of contact with MI6 at this time, because a vetting-form from MI6 was recorded in his father’s file on September 27, 1939, and it would appear to be linked to Philby’s conversations with Frank Birch of GC&CS.  The circumstances behind this event are very provocative. Flora Solomon’s file shows that she had the impression that Kim was still fervently Communist even after the announcement of the Nazi-Soviet Pact (thus contradicting what Gorsky claimed). And yet she still encouraged Birch, the partner of her close friend and employee, Aileen Furse, to interview Philby for a job. Philby had expressed a desire to her to enter British intelligence, and Birch only that same month had rejoined GC&CS. Solomon conveniently arranged a lunch where they could meet.

Flora Solomon

Birch and Philby had a private chat. While Birch deemed that Philby was unsuitable for cryptographic work, he apparently used his connections to instigate interest in him, later that month, from elsewhere in MI6. (GC&CS reported to MI6.) Hence the vetting request of September 27. And when Philby returned from France in May 1940, Birch apparently helped him gain entry elsewhere (into Section D, presumably). While the testimony of Flora Solomon may not be completely reliable, it was an astonishingly reckless action by Philby at exactly the same time to reinforce his Communist sympathies and advertise his objective of entering British Intelligence. Birch obviously knew where the lead came from, and any serious trace would have put the spotlight on Solomon.

I find much that is phony –  even furtive –  about this account, given by Solomon in 1962 to the incompetent interrogator Arthur Martin. First of all, it would have been very irresponsible of Flora Solomon, knowing that Philby was a committed Soviet agent, to recommend him for intelligence work, especially as she claimed that she had just switched her allegiances because of the Pact. Second, it would be highly irregular for her to know about Birch’s posting, and what Bletchley Park was about. If Aileen Furse (Birch’s lover, and employee of Solomon’s at Marks and Spencer) had leaked it to her, that would likewise have been irresponsible, and Birch, when he found out, should have been aghast that a Communist sympathizer had been informed of his role in cryptographic work, and the location of his workplace. Thus Birch’s willingness to speak  to Philby privately (after that lunch also attended by Aileen, and Solomon’s boy-friend, Eric Strauss), and then apparently recommend him for work elsewhere, is a third shocking event, suggesting that he might also have been implicated in the scheme. A fourth consideration is the fact that Kim and Aileen began to cohabit in the summer of 1940 – an event that might well have spurred some dangerous antagonism on Birch’s part – yet Solomon claimed that Birch was responsible for Philby’s gaining his post in intelligence at that time. (That fact appears to be confirmed by a third-unidentified party, as is evidenced in Solomon’s file.) Why Martin did not follow up on these conundrums is unfathomable.

Frank Birch

Thus there is much that is bogus about these events. That was not all, however, that was going on at this time. We also know that Philby lied about the travel arrangements for Litzi. He explained to Borovik that his efforts in December 1939 had been made to secure Litzi’s safe return to the United Kingdom from Paris, but he did not admit that his original request of September 26 (as related by Milmo) was to allow Litzi to return to Paris – presumably to collect or store all her belongings, and tidy up her affairs, and maybe to pass on to her controllers what the ruse was about. For it would have been suicidal for Philby to have taken any such initiative without the approval of his bosses. Thus, by the winter of 1939-1940, MI6 and MI5 must have believed that they had a Communist renegade on their books. This turn of events would have fitted in supremely well with the machinations of Claude Dansey, who was at the time arranging for Ursula Kuczynski to gain a British passport in Switzerland, Dansey likewise believing that he was actually controlling Sonia rather than the reverse.

This timing would also explain why MI5 did not respond energetically to Krivitsky’s warnings about a young British journalist who had been sent to Spain. Krivitsky arrived in Liverpool in January 1940, and underwent intense interrogations managed by Jane Archer and Stephen Alley. They should certainly have identified Philby quickly, but could have re-assured themselves: “Oh, yes, we know about him. But he is now on our side, so we don’t have to do anything.” Thus, when Philby returned from France in May 1940, the primary objections to his recruitment by any of the intelligence services had disappeared, and, after a respectable period, he was accepted by MI6 after a very perfunctory interview process.

The fact that Philby was accepted by the establishment by this time is reinforced by anecdotes about Hugh Gaitskell, who had attended the wedding in Vienna. When he joined SOE, Philby sought out Gaitskell, who was at that time principal private secretary to Hugh Dalton, the minister responsible for SOE, for guidance on British long-term plans for Europe. Edward Harrison cites a conference on May 24/25, 1941, where it was agreed that Philby should perform the training of propaganda agents, a decision that Gaitskell agreed with. Either Gaitskell was foolishly colluding with Kim’s objectives, or he had been brought into the confidential agreement concerning the new Philby.

Yet the complications regarding Litzi would not go away. To complete the pretence of ideological separation, Kim and Litzi should have divorced, for both professional and personal reasons. He needed to show the world a complete break from Litzi’s fanaticism, and to be free to marry another. She needed to show that she was still a devotee (which indeed she was) to secure the confidence of Edith’s cell while carrying on a more vital task of couriership supporting espionage. Moscow surely ruled that they should not be divorced, lest Litzi lose her residential qualification, and it did not relax that requirement until her job was finished, the war was over, and she had retreated to East Berlin. Philby would use the excuse for not divorcing Litzi that she might thereby have lost her citizenship, but that was nonsense. She gained permanent citizenship through her marriage, and it could not be taken away, unless, like Fuchs, she were convicted of a serious offence. As Kim became more of an asset, however, the Philby moniker attached to Litzi became a severe annoyance.

Litzy Feabre

What is astonishing is the degree that officers in MI5 appeared to be in the dark – unless a deception game of mammoth proportions were being played. The fact that Kim Philby had married Litzy Friedmann (and was still married to her) was known to members of a select group, who may have had their separate reasons for not promulgating the information. It is sometimes hard to project, from the world of universal data in 2023, the more closed environment of 1943. Yet certain anomalies remain: for example, how could Valentine Vivian claim to Seale and McConville that (in 1946) he had been ignorant of Kim’s first marriage, that he was affected by Philby’s admission about ‘a youthful escapade’, and that he needed a search to discover that Litzi was a Soviet agent, unless he were confident that he could carry off such a monumental show of disingenuousness? And the authors appeared to be taken in by it.

It appears to me that Vivian was trying to string a line to the journalists about his obvious innocence in the business. What he told Seale and McConville was that Dick White informed him, in that summer of 1946, based on information from ‘Klop’ Ustinov, that Litzi was a Soviet agent. But why was Klop used, and what did he know about it? Dick White had an informer, Laemmel (KASPAR), who was providing information during the war about the Austrian Communist circle, and had revealed to Arthur Martin in October 1951 that Litzi had been a Soviet agent, even likening her to Arpad Haasze. Did Laemmel not tell his handlers at the time, or did the information inexplicably not reach White? It is more probable that White and Vivian were being obtuse.

Thus, when ‘Litzy Feabre’ first appears on the scene, several MI5 officers and men (and women) seem to be deceived by the charade. For a while Litzy remains a shadowy figure with an uncertain past. (The documents referring to her are all plastered with hand-written notes inserted much later that she is really ‘Philby’.)  And it is not until she has left the country, in the summer of 1946, that questions start to fly around, as MI5 starts to investigate the strange disappearance of Georg Honigmann. The adventure starts off harmlessly: in April Honigmann had been granted a military permit for a one-way journey to Germany, requested by the Control Commission, even though his past Communist activities were known.

[I should mention, incidentally, that the Aliens Department of the Home Office owns Personal Files on Georg and Barbara Honigmann, identified as HO 382/255, containing information ranging from 1936 to 1960. They reside at the National Archives at Kew but have been retained for one hundred years, and will thus not be viewable until 2061. That decision was made in 2017, apparently in deference to the appearance therein of ‘personal information where the applicant is a third party’. I have no idea why the release of such information might endanger national security or embarrass any surviving relatives, and a couple of months ago I thus submitted a Freedom of Information request. I received a mildly encouraging response, but have not heard anything further since then.]

But then the exchanges take on an eerie character. B. H. Smith, in F2ab of MI5, judges that MI6 needs to be informed of Honigmann’s appointment, and thus sends, on May 10, a memorandum to Kim Philby, informing him of the granting of the permit, and describing Honigmann’s communist past. He concludes his letter:

            Although his permit was granted at the request of the Control Commission he is not so far as we are aware working for them, but is believed to be employed in the Hamburg area. The Intelligence Bureau of the Control Commission have been given a brief note of our information.

If Philby reacted to this, his response has not been recorded. But it could not have been comfortable. Perhaps he knew of the plans for Georg and Litzi at this time: Litzi was still in the UK. In any event, matters quickly became murkier, and implicitly more dangerous. On May 28, the dogged KASPAR reports to B2B that a Captain Atkinson, with the R.A.M.C., has been in contact with Lizzy Feavre ‘whose friend, Dr. Georg Honigmann recently left for Berlin where he joined the Communists’. This message is passed on to Smith in F2ab.

How Laemmel knew about this exchange, and what Captain Atkinson was up to, will probably remain a mystery for a long time. Was Atkinson the go-between between Honigmann and Litzi, bearing a message that it was now safe for Litzi to join him? Yet the revelation that Honigmann had flown the coop to join the Communists should have been a great shock for MI5 and the Foreign Office. It seems, however, that this intelligence was not acted upon. The Tudor-Hart archive shows that Litzi had been known to have been very busy at the end of May and the beginning of June, and was confirmed as having joined Honigmann by June 11, yet no effort was made, despite Honigmann’s defection, at interviewing Litzi, and preventing her departure. It suggests either incompetence or collusion. Moreover, this factoid surely shows that Laemmel surely did not know Litzi’s true identity, an ignorance he was to claim when interrogated by Martin a few years later. Moreover, if he had been introduced to Litzi through Edith, Edith must have been indoctrinated into the charade. That would have been an essential part of the plan so that Edith would have no doubts about Litzi’s motivations and objectives.

For some reason, another month passes before B2B confirms KASPAR’s insights to Smith in F2ab. He now has an update from KASPAR, however (June 28): “He [Honigmann] is in communication with his friend Lizzy FEAVRE, and the latter reported scornfully that the whole British Security Service and the Police in Germany have been searching for him on the assumption that he had been kidnapped by the Russians.” (Did she learn that from her husband?) Yet this is a strange construction, stating that Honigmann is in ‘communication’ with Feavre, suggesting that she has not yet joined him. Litzi’s comment could otherwise mean that it was KASPAR with whom she had been in contact. According to the Tudor-Hart file, Litzi had joined her partner in Berlin, apparently travelling via Paris and Vienna. Philby claimed to Borovik that at some stage during this summer he opened up to Vivian, and explained that he needed a divorce. If indeed he did go to France to arrange the settlement, it was probably when Litzi was en route to Berlin. It had no doubt all been arranged beforehand. After all, the divorce was granted on September 17, and he was able to marry Aileen a week later, on September 25 at the Chelsea registry office, witnessed by Flora Solomon and Tomás Harris. Yet this timeline would be shockingly undermined by a memorandum to be found elsewhere, in the Broda archive.

On July 20, MI5’s B2B posted another report from KASPAR-LAMB, which reinforced KASPAR’s confusion about the identity of Lizzy, who has clearly been speaking to KASPAR directly. The main portion of it runs as follows:

            It would appear that E. BRODA and his former collaborators have been withdrawn from intelligence work and are more or less inactive at present. This holds good for Edith TUDOR-HART too and even for Lizzy FEAVRE who seemed to play a somewhat more important part during the last few weeks and still displays much more activity than the others, but she admitted that she had to refrain from such work owing to the fact that her friend, Dr. Georg HONIGMANN, had taken up work in the Russian zone (see report of 26.6.46). She intends to go to Paris on the 5.9.46 and from there on a special party mission to Prague. She also intends to visit DR. HONIGMANN in Berlin. She has already got her passport and visas and also the ticket of the Air France, issued in the name of Lizzy Philly which seems to be her real name, though she has always been called FEAVRE and even received mail under this name.

The gradual metamorphosis from Feavre/Feabre through Philly to Philby is taking place, and Litzi’s identity as ‘PHILLY’ appears to have received official recognition from the passport office. Litzi is boldly described as being busier than most, and is even ‘on a special party mission to Prague’. KASPAR/LAMB is still confused: MI5 appears to be unimpressed and unconcerned. A handwritten notice even picks up the charade, indicating that the report should be filed in PF 68261 PHILLY [sic].

Interest in the Honigmanns

This was a quite shocking state of affairs. The Foreign Office and MI6 had to confront the fact that a nominee for the Control Commission, a known Communist, had debunked to East Berlin. He had left behind his partner, overtly an even more rabid Communist, who was still the wife of a senior MI6 officer. The authorities had to arrange for the Philbys to gain a quick divorce, preferably not on British soil. And they had to conceal the identity of Honigmann’s partner from prying eyes, such as the Press, and inquisitive officers in MI5. No doubt they believed that they were engaged in some sort of coup, infiltrating a friendly Soviet agent whom they had ‘turned’ into the den of the enemy. Indeed, it may well have been MI6’s original plan to use Honigmann‘s appointment with the Control Commission as a ruse to insert him and Litzi into East Berlin.

Matters quickly turned farcical, however. Questions were being asked in several quarters. The Headquarters Intelligence Division of B.A.O.R. writes to MI5 on November 11, 1946, asking for verification of the rumours about Honigmann’s defection. Graham Mitchell in B1A responds, essentially confirming what MI5 has been told, and indicates that further enquiries are being made. So whom does Mitchell turn to? None other than Kim Philby himself. A letter of November 22 refers to Honigmann’s employment in Karlshorst, and includes the following appeal:

            Have you any confirmation of these reports? If they are true it would be very helpful to have them amplified, with particular reference to the nature of HONIGMANN’s work.

A week later, a response under Philby’s name comes through, indicating that Mitchell’s query has been referred to the field, and, a month later (December 23) Philby provides an account ‘based on information from a source who knows Honigmann personally’. After a brief potted history of Honigmann’s career in the United Kingdom, the story evolves into pure flannel, and merits being quoted verbatim:

            On calling at Reuters [in May 1946] source was told that HONIGMANN had left for Berlin a few days previously. Later a mutual acquaintance (not in Reuters) said that HONIGMANN was now in Berlin; as far as source can remember, it was also said that HONIGMANN was no longer working for Reuters, and that his job appeared to be somewhat mysterious.

            Source paid no particular attention to this remark at the time, as he had no reason whatsoever to connect HONIGMANN with clandestine activities. He knew that HONIGMANN had Left-wing views, like almost every German or Austrian émigré, and that he was a subscriber to Cockburn’s News Letter, but this was thought to be for professional reasons. Politics were in fact never discussed except on a professional basis.

            Reuters will presumably be able to say whether HONIGMANN did in fact go to Berlin on their behalf. Source may also be able to discover more details from discreet enquiries.

Philby must have thought he might get away with this astonishing display of chutzpah. After all, his (MI6) bosses were on his side at the time. The Reuters story was no doubt the official MI6 line, else Philby would have been caught out in a sorry deception. And maybe he did escape unscathed for a while. In 1947, however, MI5 picked up the threads again. On July 7, 1947, B1 presented a memorandum to Vivian concerning ‘Alice (Lizzy) HONIGMANN @ FEAVRE née KOLLMANN or KOHLMANN’, the author still blissfully unaware of the subject’s real identity. What is highly significant here is the formulation ‘@ FEAVRE’, indicating that ‘FEAVRE’ was a cryptonym for an asset, analogous to Laemmel’s ‘KASPAR’, a singular confirmation that Litzy had been working as an informer for MI5.

This memorandum included the following text (in fact a subset of the report from KASPAR on the events supplied above, but excluding the information about Busy Lizzy):

            Two months later [i,e. after Honigmann’s departure] it was reported that Alice HONIGMANN, although still a keen member of Edith TUDOR-HART’s circle, had had to restrain her activities as HONIGMANN had taken up work in the Russian zone. Her contacts abroad were said to include Magda GRAN-PIERRE, Budapest 12, Kovas utoza No. 46, who was reputed to be an important agent in the Hungarian Communist Intelligence network.

            Alice HONIGMANN left England at the end of August 1946 [sic!] and went from Paris to Prague on 5th September. In November 1946 it was reported that she was in Berlin working with Dr. HONIGMANN to whom she has since been married.

I do not follow the logic (‘although . . . . as’) of this assessment. Yet one might conclude that Litzi had gone to Hungary to meet her former lover Gábor Péter, now head of the Hungarian Secret Police, and wreaking havoc. This itinerary nevertheless implies that Philby did not go out to Paris to negotiate the divorce with Litzi until late August. It was all very much a shotgun affair: one can only marvel at the speed with which a London Registry Office was able to recognize the legality of a divorce executed on foreign soil, just a week earlier. And the change of departure date from June to August turns the focus much more intently on MI6’s inability (or unwillingness) to interview Litzi. They had over two months, after her partner had absconded, in which to carry out an investigation, and interview Litzi. Yet they apparently did nothing. Furthermore, had Honigmann perhaps been subjected to some intense interrogation, so that the NKVD could verify Litzi’s loyalty before authorizing the divorce and her departure from the United Kingdom? One might expect such a procedure.

Two days after the creation of the memorandum above, the persistent Milicent Bagot (now B1c) wrote to Anthony Milne of MI6 (no doubt unaware that the latter had been one of Litzy Philby’s lovers, but who had not yet been unmasked and dismissed). Bagot’s objective was to pass on information about Alice Honigmann. The ignorance about Litzy’s previous name endures: the same formation of her identity is used. The famed MI5 Registry has either been purged, or the cross-referencing system is not working. The file then peters out, before recording the fact that a Peter Burchett, Reuter’s correspondent in Berlin, who had been a member of the CPGB for some time, had been responsible for Honigmann’s contract with the Russians in Berlin.

What is noteworthy about this period is the fact that no reference to the Honigmann business appears in Guy Liddell’s Diaries. That could be because a) he was not aware of what was going on; b) he knew about it but did not consider it worth recording; c) he knew about it but considered it too sensitive to write about; or d) he did write about it, but the passages have been redacted. I would plump for the last. For there are indications that Liddell nurtured some serious concerns about the penetration of MI6 at this time. Long-standing coldspur readers may recall my commentaries from 2019, where I expressed my frustration with Christopher Andrew, who successfully suppressed a story he had helped air on the BBC about Eric Roberts, an MI5 officer who was transferred to MI6 and went to Vienna in 1947 (see ). I wrote at the time:

Before Roberts left for Austria in 1947 (no specific date offered), on secondment to MI6 (SIS), Liddell ‘hinted that he suspected MI6 might have been penetrated by the Soviets’. On his return in 1949 (‘after just over year’, which suggests a late 1947 departure), dispirited from a fruitless mission trying to inveigle Soviet intelligence to approach him, Roberts talked to Liddell again, looking for career advice. But Liddell ‘changed the subject’, and wanted to know whether Roberts suspected that MI5 had itself been infiltrated by a traitor. He followed up by asking Roberts how he thought MI5 might have been penetrated.

One can imagine Liddell’s bewilderment (unless he had been a party to the whole scheme). A journalist of dubious merit has been selected for a position with the Control Commission. He quickly disappears to East Berlin. And then MI6 and the Foreign Office sit on their hands, declining to detain and interrogate his partner, known to be a Communist agent, yet one married to the head of Section V in MI6. And that office then tries to fob off junior MI5 officers, clearly communicating an official SIS line. By 1949, Liddell has been nobbled, too.

What of the Honigmanns? Philby obviously informed Moscow Centre what was going on, and that his soon-to-be ex-wife was an innocent pawn in the game. They were allowed to pursue their journalist careers untouched for a while, until January 1953, when they were caught up in Stalin’s purge against the ‘Jewish Plot’, and arrested and detained. The Honigmann file contains press clippings of the measures. Those events must have helped sour Litzi’s confidence in the righteousness of her ideological home. If any insider who knew that Lizzy Honigmann had previously been married to a certain Kim Philby, and thought that the public might be interested in such a disclosure, he (or she) kept quiet, no doubt concerned about his (or her) future career. After all, in 1953, who was Kim Philby?

The Honigmanns arrested – from the ‘Daily Express’

The story comes full circle with the interview of Laemmel by Arthur Martin on October 3, 1951. Late in the cycle of its investigations into Kim Philby, MI5 attempts to discover more about the activities of his first wife as it prepares its report for the Foreign Secretary. The bizarre way that MI5 and MI6 proceeded in dealing with the evidence it had uncovered during this fateful year will be the subject of next month’s coldspur bulletin.

Summary and Conclusions

I have presented a theory as to why and how Kim Philby was protected for so long, and why MI6 was so reluctant to admit that it had nourished a traitor in its corporate body. No smoking gun for this hypothesis exists, but the behaviour of MI6 over the Honigmann case provides strong evidence that the service had been hoodwinked by Kim and Litzi Philby.  In the belief that they had acquired a reformed communist sympathizer, and an NKVD asset who was now working for them, MI6 senior officers attempted to keep the whole project a secret – until it was too late. The theory explains many enigmas previously that were previously perplexing or simply insoluble: the clumsy and foolhardy approaches by Philby to gain a job with GC&CS in September 1939; the insouciance of MI5 over the contribution of Solomon and Birch; the machinations by Philby to get his wife home from Paris when war broke out; the failure of MI5 to follow up Krivitsky’s most obvious hint; Liddell’s and Vivian’s clumsy attempts in 1940 to protect Philby when his father was interned; Philby’s smooth acceptance as a recruit to MI6 in 1941; the 1941 insights into the structure of the Austrian Communist Party in exile; the ability of Litzi Philby to roam around untouched during the war, including her work as a courier for the atom spy, Broda; the creation of the ‘Litzy Feabre’ persona; the delay until Kim and Litzi divorced, and the timing of their eventual separation in 1946; the obscure abscondment of Georg Honigmann that same year; the deceptions over the timing of Litzi’s departure from the UK.

A prominent objection to this hypothesis would be (as Keith Ellison has pointed out) that a Counter-Intelligence organization would be very wary about recruiting a former enemy operative into its service, and should be very suspicious of deploying anyone tainted by such connections in intelligence work. That must be correct, but I would counter with the following arguments:

  1. MI5 and MI6 had no evidence that Philby was a serious Soviet agent (as opposed to an erstwhile communist agitator) when he approached MI6. He was not regarded as such by the NKVD at the time; in truth, he was considered a failure. The occasion of the Nazi-Soviet Pact had given Philby a highly plausible reason for changing his allegiance. MI6 discounted the overt political beliefs of his youth.
  2. Any such discretion did not apply to Litzi Philby. Laemmel had identified her as a committed RIS agent, yet MI5 and MI6 indulged her, and allowed her to roam around unchecked. Admittedly, she was not actually recruited by MI5, but both Dick White and Valentine Vivian pretended that they did not know her true status. In his interviews with White, Philby claimed that he had ‘converted’ her.
  3. The case is mirrored in that of SONIA (Ursula Beurton). She was known to have been a GRU agent (and gave no indication of having switched her loyalties), yet was rescued from Switzerland and abetted by MI6 for reasons that remain obscure, but may have involved aspirations for code decryption, or the transmission of disinformation.

1950 and 1951 had been a bad period for MI5 and MI6. Learning about Klaus Fuchs’s trial, Ursula Beurton (SONIA) fled (or was encouraged to escape) to East Germany in February 1950. Fuchs was soon afterwards convicted. In September, Bruce Pontecorvo disappeared. In November, Fuchs, in prison, admitted to recognizing from photographs his courier, SONIA. In March 1951, the British VENONA team developed a short-list of suspects for HOMER, based on VENONA transcripts. Burgess and Maclean decamped just before Maclean was to be interrogated. Suspicions fell on Philby as the ‘Third Man’, and MI6 may have realized that Litzi might have been a courier for Engelbert Broda, who left the UK for Vienna in 1947. Between them, MI5 and MI6 had facilitated the purloining of valuable atomic weaponry secrets by overlooking contacts between Fuchs and the GRU courier, SONIA, and between Broda and the cut-out from the NKVD, Litzi. And in the summer of 1951 the Americans were starting to ask embarrassing questions about the level of information on atomic energy that Broda had been able to access.

What I find truly astonishing is the perpetual inactivity of MI5 officers in following up tips and leads, and their reluctance to take what would appear to be obvious steps to interview persons who might have been able to help in their inquiries. This pathology has two dimensions: the failure to pursue opportunities given before Philby was judged to have been a Soviet agent in the summer of 1951 (such as the Krivitsky hint, and the inertia over Honigmann), and the passivity after White’s interviews and Milmo’s interrogations of that year disclosed the pattern of behaviour exemplified in my dossier at the start of this piece. It is as if they wanted to put a brake on the whole project, as they knew that what they found would be embarrassing to the service. I shall explore that phenomenon closely in next month’s report.

Above all, the story highlights the ingenuity of the GRU and the NKVD. Male agents were expendable, and could be killed when their usefulness had expired, or they had become infected by Western laxity. Female agents were of a different calibre. Both Litzy Philby and Ursula Kuczynski were encouraged – nay, ordered – to exploit their femininity to inveigle unsuspecting enemy agents, or bewilder lazy counter-intelligence organizations. It was a disaster for MI6, and, to a slightly lesser extent, for MI5, something that, even over seventy years later, neither institution can acknowledge.

First, I hereby thank Keith Ellison, who was kind enough to review an earlier version of this article, and to offer me suggestions for improving it.  While he is probably supportive of many of my conclusions, the opinions expressed here, and any errors that appear in it, are of course mine. Second, as preparation for my May bulletin, the analysis within which will start with Philby’s arrival in London on June 11, 1951, after he was summoned back from Washington, readers should re-inspect two coldspur reports from four years ago, namely The Importance of Chronology, at [the first section may be skipped], and Dick White’s Devilish Plot, at These pieces reveal how Dick White and Arthur Martin had by June already compiled a comprehensive dossier on Kim Philby, and had successfully placed the evidence for his probable guilt with the CIA agent William Harvey. Lastly, if you have any comments or insights on these bizarre events, please post them on coldspur, or send me an email at

Recent commonplace entries can be seen here.

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Litzi Philby Under (the) Cover(s)

Litzi Philby



Topical News

Litzi Philby

The Martin Interview

Candidates for the Mystery Interviewee

Helen Fry & ‘Spymaster’

A Fragile Marriage

Kim’s First Spell in Spain

Kim’s Second Spell in Spain

Litzi in France

The Approach of War

The Honigmann Era

Life in the East


Postscript: Charlotte Philby & ‘Edith and Kim’

*          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *


From comments offered by readers of coldspur, I understand that substantial interest endures in the affairs (both political and amorous) of Kim Philby and his first wife, Litzi. In recent months several useful contributions have been posted, and I now take up the challenge of trying to make sense of the fragmented archival material and memoirs that exist. To me, the burning questions outstanding could be framed as follows:

  • Why was Litzi deployed by Soviet intelligence when there was a severe risk of exposing Philby in so doing?
  • Why were Philby’s connections with Litzi and her communist associates not picked up and taken seriously by British intelligence?

and, as a specific inquiry into a very bizarre period:

  • What was Philby up to in Europe in 1945?

I originally intended to address all three questions in this month’s report, but I had so much material on the first to consider that I shall defer addressing the latter two until next month.

But first, I want to comment on some recent relevant events.

Topical News

A few weeks ago, one of my most loyal readers, David Coppin, alerted me to an on-line article from the Daily Mail that described Andrew Lownie’s efforts to have a ‘Seventh Man’ identified (see I have to admit that my first impression was that this was a recent revelation, until I saw that the item was dated September 19, 2016. Nevertheless, since I had not seen the piece before, it set my mind racing, and I wondered about the unreality of it all. It referred to a letter in which the ‘seventh man’ had been identified, and that he was moreover part of the 1950s Cambridge spy ring. Yet the person could not be named because, as the judge Sir Peter Lane explained in his ruling, he was still alive and it was ‘quite possible that personal relationships could be jeopardised’. Tut! Tut!

Now, by the 1950s, this Cambridge ‘spy ring’ was in disarray. Burgess and Maclean had debunked to Moscow in 1951, Philby was under suspicion, Blunt was dormant, and the outlier Cairncross had had to retire from the Civil Service in 1952 because his ‘indiscretions’ had been detected. Wilfred Mann lived in the USA. To be genuinely part of that ‘ring’, any spy would have had to be one of the ideological true believers of the 1930s, and would thus have been born in the years between 1905 and 1915. For any such person to have survived until 2016, he would be a centenarian of some repute, and I thus cannot understand how the judge could confidently maintain that such a person (not George Blake, who was never a member of the Cambridge ring anyway) was both a close associate of the Cambridge Five and also among the living in 2016. (Even Eric Hobsbawm had died in 2012.) Had an MI5 officer perhaps rather playfully referred to a ‘seventh man’ even though he might have been a less harmful fellow-traveller, or even a less important younger agent who had been convinced of the righteousness of Communism? Remember, after the brutalities of Stalinism in Eastern Europe after the war, there were few fresh champions of Soviet-style Communism in the West. Most spies from this time had mercenary motives, or were blackmailed into the game.

The article did not mention the Oxford Group (Wynn, Floud, Hart & co.), but they too were, as far as we know, all dead anyway. How many ‘men’ there were in this cabal is a source of endless fascination – even whimsy. I can imagine a cricket-team of Stalin’s Men, all A-listers, with a twelfth man waiting in the pavilion should any one of the select XI become disabled. I see them taking the field, with Rees and Maclean to open the bowling. Mann is behind the stumps, Philby and Blunt can be seen discussing who should be at Third Man, Burgess perches uncomfortably at Square Leg, Leo Long has a despondent air at Long Off, Cairncross and MacGibbon are crouching nervously in the slips, Michael Straight has been correctly placed at Silly Gully, and, my goodness, could that be Lord Rothschild patrolling the covers as captain . . .? Despite such bathetic ruminations, I still wondered where this Freedom of Information inquiry stood. Seven years later – surely Sir Peter Lane, who is apparently still busy on his various benches, must have volunteered some fresh insights by now. Was his mystery man still alive?

I decided to contact Andrew Lownie, whom I knew from several years ago, and had met in London. I had also tracked his tribulations with the Mountbatten papers in Private Eye. He responded very promptly, but was singularly unhelpful and unimaginative. His first message stated that ‘the case was still rumbling on’ (shades of Jarndyce vs. Jarndyce), and he asked me whether I had any ideas who the person might be. Not having seen the evidence, I declared I had no idea, and explained my reasoning given above. I asked him for further details on what he had found, and he merely wrote back ‘All I know is the original file number which is in the tribunal decision’. And there the matter lies: all very unsatisfactory.

Next, an obituary in the New York Times on February 19 caught my eye. It was of Arne Treholt, a Norwegian diplomat convicted in the mid-1980s of spying for the Soviets. Here was a trusted high-flyer, discovered with sixty-five confidential documents in his briefcase as he tried to leave Oslo airport to meet his KGB handler, Colonel Gennady Titov, in Vienna. Tipped off by Soviet defectors, the Norwegian authorities had already found piles of cash in his apartment. After his plea of idealism, ‘wanting to lower tensions between nuclear-armed antagonists’, failed to influence the court, he resorted to claims that he had been subject to blackmail after compromising photographs had been taken of him at a party in Moscow in 1975. Treholt was sentenced to twenty years in prison – the maximum allowed – but then was inexplicably released and pardoned in 1992.

Arne Treholt

But worse was to come, as the Times reported: “After his release, Mr. Treholt received the equivalent of about $100,000 from an anonymous donor, money he used to start a new life in Russia. Along with his investment activities, he became an advocate for Russian interests: most recently, he wrote articles defending the Russian invasion of Ukraine.” Thus the idealistic peacemaker, abetting the brutal communist regime, effectively switched sides, supporting the neo-Fascist Putin, whose policy of trying to come to the help of ‘ethnic’ Russians living in places like Kazakhstan, Ukraine, and Latvia most closely resembles that of Hitler, trying to bring ‘ethnic’ Germans scattered from the homeland into a greater Reich.

To call Treholt a ‘worm’ would be an insult to the entire worldwide vermiform community. It reminds me of Kim Philby, professing how he could not turn down an offer to join an elite force. So long as that membership gave him attention, and made him feel that he was doing something worthwhile in the vanguard of humanity, it probably did not matter which totalitarian secret police force it was, either the Gestapo or the KGB. But at least Philby didn’t accept piles of cash.

To show how allegiances have been turned upside down in the twenty-first century, I next cite the case of Carsten Linke, a former German soldier, who was recently arrested in Bavaria on charges of treason and spying for Russia. No clear financial incentives had been detected, but Linke was known to have been linked to the far-right party, AfD (the Alternative fűr Deutschland). As the New York Times reported: “Over the years, far-right groups have grown increasingly sympathetic to Russia, enamored of Mr. Putin’s nationalistic rhetoric.” The German Federal Intelligence Service (the BND), notoriously leaky from Cold War days, had recently appointed Mr. Linke to head personnel security checks, and he probably passed on masses of information about possible informants to his Russian controllers. The same KGB officer in Leningrad who plotted to help overthrow the imperialistic and fascist West, Vladimir Putin, has now become the role model for the worst tendencies of a movement whose mission had originally been to demonize the Communist regime that Putin defended and served so loyally. And yet Putin characterizes those who assist Ukraine as ‘fascists’.

Lastly, a mention of Nigel West’s latest book, Spies Who Changed History. It is more out of a sense of duty than excitement that I have acquired West’s recent publications, but I diligently ordered this new item, despite the trite and overused formula of its title. (Of course no one ‘changes’ history, as history is invariable.) It is subtitled The Greatest Spies and Agents of the 20th Century, not to be confused with West’s 1991 offering Seven Spies Who Changed the World, which somewhat diminishes the focus, if ‘agents’ (recruiters, couriers, agents of influence and the like) were to be included. So which central figures were to be given this fresh analysis?

‘Spies Who Changed History’

My heart skipped a beat when I noticed a photograph of Edith Tudor-Hart (née Suschitzky) on the cover, since I was naive enough to believe that I might learn a lot more about this intriguing character who played a perhaps overstated role in England as recruiter, courier, and photographer in the Comintern’s conspiracies of the 1930s and beyond. Yet she is not in the list of West’s fourteen history-changing agents, a roll-call that ranges from Walter Dewé to Gennadi Vasilenko (yes, of course you recognize those names!). The only reason that she appears on the cover is that she was one of the prime recruits of Number 4 in West’s catalogue, Arnold Deutsch, who was never a spy in his life, but a Soviet illegal. (That portraiture on the cover must constitute some kind of misrepresentation.) To distract his readers even more, in his Acknowledgements West offers his gratitude to over a hundred persons who assisted his research, nearly all of whom are dead, and whose number include Anthony Blunt, John Cairncross, Len Beurton, and Ursula, Robert and Wolf Kuczynsky [sic]. I hope they all advised him with honesty and integrity. This is a very sorry work, replete with pages and pages of transcribed archival material, that should never have been published. A few decades ago, Nigel West developed a brand that indicated high competence in research: for example, this month I read his excellent 1989 book, Games of Intelligence, which gives a fascinating overview of the intelligence and counter-intelligence institutions of the UK, the USA, the Soviet Union, France and Israel, and their successes and failures. What a falling-off there has been.

But to return to my main topic . . .

Litzi Philby

Matters were relatively simpler back in the 1930s. Diehard communists for the most part remained loyal to their totalitarian boss, even though they had a devilish time concealing their ideological roots when they went under the cover of the British intelligence services and other institutions. Litzi Philby (née Kohlmann, then Friedmann, then Philby, then Honigmann, with several lovers throughout this period) was an extraordinary exception, since, as an open Communist Austrian-born Jew, she never hoped or planned to be able to work for the British establishment, but neither did she make much effort to conceal her loyalties. She remained an agent of the NKVD, acted as a vital courier, was lavishly supported by the NKVD for a while, and even sent back from Paris to England in 1940 as the Nazis approached. In approving and effecting her return to her husband’s haunts, however, it would seem that her bosses undertook an enormous risk that Kim Philby might thereby be exposed. Why did they do it? I explore that conundrum in this text.

For those readers who may not be closely aware of the role that Litzi played in Philby’s treacherous career, I refer to her Wikipedia entry at This is overall a serviceable though flawed summary, and shows the difficulties of trying to verify details of her life and background from somewhat dubious sources, including the mendacious account of her own life that she bequeathed to her daughter. It also omits some critical events in her career. Moreover, why she should be known as Litzi Friedmann, I have no idea. Her maiden name was Kohlmann, her marriage to Friedmann lasted only about a year, and she was Mrs Philby from 1934 to 1946, which represents the essence of her puzzling career trying to stay under cover.

Tracing the recruitment of Soviet agents with confidence is a notoriously difficult business. In Misdefending the Realm (pp 37-39) I detailed seventeen different accounts of how, when and where Kim Philby had been recruited, and I cited the author Peter Shipley, who wrote: “No fewer than twelve individuals have been identified as the recruiters, and, or, controllers of Kim Philby between 1933 and 1939”. Moreover, the event of ‘recruitment’ is necessarily fuzzy. Potential serious candidates for infiltration may have worked first as couriers or spotters; they may have been given a cryptonym before being ‘officially’ recruited – a process that required approval from Moscow. They may have been members of the local Communist Party, or one of its cover organizations. A superficial distinction was made between working for the Comintern and the more serious Russian Intelligence Services (the NKVD or the GRU). Memoirists may have had ulterior motives in misrepresenting what happened: drawing attention to their own successes as a recruiting-officer, for example, or concealing the importance of another agent by misrepresenting the role of a minor figure. Kim and Litzi plotted how they should separately explain their story should they be blown: Litzi openly lied to her daughter about the course of events, but claimed that she had forgotten many of the details – maybe a protection mechanism against decisions and activities she later regretted.

The outline of the story seems uncontested. In 1933, Philby, on the guidance probably of his Cambridge tutor Maurice Dobb, sought out the IOAR (International Organization for Aid to Revolutionaries) in Vienna, a communist front. He discovered that Litzi headed the group in the ninth district, lodged with her and his parents, and was seduced by her in between more formal activities of helping communists oppressed and chased by Dollfuss’s government. Philby became the treasurer of the branch, raising and distributing money. His British passport enabled him to travel as a courier to Prague and Budapest. With Litzi under threat, they married on February 24, 1934 to give her authority for making her escape to the United Kingdom, with her new spouse in tow. They arrived, via Paris, in early April.

The Martin Interview

In October 1951, in the wake of the abscondment of Burgess and Maclean, Arthur Martin of B.2.B in MI5 was busily investigating the possible involvement of Philby. He had invited a known acquaintance of Edith Tudor-Hart to an interview on MI5 premises, and he was accompanied by an unidentified ‘Captain’. (Tudor-Hart was a forerunner of Litzi’s. She had been a Communist in Vienna and had married a British doctor, thus enabling her to reside in Britain, where she led a nefarious cell – the Austrian Communist Party in exile.)  Martin explained that the enquiry was ‘more than usually confidential’, and thus he requested utmost secrecy from his interviewee. He further explained that the subject of the enquiry was Lizzy [sic] Philby, and that he wanted his subject to recount all that he knew about her. [The record of the conversation is held in one of the Tudor-Hart files, KV 2/1014, at the National Archives. Unsurprisingly, Litzi Philby’s file has not been released.]

The interviewee, whose name has been redacted from the report, started by saying that he had met Litzy ‘spasmodically’ between 1944 and 1946 in London, and thus had personal exposure to her, but that most of the knowledge of her background came from Edith Tudor-Hart. Martin recorded his assessment of her character as follows:

             . . . a woman who, though an out and out Communist, enjoys good living and is certainly not the self-sacrificing type. She is attractive to men. Xxxxx said that he had always been curious about Lizzy because she was so obviously above the level of card-carrying Communists and never seemed to want for money. He compared her standing in the Party with that of Arpad Haasze, a Communist he had known in Vienna in the early 1930’s. Haasze, said Xxxxx, had definitely worked for Soviet Intelligence.

Now, is this not a startling testimony? The interviewee appears to know a lot about Litzi’s life-style, and admits that he had ‘always’ been curious about her. That is a strange choice of qualifier for an acquaintance that has outwardly been only occasional, and restricted to a couple of economically austere years at the end of the war. Furthermore, the overt reference to movement in Communist circles in Vienna in the early 1930s provides a solid clue as to the person’s identity, while also casting doubts on the honesty of his narrative. How did he learn about Litzi’s ‘standing within the Party’ from meetings in war-time London? I shall return to this matter, but Martin had further questions about Lizzy’s pre-war activities, and wrote up Xxxxx’s responses as follows:

Xxxxx had heard that Lizzy was first married (he presumed in Vienna) to a wealthy Austrian whose name he could not remember. He did however make a guess which was sufficiently close to convince me that he meant FRIEDMAN. Xxxxx did not know when or whence Lizzy came to the U.K., nor did he (until a few weeks ago) know anything more about her second husband than his name was PHILBY. He still has no idea when or where they were married or when they were divorced. His one firm conviction was that Lizzy had lived in a flat in Paris before the war on a fairly lavish scale. When asked how he knew she lived well while in Paris, Xxxxx said that he remembered Lizzy had a bill for £150 for storage of her furniture in Paris throughout the war, from which he had deduced that her possessions there must have been fairly substantial.

How kind of Litzi to confide to such a nodding acquaintance the secrets of her personal finances! Martin, however, did not follow up on this provocative assertion. He moved quickly on to their subject’s association with H. A. R. Philby, to which Xxxxx responded (apparently forgetting what he had stated a few minutes earlier): “Xxxxx said that (until a few weeks ago) he knew nothing of PHILBY except that he and Lizzy were divorced by 1944.” Martin notes that this latter fact was not true, but does not record that Xxxxx had been found out in an obvious lie, he having previously denied knowing when they had been divorced. Unfortunately, the bottom of this page of the record is torn and undecipherable, although it does indicate Martin’s apparent interest in how Xxxxx had learned of the event.

Moreover, the character whom the interviewee compared with Litzi, Arpad Haasze (or Haaz), was known by MI5 to have been Edith Tudor-Hart’s partner (both professional and amorous) in Vienna at this time. The tracking of Haasze went back many years: a note from May 3, 1935 records that Edith had cabled £25 to Arpad Haas [sic] in Zurich. Haas also had had a Personal File (68890) created for him at this time, although the author said that Haas ‘is probably quite O.K.’  MI5 would in time learn otherwise. A note in Edith’s file, dated February 24, 1947, records that she had worked for Russian Intelligence (she confessed this fact to MI5), ‘and ran a photographic studio in Vienna as a cover for her Intelligence work, together with a Russian who was also her boy friend.’ And a further note, dated August 16, 1947, includes the following:

            Mrs TUDOR-HART’s partner in the Russian Intelligence set-up in Vienna before the war, who after the discovery of the ‘activities’ by the Austrian authorities, fled from Austria and was later reported dead by the Russians, has suddenly appeared in the Russian Zone of Austria. Mrs Tudor-Hart recently received a letter from him in which he stated that he is now working with the Russians. He does not give any details of his work. He is an Hungarian named Arpad HAAZ and gives his address as: c/o U.S.S.I.W.A , 25 Glauzing Gasse, Vienna XVIII.

Through these hints of familiarity, the interviewee shows himself be a close friend of Edith Tudor-Hart (whom he describes in the record as ‘a sick woman, highly neurotic, and suffering from persecution mania’). He indicates that he has been having regular conversations with her.

I shall return to the remainder of the interview later, when I analyze Lizzy’s relationship with Georg Honigmann, but I need to speculate here on the identity of the interviewee. Here is what we know about him (apart from the fact that he is a clumsy deceiver):

  • He is an apparently well-trusted source, a man of some standing
  • He is someone who was intimately involved with communist movements in Vienna in the early 1930s, to the extent of being acquainted with assuredly genuine Soviet agents, such as Haasze
  • He knows Litzi from occasional encounters between 1944 and 1946, yet is aware of her standing in the Communist Party
  • He knows Litzi had been married again, to someone called Philby
  • He did not know who ‘Philby’ was until a short time before the interview
  • He knew that the Philbys had been divorced in 1944
  • He is much more familiar with Edith Tudor-Hart

Yet what is also remarkable is the reaction of Martin and his partner, and their subsequent interaction. They appear to be utterly unsurprised by Xxxxx’s admission that he was familiar with the communist underground in Vienna in 1933, and, likewise, Xxxxx does not attempt to conceal such activity. They are, moreover, completely incurious about the man’s activities in Vienna, having presumably failed to do any homework, and miss the obvious opportunity to ask how he had not been aware of the collaboration and affair between Kim and Litzi. They never ask why he has associated with both Litzi and Edith Tudor-Hart, both of whom were known to MI5 as dedicated communists, probably involved with espionage. Why would Edith have told this person so much about Litzi Philby? While listening solemnly to the account of how the interviewee knew many details of Litzi’s extravagances in Paris, they never ask why the facts about her marriage to Philby were not revealed to him. Why did the name ‘Philby’ mean nothing to him until the autumn of 1951, when Litzi would have borne the name ‘Philby’ when he met her in the mid-forties, and presumably provoked his interest? It is all utterly unreal – and unprofessional –  as if the whole exercise were a charade.

Candidates for the Mystery Interviewee

It is time to speculate on who the mystery man was. The redacted space where the name would have appeared is about five letters long. Two candidates come to mind: Eric Gedye and Charles ‘Dick’ Ellis, both of whom worked in some capacity for Thomas Kendrick, the head of the SIS station in Vienna, in 1933. It would have required such a presence for the person to be that intimately familiar with both Edith Tudor-Hart (Edith Suschitzky until she married Alexander Tudor-Hart in Vienna in August 1933) as well as the notorious Haasze. Yet there must be a major question-mark against both candidates.

(I should add that the journalist E. H. Cookridge could conceivably be considered a candidate, since he was born Edward Spiro, and that surname would fit. But I discounted him for several reasons: 1) It is unlikely that Cookridge, a foreign-born journalist, would have been welcomed easily into the interrogation halls of MI5; 2) He would probably have been known as ‘Cookridge’, not ‘Spiro’, at that time, since he published books in the late 1940s under that name; 3) He had surely not been embedded enough in intelligence in Vienna in 1933/34 to know Haasze; 4) Since he had been the most closely involved with Kim and Litzi in Vienna, he could hardly have got away with implying that he did not know about their marriage; and 5) Given his knowledge of Philby’s visits to the Soviet Embassy in Vienna, he would probably have volunteered such information in the wake of the Burgess-Maclean fiasco. Of course, if he were the interviewee, he may have done just that, but such insights might simply have been omitted from the transcript.)

Eric Gedye

Gedye was a journalist who had at one time worked for the Times and then represented the Daily Telegraph and the New York Times.  Yet he was also an MI6 asset, passing on intelligence to the Vienna head-of-station, Thomas Hendrick, and, when Kendrick was eventually arrested in 1938, Gedye reported instead to Claude Dansey as part of the Z network. The main challenge to the theory is the fact that Gedye had been intimately familiar with both Litzi and Kim: he must otherwise have been dissimulating grossly to Martin and the Colonel. According to Boris Volodarsky, it was Gedye who welcomed Philby in Vienna by immediately recommending him as a lodger with the Kohlmann family, and Kim famously, by his own admission, took several suits from Gedye’s wardrobe as clothing to help his oppressed colleagues.

‘Betrayal in Central Europe’ (or ‘Fallen Bastions’)

Gedye was in fact an accomplished political analyst with strong left-wing persuasions. He wrote Fallen Bastions (titled Betrayal in Central Europe when published in the USA in 1939, as my copy shows) and in his despatches was reported to have exerted a strong influence on Winston Churchill. Yet there was something very paradoxical about him. His Wikipedia entry includes the following statement: “In Vienna he became known among colleagues as ‘The Lone Wolf’ for keeping a certain distance from the group of Anglo-Saxon correspondents who often gathered in the city’s cafés and bars, including  Marcel Fodor, John Gunther and Dorothy Thompson.” That strikes me as somewhat phony, as if Gedye himself were promoting that impression. In his book about Kim Philby, The Third Man, E. H. Cookridge wrote:

            There were in Vienna several permanent British newspaper correspondents; their doyen was the genial and omniscient Eric Gedye, who had represented the Times since 1926 and was now working for the Daily Telegraph and the New York Times. These and other British and American journalists had made the Café Louvre their regular haunt, where they discussed the situation.

            Gedye presided at these gatherings. Every afternoon and evening he received some furtive visitors, who darted in and out of the café, and imparted to him whispered messages. They were leaders and members of the illegal socialist groups, who has sprung up immediately after the putsch.

Some ‘Lone Wolf’. Moreover, Cookridge was one of those who gave information to Gedye. And it was at the Louvre that Cookridge met Kim Philby, who sometimes brought with him a woman whom he introduced as his fiancée, even though they had been married a fortnight after the putsch, on February 24. Thus, if the interviewee was Eric Gedye, he was behaving as ingenuously as Martin was acting obtusely. If, as he had claimed, the name ‘Philby’ meant nothing to him until the Burgess and Maclean affair, it was a monumental dissimulation: he must have earnestly wanted to conceal any connections, and he must have imagined that his interlocutor would not have the knowledge or the means to penetrate his deceptions. A riposte would be that this exchange shows that the interviewee was not Gedye, since the man in question was evidently unacquainted with Philby, and, despite his close relationship with Litzi’s close friend Edith Tudor-Hart, had not been informed about his marriage to Litzi until 1951.

One important factor working against Gedye’s being the interviewee is chronology. According to his ODNB entry, Gedye spent the later war years with his future wife (also called Litzi) in Turkey and the Middle East, working for SOE. They were arrested by the Turkish police in 1942, released shortly afterwards, and relocated to Cairo. After the war, he apparently returned to Vienna, reporting for the Guardian, and was appointed bureau chief for Radio Free Europe in 1950. So it seems improbable that he could have mixed socially with Litzi Philby and Edith Tudor-Hart in London between 1944 and 1946, or have been available for an impromptu interview in October 1951.

Irrespective of the timeline, the proposition has its own absurdities. How could Eric Gedye, having introduced Philby to Litzi, and assisted Kim in his underground activities, not have heard about Philby and his marriage? After all, Hugh Gaitskell and his future wife Dora, Muriel Gardiner, John Lehmann, Stephen Spender, Flora Solomon, Naomi Mitchison, Teddy Kollek – and probably many others – all knew about what Philby was up to in Venna, and of his very public marriage to the communist Litzi. The scenario is preposterous either way. . (For my account of the adventures – amorous and otherwise – of Muriel Gardiner and Stephen Spender, please see the March 2016 piece, Hey, Big Spender!.)

So perhaps the mystery man was Dick Ellis? Yet that hypothesis contains its own paradoxes. Dick Ellis was a scoundrel in his own right, although the indictment of his career, recorded in Stephen Dorrill’s MI6, as well as in Nigel West’s Dictionary of British Intelligence, comes predominantly from Peter Wright in Spycatcher, and various writings of Chapman Pincher. Care is thus required.

Charles ‘Dick’ Ellis

Ellis was certainly working officially under Kendrick in Vienna in the early 1930s, so his testimony concerning Haasze can be regarded as authentic. Yet exactly the same criticisms of his statements that I have made about Gedye apply: how could a person in such a position be ignorant of the Kim/Litzi shenanigans, or expect to get away with denying any knowledge of them to an MI5 interrogator, unless the latter were an absolute greenhorn, or were contributing to a cover-up himself? Moreover, Ellis came under suspicion himself in the nineteen-fifties, in a case that has so many twists that it makes the head of the most patient sleuth spin.

The career of the four-time married Ellis is an extraordinary story of mis-steps and indulgence. He was born in Australia, and educated at Oxford. After the First World War, he was recruited by MI6, and posted to Berlin in 1923. He then moved to Paris where, like many of his colleagues, he made the bad judgment of marrying a White Russian woman – his betrothed bearing the name Zilenski. Yet this woman was connected to an agent named Waldemar von Petrov. Walter Krivitsky, the GRU defector called to London in January 1940, actually informed Jane Sissmore of MI5 that the GRU had recruited Petrov, who was working for the Abwehr, shortly before the war. Dorrill picks up the story:

            When an Abwehr officer was interrogated after the war, he confirmed that von Petrov had claimed to have had an excellent source of information inside MI6. He said that he had worked through an intermediary called ‘Zilenski’, whose source, ’Captain Ellis’, had supplied documents revealing MI6’s ‘order of battle’ and information about specific secret operations, including the tapping of the telephone of the German ambassador in London, von Ribbentrop. Disturbed by the allegations, MI5 sought permission to interrogate Ellis, but MI6 refused, contemptuously dismissing the allegations by suggesting that the German officer had faked the evidence.

Could Martin have been unaware of these events? Dorrill’s account suggests that the aborted investigation occurred soon after the war, but Peter Wright indicates that MI5 began to re-evaluate Krivitsky’s depositions seriously only after the Burgess/Maclean defections in 1951 – that is, at exactly the time of the Martin interview. Yet Wright’s chronology is typically loose. He wrote, after describing how MI6 had rejected the possibility that Ellis could have been a spy:

            In any case, Ellis had opted for early retirement, and was planning to return to Australia. Dick White, newly appointed to MI5 and not wanting to aggravate still further the tensions already strained to breaking point by the gathering suspicions against Philby, agreed to shelve the case.

Ellis, who headed MI6 in Singapore, retired to Australia in 1953. (Wright also wrote: “Within a year of Philby’s falling under suspicion Ellis took early retirement, pleading ill-health”, which is also incorrect.) 1953 was the year White became MI5 chief, not ‘newly appointed to MI5’. If, indeed, MI5 did not pick up the Krivitsky threads until the time of the White regime, it might, however, explain how MI6 was able to fob off an unsuspected Ellis to MI5 in October 1951.

Wright’s account of the investigation into Ellis (pp 325-330) is fascinating otherwise, and one of the most convincing sections of his book. The fact is that Ellis eventually (much later, the date is not given) confessed – in the same room where Martin carried out his interview – to passing on secrets to the Abwehr, through his brother-in-law, when under financial pressures. He also came under suspicion of being a Soviet informant, perhaps being blackmailed by Russian Intelligence because of his known Abwehr connections. Contributory photographic identification was gained from the widow of Ignace Reiss, Elizabeth Poretsky, and from Mrs. Bernharda Pieck (the wife of Henry Pieck, the Dutch agent of the GRU, who had worked for Reiss), but Ellis was not conclusively pinned as such.

The dates fit much better for Ellis. He worked for British Security Coordination in New York and was appointed head of the Washington office in 1941.  He spent some time in Cairo in 1942, rejoined BSC later that year, and then returned to London in 1944. Thus he would have been around to renew his contacts with Edith Tudor-Hart, as he described them. And if, indeed, the revivified investigation into the Krivitsky files did not take place until 1953, he would have been a safe choice by MI6 to condescend to speak to MI5 and lie on behalf of the service. Yet the same urgent questions apply to the lack of disciplined follow-up by Martin and the Colonel. Why did they not interrogate the interviewee about his admitted interactions with the two women, and why did they not challenge the contradictions in his story? Why did Martin’s boss, Dick White, not challenge the officer over his inept performance, and why did MI5 post such a damaging report in the archive? Whoever the mystery interviewee was, this entry looks like an elaborate charade.

Helen Fry & ‘Spymaster’

Helen Fry’s ‘Spymaster’

One writer who has questioned the activities of MI6 in Vienna at this time is Helen Fry. The revision of her biography of Thomas Kendrick, Spymaster is sub-titled The Man Who Saved MI6, and it was issued in 2021. As I have written before, it is in many ways an irritating book, containing too much irrelevant material and unexplained asides, and stylistically very clumsy. For example, it suffers from overuse of the passive voice (‘it is believed that’, ‘it is thought that’) with the result that the reader has no idea which persons are responsible for various activities and opinions. Yet Fry has read widely, and is prepared to stick her neck out in admirably unconventional ways when dealing with paradoxical information. In this respect, she finds much that is bizarre in the conduct of Philby, Ellis and Kendrick during the frenzied events of 1933-1934 in Vienna.

Since Kendrick had proved himself to be a very adept spymaster, and had shown an ability to penetrate communist networks, Fry finds Kendrick’s lack of interest in Philby’s associations with Litzi quite astonishing, and wonders to herself why had Kendrick not been tracking her before Philby arrived on the scene. She introduces the hypothesis that Philby may actually have been given the task to infiltrate Communist networks rather than being coincidentally led to Litzi by Gedye.  She supports this theory by mentioning that E. H. Cookridge noted that Philby had made contact with two figures at the Russian embassy in Vienna, one of whom, Vladimir Alexeivich Antonov-Ovseyenko, was suspected of being a Russian spy’. (He was later to supervise activities for the Soviet mission in Spain during the Civil War before being recalled and executed in the Purges.) Cookridge in fact claimed that Philby told him he could get money to help the socialist groups that Cookridge worked with, and he concluded:

            The money which Philby offered could only have come from the Russians, and the last thing my friends and I wanted was to accept financial help from Moscow. Philby was told this in unmistakable terms and our relations with him and his friends came to an abrupt end.

Yet no breach with Kendrick occurred, nor any reprimand. “Could the spymaster have instructed Philby to get close to members of the Russian embassy there? Was Philby, in fact, one of Kendrick’s agents?”, writes Fry. She thus ventures the possibility that Philby was sent to Vienna in 1933 to penetrate the communist network for SIS, and uses this conjecture to explain the indulgence of SIS, in 1940, over the fact that their new recruit had an overtly communist wife. It would also explain Philby’s apparent insouciance during the war concerning a divorce. He may have believed that he did not have to distance himself from Litzi so demonstrably, since his bosses knew the real story.

Thomas Kendrick

Even if that were true, however, Philby did not have to further his enterprise to the extent of marrying Litzi, an action that gives a whole new dimension to the notion of penetration. And that union may have been directed as a Soviet counter-thrust: have Litzi seduce a naïve Englishman, and then marry him, in order to allow a valiant female agent to become installed legitimately in Great Britain. After all, Litzi already had a firm CP and agent pedigree: she had been the mistress of Gábor Péter, a communist activist from Hungary who (according to Philp Knightley) was the first officer to recruit her. The Soviets had already accomplished the same objective with Edith Suschitsky, and, of course, Ursula Kuczynski would (in 1940) become another famous beneficiary of marriage arrangements that granted UK citizenship to women who took advantage of it to set about undermining their adoptive country.

A Fragile Marriage

Neither Kim nor Litzi expected the marriage to last long. According to Seale and McConville, Kim informed his parents, when writing to them about the event, that he expected the marriage to be dissolved ‘once the emergency was over’ – a strange formulation that perhaps suggested that he thought that Litzi would before long be able to return to Austria. Litzi declared that she had held some true affection for her husband, but she was in no two minds about the precipitate course of events, and for what purpose the two of them had been united. Predictably, Litzi was not warmly welcomed by Kim’s mother at Acol Road in Hampstead (his anti-semitic father being in Saudi Arabia at the time): she found Litzi too strident and showy, and the fact that she was Jewish, a communist, and a divorcée did not help her cause.

And Kim needed a job. While his left-wing ideas blocked him from a civil service career, he looked for a post in journalism, and in the summer of 1934 (or maybe early in 1935) was appointed editor of Review of Reviews.  Meanwhile, Litzi socialized regularly with other Austrian communist exiles, such as her close friends Edith Tudor-Hart and Peter Smolka, whom both she and Kim had known from Vienna. What is surprising about this period is the nonchalance with which both went about their business, Litzi mixing with friends who were being watched by MI5, and Kim collaborating with Smolka to set up a press agency, the London Continental News, Inc. It would appear that, at this stage, Kim did not have a clear idea as to how he could be useful to the Communist cause.

By the end of 1934, Kim had been officially ‘recruited’ by Arnold Deutsch. The accounts of this engagement have been grossly melodramatized over the years: Edith Tudor-Hart has been identified as being the queenpin in the operation to spot new recruits, but it all seems rather ludicrous. Anthony Blunt famously named Edith as ‘the grandmother of us all’, but it is hard to reconcile such a categorization with the frail, neurotic, exploited and clumsy woman who could not even carry out her photographic business without drawing hostile attention to herself. It is far more likely that Blunt described her as such to distract attention from Litzi herself. Moreover, Deutsch had known Litzi and Edith in Vienna: Borovik claims that he had ‘recruited’ Edith back in 1929, and that Edith ‘recruited’ Litzi as MARY in 1934, after which Edith talent-spotted Philby. Yet, according to what Philby told Borovik, he had also known Deutsch in Vienna. Why did Deutsch therefore have to undergo such clandestine efforts to meet Philby and check him out?

After his formal recruitment at the end of 1934, Philby was told (via Edith) to keep away from party work in London, and to distance himself gradually from his ideological background. Thus Philby began to recommend his Cambridge friends, more suitably placed and with less obvious drawbacks in their curricula vitae, for conspiratorial work while his own career was still in limbo. Yet Philby was obviously not ordered to separate from Litzi at this time, an omission in policy that seems quite extraordinary: in fact they spent the summer of 1935 together on a holiday in Spain. One interpretation could be that the NKVD at this stage considered Litzi a much more vital asset than Kim, even if she was public in her affiliations. Significantly, Nikolsky (known as Orlov), who for a few months in 1935 was a rezident at the Soviet embassy in London, observed that ‘with such a wife, Philby had hardly any chance of getting a decent job.’ Volodarsky notes that no-one expected him to be able to join the secret service, and thus be of use to his masters.

Litzi, as MARY, continued to be busy, and Nigel West has identified her in the clandestine wireless traffic between the Comintern and its agents in London that was picked up and decrypted by the Government Code and Cypher School. While some of the references to MARY in the transcripts seem to denote a male character, one entry for November 7, 1934, appears to point incontrovertibly to Litzi:

            ABRAHAM: ‘MARY has arrived safely and she asks you to take special care of her artist friend who you will meet and who is a very special person.’ HARRY.

As West observes: “If MI5 had succeeded in linking MARY to Litzi Friedman, and then connecting her to Kim Philby, his subsequent career might have taken a rather different course.”

Kim started his gradual process of moving to the right, and distancing himself from his communist connections. This strategy had both public and personal aspects. Edward Harrison informs us that a friend from Westminster School, Tom Wylie, introduced him to a businessman named Stafford Talbot, who was planning a journal focussed on Anglo-German trade. (Historian Sean McMeekin states that Wylie was the agent named MAX, who supplied information to Burgess and Philby from the War Office.)  Both Talbot and Philby joined the Anglo-German Fellowship, a move that was designed to provide his Soviet bosses with intelligence on covert links between the German and British governments. As Phillip Knightley wrote:

            Philby had worked so enthusiastically part-time for the Fellowship that in 1936 it offered him a full-time job. He was to start a trade journal, which would be financed by the German Propaganda Ministry, and which would have the aim of fostering good relations between Germany and Britain. Philby flew to Germany several times for talks with the Ministry and with the Ambassador in London, von Ribbentrop.

Yet this initiative stalled, as the Fellowship selected a rival publication as its outlet. The Anglo-German Review was launched in November 1936. While Knightley judged that, despite that setback, ‘Philby’s control must have been pleased with him’, Edward Harrison claimed on the other hand that, since Philby’s efforts to secure Nazi financial backing for his trade journal had failed, ‘by the end of 1936, Soviet intelligence described the situation as a fiasco and Philby’s attempts to spy on unofficial Anglo-German relations had yielded little’. It was a very tentative start by Philby to a career in espionage, and his bosses had to look for a new role for him. Moreover, the presence of his Jewish, communist wife was a permanent handicap. In June 1936, Philby divulged to his old coal-miner friend Jim Lees that he would have to get rid of Litzi. Lees stormed out of his house over Philby’s attitude towards Germany and his proposed treatment of his wife.

What is extraordinary about this period is the amount of travel that Litzi was undertaking – activities that MI5 was apparently watching closely. When Helenus Milmo interrogated Philby in 1951, he presented him with the following dramatic description:

            He further concedes that his wife had no resources of her own and was earning no money. Nevertheless, it appears that between 6th March 1934 and 15th April Lizzie Philby made no less than three journeys into Czechoslovakia from Vienna on her British passport which she obtained two days after her marriage. Philby is unable to explain the purpose of any one of these visits. On their return [sic] to England, she went to France on 4th September 1934 and entered Spain on the following day. Ten days later she left a French port and on 21st September 1934 she entered Austria where she remained over a month. On 8th April 1935, she paid a week’s visit to Holland and on 16th August she arrived in France, entering Spain on the following day. On 3rd April 1936 she entered Austria and a week later went on to Czechoslovakia, returning to Austria again on 22nd April. Between 25th May 1936 and 22nd July 1936, she made a visit by air from this country to Paris and on 22nd July and 28th December 1938 she made further journeys across the channel.

Philby must have been crushed by these revelations, but admitted nothing. Yet what is perplexing is why these peregrinations drew no attention at the time. Were the facts collected only in retrospect? If she had been tracked closely at the ports during this period, one might have expected MI6 to have been invited to investigate who her contacts were in all these places.

Kim’s First Spell in Spain

In February 1937, on the instructions of Theodor Maly, Philby travelled to Spain, in an endeavour to breach General Franco’s security, and to determine how he might be assassinated. At some stage after that, Litzi left the UK for France. The role of Litzi in supporting Philby’s exploits in Spain, by acting as a courier to take messages from him to Soviet controls in Paris is, unsurprisingly, a not well-documented one, and pinning dates on their encounters is a very hazardous exercise. The primary source for events at this time is Genrikh Borovik’s Philby Files, but that work – by a planted KGB officer –  is severely impaired by Philby’s own dissimulations in speaking to Borovik, the latter’s gullibility in accepting what Philby told him, the confusing information in the NKVD files, Borovik’s own unfamiliarity with the personages involved, his lack of foreign languages, and his inability to bring any discipline to his analysis. Matters were further complicated by the consequences of Stalin’s Purges, whereby several agents who had recruited or controlled Philby and his colleagues had been executed, with a loss of ‘corporate memory’, and a distrust of anybody who might have been recruited by such counter-revolutionaries and ‘foreign spies’.

Philby’s first visit to Spain was brief, for about three months, when he travelled as a freelance journalist, with letters of accreditation from The London Central News and the London International News Service, as well as from the Evening Standard. His status was not fully trusted by Moscow Centre.  Maly reported that Soviet Intelligence in London (maybe the GRU) had discovered papers in Philby’s flat in London that suggested that he was working for the Germans. Maly had to clarify matters for Moscow, and rebuke Philby on his return. The major incident during this period, however, was when Philby was arrested, and had to surreptitiously swallow some paper containing his secret codes for communicating with Paris.

At this time, Philby was sending out information, written in invisible ink, in letters to a Mlle. Dupont in Paris. (Philby was later to discover that the address to which he sent these letters was in fact the Soviet Embassy – an atrocious piece of tradecraft that, if Franco’s intelligence had been on the mark, would have ensured his death.) Borovik implies that Litzi received these missives, as he was accustomed to receiving quick responses from ‘MARY’. But, when Philby wrote requesting a new dictionary, the response came not from MARY but from Guy Burgess, who suggested that they meet in Gibraltar. And here, Borovik starts to trip over his own details, writing: “As for Mary, he never saw her again”. Awkwardly, there were two MARYs in Philby’s domain. The first (according to what Philby told Borovik) had been a Russian woman whom Maly had introduced him to in London, a good-looking woman in her twenties, who was designated as being the person he should contact in an emergency. But it hardly makes sense that messages would be sent via Paris to MARY in London, with responses being able to be sent thence by her frequently and openly to him in Spain. Moreover, that would have undermined the whole point of an ‘emergency’ contact. Philby makes no mention of this association in My Silent War. This was surely an invention by him, and probably designed to confuse Borovik (which he did) and divert attention from the true MARY.

Indeed, in a letter to Moscow Centre dated March 9, 1937, Maly briefed his bosses about the slowness of the mails, since  ‘the censors hold on to the letters for a long time’ (so much for Philby’s statement that ‘he didn’t have to wait long for an answer’), and indicated that he needed help from a cut-out to get the nature of the current assignment (the assassination of Franco) to their man. He mentions a woman candidate, INTOURIST, but she is unwilling to travel, as she would be too conspicuous. Moreover, she and Philby have never met (so she could not have been the London or the Paris MARY). So Maly suggested that Litzi, who would have a valid reason for contacting her husband, should try to arrange a meeting, and also carry the murder equipment with her. Even more confusingly, he states that he will refer to Litzi as ANNA.

Yet, according to what Philby told Borovik, by April 9 Maly had found a new candidate for emissary – Guy Burgess. Exactly what Burgess brought with him to Gibraltar is not clear, but Philby had neither the means, the gumption nor the opportunity to attempt to kill the Nationalist leader. And, if he had tried, it would have been a disastrous failure and a colossal embarrassment.  Whether this emissary really was Burgess must be questioned: Philby may again have been trying to minimize his wife’s involvement. Litzi’s daughter, Barbara, wrote that her mother told her that she and Philby ‘met in hotels in Biarritz or Perpignan, and even in Gibraltar, where he gave her information that she then carried to her control officer in Paris’.

What it does suggest, however, is that Moscow did not think highly of the enduring value of Philby (now known as ‘SÖHNCHEN’ – SONNY) for their cause – risking his life in two ways, one, by encouraging him to send incriminating letters to France, and two, by encouraging him to sacrifice himself in a probably hopeless assassination attempt. (Ben Macintyre, rather incongruously, regards this fiasco as evidence of Philby’s ‘growing status’ in Moscow’s eyes.) Philby left Gibraltar at the end of April ‘with his tail between his legs’, as Edward Harrison writes. Maly informed Moscow that Philby had returned on 12 or 13 May ‘in a very depressed state’ because of his ineffectiveness. Maly was, however, able to direct Philby to write some attention-grabbing article about the Spanish situation for the Times, an initiative that sealed the next stage of Philby’s career. As for Maly, that was his last act before being recalled to Moscow, to be shot.

Borovik adds that when Philby arrived in Southampton, Litzi was there to meet him, and he notes: “In Kim’s absence Otto [Deutsch] had maintained constant contact with her, and so she could tell her husband when he could meet his Soviet colleague.” This, again, is puzzling. Had Litzi been in the United Kingdom all this time, and not sending replies to her husband from France? Alternatively, how had Deutsch managed to stay in constant contact with her over a three-month period?

Kim’s Second Spell in Spain

Philby’s successful articles, submitted to the Times, had gained him a permanent appointment with the newspaper on May 24, 1937. It is probable that Litzi moved, semi-permanently, to Paris soon thereafter, in the summer of 1937, staying there until early in 1940. So was Litzi acting as a courier for her husband when residing in Paris? The mainstream biographies of Philby are very vague about his methods of communication with his controllers: Harrison is the most careful, but when he writes:

            Before Philby returned to Spain, Deutsch explained the schedule for future meetings with his spymaster. Once a month Philby was to cross the border into France and take the train from Bayonne to Narbonne, where he would meet his contact and provide both a written and an oral report. This contact turned out to be Alexander Orlov, whom Philby had already met in England.

Harrison’s source is stated to be Knightley (p 66). But Knightley says no such thing: all he writes is (on p 60):

            Philby would make an excuse to The Times for a visit across the border, to Hendaye, the town astride the frontier, or to St Jean de Luz, where most of the correspondents took their leave periods. These places seethed with gossip and intrigue, and were thus not only convenient for passing of information but for gathering more.

Moreover, Orlov would have been a very unlikely courier. He had been appointed head of the NKVD operation in Spain in February 1937, and was busy exterminating Stalin’s enemies.

Frances Doble

Seale and McConville are similarly vague, describing the sorties into Hendaye, but veiling their ignorance with colourful digressions, such as an account of the dancing skills of Philby’s new lover, Frances Doble. Burgess is re-introduced as his contact, without any source being given:

            His orders were to transmit his information by hand to Soviet contacts in France or, in the case of urgent communications, to send coded messages to cover address outside Spain. This fitted in well with the pattern of his movements as a journalist, and it was one of his regular excursions to the Basque country that he again met Guy Burgess who, Kim later revealed in his book, brought him fresh funds.

Just like that. This seems simply a careless transposition of dates, with no attention to chronology.

Thus I have to return to Borovik to try to establish what role Litzi played as a cut-out. Borovik suggests that Philby sent over a report ‘with Guy Burgess’ in mid-1937 that reached Moscow.  That may however be a misunderstanding of how it actually reached his colleague. After Philby’s near-death in a bombing incident, and his commendation by Franco, Moscow was apparently ‘pleased by the information coming from SONNY’, Borovik noting afterwards (probably based on what Philby told him) simply that Philby turned in his monthly or bimonthly report to his Soviet colleague. Yet Philby spun Borovik a tale when the latter asked him whether Litzi knew about his affair with Frances and whether she worked with him:

            Yes, she knew about my work for Soviet intelligence. She was a good friend. When we moved to London from Austria and I started working for the KGB, she was in a delicate situation. She had to break her ties to the Left, like me, stop working with the Communists, otherwise she would compromise me. But it was too great a sacrifice for her. I understood. We discussed the whole problem calmly and decided that we would have to separate. Not right away, but as soon as there was a reasonable opportunity.

This is vain and sophistical nonsense. It exaggerates Philby’s standing at the time. It ignores the facts, since Litzi was not easily able to shed her persona, nor did she attempt to. They could have separated immediately, if they had been so ordered. Their personal lives were not carried on at their own discretion and preferences. Philby was again trying to conceal his wife’s role.

Indeed, Philby’s account of his contacts with his Soviet handlers/cut-outs is both contradictory and absurd. He claimed that, before his second departure to Spain, he was told that he would take the train from Bayonne to Narbonne, two or three weeks after his arrival, and meet his man there. The figure would be Orlov, whom he knew from London, and he was scheduled to meet him once a month, to hand over written and oral reports. They met at the railway-station square in Perpignan, and Orlov got out of a big car, very obvious in a bulging raincoat, and they chatted carelessly for a while, as Orlov told him of his exploits in ‘suppressing’ the Trotskyite organization.

This is like a scene from a bad movie. To think that the chief executive of the NKVD in Spain would so brazenly step out in a public place to spend hours chatting to a reporter associated with the Nationalists, is beyond belief. It was all part of a game by Philby to boost his reputation, and give him a chance to offer an opinion on the loyalties of Orlov (who defected a year later, having performed a remote deal with Stalin not to reveal anything.) Moreover, it goes completely against the grain of what the official story was. A few pages later, Borovik writes:

            According to the documents, when Philby came to Spain for the second time in the summer of 1937, he did not have a meeting with Orlov right away. His first contacts with the Centre were apparently through ‘Pierre’ (Ozolin-Haskin, from the French residence, later shot in Moscow).’Pierre’ would take the materials from Kim and bring them to Paris, from where they would be sent on to Madrid (sometimes via Moscow).

Borovik adds that this process was very slow, and that, in September 1937, Philby would meet Deutsch in the lobby or café at the Miramar Hotel in Biarritz, as Maly had suggested, where Deutsch would tell Philby that he would be working with Orlov. But Maly was dead by then. In addition, Borovik later undermined his own shaky testimony by pointing out that Ozolin-Haskin did not take over the Paris rezidentura until some time in 1938, replacing the anonymous ‘FIN’. A farrago of disinformation.

Litzi in France

So did Litzi play a role here? In another flight of fancy, Kim informed Borovik that Litzi was spending her time in France by attending the university in Grenoble, but that was not the life as Litzi herself recalled it. She did explain to her daughter that his mission in Spain ‘had been the first real assignment that the Soviet espionage service had given him’, and that she had therefore taken an apartment in Paris so that she could be his cut-out, his intermediary. In fact she spent most of her time partying – and having fun with her new Dutch lover, an artist.

Yet this rather hedonistic period was interrupted by a very bizarre event that needs to be noted first. I believe it was first recorded by Seale and McConville (1973), and then echoed by Knightley (1988), that Litzi returned to Vienna in 1938 to exfiltrate her parents and bring them to London. Neither author gives a source for this story, or explains under what conditions the venture was able to take place. It is presented as if it were more in the nature, say, of a day-trip down to Worthing to bring the aged Ps up to the Metropolis. To accept that Litzi could have somehow contacted her parents and gained their assent, returned without fear of arrest to Vienna, convinced the authorities to grant them an exit visa, to have prepared the Home Office in London to allow them entry and permanent residence, and then fund and arrange their travel before herself returning to Paris, all without noticeable alarm from MI5 or the Home Office, stretches one’s credulity to absurd limits. Was this story really true?

I doubted it, until I started to explore and other records of detained aliens in 1939.

The registers are a little confusing, since there was more than one Israel Kohlmann who escaped to England at this time, but I eventually found the proof I needed – two death certificates from 1943. Adolf Izrael [sic] Kohlmann is registered as dying in Bishop’s Stortford, Hertfordshire, in April 1943, although his birthdate (December 31, 1868) is here given incorrectly, reflecting another refugee of the same name who was born in Nűrnberg, Germany in 1879. (I am confident about this analysis, although as I returned to verify, I could not trace my exact steps.) The death of Izrael’s wife, Gisella (nee Fűrst) Kohlmann, who was born on April 14, 1884, occurred in July 1943, in Amersham – her name is incorrectly listed as ‘Kollmann’. Moreover, an item in the Appendix to Helenus Milmo’s report on Philby in early 1952 (FCO 158/28) runs as follows:

            In 1939, Lizzie’s mother, in an application to the Aliens’ Tribunal for release from restrictions, stated that PHILBY was paying £12 per month towards her maintenance.

MI5 was clearly keeping a close eye on the activities of Litzi and her clan at this time.

What were Litzi’s parents doing in the heart of what would become Philby country, either side of St Albans? How could they have been ceremoniously dumped in the British suburbs, with their daughter returning to France, and their son-in-law in Spain? Their escape must have had assistance from MI6, but the lack of curiosity on the part of the traditional historians in this remarkable exploit is to me dumbfounding. And what caused their deaths, in that same summer of 1943, in towns separated by a few miles? I am tempted to order up their death certificates, but I wonder whether any coldspur reader can shed light on this strange episode.

Meanwhile, our communist heroine was living it up. As she told her daughter:

            Soon after my arrival in Paris, I collected a group of artists around me, painters and sculptors, students of Maillol, mostly Hungarians or Dutchmen. The Hungarians were terribly poor, the Dutch relatively well off, but at that time I was quite well off, since I was picking up a check every month at Lloyd’s, Kim’s salary from the Times, with which I maintained the apartment. Never again in my life did I live in such grand style and toss money around that way – it was all great fun. I bought clothing and hats – you know my passion for hats – big hats with wide brims, with feather boas, dernier cri, nouvelle collection! And my artist friends gave me paintings, pieces of sculpture, and drawings. And that’s when I bought the two Modigliani drawings that got lost along with all the other things somewhere in London, sometime or other, with all the moving from one place to another during the Blitz.

That observation about her husband’s salary was utter nonsense, of course: the NKVD was funding her very lavish lifestyle, but would eventually claw back on such self-indulgence. Ozolin-Haskin (‘PIERRE’) confirmed her occasional role as a cut-out. When the newly installed officers in Moscow Centre, mystified as to who these agents were, asked about SÖHNCHEN and MARY, PIERRE wrote, on December 25, 1938, that MARY was SÖHNCHEN’s wife, that she worked as a messenger, and was ‘totally aware of the work of SÖHNCHEN, MÄDCHEN [Burgess] (despite the fact that I meet MÄDCHEN separately), and many other people whom she knows from her old work in England.’

After this, the trail becomes very confused. According to a report in late March 1939, Philby apparently met Maclean in Paris, and complained about the irregularity of communications. Pavel Sudoplatov in Moscow Centre questioned why no materials had been received from SÖHNCHEN. Gorsky (‘KAP’, the new rezident in London) then entered the stage, but Borovik declares that he was soon shot as a Polish spy. That was not true, and Gorsky survived to have an illustrious career in London and the United States, where he was honoured to have clandestine meetings with Isaiah Berlin. PIERRE, before he was hauled back to his death in Moscow, had again to explain who MARY was, and that she was most easily reached through MÄDCHEN. KAP then took over, and had to confess his bewilderment in a message of July 10, 1939:

            MARY raised the question about paying EDITH. I asked her to write about it and I am sending you her letter. I know nothing about this case, and your instructions would be highly appreciated   . . . MARY announced that as a result of a four-month hiatus in communications with her, we owe her and MÄDCHEN £65. I promised to check at home and gave him £30 in advance, since she said they were in material need . . . MARY continues to live in the SCYTHIAN’s country [identified as ‘the OGPU residence in France’] and for some reason, she says on our orders, maintains a large apartment and so on there. I did not rescind those orders, since I do not know why they were given; however I would ask that you clarify this question.

Litzi, if she had been a messenger, had clearly not been a very frequent or effective one, and was living high on the hog in the meantime. A few days later, a sterner reply was sent by Moscow, after someone had presumably performed some homework in the files:

            Inform KAP that at one time, when it was necessary, MARY was given orders to keep an apartment in Paris. That is no longer necessary. Have her get rid of the apartment and live more modestly, since we will not pay. MARY should not be paid £65, since we do not feel we owe her for anything. We confirm the payment of £30. Tell her that we will pay no more.

It looked as if the sybaritic days were over for Litzi, and she would have to behave like a good Communist again. Meanwhile, the Centre also concluded, from deeper investigation of its files, that it did have a good assessment of SÖHNCHEN, who was ‘very disciplined’. It admitted that ‘communications with him were very irregular, particularly of late.’

The functions of the NKVD residences in Paris and London between 1937 and 1939 are overall very puzzling, as unnecessary travel seemed to be involved in getting messages to Moscow when more local approaches might have worked better. In London, there was a hiatus between Deutsch’s return to the Soviet Union, and Gorsky’s appointment in December 1938, during which an incomplete transition to the ineffectual Grafpen took place. Guy Burgess (for example) was handled by Eitingon in Paris until Gorsky’s arrival, and he was then shifted to control through London in March 1939. For Paris also had its troubles, with the doomed Ozolin-Haskin also falling into disfavour. That may explain why complex chains of messengers were used in both directions to route important information to Moscow Centre.

The Approach of War

As the Spanish Civil War wound down, with Moscow Centre stabilizing somewhat after the blood-letting, Litzi’s prestige and standing appeared to improve. In June, PIERRE wrote to Moscow with suggestions for how SÖHNCHEN should be deployed, and cited MARY’s recommendation that he should work in the Foreign Office, since his father was now back in the UK, and could presumably grease the wheels for his acceptance. Sudoplatov agreed, but then Borovik goes off the rails. Here occurs the incident over STUART that was the subject of some very useful annotations on coldspur a few months ago. (see Comments following

Litzi had clearly made a visit to London, since KAP (Gorsky) reported, on July 10, 1939, that she had met there ‘one of her intimate friends’, a certain STUART whom, she says ‘we know nothing about’. Had Litzi made the trip back to the UK to meet her husband on his return? Harrison says that Philby left Spain ‘in July’, which hardly allows enough time. (Borovik says ‘late July’.) Yet she obviously felt free to meet with Gorsky, since she followed up by writing a detailed report on STUART, who had already recommended that SÖHNCHEN be considered for a post in ‘the illegal ministry of information’. She also gives the impression that she has seen Philby recently, as she talks about his ties with people in the British Intelligence Services as if they had discussed them in the very recent past.

When I first read this passage, it did not seem to me that the reference to STUART (Donald Maclean’s cryptonym) implied Maclean, as Borovik surmised and puzzled over, for any number of reasons, not least the fact that this STUART was working in London, while Maclean was with the Embassy in Paris. And the dedicated coldspur reader Edward M., who had been diligently trawling round, came up with the name of Sir Michael Stewart (not to be confused with the Labour Minister of the same name) who had been a contemporary of Philby’s at Trinity College, Cambridge, and (as Tim Milne recorded in his memoir) had accompanied Philby on a motor-cycle trip to Hungary in 1930. He would later be appointed Her Majesty’s Ambassador in Greece. Furthermore, Edward quoted a passage from Nigel West’s At Her Majesty’s Secret Service:

            By the time Elliott was sent back to Beirut to confront Philby ten days later, he had disappeared. Tim Milne, then at the Tokyo station, was investigated and cleared, although his brother Antony, who had been at the Montevideo station between 1961 and 1965, was fired for failing to have declared a past relationship with Litzi Friedman, Philby’s first wife. A British diplomat, Sir Michael Stewart, who also had shared Litzi’s favours, was rather more lucky, and was appointed to Washington DC before going to Athens as ambassador, and receiving a knighthood. 

I was intrigued to know where West had derived this information, and an inquiry from Keith Ellison ascertained that the sources were Peter Wright and that other impeccable functionary, Arthur Martin, MI5’s ‘legendary’ mole-hunter and incompetent interrogator. During the Blunt post mortem in 1980, the Cabinet Office reported that Sir Michael Stewart was one of Blunt’s acquaintances who had been investigated and (though the language is ambiguous) consequently cleared (see PREM 19/3942). The scope of the investigation has not been published.

Sir Michael Stewart

Stewart remains a very elusive figure, but the connection sheds a little more light on the influential role that Litzi was playing behind the scenes, encouraged to move around between Paris and London in 1939 despite the Centre’s disapproval of her bourgeois extravagances. A likelier explanation was that she was preparing the ground for her husband’s return rather than welcoming him in person, although, if Philby and Stewart had been close friends for years, it seems odd that she would be needed as an intermediary in helping her husband find a job. (In the files on Victor Rothschild recently released by TNA can be found a note confirming Philby’s friendship with Stewart, and the fact that Stewart’s sister Carol was married to another dubious character, Francis Graham-Harrison.) This might explain why a vetting-form for Philby was filled out by SIS on September 27, 1939, as Keith Ellison notes in his e-book at On the other hand, Philby’s candidature may have been part of a routine sweep: Valentine Vivian informed Seale and McConville that his name came to SIS’s notice from a ‘pool’ – a list of potential recruits drawn up early in the war.

By then, however, great political shifts had occurred. The Nazi-Soviet Pact was announced, causing great heartache to Stalin’s loyalists in the West, and Britain declared war on Germany. Gorsky’s plans for sending Philby to Berlin or Rome were dropped. Philby arranged an important job for Peter Smollett (né Smolka), whom he had known in Vienna, and on October 9 the Times appointed Philby as Special War Correspondent with the British Expeditionary Force. Harrison suggests that he set out soon after that date, and whatever hopes he had for joining SIS were obviously shelved. Meanwhile, Litzi was apparently stranded in Paris.

This was a difficult period for Philby. In September, he managed to inform the London residency of his mission in France, and Gorsky set up rendezvous arrangements for him in Paris for late October and early November – not with Litzi, but with a representative named ALIM, who did not know him by sight. Philby had been unnerved by the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, and was unable to get away to Paris for his encounter until the back-up date of November 1. He presumably saw Litzi at this time as well, because a 1941 report referred to the disillusionment with Ozolin-Haskin at this time that he had expressed to her. Nevertheless, Philby handed over information about the British Expeditionary Force’s capabilities and equipment that could have been construed as treacherous, given that his Soviet masters might have passed it on to the Germans.

The fact that Litzi was able to regain entry into the United Kingdom, arriving at the port of Newhaven on January 2, 1940, is most intriguing. We owe it to a short item in the Minute Sheet of the personal folder of Kim’s father (KV 2/1181-1) for the confirmation of her arrival. That Philby facilitated her transit is shown by what he told Borovik:

            When the war started. I knew she would be better off in England. If the Germans took Paris, she would not survive. At that time any movement between France and England – except for military movements – could be made only with permission from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I wrote a letter requesting permission for her to return to England. Legally she was still my wife, and they had no reason to refuse. The ministry gave its approval, and she moved back to London.

I find this a remarkable statement, for several reasons:

  1. December 1939 was a very early time to be making and executing emergency flight plans. The Germans were nowhere near to ‘taking Paris’. The haste is noteworthy.
  2. The NKVD would have made their own arrangements for exfiltrating their assets. Kitty Harris (Donald Maclean’s courier and former lover) was moved, with a false passport in the disguise of a wife of an Embassy official, to the Soviet Union as the Germans approached in May 1940. (Obviously, Philby would not have acknowledged that parallel.)
  3. The NKVD would have directed Litzi’s next move. It shows how highly they regarded her that, despite her irresponsibly prodigal lifestyle using NKVD funds in Paris, she was approved for a new assignment in the United Kingdom (instead of being sent ‘home’ to Moscow in disgrace), and they saw no risk in this decision. (Litzy had been making regular visits back to England in the preceding couple of years.)
  4. The installation of a well-regarded agent in London occurred at exactly the time that the rezidentura in London was being closed down, and Gorsky recalled to Moscow for the best part of a year.
  5. Philby must surely have met Litzi during this period, to make the arrangements. This assumption is confirmed by the fact that Gorshakov in the Paris residency reported that Philby provided valuable information in the period September – December 1939.
  6. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs saw nothing unusual or suspicious in allowing a known Communist to regain entry to the United Kingdom, at a time when the Nazi-Soviet pact was in effect, and it reacted extremely promptly to Philby’s request.
  7. Philby’s implication is that, if he had been divorced from Litzi by this time, she would not have been allowed in the country. This represents a significant argument as to why they had indeed remained married for so long.
  8. Many years later, Litzi told her daughter that, after the outbreak of the war, she and Kim had returned to London, and that she had been able to terminate her relationship with the Soviet secret service. That was a double lie: Kim was still in France when she arrived, and individuals were not able to break away from the NKVD at their own whim.

Yet there are two further twists to this very odd tale. The first can be found in the Appendix to Helenus Milmo’s report (see above) where he writes as follows:

            What I regard as particularly important and significant in this connection is a letter which PHILBY wrote to the Passport Office on 26th September 1939 in order to enable Lizzie to obtain the requisite facilities to get to France. If PHILBY’s story is to be accepted, at that time he did not know what his one-time Communist wife had been doing with herself in the course of the previous 2½ years.

What is going on here? Litzi was apparently already in France at this time, and Kim was not appointed BEF correspondent of the Times until October 9. Why, if travel restrictions had been imposed, would Philby so clumsily attract attention to his wife’s ambitions on the Continent? Milmo goes on to write: ‘The letter which he wrote contains a number of falsehoods and of course could only have been written because PHILBY was still Lizzie’s husband in name.” Apart from noting the fact that Milmo’s evidence would tend to support the fact that a file on Philby had been maintained at the time, I shall suspend judgment on this bizarre artefact until next month.

The second twist appears in a report submitted by MI5’s E5 (Alien Control: German and Austrians) to F2B (Subversive Activities: Comintern Activities and Communist Refugees) on September 13, 1945, which describes members of Edith Tudor-Hart’s circle. Here a reference to a ‘LIZZY FEABRE or FEAVRE née Kallman’ is made. It states that this woman was born in Vienna, which she left in 1934, and that later ‘she went to France, where she lived for three years and married an Englishman there thus acquiring British nationality’. The note then introduces her relationship with Georg Honigmann. (It is perhaps ironic that, the very same day that this report was written, Guy Liddell was meeting with John Marriott and Kim Philby to discuss what should be done with Nunn May after the Gouzenko revelations.)

There is no doubt that this is a weakly-veiled description of Litzi Philby. ‘Kallman’ is an obvious rendering of ‘Kohlmann’. Indeed, the scribe has annotated that the entry should be copied into ‘PF 62681 PHILBY’, but what is going on here? Had someone tried to conceal Philby’s marriage to Litzi by inventing a spurious anecdote about an Englishman in France? And is it a feeble ruse, with FEABRE perhaps being a clumsy French representation of PHILBY, perhaps misheard during telephone surveillance? Or was Litzy being encouraged to join Tudor-Hart’s circle of Austrian Communists under a false name? It sounds as if the watchers in E5 (led by J. D. Denniston, the classical scholar) had no clear idea of what was going on, and were being misled. On the other hand, the canny recipient in F2B probably Hugh Shillito, assisted by the redoubtable Milicent Bagot (although Shillito resigned in frustration around this time) knew very well what the circumstances of Litzi’s marriage were, but did not bother to correct overtly the muddled information that had been presented to him.

On June 14, 1946, Lizzy Feavre is again described as being a member of Edith Tudor-Hart’s circle, and observers (in Germany) have clearly been very diligent, as the memo describes her as having been very active, and lists contacts she has had in Paris. A hand-written annotation authoritatively confirms that ‘FEAVRE’ is ‘Lizy Philby’. And in a later report dated November 6, 1946, submitted by B4c, Litzy is directly identified as ‘LIZZY PHILBY @ FEAVRE”, indicating that ‘FEAVRE’ was the cryptonym used by MI5 to refer to her. This all suggests that MI5 had for some time been familiar enough with Litzi’s movements and contacts to be keeping a watchful eye on her. Yet the charade becomes absurd: in A. F. Burbridge’s profile of Edith Tudor-Hart, dated December 1, 1951 (from B2a) as part of the PEACH investigation (PEACH being the cryptonym for Philby), Lizzie Feavre and Lizzy Friedmann [sic] are presented as if they were two separate persons, and the memo is routed to both the PEACH and FEAVRE Personal Folders. It is difficult to work out who was trying to fool whom.

My conjecture would be that MI5 must have opened a file on Litzi Philby as soon as she arrived in Britain, and kept a close eye on her from 1934 until 1937, when she moved to France. After her return in 1940, however, and her husband’s entry into MI6, B4a must have received instructions that they were to conceal her identity under a pseudonym, and PHILBY (Litzi) became FEABRE/FEAVRE, with a ‘legend’ (in the sense of a fictitious biography) constructed for her. The watchers of E5 would not have been brought into the plan, and newer members of B2a were also kept in the dark. Litzi’s Personal File (PHILBY #62681) is clearly a different one from that of Harry St. John Philby (#40408). The existence of any file on Kim has not been admitted apart from that of the PEACH inquiry, yet it would be extraordinary if one had not been started for him in 1933, when he went to Vienna. The report written by Helenus Milmo after his interrogation of Philby strongly suggests that there were comprehensive files maintained on both Kim and Litzi. (I shall explore that highly important topic next month.)

In general, it is hard to make sense of the first few months of 1940, as described by Borovik – who seems to be unaware that the residency was vacated for most of 1940. By February, Gorsky had been recalled and the residency in London was unmanned. Yet Borovik cites a message sent by the chief of the London residency dated April 1, 1940, that describes the ‘irregular contact’ that it has (had?) been having with Philby, and how their agent had bridled at the lack of political instruction he had received. One might perhaps conclude that what Borovik was quoting was a report by Gorsky written when KAP had returned to Moscow. In fact, KAP had also written a report just before he left, on February 20, informing Moscow that ‘the source SÖHNCHEN had lost touch with KARP, the Paris residency agent, and couldn’t re-establish it.’  But, if Philby was in France at this time, why was KAP in London, not KARP in Paris, reporting that state of affairs, and how did that intelligence reach Gorsky? Perhaps Litzi brought that news to Gorsky, and there was a delay in communication.

Whatever the circumstances, a few days later Moscow ordered KARP to break off all contact with SÖHNCHEN. Maybe his disgruntlement was beginning to grate with the NKVD bosses. Thus he was unanchored when he returned on Britain on May 21. (Some accounts indicate that he did not escape until just before the Armistice of June 22.) A few weeks beforehand, however, he had written to Maclean in Paris, urging him to try to arrange for a rendezvous, as he had ‘extraordinary valuable materials’ to impart. This initiative provoked a flurry of interest in the Lubianka, with Kreshin pressing for Gorsky to return. Yet the Commissar for Security turned the opportunity down: Philby was not considered important or reliable enough at this time. So Philby resumed his quest for a more important role in the intelligence machinery.

The Honigmann Era

According to what Philby told Philip Knightley, when he returned from France, he found that Litzi was now living with George Honigmann, ‘a German communist refugee who had a job monitoring German broadcasts for the news agency Extel’. It is highly improbable that this statement is literally true: Litzi may have told him that she had been living with Honigmann, but the fact is that Honigmann was shipped off to Canada as a Class A alien on June 7, 1940, and had surely been mopped up as one of the 8,000 Germans and Austrians who were placed in detention in May 1940. In fact Milmo’s Appendix states that they did not begin living together until 1942.

Georg Honigmann

Moreover, Honigmann was not a recent acquaintance. It was Kim’s and Litzi’s mutual friend Peter Smolka who had set up London Continental News in 1934, and Smolka and Philby contributed news articles to the Exchange Telegraph Company [Extel], which Smolka himself joined in 1938. Seale and McConville describe it as ‘a haven for left-wing refugees from fascism’. (Peter Smolka recommended that Philby be appointed a nominal director of Extel in August 1939.) Exactly what was Honigmann’s background is unclear: some accounts state that he was a former member of the German Communist Party; others that it was Litzi who converted him (see below). His Wikipedia entry (in German) states that he fled to Britain as early as 1933, and worked there as an independent journalist with Extel and then as head of the European Service of Reuters, until 1946.

The Martin interview asserts that Honigmann had been interned in Canada, and had there met a man named ‘Hornic’ (actually Leopold Hornik). Martin’s interviewee deemed that it was probably through Hornik that Honigmann had subsequently entered the Tudor-Hart circle, and it was also this gentleman’s impression that ‘he had no firm political views until he met Lizzy’. Hornik was a dedicated Viennese Communist who had arrived in Britain in 1938, and had subsequently been interned on the Isle of Man and in Canada. Edith Tudor-Hart wrote warm letters to him during his absence, and he resumed his vigorous membership of the Austrian Communist circle when he was released in 1942. Honigmann was probably not such a danger as Tudor-Hart or Litzi, as he was a vague, irresolute character, and easily swayed, but the fact that he mixed with the band of Austrian Communists necessarily brought him under suspicion. What is perplexing is how the interviewee knew all these fascinating facts about Honigmann, and was familiar with the nest of vipers at Extel, whom MI5 was carefully watching. Perhaps Martin and his colleagues left the record of this interview for posterity in the confidence that it would be accepted as plausible and reliable.

What Litzi was occupied with in 1940 has given rise to a lot of speculation. Peter Wright had written of Litzi’s role in establishing contact with the Soviet residency after Deutsch left, and Nigel West has suggested that Litzi reprised this activity when she took over Gorsky’s role, acting as courier – even ‘handler’ – for Blunt and Burgess, during Gorsky’s absence in 1940. Yet this prompts the question: to whom did she deliver information if there was no NKVD representative in London? Wright wrote that messages passed the other way, from Litzi through Edith Tudor-Hart, to Bob Stewart at the CPGB headquarters, asserting that he was ‘the official responsible for liaison with the Russian [sic, actually ‘Soviet’] Embassy’. But that would have been very dangerous and irregular, and MI5 had the CPGB premises bugged. Moreover, Blunt was hardly active in 1940, having returned from France himself, and then being recruited by MI5 in the summer, where he took a few months to find his feet. It is all very confusing – and maybe it is supposed to be.

An item in the recently released Victor Rothschild file appears to give Litzi a more important role at this time – and a more visible presence. A report shows that Blunt, under interrogation, offered the following:

            He also recalled that during the time from December of 1940 onwards when Lizzie Philby had acted as his contact he had met her on several occasions in Bentinck Street in Burgess’s presence. He commented that perhaps Tess Rothschild [the former Tess Mayor, who also lived at Number 5: she would later marry her boss at MI5, Victor Rothschild] would remember the visits although, on reflection, he thought that Lizzie PHILBY might have called only when she knew that Tess would not be there. He had also occasionally met Lizzie at the Courtauld Institute. He went on to say that Lizzie Philby had made no secret of the fact that BURGESS and PHILBY were also ‘in the game’ and that she was taking the material which they gave her to Bob Stewart at Party Headquarters. He remembered that she had said that STEWART had been given all their names.

How much of this can be relied upon is obviously dubious. A typed annotation states that ‘None of this is new information’, but has it been recorded in this form beforehand, or was it simply ‘not new’ to the investigators at this time? Litzi might not have wanted to be seen by Tess Mayor, specifically, if she considered that her presence might alert Tess to some mischief, and be reported back to MI5, but Litzi was nonetheless taking an enormous risk in visiting 5 Bentinck Street, and possibly being surveilled. After all, Dick White and Guy Liddell were regular visitors, and Blunt was behaving irresponsibly if he allowed Litzi to use the house as a Treffpunkt. His disingenuous second thought concerning Litzi and Tess is very telling. Philby had clearly not enforced any distancing. It is all very provocative: I shall inspect this alarming phenomenon in greater detail next month.

With Philby temporarily dropped from the team, in August 1940 he managed to get himself recruited, with Guy Burgess’s help, by D Section of MI6, which was very soon afterwards spun off as a separate entity, the Special Operations Executive, where he worked until his successful admission to Section V of MI6 in August 1941. Thus it took about seven years from his original recruitment for the ‘master spy’ to gain access to one of Britain’s diplomatic or intelligence departments, having been beaten to the punch by Maclean, Blunt, Cairncross and Burgess, all of whom had worked for the Foreign Office, the Treasury, GC&CS, or MI5.

Little appears to have been written about Litzi’s occupations after her arrival in the United Kingdom. The Barbarossa invasion of June 1941 obviously put the role of defenders of the Soviet Union in a new light, and she took advantage of the new climate (not that she had been particularly disadvantaged up until that time.) Two incidents stand out from this period: her involvement as a messenger for Engelbert Broda’s stolen intelligence, and her application for some government job.

Engelbert Broda

In January 1943, Engelbert Broda (ERIC), who was one of Edith Tudor-Hart’s paramours, and who had gained a position at the Cavendish Laboratory working on the Tube Alloys project on atomic weaponry, passed documents on to Litzi, via Edith. According to Gorsky’s report, Litzi (MARY) apparently met the NKVD officer Barkovsky (GLAN) outside a London tube station in January 1943. Yet this was not Litzi’s first exposure to the potentiality of new power sources. Borovik reports of an encounter back in 1938 (one confirmed in Litzi’s reminiscences to her daughter) where Litzi asked Philby to set up a meeting for her with his Soviet contact. “She had met a man whose friend was working on problems developing new forms of energy.” Some have suggested that this person was Fuchs, which would shed a brand new light on the betrayals of that spy. In any case, it indicated that Litzi was keeping her nose very close to the ground, and mixing with important sources. Borovik writes that, since Philby had no Soviet contacts at that time, he passed the information on to Burgess, who presumably handed it on to his controller, Eitingon, in Paris.

We owe it to Tim Milne, who worked for Philby in the Iberian subsection of Section V at Glenalmond, St Albans, for the insight on the second incident, Litzi’s job application. The event probably happened towards the end of 1943, and Milne describes it in the following terms:

            I seldom saw Kim even sightly disconcerted. Once, the officer who dealt inter alia with vetting questions and acted as a kind of security officer came up to him. ‘Sorry to bother you, Kim – mere formality. It’s about your wife’s application for a job – she’s quoted you as a reference. I just need the usual good word.’ Kim looked utterly blank. Then his face lit up. ‘Oh, you mean my first wife  . . . yes, she’s ok.’ Presumably Lizy, who had returned to England soon after the war began, had not let him know that she was giving him as a reference for some job she was seeking, and I imagine they were not in touch.

Thus did MI6’s redoubtable security officers go about their work.

The incident is in many ways remarkable. Here is Litzi, so confident of her position and reputation, that she believes she can apply for a sensitive job without any risk of her – or her husband – being unmasked. (A note in the Tudor-Hart file states that she worked in a factory concerned with aircraft, and that she was a shop steward there: maybe that was the sensitive post suggested here.)  Furthermore, she does not even bother to inform her husband of her use of his name as a reference. And Kim, in some kind of delusion that he was ‘married’ to Aileen Furse despite never having divorced Litzi (an impression over which he misled Borovik, later), perpetuates the illusion by indicating that Litzi was his first wife. Was he confident that the security officer, and whoever was guiding him, would not verify those details? Or did he believe that Litzi was invulnerable, anyway?

It is useful to point out the ironies of this period of the war – between July 1941, when all hands were suddenly on the pump to help ‘our gallant Soviet allies’ in defeating Hitler, and August 1944, when Stalin’s plans for tyrannizing Eastern Europe became apparent. I quote the infamous report that Philby sent in March 1943, detailing a briefing that Valentine Vivian had given to Section V. It includes this passage:

            Vivian said that the Russians had known about Operation TORCH in advance, repeating what he had already told me – namely, that the Russians had had accurate intelligence on the codes, beaches, medical supplies, etc., for the operation long before it was launched. In his words, senior officers in volved had gone straight from their desks at the War Office to clandestine rendezvous with Communists. Frank Foley then asked where those officers were now. Vivian replied that they were still in their jobs, ‘We did not want to make a big thing of it’, he added. This reply of course leads one to assume that the authorities know who these officers are, although I cannot vouch for the accuracy of what Vivian said.

In such a climate, Litzi’s performance seems conventional.

At the same time, the trustworthiness of the Cambridge Five came under fierce scrutiny in Moscow. It started with Philby’s unapproved recruitment of Smolka (ABO), and continued through 1943 with his apparent failure to pass on details of a telegram from the Japanese ambassador. These events caused Elena Modrzchinskaya to conclude that their agents were under control of British Intelligence, and passing on disinformation.  A special exercise to verify the reliability of their intelligence was ordered, and it was Philby’s contributions that helped prove their loyalty. Yet it took until August 1944 for the confidence of Moscow Centre in the Cambridge ring to be restored.

Life in the East

The spotlight now turns on Georg Honigmann. The records are inconsistent, but it seems that, when the war ended, the Control Commission for Germany decided to send him to that country to help in its denazification. Seale and McConville write that the Commission posted him to Hamburg, ‘to help set up a proposed German news agency’. That would appear to be an incongruous choice, nominating a suspected Communist for the job: the Commission presumably was not aware that he was living with an RIS agent, the more vigorous subversive Litzi, whether her surname was Feabre or Philby. In any case, Honigmann never arrived in Hamburg. He ‘had been given permission to travel by way of Berlin’, but was thought lost ‘in the great confusion of the immediate post-war months in Germany’. That was a poor excuse. His Wikipedia entry states that he did not arrive in Germany until May 1946, when the war had been over almost a year. Governments did not simply ‘lose’ officials so carelessly: in fact Honigmann moved promptly to the Soviet sector of Berlin after his arrival, where he took on various roles in journalism, becoming editor-in-chief of the Berliner Zeitung in 1948. Honigmann’s friend Peter von Mendelssohn, a native German writer who had become a naturalized Briton, had recommended Honigmann for the Control Commission post, and was distraught when he learned about his friend’s abscondment.

Litzi did not accompany her partner at first. (Seale and McConville note vaguely that she ‘eventually’ joined him, but the timetable shows that only a few brief months elapsed between Honigmann’s arrival in May and the divorce settlement in September.) Honigmann was still married to his first wife, Ruth, whom he had wed in Britain, and Litzi was of course still married to Philby.  An entry in Edith Tudor-Hart’s file (the same one cited above in connection with Litzy FEABRE) records that Litzi had been living with Honigmann, but had left him recently ‘owing to a disagreement’. It is possible that Litzi disparaged Honigmann’s decision to accept a job in the British Sector, and eventually persuaded him that their duty was to help construct the socialist paradise in East Berlin. Arthur Martin’s report suggests that Litzi convinced him to use the Control Commission offer as a ruse to travel to the Soviet Sector.

Honigmann was not known for his resolution: his Geni entry (in German) indicates that he had been greatly influenced by a ‘Herr Martin’ (certainly Leopold Martin Hornik: see above) while in internment in Canada, that he jumped from marriage to marriage, and from job to job, and that later he was too bourgeois for the comrades, and too bohemian for the bourgeois. [“Für die Genossen war er zu bürgerlich. Für die richtigen Bürger war er zu bohèmehaft.”]. Arthur Martin’s interviewee also thought that he ‘was not a strong personality’. Yet Litzi was still surely under orders, and she left the United Kingdom, via Czechoslovakia, to join him in East Berlin. This seems certain, because it was at this time that Kim decided that he had to open up about his marriage, and get a divorce. At least that is what he said, but he was of course under orders as well. Now that Litzi was in East Berlin, she no longer had need of that residential protection by virtue of her marriage.

Philby’s account of the agreement is characteristically cynical and untrue. He claimed that it was only now that his career ambitions required him to regularize his relationship with Aileen, and gain a divorce from Litzi – just at the time when she was least accessible. As Ben Macintyre reports the events:

            He approached Valentine Vivian, the man who had so casually waved him into the service in the first place, and explained that, as an impetuous youth, he had married a left-wing Austrian, whom he now planned to divorce in order to make an honest woman of Aileen. The revelation does not seem to have given Vee-Vee a moment’s concern.

(In this unlikely scenario, Vee-Vee – even out of his depth as he notably was – would have been the only officer in ‘the intelligence community’ not to have known that Kim and Litzy were husband and wife.) And Macintyre continues:

            Philby now contacted Litzi, now living in Paris, arranged an uncontested and amicable divorce, and married Aileen a week later, on September 25  . . .

Meanwhile, Vivian put in a routine request for a trace on Litzi to MI5. Seale and McConville record that ‘The reply (on information from ‘Klop’ Ustinov, via his boss Dick White) was that Litzi was a Soviet agent.’ The authors ascribe this remarkable insight to a private communication from Vivian himself, deceased by the time the book was published (1973). No doubt Vivian did not ‘want to make a big thing of it at the time’, even though gross suspicions of Philby’s involvement in the Volkov incident the year before must have been fresh in his mind.

Only Litzi was not living in Paris, but in Berlin. Moreover, Philby told Borovik that they met in Vienna. And Philby would have had to know how to contact her, and Litzi would have had to gain permission to leave the Soviet sector for a while. Did he gain her consent through the mails, as is implied? Presumably his travel had to be approved by the Foreign Office, and no one has written about what legal circumstances made it possible for an agreement to divorce made in a foreign capital to hold legal standing in a British divorce court. And Litzi might have protested: ‘Why didn’t you do that earlier’? and even refused the divorce without some financial settlement. Seale and McConville write that ‘in due course Litzy petitioned for a divorce on the grounds of her husband’s adultery’, but where was the petition heard? It all went smoothly, however: they were both adulterers, and they were no doubt following orders.

Thus Litzi was now free to marry Georg, although there were clearly tensions in the relationship. A daughter, Barbara, was born in February 1949. Litzi found a job as a sound dubber with the East German film corporation, DEFA, to which her husband moved in 1953. The marriage had broken up by then and Honigmann married the playwright Gisela May in 1963. Litzi thought of her lost love, the Dutch sculptor, Pieter, but lost track of him. And she was surely now disillusioned by the drab, oppressive realm of communist East Berlin, and apparently regretting her services to the cause of that oppression. She must have missed her Modiglianis and fancy hats. She told her daughter that she did not believe that the Rosenbergs had been wrongly executed – an utterly heretical claim for a member of the Party (and one ridiculed even by many non-communists in the West), and something that Kim Philby or Ursula Kuczynski would never have let pass their lips.

Litzy, Karl, Rina, Denny (Rifikim, 1967) [from the Richard Deacon archive, now owned by coldspur]

Thus it is perhaps not surprising that Litzi sought to escape to the West. Her well-appointed villa, ‘with its spacious book-filled room, with low settees in primary colours, suggested the setting of a well-paid woman at the BBC’, Neal Ascherson of the Observer wrote, and Litzi expressed to him her regret at not being able to go back to London. She managed to gain a temporary exit visa to travel to her home-town of Vienna, and then simply did not return. She died there in 1991.


Kim and Litzi both lied about their experiences, Kim out of a need to magnify his own importance and achievements and diminish those of his wife, Litzi probably out of a sense of shame at what they both had done. Litzi was the one who matured out of her youthful indignation: Kim was the stolid unwavering ideologue. And yet the chronicle of events shows that Moscow Centre looked far more favourably on the future apostate than it did on the ‘master spy’.

Philby was a failure for most of his career. He was too obviously attached to the left-wing cause to be considered a serious candidate for infiltration into the British establishment. Unlike the colleagues he recruited, he failed to land a job with potential, and moved into the less effective world of journalism. He fumbled his awkward switch of persona as a fascist sympathizer. He was installed in Spain, but exposed to such dangers that it showed that his Soviet masters thought him disposable. His reports were infrequent and lacklustre, and he regarded himself as a failure. On his return to Britain, he missed out, for various reasons, on being employed by GC&CS or MI6, and ended up in another uninfluential journalist’s job. His ineffectualness, compounded perhaps by his questioning of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, meant that Moscow decided to drop him. He slowly worked his way into intelligence, through the sideshow of Section D and SOE, until he rather fortunately gained an important position with Section V in MI6. No sooner had he become established there than the apparatchiks of the NKVD started suspecting – because of his impetuous actions – the entire Cambridge Ring of being controlled by British Intelligence. Not until late 1944, and when Litzi left for East Berlin, did he come into his own, and perform his worst damage. Yet he should have been exposed by the Volkov incident of September 1945.

Litzi, on the other hand, led a charmed life. She was surely an elite agent, selected to gain entry to the West by marrying an Englishman. She had overall a well-respected and important role as a courier, and her opinions on Kim’s future career were listened to by the NKVD high-ups. In the mid-thirties, she was able to visit several other cities in Europe without let or hindrance, and was presumably a very important and much-esteemed courier. The NKVD thought well enough of her to help fund an exorbitant life-style in Paris, and apparently never punished her for it. She passed freely between Paris and London, was able to return to Vienna to rescue her parents, and gained the help of the British authorities in escaping to England in 1940, where it seems that she may have been designated as the temporary replacement for Gorsky. She used her amorous skills to engage in relationships with intelligence officers and diplomats, such as Anthony Milne and Michael Stewart, without damaging her credentials with either side. Through Stewart she may have been instrumental in getting Kim his job with MI6. She frequented the potentially dangerous Bentinck Street location, without being ostracized or persecuted. She kept her eyes open to assist in the project to steal atomic weapons secrets.

In other words, the reason why the NKVD felt confident in deploying her without risk of exposing Philby (my original question) was that she herself was regarded as the vital agent, and Philby was the sideshow. Thus the puzzle next reverts to the passivity of MI5 and MI6 in indulging this overt Communist, even known as a ‘Soviet agent’, in their midst, even before the troublesome era when Great Britain and the Soviet Union were temporary allies, committed in the war against the Axis powers. The NKVD did not force an abrupt breach between Litzy and Kim, in order to protect the Englishman, but brazenly deployed agent MARY in a number of roles that should not have escaped even the shallowest surveillance techniques.

It is something of a mystery. I have at least to consider that Helen Fry may have been on to something, when she hinted at Litzi’s role in Austria, and Philby’s rapid discovery of her. Yet, for reasons that I shall explain next month, I am not convinced that Philby could in any sense have been used by MI6 at that time. It is possible, however, that some background deals were performed in the late 1930s and early 1940s. The paradox lies in the fact that Soviet Intelligence continued to deploy her as if she were invulnerable, while British Intelligence allowed her to operate as if they believed that they had a controllable cuckoo in their nest, in the manner of Ursula Kuczynski. They let Litzi fly around unchallenged in the hope, perhaps, that she would lead them to more dangerous entities, or assist in the transfer of disinformation. It is difficult to explain away all the multiple occasions where Litzi’s subversive work was detected, but nothing was done about it. I have a theory, and shall pick up this perplexing business in next month’s report. In the interim, please let me know of any insights on these matters, or challenges to my reasoning, that occur to you.

Postscript: Charlotte Philby & ‘Edith and Kim’

As I was performing research for this piece, I read Edith and Kim, a ‘novel’ by the grand-daughter of Kim Philby, Charlotte Philby. Despite the laudatory blurbs and the enthusiastic reviews that the book has received, I consider it a very poor production. It lies in that tradition of novelization of true intelligence events such as Transcription by Kate Atkinson and An Unlikely Spy by Rebecca Starford (see, whereby authors think that if they selectively take some real-life characters, mess around with the facts and chronology a bit, and introduce some new agents and activities, they will somehow produce a more convincing psychological truth than can be derived from a proper analysis of historical characters and events. At least, that is what I imagine they think they are doing.

In this latest mess, the figures are (if course) Kim Philby and Edith Tudor-Hart. Charlotte P., who came across the Tudor-Hart archive fairly late in her journalistic career, had the inspiration that building up the very flimsy relationship that Kim had with the Austrian photographer into something more significant would make for a great story. In her introductory note, the author writes:

            What follows is not meant as a comprehensive re-telling of a highly contentious period, but a work of fiction based on the facts as I have variously found them, reimagining the lives of two people from starkly different backgrounds whose very existence transformed one another’s, and changed the course of history.

‘Changing the course of history’, again. It sounds as if she has been studying Nigel West. And the ‘transforming’ of each other’s lives is purely fanciful.

Ms. Philby admits that she distorted events, and omitted characters, if they didn’t serve the version ‘as she reconstructed it’, and impishly displays a slogan ‘All history is fiction’ at the start of her story. (She might have chosen ‘All memoir is fiction’, which would have been a better signpost for her grandfather’s contribution.) I am not sure what that unattributed post-modernist statement means, but fiction is certainly not history, and it seems to me that Ms. Philby is looking for an alibi. She is no Hilary Mantel. In her ‘reconstruction’, a highly contentious nomenclature, by the way, she makes out (for instance) that Edith was a great lover, adding Arnold Deutsch and the psychologist she consults to help with her mentally-handicapped son to her list of sexual partners, while omitting to include her paramour and business-partner Arpad Haasze from Vienna. She intersperses her plot (admittedly studded with several accurate but familiar episodes, embellished of course by imagined conversations and several distortions) with letters that Philby might have possibly written to Edith from Moscow before her rather sad death in Brighton in 1973. Yet the epistolatory nonsense continues through the Thatcher and Reagan eras right up until 1988, and the death of Klaus Fuchs, as if Philby imagined Edith were still alive, reading his letters. It is all very absurd.

That is not to say that the book lacks style, or art. For instance, Charlotte P. must have had great fun compiling the letters that her grandfather ‘wrote’: they come across as pastiches of the ‘Dear Bill’ letters in Private Eye, where the communications of a crusty and reactionary Denis Thatcher were purportedly directed to his old pal, William Deedes, editor of the Daily Telegraph, only in this case by a communist version of him. But to imagine that Philby would have bothered to send such letters to a neurotic Austrian woman whom he knew only vaguely, or that Edith would have appreciated his mixture of cynicism and English humour, is quite absurd. (No letters from Edith to Philby are included.)

In her Acknowledgements, Charlotte expresses her gratitude to such persons (friends) as Philip Knightley and Chapman Pincher who ‘supported, inspired and informed the book’. I am not sure why those two gentlemen would have encouraged the endeavour, but maybe the fictional aspect attracted them. Moreover, they have both been dead for several years: I wonder what that says about the gestational effort of the work. She also thanks her editor/co-pilot Ann Bissell, ‘who understood from the outset what I was trying to achieve with this book, and knew just how to make it happen’. But she does not explain to her readers exactly what it was she was trying to achieve, so I suppose that aspect will remain a mystery. Still, the film rights have been sold (see , and I suppose that the movie-going public will be able to compare the eventual outcome with the production of that other largely fictional work, Agent Sonya.

I hope someone introduces this piece to Charlotte Philby. Perhaps she might then acknowledge that, instead of indulging in decade-long fantasies about a largely mythical relationship between Kim and Edith, she could have spent her obvious talents (she was shortlisted for a prize in investigative journalism in 2013) on a much more fascinating story to be unveiled about her grandfather – but one concerning his first wife. And it does not need ‘fictionalizing’ to move closer to the truth – just some old-fashioned journalistic sleuthing.

Late News: In the first session of play in the cricket match described above, Goronwy Rees was regrettably struck with a hamstring injury, and had to withdraw. His place was taken by the Twelfth Man, Bernard Floud. And I notice that the series A Spy Among Friends is now available on MGM. More creative license, and new characters introduced, I see.

(New Commonplace entries can be seen here.)


Filed under Espionage/Intelligence, General History, Geography, Literature/Academia, Management/Leadership, Philosophy, Politics, Travel

Enigma Variations: Denniston’s Reward

Alastair Denniston


Denniston’s Honour

Secrecy over Bletchley Park

Polish Rumours

GC&CS Indifference?

The Aftermath




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Denniston’s Honour

As I declared in my posting last December, my interest in the career of Alastair Denniston was revived by my encounter with some incorrect descriptions of the acquisition by the Government and Cypher School (GC&CS) of Enigma models, and evidence of decryption successes, from Polish Intelligence shortly before the outbreak of World War II. These anecdotes reawakened my interest in exactly what Denniston’s contribution had been. Irrespective of any mis-steps he may have made, I have always considered it inexplicable that Denniston, who apparently led GC&CS so expertly between the wars, should be the only GC&CS or GCHQ chief who was not granted a knighthood.

Now I am not a fan of the British Awards and Honours system. As someone whose career was exclusively in competitive commercial enterprise in the UK and the USA, my experience is that, if you did your job well, you kept it, or might be promoted, and if you failed, you were sacked (or demoted, or put in charge of ‘Special Projects’, or be moved over to an elephants’ graveyard, if your organization was large enough to sustain such an entity). Occasionally you could perform a stellar job, and still be sacked – probably because of political machinations. And the idea that someone should receive some sort of ennoblement because of his or her ‘services to the xxxxxxx industry’ displays a woeful understanding of how competitive business works.

Thus I am very antipathetic to the notion that awards of some sort should be handed out after a career that simply avoided noticeable disasters. (And in the case of one notorious chief of MI6, even that is not true.) It does not encourage the right sort of behaviour, and grants some exalted status to persons who have had quite enough of perquisites and benefits to sustain their retirement. Nigel West describes, in his study of MI6 chiefs At Her Majesty’s Secret Service, how senior MI6 officers were concerned that the pursuit of moles might harm the chances of getting their gongs.

What is more, as I learned when studying SOE records, the level of an award is directly associated with the rank an officer of official has already received, which often meant that those most remote from the action were awarded ribbons and medals much more distinguished than those risking their lives on the frontline, such as those SOE agents who ended up with civilian MBE medals – quite an insult. I am also reminded of a famous New Yorker cartoon where one general is admiring all the ribbons on the chest of one of his colleagues, and points to one he does not recognize. ‘Advanced PowerPoint Techniques: Las Vegas, October 1998’, boasts the celebrated general. (I don’t see it at the cartoon website (, but, if you perform a search on ‘Medals’ there, you can see several variations on the theme, such as ‘This one is for converting a military base into a crafts center’.)

As I was preparing this piece, I made contact with Tony Comer, sometime departmental historian at GCHQ, and he explained to me that, in June 1941, Denniston received only a CMG rather than a knighthood. But that did not make sense to me. Denniston was not demoted until February 1942. The notorious letter to Churchill that reputedly sealed his fate, composed by Welchman and others, was not sent until October 1941. What was going on? Fortunately, a follow-up email to Mr Comer cleared up the confusion.

Mr Comer patiently explained that the headship of GC&CS did not qualify, in Whitehall bureaucratese, as a ‘director’-level position. The CMG was indeed the appropriate award for someone at the ‘Deputy Director’ level. Stewart Menzies (who took over as MI6 chief from Sir Hugh Sinclair after the latter’s death in November 1939) was the director of GC&CS, and thus was entitled to the KCMG awarded him on January 1, 1943.  In early 1942 Denniston was effectively demoted, while still maintaining the Deputy Director (Civil) title, after the mini-rebellion and his replacement as head of Bletchley Park by his deputy Edward Travis, now Deputy Director (Service). Denniston thereupon moved down to Berkeley Street to work on diplomatic traffic.

In 1944, Travis was promoted to full Director, while Menzies was promoted to Director-General. Travis was thus, owing to his newly acquired rank, awarded the KCMG in June 1944, despite having led the service for only two years, while Denniston, who had by all accounts performed very creditably for two decades (although he struggled during 1941 with the rapid growth of the department), was left out in the cold. Thus all Denniston’s valiant service as chief between 1919 and February 1942 was all for nought, as far as a knighthood was concerned. Since then, every chief of GC&CS, and GCHQ (which it became after the war) has benefitted from the raising of the rank to full directorship.

Thus it would appear that Denniston was hard done by, as several commentators have noted. For example, his biographer, Joel Greenberg, echoes that sentiment, albeit somewhat vaguely. In Alastair Denniston (2017), he offers the following opinion: “It is hard not to come to the conclusion that any public acknowledgement of AGD’s work at Berkeley Street from 1942 to 1945 might have drawn unwelcome attention to a part of GC&CS that the British intelligence community prefers to pretend never existed. Even the award of a knighthood to AGD might have raised questions about British diplomatic Sigint, both during the war and immediately afterwards.”

Yet this judgment strikes me as evasive and irrational. It would have been quite possible for the authorities to have awarded Denniston his knighthood without drawing attention to the Berkeley Street adventures. After all, as Nigel West informs us in his study of MI6 chiefs, when the highly discredited John Scarlett returned from chairmanship of the Joint Intelligence Committee to head MI6, at least one of the senior officers who resigned in disgust at the appointment (Mark Allen) was awarded a knighthood when he left for private enterprise. Moreover, Denniston was also treated badly when he retired in 1945. He was given a very stingy pension, and had to supplement his income by taking up teaching. This appeared to be a very vindictive and mean-spirited measure. Why on earth would Stewart Menzies have harboured such ill will towards a dedicated servant like Denniston?

I decided there was probably more to this story. I found Mr Greenberg’s book very unsatisfactory: it regurgitated far too much rather turgid archival history, without analysis or imagination, and frequently pushed Denniston into the background without exploring the dynamics of what must have been some very controversial episodes in his career. It was, furthermore, riddled with errors, and poorly edited – for example, the Index makes no distinction between the US Signals Intelligence Service and the British Secret Intelligence Service, and the text is correspondingly sloppy. I had an authoritative and technical answer to my question about Denniston’s awards, but continued to believe that there was more to the account than had been revealed, and suspected it had much to do with Enigma.

Secrecy over Bletchley Park

My main focus in this piece is on the pre-war negotiations over the acquisition of Enigma expertise. There is no question that Denniston struggled later, in the first two years of the war: his travails have been well-documented. He lost his boss and mentor, Hugh Sinclair, soon after the outbreak of war, and had to report to the far less sympathetic Stewart Menzies. A furious recruiting campaign then took pace, which imposed severe strains on the infrastructure. There were two hundred employees in GC&CS at the beginning of the war: the number soon rose into the thousands. Stresses evolved in the areas of pay-grades, billeting, transport, building and cafeteria accommodation, civilian versus military authority, as well as in the overall challenge of setting up an efficient organization to handle the overwhelming barrage of enemy signals being processed. All the time the demands from the services were intensifying. In the critical year of 1941, Denniston made two arduous visits to the United States and Canada, underwent an operation for gall-bladder stones, and suffered soon after from an infection. It was a predicament that would have tried and tested anybody.

But Denniston was a proud man, and apparently did not seek guidance from his superiors – not that they would have known exactly what to do.  What probably brought him down, most of all, was his insistence that GC&CS was historically an organization dedicated to cryptanalysis, and should remain so, when it became increasingly clear to those in the forefront of decrypting the messages from Enigma, and carrying out the vital task of ‘traffic analysis’ (which developed schemata about the location and organization of enemy field units largely – but not exclusively, as some have suggested – from information that had not been encrypted), that that tenet no longer held true. A very close liaison between personnel involved in message selection, decryption and translation, collation and interpretation, and structured (and prompt) presentation of conclusions was necessary to maximize the delivery of actionable advice to the services.

Yet it took many years for this story to appear. All employees at the GC&CS (and then GCHQ) were subject to a lifetime of secrecy by the terms of the Official Secrets Act – largely because it was considered vital that the match-winning cryptanalytical techniques not be revealed to any current or future enemy. It was not until the early nineteen-seventies that drips of intelligence about the wartime activities of Bletchley Park began to escape. The British authorities had believed that they could maintain censorship over any possible disclosures of confidential intelligence matters, but failed to understand that they could not control publication by British citizens abroad, or the initiatives of foreign media. This was a pattern that repeated itself over the years, what with J. C. Masterman’s Double-Cross System, published in the United States in 1972, Gordon Welchmann’s Hut Six Story, also in the USA, in 1982, Peter Wright’s Spycatcher, which was published in Australia in 1987, as well, of course, by the memoirs of traitors such as Kim Philby and Ursula Kuczynski.

As with the memoir of the Abwehr officer Nikolaus Ritter (Deckname Dr. Rantzau), which appeared in 1972, GCHQ was taken aback by the appearance in 1973 in France of a book by Gustave Bertrand, Enigma ou la plus grande énigme de la guerre 1919-1945. Bertrand had been head of the cryptanalytical section of the French Intelligence Service, and claimed that he had been prompted to write his account after reading a rather distorted story (La Guerre secrète des services speciaux français 1939-1945) of how the French had gained intelligence on a German encryption machine from an agent in Germany, written by Michel Gardet in 1967. Less accessible, no doubt, but probably much more revealing, was Wladyslaw Kozaczuk’s Bitwa o tajemnice [Battle for Secrets]published in Warsaw in 1967, which made some very bold claims about the ‘breaking’ of the German cipher machine that surpassed the achievements of the French and the English.

Thus, in an attempt to take control of the narrative, Frederick Winterbotham, who had headed the Air Section of MI6, and reported to Stewart Menzies, received some measure of approval from the Joint Intelligence Committee to write the first English-language account of how ULTRA intelligence had been employed to assist the war effort. (Note: ULTRA included all intelligence gained from message interception, decryption, translation and analysis, and was not restricted to Enigma sources.) Winterbotham had been responsible for forming the Special Liaison Units (SLUs) that allowed secure distribution of ULTRA intelligence to be passed to commanders in the field. His book, The Ultra Secret, appeared in 1974, and had a sensational but mixed reception, partly because many old GCHQ hands considered he had broken his vow of secrecy, and partly because he, who had no understanding of cryptanalysis, misrepresented many important aspects of the whole operation.

The Enigma

As an aside, I believe it is important to mention that Enigma was sometimes ‘broken’ (in the sense that it did not remain completely intact and secure), but never ‘solved’ (in the sense that it became an open book, and regularly decrypted). That distinction can sometimes be lost, and too many authoritative accounts in the literature refer to the ‘solving’ of Enigma.  Dermot Turing’s recent (2018) book on the Polish contribution to the project, XY&Z, is sub-titled The Real Story of How Enigma Was Broken, and thus technically represents the project according to the distinctions above, but might give the impression that a wholesale assault had been successful. The Enigma machine was a moving target; before and during the war, the Germans introduced new features (e.g. additional rotors) that made it more difficult to decrypt. And each of the German organizations using Enigma deployed it differently. The degree of its impenetrability was very dependent upon the disciplines that its operators exercised in setting daily keys with their opposite numbers, and how casually they repeated text messages that could be used as cribs by the analysts. It supplemented very complex enciphering mechanisms (i.e. translation of individual characters) with the use of rich codebooks that allowed substitution of words and phrases with numerical sequences. Many variants of Enigma discourse were thus never broken. Mavis Batey’s biography of Dillwyn Knox is carefully subtitled The Man Who Broke Enigmas – but not all of them.

My approach that follows is overall chronological – to explore how the pre-war discovery of Enigma characteristics was understood and represented by various authors, and how the accounts of dealing with Enigma evolved. In this regard, it is important to distinguish when some accounts were written, and to what sources they had access, from the time that they appeared in print. For example, the report that Alastair Denniston wrote, The Government Code and Cypher School Between the Wars, was written from his home in 1944, but did not see the semi-public light of day until his son arranged to have it published in the first issue of the Journal of Intelligence and National Security in 1986 (see . About a decade later, it was released by The National Archives as HW 3/32.

Polish Rumours

For a concise and useful account of the relationship between Bletchley Park and the Poles, the essay Enigma, the French, the Poles and the British, 1931-1940 by Jean Stengers, found in the 1984 compilation The Missing Dimension, edited by Christopher Andrew and David Dilks, serves relatively well. It has a very rich set of Notes that lays out a number of primary and secondary sources that explain where much of the mythology of Enigma-decryption comes from. Yet the piece is strangely inadequate in exploring the early communications between the French and the British in 1931, and also elides over the exchange between Dillwyn Knox and Marian  Rejewski in July 1939 which showed up Bletchley Park’s failings in pursuing the project, but then allowed the British endeavour to assume the leading role in further decryption.

When Winterbotham published his book in 1974, it contained some recognition of a Polish contribution. Yet this was based on a rumour that must have been encouraged within GC&CS, while being utterly without foundation. The French writer Colonel Gardet, in La Guerre Secrete [see above], had claimed that a Polish mechanic working on the Enigma had been spirited out of Germany and had reconstructed a replica in Paris – a story that Winterbotham picked up with enthusiasm. It was later embellished by that careless encyclopaedic author Anthony Cave-Brown. And it was Cave-Brown who introduced the imaginary character, Lewinsky. He also implicated ‘Gibby’ Gibson, who reputedly spirited Lewinsky and his wife out of Poland, as well as the SOE officer Colin Gubbins, reported as taking Enigma secrets with him to Bucharest in September 1939. Both these preposterous anecdotes have found eager champions on the Web.

Yet these tales took time to die, and the claims about a spy in the heart of Germany’s cypher department (the truth of the matter) were initially distrusted. In Ultra Goes to War (1974), Ronald Lewin, perhaps overestimating the confidences told him by Colonel Tadeusz Lisicki (who had worked on the Enigma team, and took up residence in England after the war) echoed the claim that the Poles had, in 1932, ‘borrowed’ a military Enigma machine for a weekend. Lewin had read Bertrand’s account, but considered it ‘overblown’. He was very sceptical of the story that a Polish worker had smuggled Enigma parts over the border, but considered the assertion that an officer in the Chiffrierstelle had made overtures to the French in 1932 [sic: the occurrence of ‘1932’ instead of ‘1931’ is a common error in the literature, originating from Bertrand] only slightly more probable.

In fact, it was a review by David Kahn of Winterbotham’s book in the New York Times (on December 29, 1974) that brought the name of the spy, Hans-Thilo Schmidt, to the public eye. (see In his later publication, How I Discovered World War II’s Greatest Spy & Other Stories of Intelligence and Code (2015), Kahn described how he had tracked down Schmidt’s name, and then confronted Bertrand with his discovery. Bertrand had wanted to keep his spy’s identity secret, and was outraged at Kahn’s disclosure. Yet, even at this late date (2015), Kahn misrepresented what actually happened, and failed to explain the true story about the Poles’ success – as I shall outline below.

Hans-Thilo Schmidt

And the muddle continued. In Most Secret War (1978), R. V. Jones declared that the Poles ‘had stolen the wheels’ of an Enigma machine, and the following year, a rather strange account by F. H. Hinsley appeared in the first volume of British Intelligence in World War II. Hinsley attempted to bring order to Gardet’s garbled story, and Bertrand’s subsequent controversial response, by openly describing the contribution of Schmidt, incidentally identified by his French cryptonym ‘Asché’, which appears to represent nothing more than the French letters ‘HE’. At the same time, however, Hinsley introduced his own measure of confusion. (He had not been a cryptanalyst.) Perhaps out of a desire to undermine the claims of the Poles, he reported that a 1974 memorandum by Colonel Stefan Mayer, head of Polish intelligence, made no mention of Asché’s papers and explicitly cast doubt that espionage had played any part in the project, as if it had been pure Polish ingenuity that had achieved the results. Moreover Hinsley contributed to the mythology by adding that  ‘from 1934, greatly helped by a Pole who was working in an Enigma factory in Germany, they [the Poles] began to make their own Enigma machines’.

Harry Hinsley, Edward Travis & John Tiltman

Yet Hinsley stated that he had discovered evidence of the French approach in the archives, although he circumscribed Bertrand’s account by characterizing what the Frenchman wrote as merely ‘claims’. (It appeared that he had, at least, studied Bertrand’s book.) Hinsley had also been prompted by a letter to the Sunday Times in June 1976 by Gustave Paillole [see below] that contested Winterbotham’s version of the events. Hinsley wrote (without identifying the archival documents):

GC and CS records are far from perfect for the pre-war years. But they confirm that the French provided GC and CS (they say as early as 1931) with two photographed documents giving directions for setting and using the Enigma machine Mark 1 which the Germans introduced in 1930. They also indicate that GC and CS showed no great interest in collaborating, for they add that in 1936, when a version of the Enigma began to be used in Spain, GC and CS asked the French if they had acquired any information since 1931; and GC & CS’s attitude is perhaps explained by the fact that as late as April 1939 the ministerial committee which authorized the fullest exchange of intelligence with France still excluded cryptanalysis.

This passage is important, since it strongly suggests that senior GC&CS members were aware of the French donation of 1931, and in 1936 rightly tried to resuscitate the exchanges of that time to determine whether any fresh information had come to light – a behaviour that strikes me as absolutely correct. Nevertheless, the official historian should have displayed a little more enterprise in his analysis. The head of GC&CS himself had apparently forgotten about the 1931 approach. When Denniston wrote his memoir in December 1944, all he stated about the French/Polish contribution was (of an undated event some time in 1938 or 1939): “An ever closer liaison with the French, and through them with the Poles, stimulated the attack.” Joel Greenberg cited a statement made by Denniston in 1948:

From 1937 onwards it was obviously desirable that our naval, military and air intelligence should get in close touch with their French colleagues for military and political reasons. The Admiral [Sinclair] had always wished for a close liaison between G. C. & C. S. and SIS but I have always thought that Dunderdale, then in Paris, was the man who brought Bertrand into the English organisations. Menzies, it is true, had a close relationship with Rivet under whom Bertrand worked but I think it was Dunderdale who, entirely ignorant of the method of cryptographers, urged the liaison on a technical level.

This appears, to me, to be a very naive observation by Denniston. It contradicts what Bertrand asserted about direct relationships with GC&CS and overlooks the 1936 overtures to the French, noted by Hinsley. By highlighting the lack of expertise in the matter held by the chief officer in MI6’s Paris station at the time, his statement might help to explain the embarrassments of 1931. At the same time, the comments of both Hinsley and Denniston suggest that the edicts of the ‘ministerial committee’ that prohibited discussion of cryptanalytical matters with the French could perhaps be defied.

Frank Birch, a history don who re-joined GC&CS in 1939 as head of the German Naval Section (he had worked in Room 40, which had been a Sigint Centre for the Royal Navy, between 1917 and 1919), and later became GCHQ’s historian, also covered that period superficially. When he wrote his internal history of British Sigint (he died in 1956 before completing it), he was similarly laconical about the pre-war co-operation, writing: “In the summer of that year [1939], as a result of staff talks with the French and the Poles, the head of GC&CS and Dillwyn (Dilly) Knox, a pioneer of Enigma research, visited Warsaw. There they learned of some successful solution of some earlier German traffic and the construction of an electrical scanning machine known as ‘la bombe’.” Just like that: staffs decided to converse. It was a very superficial account.

Yet there was at this stage evidence of a desire to conceal the fact that the British had been approached by Bertrand in 1931. Józef Garliński had published his account, Intercept, in 1979, and acknowledged the help he had received from Colonel Lisicki. (Garliński had served in Polish Intelligence, and was an Auschwitz survivor who did not come to England until after the war: he is best known for his memoir, Fighting Auschwitz.) He explicitly described the approach by Schmidt to the French in 1931, but omitted any reference to Bertrand’s first turning to the British. As he wrote about Bertrand’s reactions after receiving the first documents:

            Captain Bertrand’s thoughts immediately turned towards Poland. He knew that Polish Intelligence had for some years past been trying to break the Germans’ secret. The Poles had been co-operating and exchanging information with him and now he could present them with a discovery of incalculable value.

This grandstanding account directly contradicts what (for example) Dermot Turing later wrote –  that Bertrand turned to the Poles almost in despair after the British and Czechs had shown no interest. Moreover, there was no discussion of sordid financial negotiations, apart from the statement that Schmidt ‘had been given a substantial advance payment’. The impression given is that the French were quite happy to pay Schmidt, but passed on his secrets to the Poles for free. The author never suggests that the French might have turned to perfidious Albion first. Yet Garliński, in his Acknowledgments, singled out Harry Golombek and Ruth Thompson from Bletchley Park, and listed several other veterans who had helped him, including Mavis Batey, Anthony Brooks, Peter Calvocoressi, and Frederick Winterbotham He also paid thanks to a few British subjects close to the participants, a group that included Robin Denniston, Penelope Fitzgerald and Ronald Lewin. Did none of them attempt to put him right about the British Connection, or did they simply not know about it? Were they not aware of the archival material that Hinsley exploited in his publication of the very same year? One would expect these people to meet and talk, and at least be aware what was being written elsewhere. Significantly, perhaps, Garliński had not interviewed Hinsley or Wilfred Dunderdale.

Gordon Welchman also admitted his confusion when his Hut Six Story was published in 1982, not knowing how much to trust the various accounts of the Poles’ access to Enigma secrets. Apart from his exposure to Stengers, Hinsley, Lewin, and even William Stevenson’s highly dubious A Man Named Intrepid, Welchman had started to pick up some of the information disclosed in non-English media. He was aware of the activities of Schmidt, and described how the latter had passed documents to Bertrand in December 1932 [sic]. Notably, however, he referred solely to the fact that, since French Intelligence was not interested, Bertrand had passed the material to the Poles. There was no mention of any approach to the British at that time.

Gordon Welchman

After publication (and the furore that erupted with American authorities about security breaches), Welchman realized that he needed to make changes to his account. As his biographer, Joel Greenberg, wrote: “He had learned some of the details of the pre-war work by the Poles on the Enigma machine too late to include them in his book.” He was also engaged in some controversy with the Poles themselves. Kozaczuk had diminished the contribution of the British in his 1979 work, Enigma, and in the 1984 English version had explicitly criticized The Hut Six Story. At the same time, Welchman had come to realize that Hinsley’s official history was deeply flawed: Hinsley had not been at Bletchley Park in the early days, and had obviously been fed some incorrect information. Welchman judged that Hinsley had been unduly influenced by the sometimes intemperate Birch.

Welchman gained some redemption when Lisicki came to his rescue, confirming the original contributions that Welchman and his colleagues had made, and eventually even Kozaczuk had to back down. The outcome was that a corrective article (From Polish Bomba to British Bombe: the Birth of ULTRA) was published in the first issue of Intelligence and National Security in 1986 –    and eventually appeared in the revised edition of Welchman’s book. (Denniston’s son was manœuvering behind the scenes, as his father’s wartime memoir also appeared in that first issue of the Journal.) The issue at hand was, however, the contribution from British innovation and technology in 1940 – not the question of access to purloined material in the early 1930s.

Similarly, Christopher Andrew, in his 1986 work Her Majesty’s Secret Service (titled simply Secret Service when published the previous year in the UK), and subtitled The Making of the British Intelligence Community, left out much of the story. He obviously credited Stengers, who had contributed to the anthology that he, Andrew, edited with David Dilks [see above], and he also referred to Garliński’s Intercept (re-titled The Enigma War when published in the USA). Andrew echoed Garliński’s claim that Rejewski had gained vital documents from Schmidt back in the winter of 1931. Yet Andrew gave no indication that the British had been invited to the party at that time: he merely observed that, since the French cryptographic service had shown no interest in the documentation, Bertrand passed it on to the Poles. One might have imagined that the discovery of a spy within the Chiffrierstelle would have sparked some greater curiosity on the part of the chief magus of our intelligence historians, and that Andrew would have studied Hinsley’s opus, but it was not to be. And the story of Bertrand’s approach to the British was effectively buried.

Thus the decade approached its end without any confident and reliable account. Nigel West’s GCHQ (1986) shed no new light on the matter, while Winterbotham, in his follow-up book The Ultra Spy (1989), felt free to reinforce the fact that the French had been approached by a German spy in 1934 [sic], but that Bertrand had then turned to the Poles, echoing Andrew’s story that the British had been told nothing. It still seemed an inconvenient truth for the British authorities to acknowledge that GC&CS (or MI6) had treated with too much disdain an approach made to them in the early 1930s, and the institution’s main focus was to emphasize the wartime creativity of the boffins at Bletchley Park while diminishing the efforts of Rejewski, Zygalski and Różycki.

One final flourish occurred, however. In Volume 3, Part 2 of his history of British Intelligence in the Second World War, published in 1988, Hinsley (assisted by Thomas, Simkins and Ransom) issued, in Appendix 30, a revised version of the Appendix from Volume 1. (Tony Comer has informed me that this new Appendix was actually written by Joan Murray. I shall refer to the authorship as Hinsley/Murray hereafter.) She wrote as follows:

Records traced in the GC and CS archives since 1979 show that some errors were introduced in that Appendix from a secondary account, written in 1945, which relied on the memories of the participants when it was dealing with the initial breakthrough into the Enigma. Subsequent Polish and French publications show that other errors arose from a Mayer memorandum, written in 1974, which apart from various interviews recorded in British newspapers in the early 1970s was the only Polish source used in compiling the Appendix to Volume 1.

Oh, those pesky unreliable memoirs – and only a short time after the events! While the paragraph issued a corrective to Colonel Mayer’s deceptive account, Hinsley/Murray seemed ready to accept the evidence of two ‘important’ French publications that had appeared since Bertrand’s book of 1973, namely Paillole’s Notre Spion chez Hitler, and an article by Gilbert Bloch in Revue Historique des Armées, No. 4. December 1985. Hinsley/Murray went on to confirm that Bertrand ‘acquired several documents, which included two manuals giving operating and keying instructions for Enigma 1’, and added that, ‘as was previously indicated on the evidence of the GC and CS archives, copies of these documents were given to the Poles and the British at the end of 1931.’ Yet this was a very ambiguous statement: by ‘these documents’, did Hinsley/Murray imply simply the ‘two manuals’, as he had indicated in the earlier Volume of his history, or was he referring to the ‘several documents’? The phrasing of the quoted clause clearly suggests that the Poles and the British were supplied with the same material at the same time, but his own text contradicts that thesis.

The puzzle remained. Exactly what had Bertrand passed to the British in 1931, and who saw the material?

GC&CS Indifference?

In 1985, Paul Paillole, a wartime officer in France’s secret service, published Notre Spion chez Hitler, which, being written in French, did not gain the immediate attention it deserved. (It was translated, and published in English – but not until 2016 – under the inaccurate title The Spy in Hitler’s Inner Circle.) Paillole’s role in counterespionage in Vichy France is very ambivalent, and he tried to show, after the war, a loyalty to the Allied cause that was not justified. Nevertheless, his account of the approach by Schmidt to the French, and the subsequent negotiations with the Poles, has been generally accepted as being reliable.

Paul Paillole’s ‘The Spy in Hitler’s Inner Circle’

Paillole had joined the Deuxième Bureau of the French Intelligence Department on December 1, 1935, and, hence, was not around at the time of the initial assignments made between Schmidt and Rodolphe Lemoine (‘Rex’), a shady character of German birth originally named Rudolf Stallman, who was detailed to respond to Schmidt’s overtures of July, 1931. Paillole first learned of the spy in the Chiffrierstelle from Gustave Bertrand, who had joined the department in November 1933 as head of Section D, responsible for encryption research. His book is many ways irritating: it has a loose and melodramatic style, and lacks an index, but it contains a useful set of Notes, and boasts an authoritative Preface by someone identified solely as Frédéric Guelton (apparently a French military historian of some repute) that reinforces the accuracy of Paillole’s story. It also includes references to KGB archival material, and the involvement of two fascinating and important NKVD spy handlers, Dmitry Bystrolyotov and Ignace Reiss, which could be a whole new subject for investigation another day.

Typical of Paillole’s rather hectic approach is his account of how Bertrand told him the story about Schmidt. We are supposed to accept that, one day early in 1936, Bertrand pulled Paillole into his office and started to deliver a long description of the negotiations, a discourse that continued over lunch. Moreover, an immediate conflict appears: while Guelton had indicated that Bertrand ‘arrived on the scene’ in November 1933, Bertrand claimed that he had established Section D in 1930. Notwithstanding such chronological slip-ups, Bertrand told a captivating story.

Somehow, Paillole was able to reproduce the whole long monologue without taking any notes, including the details of the material that Schmidt had handed over in late 1931, namely seven critical items mainly concerning the Enigma, including ‘a numbered encryption manual for the Enigma I machine (Schlűsselanleitung. H. Do. G. 14, L. Do. G. 14 H. E. M. Do. G. 168)’. Since this information must have come from a written report, it is hard to understand why he felt he had to dissemble. (This represents an example of an ‘Authentic’ release of intelligence, but not a ‘Genuine’ one.) For the purposes of this investigation (the exposure to the British), however, the exact form of Bertrand’s report is less significant. Early on, Bertrand offered the following insight: “I’ve used the good relationships our Bureau has with allied bureaus in London, Prague and Warsaw to comparing our level of knowledge with theirs and work to share our intelligence efforts. The British know less than us. They show a faint interest in the research in Germany and cryptography. The only ones who are passionate about these problems are the Poles.”

Now, one might question the timing of this activity: ‘I’ve used’, instead of ‘I used’ suggests a more recent event, but that may be an error of translation. Yet a later section expresses the idea more specifically. After presenting the documentation to Colonel Bassières, the head of the Intelligence Department, and receiving a depressing rejection because of the complexity of the challenge, and the lack of resources to undertake the work, Bertrand described how he approached his British allies:

In Paris, I entrusted the photographs of the two encryption and usage manuals for the Enigma machine to the representative of the Secret Intelligence Service, Commander Wilfred Dunderdale. I begged him to inform his superiors of the opportunities that were available to us. I proposed to go to London to discuss with British specialists the common direction we should take for our research.

If any approach were to succeed, I had secretly hoped that it would encourage the interests of French decoding services. Naturally enthusiastic, Dunderdale, convinced of the importance of the documents I possessed, immediately went to England. It was November 23, 1931. On the 26th, he was back. From the look of dismay on his face, I knew that he had been hardly any more successful than I had been in France.

Thus Bertrand turned to the Poles.

Certain aspects of this anecdote do not ring true. This was of course the same Dunderdale who, in the words of Denniston, ‘was entirely ignorant of the method of cryptographers’. Yet it is he who immediately understands the importance of the documents, while his superiors in London reject them. (My first thought was that Denniston deliberately downplayed the insightfulness of Dunderdale in an attempt to extinguish any trace of the 1931 exchanges.) Moreover, if Bertrand enjoyed such a good relationship with the ‘allied bureau’ in London (GC&CS, presumably, not SIS/MI6), and knew enough to be able to state that his British counterparts were less well informed than the French, why did he not indeed visit London to meet Denniston himself, instead of relying on an intermediary with less experience? (Tiltman visited Paris, but not until 1932, to discuss Soviet naval codes, and struck up a good relationship with Bertrand, which aided in Tiltman’s inquiries with the French over Enigma in September 1938.) Can Bertrand be relied upon for the intelligence that Dunderdale actually went to London himself to make the case?

Yet the account presented a tantalizing avenue for investigation. Was there any record of that British response to be found in internal histories of British Sigint, or in memoirs of those involved?

In Seizing the Enigma (1991), David Kahn, the celebrated author of Codebreakers, tried to dig a little further, although he was largely dependent upon the accounts of Bertrand and Paillole. At least he brought the French sources to a broad English-speaking audience, as well as the voice of authority. One significant aspect caught my eye. When Bertrand brought his photocopies to Colonel Bassières of French Intelligence, he waited two weeks before returning to find out how he had progressed: it took that long for Bassières to digest the contents of the material, and to conclude that it would be very hard to make any progress without knowledge of the wiring of Enigma’s rotors and of the settings of the keys on any particular day. Yet only three days elapsed between Dunderdale’s receipt of the same material (in Paris, on November 23) and his report that the British likewise judged them to be of little use.

Wilfred Dunderdale

Is that not astonishing? Surely, MI6 – and GC&CS, if it were contacted – would not have made any judgment based on a cabled summary from Dunderdale? They would have demanded to be able to inspect the source documents carefully. Bertrand implied that Dunderdale took them with him to England. But for him to set up meetings in London, travel there, have the documents assessed, and so swiftly rejected, before returning to Paris, seems highly improbable. He was informed on a Monday, and was back on the Thursday to deliver his verdict. Did the cryptographically challenged Dunderdale really follow through? Had he actually taken the samples with him to London?

The 1988 analysis from Hinsley/Murray appears to confirm that Dunderdale did manage to get his material through to GC&CS in London, and that, as Bertrand reported, the two manuals giving operating and keying instructions were received by the appropriate personnel. And Hinsley/Murray confirmed the lukewarm response:

On the British lack of interest in the documents, GC and CS’s archives add nothing except that it did not think them sufficiently valuable to justify helping Bertrand to meet the costs. It would seem that its initial study of the documents was fairly perfunctory [indeed!] since it was not until 1936 that it considered undertaking a theoretical study of the Enigma indicator system with a view to discovering whether the machine might be reconstituted from the indicators if enough messages were available.

The suggestion that GC&CS personnel did truly get an opportunity to inspect the two documents in 1931 is vaguely reinforced by an Appendix to Nigel de Grey’s internal history of GC&CS, although his text is irritatingly imprecise, with a lack of proper dating of events, too much use of the passive voice, and actors (such as ‘the British’) remaining unidentified. He acknowledges that GC&CS had access to two documents from Bertrand, but his evidence of this claim is a memorandum from September 1938.

Silence from the British camp over the incident appears therefore to have derived from embarrassment, not because the transfer never happened. Yet the Hinsley/Murray testimony introduces a new aspect – that of money. It suggests that Bertrand may have been requesting payment, or perhaps a commitment of investment, for the treasure he was prepared to hand over. At the time of that revisionist account, all the senior figures who could have been involved were dead: Denniston (1961), Knox (1943), Travis (who might have used any misdemeanor to disparage Denniston, 1956), Tiltman (1982), and Menzies (1968). No one was around to deny or confirm.

On the other hand, Bertrand had not been entirely straight with the British. His account never indicates that he asked the British for funds, but that he was offering a sample out of his desire for cooperation. If he turned to the British first, why did he offer them only two items, when he handed over the complete portfolio to the Poles a week later? It is true that the remaining documents might not have been so useful, but why did he make that call? As it happened, the Poles were overjoyed to receive the dossier on December 8, although they eventually would come to the same conclusion that they were stymied without understanding the inner workings of the machine, and some daily keys. Moreover, no account that I have read suggests that Bertrand asked the Poles for payment. Yet the French Security Service needed cash to pay Schmidt, and it is unlikely that, having been turned down by the British, they would agree to hand over the jewels to the Poles for free. They needed to sustain payments for Schmidt, but were not making use of any of the material themselves, and were not even being told by the Poles what progress they were making. It does not make sense.

Nevertheless, over the next few years, Bertrand continued to supply the Poles with useful information from Schmidt, and Rejewski’s superb mathematical analysis enabled the Poles to make startling progress on decrypting Enigma messages. The British heard nothing of this: Hinsley/Murray report that a memorandum as late as 1938 indicates that they had not received any fresh information since 1931. They also wrote:

In all probability the fact that GC and CS had shown little interest in the documents received from Bertrand in 1931 is partly explained by the small quantity of its Enigma intercepts; until well into the 1930s traffic in Central Europe, transmitted on medium frequencies on low power, was difficult to intercept in the United Kingdom. It is noteworthy that when GC and CS made a follow-up approach to Bertrand in 1936 the whole outcome was an agreement to exchange intercepts for a period up to September 1938.

This strikes me as a bit feeble. (Since when was Germany in Central Europe? And was interception really a problem? Maybe. The British were picking up Comintern messages in London at this time, but the Poles would have been closer to the Germans’ weaker signals.) Yet surely GC & CS should have been more imaginative. They had acquired a commercial Enigma machine: they could see the emerging German threat by the mid-thirties, and they were intercepting Enigma-based messages from Spain during the Civil War. (Hinsley/Murray imply that no progress had been made on this traffic, but de Grey, in his internal history, reported that Knox had broken it on April 24, 1937.) It is also true that the Poles were better motivated to tackle the problem, because of their proximity to Germany and the threats to their territory, but Denniston and his team were slow to respond to the emergent German threat, no doubt echoing the national policy against re-armament at the time, but also failing to assume a more energetic and imaginative posture.

After all, if the War Office had started increasing the interception of German Navy signals during the Spanish Civil War, it surely would have expected an appropriate response from GC&CS, whether that involved shifting resources away from, say, Soviet traffic, or adding more cryptographic personnel. GC&CS did respond, in a way, of course, since Knox set about trying to break the Naval codes. He had had much success in breaking the messages used by the Italians and the Spanish Nationalists, but, soon after he switched to German Naval Enigma, the navy introduced complex new indicators. He thus started work on army and air force traffic under Tiltman. GC&CS might have showed a little more imagination, but, as Hinsley/Murray recorded, they were constrained (or discouraged?) from discussing decryption matters with the French. Despite that prohibition, Tiltman was authorized to go to Paris to discuss cryptanalysis with Bertrand in 1932. Was he breaking the rules?

I looked for further confirmation of the nature of the material handed over, and who saw it. That careful historian Stephen Budiansky covers the events in his 2000 book Battle of Wits. He lists an impressive set of primary sources, including the HW series at the National Archives, but admits that he was very reliant on Ralph Erskine ‘the pre-eminent historian of Naval Enigma, who probably feels he wrote this book himself’ for supplying him with answers to scores of emailed questions. He writes, of Bertrand’s transfer of material to the British: “Copies of the documents were sent to GC&CS, which dutifully studied them and dutifully filed them away on the shelf, concluding that they were of no help in overcoming the Enigma’s defenses.” Yet his source for that is the Volume 3 Appendix, and his comments about defenses contradicts what Hinsley/Murray wrote about Enigma not being considered a serious threat at that time. This is disappointing, and strikes me as intellectually lazy.

Mavis Batey

And then some startling new insights appeared in Mavis Batey’s profile of Knox, Dilly, which appeared in 2009. Batey had joined GC&CS in 1940, and had worked for Knox until his death in February 1943. She introduced some facts that bolster the hints of the mercenary character of Bertrand’s offer, but at the same time she also indulged in some speculation. Batey suggested that Bertrand’s main liaison was Dunderdale (this minimizing his claims about close contacts in London), and that, when he offered Dunderdale the documents, Bertrand demanded to be paid for them. Yet her text is ambiguous: she writes that Bertrand ‘wanted a considerable sum for any more [sic] of Asché’s secrets’, thus implying that he had already received some for free. Moreover, when Dunderdale contacted London, he received a negative response, for reasons of cost.

            The request was turned down flat. It was a political matter of funding priorities and it seems that Denniston, Foss, Tiltman and Dilly [Knox] were not consulted. Dunderdale did have the original batch of documents for three days and in all probability photographed them, allowing Dilly to analyse them later, but the ban on paying any money for them cut the British off from the rest of Asché’s valuable secrets.

This is an astonishing suggestion – that no employee of GC&CS, and probably no MI6 officer, either, even saw the documents at the time, but that MI6 (Sinclair?) simply sent a message of rejection by cable based on a message from Dunderdale. If that were true, it might explain the singular lack or recollection of the events on the part of Denniston and others. (One has therefore to question the Hinsley/Murray interpretation of the archive.) But the text is also very disappointing. Batey does not identify the ‘original batch’: were they the set of seven, or just the two on operating instructions and key settings? Did Dunderdale actually photocopy them, or was that not necessary, given Bertrand’s indication that he offered those two – which were themselves photographs, of course –  for free? Did Knox really analyze them later? (The evidence of others suggests that this is pure speculation.) And, if the documents that Asché provided in the following years were truly ‘valuable’, to what extent was the British decryption effort cruelly delayed? (The Poles would later admit that the stream of documents after 1931 was critical to their success.) Did the quartet complain vigorously when they were able to inspect Dunderdale’s copies, and did they inquire about the source, and whether there was more? Unfortunately, Batey leaves it all very vague. What she does confirm, however, is that, in 1938, Sinclair ‘anxious to increase co-operation with France, authorized Denniston to invite Bertrand over for a council of war’.

Mavis Batey’s ‘Dilly’

One might imagine that, with the passage of time, greater clarity would evolve. Yet that is not the case with Dermot Turing in his 2018 book X, Y & Z, the mission of which is to set the record straight on the Polish achievements. While his coverage of the Polish contribution is very comprehensive, Turing shows a muddled sequence of events in the early 1930s, and his analysis is not helped by a rather arch, journalistic style. He refers to ‘Bertrand’s sniffy friends across the Channel’, and informs his readers that ‘the British had sniffed around the Enigma machine before’. Nevertheless, he is ready to describe John Tiltman as ‘the greatest cryptanalyst’ they had, and explains that Tiltman had visited Paris around this time, as I noted earlier.

            In 1932, he had been in Paris, asking the French to help with a perennial problem – that Britain’s precious Navy might be under threat from the Soviets. Tiltman came with an incomplete set of materials on Soviet naval codes, which he hoped the French might be able to complement. Alas, the answer was no, but the potential for cooperation had been established.

Unfortunately, Turing then moves from this event to declare that, after an Enigma machine had been inspected back in 1925 by Mr Foss, who made a detailed technical report that was put on file, the link established by Tiltman facilitated an initiative by the British to discuss the Enigma with the French. He writes:

            But now Captain Tiltman had made the diplomatic link between GC&CS and Captain Bertrand’s Section D, perhaps the boffinry [sic] might be extracted from its file and put to good use. The question was duly put, via the proper channels, which is to say MI6’s liaison officer in Paris.

            Bertrand’s bathroom photographs were carefully evaluated at MI6. The photography was good, but MI6 independently came to the same conclusion as the Section de Chiffre. The documents were, unfortunately, useless.

Turing, perhaps not unexpectedly, provides no references for this mess. Tiltman’s initial visit occurred after Bertrand made his 1931 approach. Turing provides no rationale for the British suddenly making timely overtures to the French. (He was probably confusing the 1938 overtures with the events of 1931.) He has MI6, not GC&CS, making the evaluation, which is superficially absurd, and may echo the reality that Batey described, but undermines his disparaging comments about the sniffy boffins at GC&CS. Yet his conclusion is the same: ‘the British were a dead end’.

Dermot Turing’s ‘X,Y & Z’

And what of Gustave Bertrand? He was a very controversial figure: he was arrested by the Germans in 1944, but managed to escape to Britain, claiming that he had agreed to work for the Nazis – though what he was going to reveal, how they would control him, and how he would communicate with them is never stated. Paillole himself investigated the affair, and determined that Bertrand was innocent of any treachery. Dermot Turing also gives him the all-clear in X, Y & Z, but it would not be out of character for Bertrand to have withheld some information from the British in 1931 when he wanted to keep much of the glory to himself and the French service. His petulant behaviour during, and immediately after, the war, when he showed his resentment at the achievements of the British, was noted and criticized by the Poles. He was not going to give anything away in a spirit of co-operation, and he left for posterity an inadequate account of the financial aspects of the deal. He may also have handed the documents over to the Czechs, as he hinted at in his book, and as David Kahn claimed he told him. If so, they would have been forwarded immediately to the Russians.

Gustave Bertrand

Whatever Bertrand’s motivations and actions, however, I have to conclude that GC&CS did not show enough energy and imagination in the second half of the 1930s decade. It moved too sluggishly. The fact that GC&CS historians felt awkward in admitting that it would not have made sense to pursue the matter in 1931, but affirmed that the service should have revisited it in 1936, suggests to me a widespread embarrassment over the advantage that they unwittingly conceded to the Poles. While we are left with the conflicting testimonies from Denniston and Hinsley/Murray, it seems clear that neither Sinclair nor Denniston was prepared to take a stand. Yet the vital conclusion remains that, if indeed MI6 had concealed Bertrand’s approach, and the accompanying documents, even from the chief of GC&CS, the responsibility for the lack of action must lie primarily with Sinclair.

The Aftermath

Especially in the world of intelligence, the evidence from memoirs and interviews is beset with disinformation, the exercise of old vendettas, and a desire for the witness to show him- or her-self in the best possible light. So it is with the Enigma story. The whole saga is beset with contradictory testimonies from participants who either wanted to exaggerate their achievements, or to conceal their mistakes. One has to continually ask of the participants and their various memories: What did they know? From whom were they taking orders? What were their motivations? What did they want to conceal? Is Mavis Batey implicitly less trustworthy than Frank Birch or Alastair Denniston? Thus the addressing of the two important questions: ‘To what extent did the hesitations of the early thirties impede the British attack on the Enigma?’, and ‘How was Denniston’s reputation affected by the leisurely build-up before the war?’ has to untangle a nest of possibly dubious assertions.

Dillwyn Knox

Of all the cryptanalysts who might have felt thwarted by any withholding of secret Enigma information, Dillwyn Knox would have been the pre-eminent. It was he who led all efforts to attack it in the 1930s, although the accounts of his success or failure are somewhat contradictory. According to Thomas Parris in The Ultra Americans, Knox had been on the point of retiring in 1936, wishing to return to teach at King’s College, Cambridge, but was persuaded to stay on to tackle the variant of Enigma used by the German Military, Italian Navy and Franco’s forces during the Spanish Civil War. (The claim about his retirement aspirations may be dubious, however. It cannot be verified.) Stengers wrote that Knox had applied himself to the task with vigour, and had ‘cracked’ the cipher. On the other hand, Milner-Barry stated that Knox had been defeated by ‘it’, but he was probably referring to Knox’s efforts in tackling the more advanced German naval version. Denniston’s son, Robin, wrote that a more intense project had started after the Spanish civil war, and that Knox worked on naval traffic, with some help from Foss, while Tiltman concentrated on German military uses, and Japanese traffic. He also mentioned that Knox had cracked the inferior version used by the Italian navy. Those were Batey’s ‘Enigmas’. And she strongly challenged the view that Knox would have been ‘defeated’ by anything.

Knox was by temperament a querulous and demanding character, and was outspoken in his criticisms of Denniston over organizational matters in 1940, which the chief sustained patiently. Thus, if he had believed that he had been let down by GC&CS over the acquisition of Enigma secrets, he surely would have articulated his annoyance. But all signs seem to point that he was unaware of any negotiations between the French and the British, or of the existence of a long-lived chain of communication from internal German sources to the Poles when he had the famous encounter with Rejewski at Pyry, outside Warsaw, in July 1939. After the initial fencing, when neither side was prepared to reveal exactly what progress it had made, Knox posed the vital question ‘Quel est le QWERTZU?’. By this, he wanted Rejewski to describe how the keyboard letters on the Enigma were linked to the alphabetically-named wheels (the ‘diagonal’). When Rejewski rejoined that the series was ABCDEFG  . . ., Knox was flabbergasted. One of his assistants had suggested that to him, and he had rejected it without experimenting, believing that the Germans would not implement something so obvious.

The irony was that Rejewski had experienced that insight back in 1932, and had been helped by the supply of further keys and cribs from Schmidt since then. (According to Nigel de Grey, Rejewski later implied that the information on the diagonal came directly from Schmidt, and de Grey cites, in French, a statement from Rejewski that, even so, ‘they could have solved it themselves’. Most accounts indicate that Schmidt was never able to hand over details of the internal wiring of the machine.) Knox knew nothing of that. He was sceptical of the ability of the Poles to have made such breakthroughs unaided, but he never understood the magnitude of the advantage they had. Admittedly, in a report he compiled immediately on his return from Poland, he mentioned that Rejewski had referred to both ‘Verrat’ (treachery), and the purchase of details of the setting as contributing to the breakthrough, but Knox never explored this idea. Rejewski’s more mathematical approach was superior to Knox’s more linguistic-based analysis, it is true. But seven years in the wilderness! Welchman wrote in 1982 that Knox could have made similar strides and ‘arrived at a comparable theory’ if he had had access to the Asché documents, yet (as Tony Comer has pointed out to me) that judgment ignores the fact that no mathematical analysis was possible at GC&CS until Peter Twinn joined early in 1939.

Marian Rejewski

Why did the services of the three countries – all potential sufferers from German aggression – not collaborate and share secrets earlier? It boils down to money, resources and lack of imagination on the part of the British, money, proprietorship of ownership, and skills with the French, and primarily security concerns with the Poles. Because of geography, and political revanchism, the Poles were the most threatened. They believed for a long while that they could handle Enigma on their own and, moreover, had to protect against the possibility that the Germans should learn what they were up to. In 1931, two years before Hitler came to power, they could not count on Great Britain as a resolute ally against the Germans. They therefore did not share their experiences until the pressures were too great.

An important principle remains. If Sinclair, in 1931, justifiably did not press for funds to pay for Schmidt’s offerings, a time would come when the German threat intensified (perhaps with the entry to the Rhineland in 1936, as I suggested in On Appeasement) to the point when he should have taken stock, recalled the missed opportunity of 1931, and followed up with Bertrand to try to revivify the relationship, and the sharing of Enigma intelligence. That might have involved a confrontation with the War Office, but, as I have shown, that Ministry was then starting to apply pressure off its own bat. Hinsley/Murray make the point that an anonymous person did in fact attempt such contact, but that the outcome was sterile, because of policy. The general silence of inside commentators over the decisions of the early 1930s suggest to me that they were not comfortable defending Sinclair’s initial inaction (which was, in the political climate of 1931, indeed explicable), or his lack of follow-up when conditions had sharply changed.

While Denniston can surely be cleared of any charges of concealing important intelligence from his lieutenants, the accusations made that he had been too pessimistic over the challenge of tackling Enigma have some justification. Denniston’s position was originally based on his opinion that radio silence would be imposed in the event of war (an idea derived from Sinclair), but also on a conviction that the demand on costs and resources would be too extravagant to consider a whole-hearted approach on decryption. Frank Birch became a strident critic of his bosses:

            To all this, are added the ‘most pessimistic attitude’, ascribed to the head of GC&CS ‘as to the possible value of cryptography in another war’ and the fear expressed by the director of GC&CS [i.e. Sinclair] after the Munich crisis ‘that as soon as matters became serious, wireless silence is enforced, and that therefore this organisation of ours is useless for the purpose for which it was intended.

His disdain became very personal (to the extent that he even spelled his boss’s first name incorrectly as ‘Alistair’), and over the crisis of 1941, when Denniston resisted the introduction of  wireless interception and analysis into his province, Birch resorted to undergraduate cliché to characterize Denniston’s approach: “Commander Denniston’s attitude was consistent with his endeavour to preserve GC&CS as a purely cryptanalytic bureau and, Canute-like, to halt the inevitable tide that threatened to turn it into a Sigint Centre.” Birch was no doubt thinking of Room 40, where Denniston, Birch and Travis had served.

Yet even Denniston’s initiative to change the intellectual climate at Bletchley Park came under attack. Some commentators, such as Kahn, Aldrich, and Ferris, have commended Denniston for starting the drive to recruit mathematicians, after the experience at Pyry. John Ferris even wrote, in Behind the Enigma, that Denniston had prepared his service for war better than any other leader of British intelligence, a view also anticipated by Nigel West:

For almost twenty years Denniston succeeded in running on a shoestring a new and highly secret government department. When his resources were increased on the eve of war, he began the expansion which made possible the achievements of Bletchley Park. [DNB] Many of his best cryptanalysts would not have taken kindly either to civil service hierarchies or to a Chief devoted to bureaucratic routine, Denniston’s personal experience of cryptography, informal manner, lack of pomposity and willingness to trust and deal get to his sometimes unorthodox subordinates smoothed many of the difficulties in creating a single unit from the rival remains of Room 40 and MI1b.

Maybe these positive assessments were based too much on what Denniston wrote himself. Again, Birch took vicarious credit for the execution of the policy. Ralph Erskine, in his Introduction to Birch’s History, wrote: “From about 1937 onwards, Birch played a major part in advising Alastair Denniston, the operational head of the Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS), on choosing the academics, including Alan Turing and Gordon Welchman, who were to become the backbone of GC&CS’ wartime staff.”

The verdict on Denniston must be that he was a very honourable and patient man, a dedicated servant, and a very capable cryptographer, but one who excelled in managing a small team – as he again showed when he was moved to Berkeley Street. In an internal note, Tony Comer wrote:

His memorial is that he built the UK’s first unified cryptanalytic organisation and developed the values and standards which made it a world leader, an organisation which partners aspired to emulate; and that he personally worked tirelessly to ensure an Anglo-American cryptologic alliance which has outlived and outgrown anything even he could have hoped for.

I believe that is a fair and appropriate assessment. Denniston perhaps did not show enough imagination and forcefulness in the years immediately before war broke out, and the stresses of adjusting to the complexities of a multi-faceted counter-intelligence campaign taxed him. But he surely deserved that knighthood. There was nothing in the treatment of the French approaches, and the consequent negotiations, that singled him out for reproach, and he was out of the picture when the general desire to muffle the actions of 1931 became part of GCHQ doctrine. The initial suspicions I had that some stumbles over Enigma might have caused his lack of recognition were ungrounded, but the exploration was worth it.


As I noted earlier, one might expect that the historical outline would become clearer as the procession of historians added their insights to what has gone before. “All history is revisionist history”, as James M. Banner has powerfully explained in a recent book. But sometimes the revisions merely cloud matters, as with Dermot Turing’s XY&Z, because of a political bias, and a less than rigorous inspection of the evidence: the ‘definitive’ history eludes us. I believe I have shown how difficult it is to extract from all the conflicting testimonies and flimsy archival material an authoritative account of what really happened with the Asché documents. Perhaps the key lies with that intriguing character Wilfred Dunderdale – like some of his notable MI6 colleagues, born in tsarist Russia – who was at the centre of events in 1931, and for the next fifteen years, and thus could have been the most useful of witnesses. Denniston praised his role: the man deserves a biography.

It is nugatory to try to draw sweeping conclusions about the behaviours of ‘the British’, ‘the French’, and ‘the Poles’ in the unravelling of Enigma secrets. Tensions and conflicts were the essence of a pluralist and democratic management of intelligence matters, and that muddle was clearly superior to the authoritarian model. Sinclair was too cautious and he probably mis-stepped, Menzies was out of his depth, Denniston lacked forcefulness, Knox was prickly, Birch caustic, Travis conspiratorial. The mathematicians, such as Welchman and Turing, were brilliant, as was that cryptanalyst of the old school, Tiltman. Lamoine was devious and treacherous (he betrayed Schmidt in the end); Bertrand suspicious, resentful and possessive.

A significant portion of recent research has set out to correct the strongly Anglocentric view of the success of the Enigma project, and Dermot Turing’s XY&Z is the strongest champion of the role of the Poles. Perhaps the pendulum has temporarily moved too far the other way. His Excellency Professor Dr Arkady Rzegocki, the Polish Ambassador to the United Kingdom, wrote in a Foreword to Turing’s book:

            In Poland, however, the story is about the triumph of mathematicians, especially Marian Rejewski, Jerzy Różycki and Henry Zygalski, who achieved the crucial breakthroughs from 1932 onwards, beating their allies to the goal of solving Enigma, and selflessly handing over their secret knowledge to Britain and France.

‘Solving’ Enigma again. No mention of the exclusive access the Poles had to stolen documents in the race with their allies (who were not all formal allies at the time), or who paid for the traitor’s secrets. No reference to the fact that they kept the French in the dark about their progress until they realized they desperately needed help. ‘Selflessly’ does not do justice to their isolation and needs.

Other experts have bizarrely misrepresented what happened. David Kahn (he who originally revealed Schmidt’s identity) in 2015 revisited the man he described as ‘World War II’s Greatest Spy’. He asserted that Poland had ‘solved’ the Enigma (while two other countries had not) because it had the greater need, and greater cryptanalytic ability – and was the only country to employ mathematicians as cryptanalysts. Yet in that assessment he ignores the fact that the Poles had exclusive access to purloined material that made their task much easier. It is a careless comparison from a normally very methodical analyst.

In summary, the Poles overall acted supremely well, although they were not straight with Bertrand over their successes, and should have opened up earlier than they did. For the same complementary security concerns that they had harboured in the 1930s, when the two surviving members of the trio (Rejewski and Zygalski) escaped to England in 1944, they were not allowed near Bletchley Park. It was all very messy, but could not really have been otherwise. It was a close-run thing, but the assault on Enigma no doubt was the overriding critical factor in winning the war for the Allies.


As part of my research for this piece, I read Decoding Organization: Bletchley Park, Codebreaking and Organization Studies, by Christopher Grey, Professor of Organizational Behaviour at the University of Warwick. I picked up what was potentially a useful fragment of his text from an on-line search, and consequently acquired the book.

If the following typical sentences set your heart aglow, this book is for you:

What is problematic, at least in organization studies, is that this process of de-familiarizing lived experience has gone to extreme lengths.

Yet grasping temporality is not easy when research is conducted in a contemporary organization, whereas viewed from a historical distance it becomes easier to see how a process operates, or, as one might perhaps better say, proceeds.

In these and other ways, then, the BP case can serve as an illustration of both the empirical nature of modern organizations as located within a heterogeneous institutional and ideational network and the theoretical deficiencies of conceptualizing organization and environment as distinct spheres.

One of Professor Grey’s messages appears to be that those who experienced the labours at Bletchley Park are not really qualified to write or speak accurately about them, because they were too close to the action, and lacked the benefit of being exposed to organization studies research. On the other hand, the discipline of organization studies has become bogged down in its own complexities and jargon, with the result that the reading public cannot easily interpret their findings. Hence:

What I mean by this is that it has in recent years moved further and further from providing incisive, plausible and readable accounts of organizational life which disclose more of, and explain more of, the nature of that life than would be possible without academic inquiry, but which do so in ways which are recognizably connected to the practice of organizational life. Let me unpack that rather convoluted sentence. As is basic to all social science, organization studies is concerned with human beings who themselves already have all kinds of explanations, understandings and theories of the lives they live. These may be under-examined or unexplored altogether, or they may be highly sophisticated. Yet, as Bauman [1990: 9-16], amongst many others, points out, these essentially commonsensical understandings of human life differ from those offered by special scientists in several key respects, including attempts to marshall evidence and provide reflective interpretations which in some way serve to ‘defamiliarize’ lived experience and common sense.

When an academic writes admittedly convoluted sentences, but fails to correct them, and then has to explain them in print, it shows that the field is in deep trouble. The book contains one or two redeeming features. It presents one notable humorous anecdote: that Geoffrey Tandy was recruited because he was expert in ‘cryptogams’ (mosses, ferns, and so on), not ‘cryptograms’. And Grey supports those who believe that Denniston was poorly treated, and deserved his knighthood. But overall, it is a very dire book. Maybe those coldspur readers who arelocated within a heterogeneous institutional and ideational network might learn where your organization is failing you.

(I should like to thank Tony Comer most sincerely for his patient and wise help during my research for this piece, an earlier draft of which he read. He has answered my questions, pointed out some errors, and shown me some internal documents that helped shed light on the events. While I believe that our opinions are largely coincident, those that are expressed here, as well as any errors, are of course my own. Tony maintains a blog at )

Primary Sources:

The Government Code and Cypher School Between the Wars by Alastair Denniston(1944)

The Official History of British Sigint 1914-1945 by Frank Birch (1946-1956 – published 2004)

The Ultra Secret by F. W. Winterbotham (1974)

The breaking up of the German cipher machine ENIGMA by the cryptological section in the 2nd Department of the General Staff of the Polish Armed Forces by Colonel Stefan Mayer (1974)

Bodyguard of Lies by Anthony Cave-Brown (1975)

Ultra Goes to War by Ronald Lewin (1978)

Most Secret War by R. V. Jones (1978)

British Intelligence in WW2 (Volume 1) by F. H. Hinsley (1979)

The Enigma War by Józef Garliński (1979)

Top Secret Ultra by Peter Calvocoressi (1980)

‘How Polish Mathematicians Deciphered the Enigma’, Annals of the History of Computing, 3/3 by M. Rejewski (1981)

The Hut Six Story by Gordon Welchman (1982)

The Missing Dimension edited by David Dilks & Christopher Andrew (1984)

The Spy in Hitler’s Inner Circle by Paul Paillole (1985; 2016)

GCHQ by Nigel West (1986)

The Ultra Americans by Thomas Parrish (1986)

Secret Service by Christopher Andrew (1986)

British Intelligence in WW2 (Volume 3, Part 2) by F. H. Hinsley, E. E Thomas, C. A. G. Simkins & C. F. G. Ransom (1988)

The Ultra Spy by F. W. Winterbotham (1989)

Seizing the Enigma by David Kahn (1991)

Codebreakers edited by F. H. Hinsley and Alan Stripp (1993)

Station X by Michael Smith (1998)

Battle of Wits by Stephen Budiansky (2000)

Enigma by Hugh Sebag-Montefiore (2000)

Thirty Secret Years by Robin Denniston (2007)

Dilly by Mavis Batey (2009)

GCHQ by Richard Aldrich (2010)

The Bletchley Park Codebreakers, edited by Ralph Erskine & Michael Smith (2011)

Decoding Organization by Christopher Grey (2012)

Gordon Welchman by Joel Greenberg (2014)

How I discovered World War II’s Greatest Spy & Other Stories of Intelligence and Code by David Kahn(2015)

Alastair Denniston by Joel Greenberg (2017)

XY&Z by Dermot Turing (2018)

Behind the Enigma by John Ferris (2020)

(Recent Commonplace entries can be viewed here.)

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