On This Day — Cambridge Five Member Kim Philby Vanishes from Beirut (January 23 1963) [2021]

“Tell them Jesus Christ only had twelve, and one of them was a double agent.”

FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover — Upon learning that Philby was a spy for the Russians

Harold Adrian Russell “Kim” Philby (January 1 1912 – May 11 1988)

January 23 2021 — On January 23 1963, Kim Philby vanished from Beirut, failing to meet his wife for a dinner party at the home of Glencairn Balfour Paul, First Secretary at the British Embassy. Follow us on Twitter: @INTEL_TODAY

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“There were two feelings I think in the service over the years. There were those who were furious with John le Carré because he depicts everybody as such disagreeable characters and they are always plotting against each other… But I thought it was terrific because… it gave us another couple of generations of being in some way special.”

Sir Colin McColl — Chief of MI6 at the end of the Cold War (2009)

UPDATE (January 23 2021) — Documents released from the National Archives in December 2020 reveal that the Foreign Office urged UK newspapers to publish fake stories suggesting France had “its own Kim Philby”.

A memo dated 3 January 1968 from Sir Denis Greenhill, one of the most senior officials at the Foreign Office, to Cabinet Secretary Sir Burke Trend, and the Foreign Office minister, Lord Chalfont reads:

“As agreed, I consulted Lord Chalfont on whether he thought it would be a good idea to suggest to Mr [Harry] Evans [editor] of the Sunday Times that they write an article entitled ‘Is there a French Philby?’. Lord Chalfont agreed that this might be profitable.

I accordingly saw Mr Evans last evening for a few minutes and put the idea to him. I suggested that the article might start from the point that Philby’s memoirs seemed likely to appear in Paris Match and then go on to speculate whether the French had escaped the penetration which Philby and company had successfully achieved here… He seemed quite taken with the idea but made no promises.”

In mid-April, both the Sunday Times and Life magazine published stories suggesting a Soviet spy was working on President de Gaulle’s staff.

The Sunday Times reported: “There has been a traitor, a French Philby, who pushed President de Gaulle into anti-Western acts.”

Why on earth? As always, check the timeline…

The plot came at a time of poor Anglo-French relations as President Charles de Gaulle repeatedly stopped the UK joining the European Community.

On June 21, 1966, De Gaulle decided to pull France out the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). All non-French NATO troops were asked to leave France.

De Gaulle had previously banned the stationing of foreign nuclear weapons on French soil.

Please, keep this story in mind when you read spy stories in The Guardian or other UK newspapers.

The treason of Kim Philby would provide the inspiration for le Carré’s most famous work – the Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy trilogy.

Popular culture — Damian Lewis and Dominic West are in negotiations to headline and executive produce a limited series adaptation of bestselling Cold War espionage thriller A Spy Among Friends for Spectrum Originals and UK streamer BritBox.

“A Spy Among Friends follows the defection of notorious British intelligence officer and KGB double agent, Kim Philby (West), through the lens of his complex relationship with MI6 colleague and close friend, Nicholas Elliott (Lewis). The show examines espionage through their friendship, the fallout of which affects East-West relations to this day.”

The six-episode series, based on Ben Macintyre’s book, comes from former Homeland executive producer Alexander Cary, Sony Pictures Television and ITV Studios. The first episode is tentatively scheduled to premiere in the fall of 2021.

PS — On March 12 2009, President Nicolas Sarkozy announced that France would return to Nato’s military command.  In June 2016, the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union. As of January 1, 2021, the UK is no longer part of the European Union. History is not without irony…

END of UPDATE

“The trouble is that the reader, like the general public to which he belongs, and in spite of all the evidence telling him that he shouldn’t, wants to believe in his spies.”

John Le Carré

On July 30 1963, Soviet officials announced that they had granted him political asylum in the USSR, along with Soviet citizenship.

Harold Adrian Russell “Kim” Philby (January 1 1912 – May 11 1988) was a high-ranking member of British intelligence who worked as a double agent before defecting to the Soviet Union. He served as both an NKVD and KGB operative.

In 1963, Philby was revealed to be a member of the spy ring now known as the Cambridge Five, the other members of which were Donald Maclean, Guy Burgess, Anthony Blunt, and John Cairncross.

The grave of British double agent Kim Philby in Kuntsevo Cemetery, Moscow. (Reuters)

Of the five, Philby is believed to have been most successful in providing secret information to the Soviet Union.

Kim Philby, as depicted on a Soviet Union stamp

Philby was an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) from 1946 to 1965, and he was awarded the Order of Lenin in 1965.

December 20 2019 — Russia honours two members of the British “Cambridge Five” spy ring

On Friday December 20 2019, Russia honoured Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean with a memorial plaque and a tribute from the head of Russia’s foreign intelligence service.

The plaque reads: “In this building, from 1952-1955, lived Soviet intelligence officers, members of the ‘Cambridge Five’, Guy Francis Burgess and Donald Maclean.”

Sergei Naryshkin, head of Russia’s SVR foreign intelligence service, praised Burgess and Maclean for their work in a letter, posted on social media by a lawmaker in Russia’s parliament, Alexander Khinshtein, who attended the unveiling.

“The ‘Cambridge Five’, having supplied Soviet intelligence with the most important information for more than 20 years, made a significant contribution to the victory over fascism, the protection of our strategic interests and ensuring the safety of our country,” the letter said. [Moscow Times]

Philby, seen as the “Cambridge Five” ringleader, was honored with his own plaque in 2010 at the headquarters of the foreign intelligence service in Moscow.

The Spy Who Went Into The Cold (Documentary)

REFERENCES

Kim Philby — Wikipedia

UK’s 1960s French ‘Soviet spy’ plot with Sunday Times revealed in memos — BBC News

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On This Day — Cambridge Five Member Kim Philby Vanishes from Beirut (January 23 1963)

On This Day — Cambridge Five Member Kim Philby Vanishes from Beirut (January 23 1963) [2020]

On This Day — Cambridge Five Member Kim Philby Vanishes from Beirut (January 23 1963) [2021]

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