My Silent War

Title:                  My Silent War

Author:                 Kim Philby

Philby, Kim (1968). My Silent War: The Soviet Master Spy’s Own Story with an introduction by Graham Greene. London: MacGibbon & Kee

LCCN:    76374944

UB271.R92 P45 1968c


Date Updated:  October 4, 2016

Even though right from the Trojan horse’s mouth, this lacks the compound excitement of the Page-Knightley-Leitch dossier (p. 377) compiled by the London Times team, although their breaking of the story now (according to Philby) justified the publication of his account which he has written from his sanctuary-study in Moscow. By no means apologetic (he chose sides early on in his life – saw no reason to change), rather agreeable, and definitely matter of fact, Philby discusses here his work with Britain’s SIS, gives very little information on his work for Russia, allots a chapter to the touchy Volkov case in 1945 when he was almost exposed, admits that he encouraged Burgess to enable Maclean to escape but added “don’t you go too.”

Perhaps what is missing here are some of the personal referrals and revelations which added great interest to the other, fuller book: Philby only says of Burgess that he was apt to get into “personal scrapes of a spectacular nature” but doesn’t amplify them and muffles altogether his own disreputable conduct between 1956 and 1963. There is never any question of his affiliation or his function– he was not a double agent but “a straight penetration agent working in the Soviet interest.” What does emerge are (sometimes corrective) facts about the SIS and his associates and friends (Graham Greene; Malcolm Muggeridge) there; details on procedures– say how to open a foreign diplomatic bag; random comments on institutions (the FBI in “sorry shape”) and people (Hoover and Eisenhower etc.) so that his is micro-dotted with marginalia which is fascinating and supplements the other book– probably the general reader’s choice.

Reviewed by George C. Constantinides[1]

Hugh Trevor-Roper relates that the Soviets offered to withdraw Philby’s book on his experience in British intelligence from the English market in return for the Soviet agents, the Krogers (Cohens). Earlier, they offered to withdraw Lonsdales memoirs, Spy[2], for the same exchange. Philby had become associated with the propaganda agency Novosti’s Tenth Section, staffed by KGB men, according to Barron’s KGB[3]; his activities there, including his compilation of the Lonsdale memoirs, indicate his involvement in Soviet propaganda activities since his flight. They justify Trevor-Roper’s description of My Silent War as a work of careful and skillful propaganda. It is not, as some would like to believe, mendacious but highly selective, with the purpose of causing mischief. Trevor-Roper was generally accurate both in saying it was designed to embarrass the West and in believing the historical narrative was accurate and the factual account reliable as far as it went. Philby, however, was not entirely honest-Hyde in The Atom Bomb Spies[4] indicated that Philby concealed the way Klaus Fuchs, the Soviet atom spy, was actually discovered. That Philby’s memory is not infallible even when he uses it to serve his purpose was shown by his 1971 attempt to identify three prominent Lebanese as British spies, which caused Tass to pay judgments in legal suits that followed (see Barron); thus there may be other errors of fact in this book that British reviewers have not pointed out.

One important revelation made by Philby that seems to have been missed by many at the time was the secret of Allied cryptographic successes in World War II, with hints of Ultra. He informs that Abwehr traffic was being broken and read and tells of its importance to SIS’ s victory over the German service. The account of the Wood material’s being forwarded by Allen Dulles from Switzerland and of its being verified by decrypted German diplomatic traffic points to broad cryptologic successes by the Allies; it must be remembered that this account was written in 1968 by a man who could speak from first-hand knowledge.

Philby included some rich details of SIS procedures and on SIS personnel and relationships. According to Pincher’s Inside Story[5], this book, despite its obvious propaganda purposes, has too much detail that rings true about the ineffective features of the British intelligence and security services and about their rivalries to be dismissed. For more on Philby’ s career in British intelligence, his work as a Soviet agent for three decades, and this book, see Trevor-Roper’s The Philby Affair[6] and Boyle’s The Climate of Treason[7]. Muggeridge, who served with Philby during World War II, has a few sketches of him in The Infernal Grove.[8]

This is a review by the Defense Intelligence School.[9]

Philby’s own account of his career as a Soviet double-agent in the British Intelligence Service. This book was written in Moscow after Philby’s defection to the Soviet Union. The same caution as to its disinformation aspects should be used by the reader as suggested in the comment on the Lonsdale book.[10]

More about Philby from Roy Berkeley.[11]

Near Westminster Abbey there is a large courtyard, just off Victoria Street. A little ways up is Little Dean’s Yard, around: which is

Site 9: Westminster School. Founded in 1560 by Elizabeth I as successor to a 14th-century Benedictine school, Westminster School counts among its alumni the justly honored John Dryden, Christopher Wren, John Locke, Edward Gibbon, and Jeremy Bentham. Another alumnus is the traitor Harold Adrian Russell (Kim) Philby, who infiltrated MI6 for the Soviets during WWII and seemed likely to become chief of MI6 until he was suspected (by everyone but MI6) of being a Soviet mole.

Kim Philby entered Westminster School in 1924, aged 12, following in the footsteps of his father, the noted Arabist and (later) Nazi sympathizer Harry St John Bridger Philby. For all that Philby père may have been anti-Establishment, he sent his son to undeniably Establishment institutions. Westminster students are entitled to seats next door at important Abbey ceremonies; at coronations they may cry ‘Vivat!’ after the Sovereign is crowned. Like his father, Kim Philby was a King’s Scholar at Westminster, and thus entitled to attend debates at the House of Commons across the road. Unlike his father, the young Philby was not a brilliant student at Westminster (or at Cambridge, where his father also studied). But he was diligent, persistent and steadfast—as he was, too, in his work for the Soviet empire.

In his autobiography, My Silent War, Philby proudly describes his constancy to Leninism: his ‘confident faith that the principles of the Revolution would outlive the aberrations of individuals, however enormous.’ Philby paints himself as an idealist, loyal to communism despite the death camps, the murders, the torture chambers, the lies, the state-sponsored terror. I think, though, that he was an elitist, loyal to communism because of the death camps, the murders, the torture chambers, the lies, the state-sponsored terror. He was an upper-class totalitarian who rejected modern British democracy because it didn’t suit his notion that Those Who Know Best should rule (without any nonsense from the governed). I am appalled that Britain bred, cultivated this viper at her bosom, at her very heart, in the shadow of the two buildings embodying her spiritual and temporal heartbeat.

Some comments from Roy Berkeley:[12]

is Carlyle Square, entered through a small pedestrian gate. How far from the real world is this sheltered enclave! Farthest house on the R, and most remote of them all, is

18 Carlyle Square is a short distance from the Chelsea Embankment along the Thames in London. It is just off to the east from King’s Road and Old Church Street. The farthest house on the right, and most remote of them all, is this location. In 1944 Kim Philby and his growing family moved from his mother’s crowded flat in Drayton Gardens to this “surprisingly luxurious” house, as Malcolm Muggeridge describes it. (“Looking back,” Muggeridge adds, “it seems clear that at some point Philby’s income must have been substantially augmented from Soviet sources.”) At the time Philby was still married to his first love, an Austrian communist named Litzi Friedman. Two years later he obtained a divorce and married Aileen, who had already borne three of his children and was now pregnant with a fourth. He then made a clean breast of this domestic untidiness to Valentine Vivian of MI6, his patron in the service. (Vivian learnt from MI5 that Litzi was a confirmed Soviet agent but promptly dropped the matter. It was a long time ago, after all, and the promising Philby should be allowed to get on with his career.) In this house that was notionally financed by Aileen’s mother, a lodger took the top floor and Aileen ran a day nursery on the ground floor. The family lived here “in cheerful disorder” while Kim Philby coldly and steadily climbed to power in MI6 (see Site 113, 14 Ryder Street.).             \

At his death in Moscow in 1988, Philby had served the KGB for more than 50 years. After his 1963 arrival in Moscow he was debriefed at length but given little to do; he gave his first lecture at Moscow Centre only in 1977. His early years, though, had been helpful enough to the Centre. Was he the most damaging double agent in Britain’s history? The historian John Keegan believes that Philby was less damaging than Fuchs or Maclean. True, Philby’s treachery caused the deaths of many agents, writes Keegan, but it didn’t harm “the vital interests of Britain or the Western Alliance.” Christopher Andrew, however, writes that “the longest-lasting damage” done by Philby was precisely to “the Anglo-American intelligence alliance, then, as now, the most special part of the ‘special relationship’” between London and Washington. Unquestionably, Philby jolted the British out of the idea that they could trust anyone whose background they could trust—and the idea that they could command a loyalty and devotion unknown in other countries. The damage to the national psyche was deep and devastating.

But he didn’t do everything claimed by and for him. He didn’t, for instance, warn Burgess and Maclean; this persistent claim is a transparent attempt to protect someone else (see Site 120, Clifford Chambers, 10 New Bond Street). Nor was he single-handedly responsible for the failure of the Anglo-American effort to liberate Albania after the war; that operation was doomed from the start. Nor did he betray the postwar Baltic operation (see Site 37, 111 Old Church Street); he knew neither the landing zones nor the drop zones for these agents, writes Anthony Cavendish in his memoir Inside Intelligence[13], and to lay this at Philby’s feet probably shields a traitor elsewhere in MI6 or in the navy.

Philby’s own memoir, My Silent War, carries some world-class disinformation. Philby claims, for example, that the Soviets couldn’t believe his tales of the internal workings of SIS. The British must have another secret organization, they said; the real SIS couldn’t be so inept, so chaotic. (Even those who didn’t read the book got the message—the Soviets knew that the anecdote would be picked up by most reviewers, eager to trash SIS.) Philby, of course, was trying to establish that he was the first Soviet agent to penetrate SIS. I doubt it.

One of Philby’s favourite pieces of disinformation, however, is finally coming apart at the seams. Several months before his death, he repeated it yet again, to Phillip Knightley: “There was no Cambridge ring. It’s a load of nonsense invented by journalists and spy writers …. If there was a ring of spies at Cambridge, why not one at Oxford?” But apparently there was one at Oxford, its existence revealed by John Costello in 1992. How much more of Philby’s mischief will be exposed in the future? More archives will be opened id more apparatchiki will make statements, even while the authenticity of any new material will be debated. The coming years should be lively.

Many questions about Philby remain unanswered. In his six-day interview in Moscow with Knightley (the only Western journalist ever invited into his home), he simply didn’t answer what he didn’t wish to answer. And in the Soviet television programme Comrade Phiby, made for export after his death, his role is so vastly inflated to mark this “documentary” as pure disinformation. The film tells,for instance, that it was he who supplied the information enabling the Soviet Union to win the crucial battle at Kursk. What this does, very neatly, is to discredit the idea that the British were so clever as to outwit the Soviet intelligence services about the true origin of the information, which was in all probability the Lucy ring (see Site 58, 9-17 Clifton Gardens).

Who, ultimately, was the endlessly fascinating Philby? He wasn’t a psychopath (like Burgess) or a weakling (like Maclean) or a lost spirit (like Blunt). He was, I believe, an imperialist, but for the new imperialism. He was precisely the sort who had built and sustained the British Empire—clever, resourceful, determined, ruthless, self-disciplined, arrogant, eccentric. He was simultaneously shrewd enough to see that the British Empire was declining, ambitious enough to go where he thought the power would be, and, unscrupulous and unsentimental enough to put aside past loyalty to nation in favour of primary loyalty to self. And I am sure that anti-Americanism came into it. He was, after all, a British chauvinist, probably despising in the Americans exactly what he admired in the Soviets: they were new, energetic, challenging the old order, challenging Britain. However, the USSR and the US threatened different aspects of British tradition: the USSR would replace capitalism with communism, while the US would replace the class system with a class-blind meritocracy. And as much as Philby hated capitalism he loved, the class system. He would have wanted a Britain bound by hierarchial communism, and he would have loathed a Britain disfigured by capitalism and meritocracy.

Any faith he may have had in the Soviet system in and of itself probably long gone when he took refuge in the USSR in 1963.

If we can believe him ( and I think we can, here), he told Knightley of unspecified doubts: “You see, I never swallowed everything, I never took it all in.” Nigel West’s judgment, as quoted in, the American journal Foreign Intelligence Literary Scene, seems correct: “To this day,” writes West, “I am convinced that he was not an ideologist. Spying was just his way of being above lesser mortals.”

Just as Philby’s own faith is open to question, so too is MI6’s remarkable faith in him. Was it a firm belief in his loyalty or was it merely expediency? Item: In 1945, SIS overlooked the curious coincidence of the increased Soviet wireless traffic between London and Moscow and Istanbul immediately after Philby was briefed about the would-be defector Volkov (see Site 53, 42 Holland Park). Item: In 1947, SIS sent him to an important post in Turkey soon after discovering the Soviet connections of his first wife. Item: In 1956, SIS didn’t keep Philby in retirement, after the golden handshake given him when Burgess and Maclean fled, but re-employed him in Beirut as a case-officer. (Peter Wright recalls that the next chief of MI6, Sir Dick White, retained Philby “even though he believed him to be a spy”, saying that “to sack Philby would create more problems inside MI6 than it might solve.” If this is true, it says some pretty terrible things about MI6; if not true, it says some pretty terrible things about Wright.) Item: In 1962, the way in which SIS confronted Philby with proof of his treachery, in Beirut, could only have encouraged him to defect.

Philby subsequently repaid MI6’s faith in him with a monstrous ingratitude: he called the GPU “an elite service” while withholding this compliment from MI6. To his former colleagues this may have been the most grievous betrayal.

Reviewed by Paul W. Blackstock and Frank L. Schaf[14]

This is a brilliantly written, frequently mendacious memoir of a Soviet double agent who penetrated British intelligence and was later stationed in Washington, D .C ., where he penetrated both the CIA and the FBI. In 1963 Philby fled to Moscow to become the chief advisor to Soviet intelligence against Britain and the United States. Realization of Philby’s thirty-four years as a Soviet double agent created one of the biggest scandals in intelligence history. The book has been skillfully exploited for its political warfare impact by the USSR. Should be read in conjunction with the study by Page, Leitch, and Knightley, The Philby Conspiracy[15].

[1] Constantinides, George C. (1983). Intelligence and Espionage: An Analytical Bibliography. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, pp. 369-370

[2] Lonsdale, Gordon (1965). Spy: Twenty Years of Secret Service: Memoirs of Gordon Lonsdale. New York: Hawthorn Books

[3] Barron, John (1983). KGB Today: The Hidden Hand. New York: Reader’s Digest Press

[4] Hyde, H. Montgomery (1981). The Atom Bomb Spies. London: H. Hamilton

[5] Pincher, Chapman (1978, 1979). Inside Story: A Documentary of The Pursuit of Power. New York: Stein and Day

[6] Trevor Roper, Hugh R. (1968). The Philby Affair: Espionage, Treason, And Secret Services. London: William Kimber

[7] Boyle, Andrew (1979).The Climate of Treason:Five Who Spied for Russia. London: Hutchinson

[8] Muggeridge, Malcolm (1973). The Infernal Grove. Chronicles Of Wasted Time, no. 2. London: Collins

[9] Defense Intelligence School (1981). Bibliography of Intelligence Literature: A Critical And Annotated Bibliography of Open-Source Literature (7th ed, rev.). Washington, DC: Defense Intelligence School, p. 51

[10] Lonsdale, Gordon (1965). Spy: Twenty Years of Secret Service: Memoirs of Gordon Lonsdale. New York: Hawthorn Books. The author’s views are presented purely for Soviet propaganda and disinformation purposes, but are of interest to the trained intelligence officer.

[11] See Berkeley, Roy (1994). A Spy’s London. London: Leo Cooper, pp. 15-17

[12] See Berkeley, Roy (1994). A Spy’s London. London: Leo Cooper, p. 76-80

[13] Cavendish, Anthony (1990). Inside Intelligence: The Revelations of an MI6 Officer. London: Collins.

[14] Blackstock, Paul W. (1978) and Frank L. Schaf, Jr. Intelligence, Espionage, Counterespionage, And Covert Operations: A Guide to Information Sources. Detroit: Gale Research Co., p. 154

[15] Page, Bruce (1968), David Leitch, and Phillip Knightley. The Philby Conspiracy. Garden City, NY: Doubleday


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