The Climate of Treason

Title:                  The Climate of Treason

Author:                 Andrew Boyle

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

LCCN:    80452165

UB271.R9 B65 1979


Date Updated:  November 13, 2015

The American version was published under the title, The Fourth Man

Yet another Philby and company book. The following was prepared by Daniel Staebler, Resident Scholar

This book is about Philby, Burgess, MacLean and Blunt, the four English spies who delivered secret information to the KGB from the mid-thirties to the early fifties when Burgess and MacLean had to leave England in a hurry in order to escape the British jails. The author describes how these men, who all came from the British bourgeoisie, discovered Marxism at the University of Cambridge and decided then to betray their country in order to help the Soviets.

As diplomat (MacLean), secret agent of the MI5 (Philby) or journalist (Burgess), they were all in terrific positions to collect valuable information such as the progress of the development of the atomic bomb by the Americans or the names of the British secret agents in Europe. Burgess, MacLean and finally Kim Philby in 1963 evaded to Moscow to end their life as heroes of the Soviet people. Blunt managed to work out a deal with the British Intelligence and could stay in London without passing a single day in prison.

Final Chapter on the Cambridge Four[1]

Burgess (shown at left) and Maclean(right) defected to the Soviet Union in 1951. John Cairncross also confessed in 1951 but was not prosecuted. Philby went to Beirut, Lebanon and, in 1963, under questioning, gave a sort of confession, non-confession to an MI5 agent. In 1964 Blunt accepted immunity and admitted to being a Soviet spy. In his statement in 1963 Philby maintained he was self-recruited. Evidence against him was so strong that SIS sacked him in 1951. Few people knew that he was under suspicion. Philby swore he hardly knew Maclean and was “shocked” by Burgess’ defection. Philby convinced nobody but there was no hard evidence that could be used in court could be brought against him. He also got a lot of sympathy from his colleagues who did not know the evidence. As Deep Throat advised in All The President’s Men (re: Richard Nixon and Watergate), “Follow the money.” Philby could not show where he got the money to support himself when in Spain.

Philby (left) ghost wrote a book. He managed a recommendation for the Observer. Litzvy divorced him, but he still had two more wives. His third wife was a crackpot. Ilene told her psychiatrist that Kim was trying to kill (this was reported only after her death under suspicious circumstances and there was no autopsy.)

Kim Philby wrote for The Observer and for The Economist from Lebanon. There he came more under the influence of his father, who was very anti-British, and highly pro-Arab (this is clear in his dispatches), and he was highly anti-Israel.

Philby was a long-time friend with Mrs. Flora Solomon. It was she who introduced Kim to Ilene (Kim’s first wife). Phiby’s anti-Israeli writing offended Mrs. Solomon, an ardent Zionist. In 1962 she confided to Victor Rothschild in Tel Aviv that she believed Kim Philby to be a Soviet spy. Kim had even tried to recruit Mrs. Solomon in 1945 (Vienna) with the statement, “Are you prepared to commit your life in the cause of peace?”

Dealing with the defectors, the Security Service recognized it was not very good at interrogation. The Service had certainly interrogated Germans and the renegades of the St. George Corps (Himmler changed the name to something more meaningful to Germans, namely the Britische Freikorps (or British Free Corps). Philby, however, was much smarter than his interrogators. His stutter was also an asset, giving him time to collect his thoughts before giving an answer.

By 1962 Philby was in Beirut and he could not be arrested by the British. If he returned to Britain, what could he be charged with? MI5 formed a new strategy. What about offering him immunity? It would taste bad but it would be valuable to get Philby to reveal Burgess and Maclean. Arthur Martin was to be sent to be Philby’s interrogator. Within SIS there was a belief that Martin should not be sent. Their plan was to appeal to Philby’s loyalty. But he had betrayed everything! How could he now become overwhelmed with remorse? They went to Nicholas Elliot (a friend of Philby.)

Elliot was an outstanding officer. On the outbreak of the WWII he was commissioned in the Intelligence Corps, posted to Cairo in 1942, and subsequently to Istanbul; a seething hive of wartime espionage. His job was to check anti-British activity and he became an extremely effective field officer, obtaining the defection of an important German intelligence officer, Dr Erich Vermehren, an operation that dealt a devastating blow to the effectiveness of the Abwehr in 1944.

Eliot arrived in Beirut in December 1963 where he had previously been SIS station chief. He really liked Kim as a friend. He knocked on Kim’s door and Kim answered, and said, “I was expecting you.” Philby was offered immunity, and he accepted. He made no denial, which was a strange behavior for him.

Philby asked Elliot to come back the next day and he would give him a typed statement. Elliot tried to record Philby but made a stupid mistake. The room was hot and he opened the window to get fresh air. However traffic and street noise was so loud that nothing on the tape was understandable. Philby’s confession was three pages, and well written. Philby stated there were other spies, and he named Tim Milne, son of A. A. Milne. This was, of course, devastating news if true. What else could go wrong?

Eliot flew to London with the document. MI5 want through the document carefully. Martin was suspicious about the contents, it being far more detailed than necessary. When agents went back to Beirut to talk further with Philby, he had disappeared. He had gone to Moscow. How he went is still a mystery. Philby was highly regarded for a while in Moscow, but his life there proved unfulfilling and he descended into alcoholism, from which he was rescued by his third wife, Rufina. He died in a Moscow hospital in May 1988, disappointed by the lack of attention he had received from the KGB and the organization’s unwillingness to entrust him with any serious assignments. He did have a stamp issued by the Soviet government in his honor.

Philby’s second wife, Eleanor, was devastated. She eventually went to Moscow to say, but finally left. She wrote her own book, The Spy I Loved[2]. Tim Milne was interviewed, and so was Tony Milne (brought home from Tokyo). Tony made a good case that Philby’s accusations were nonsense, and offered his resignation. It became clear that they both were innocent, and the confession was in large part bogus.

Why was Philby expecting Elliot? Someone must have tipped him off. In 1964 Blunt was offered immunity, and confirmed that Philby, Burgess, and Maclean were spies. Blunt wanted out of MI5 – and had stopped working for NKVD. They were quite upset with him about this, since Anthony Blunt (shown left) had access to everything while in MI5. After the revelations of defections, Britain could never get a defector. They all went to the U.S. because all Soviets were sure MI5 was penetrated. In fact, MI5 did have serious penetration.

The arrest of Scripov in Australia further suggested that MI5 was penetrated. Clearly there were spies, but none arrested on the initiative of MI5. All were caught on the basis of defector information from CIA. One fellow was caught by mistake. A member of the Watcher Service happened to see Kuznetsov, and saw a meeting in the park, and an exchange of documents. He followed William Marshall who was later arrested as a Soviet Spy. This was not a case based on good counterintelligence work.

There was worse news. Every double agent activity had gone wrong, every agent identified. A defector went to the CIA and said he knew all the double agents. Clearly there was a mole in MI5 who had run agents as unwitting triple agents. Further, the defector told the CIA that all of the controls would also be identified. Some of them turned. There is nothing in the files about agents or case officers being turned.

Twenty-three cases were found that implied there was penetration of MI5. The conclusion was obvious that MI5 was penetrated, but who had the access to get the information being given up? The common denominator was someone high in MI5, perhaps Deputy Director General Graham Mitchell or Director General Roger Hollis (left). This posed a huge problem. How could anyone go to DG Hollis with evidence about Hollis himself?

Graham Mitchell was born in 1905. Educated at Winchester School and Oxford University, Mitchell worked as a journalist and later as a statistician in Conservative Central Office. Mitchell was recruited into MI5 in 1939 via a contact within the Conservative Party. Although he suffered from polio he became a well-respected field officer.

He was surveilled by amateur watchers for a while. Graham Mitchell knew all the watchers so the professionals could not be used. The surveillance provided a very interesting history. After three months of surveillance, and a result of the interrogation, Graham Mitchell asked for retirement. No Deputy Director General before had ever asked for early retirement.

That there were two subjects (DG Hollis was not aware he was a suspect) was kept secret for a long time. Hollis ordered the investigation into Mitchell should be brought to an end. Frustrated, Arthur Martin protested by accusing Hollis of protecting Mitchell. Hollis was furious and took his revenge by replacing Martin with Ronald Symonds as head of DI (Investigations). Eventually Hollis retired normally. Only a small group within MI5 knew all the suspects and the evidence. They soon realized that all this would be covered up.

Peter Wright headed what was left of the investigation and took the evidence to SIS. He then went to #10 Downing and tried to see the Prime Minister. The Cabinet Secretary demanded to see his evidence first, and Wright provided twenty-four pieces of evidence. A very secret review then took place, and the results were inconclusive. Imagine the Head of Intelligence being accused as a spy!

Ultimately the inquiry was inconclusive. No proof or smoking gun was found. In 1979 Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister. Andrew Boyle, an investigative reporter, was tipped off to the situation and ferreted out a great deal, digging into the mess, and almost got it right in his book, The Climate of Treason[3]. He had mistaken information about Philby and some wrong dates. The MI5 mole was identified by codename as MORRIS, and there was enough information to say that it appeared to be Blunt.

Blunt was outraged and wanted to sue. Then a magazine said it knew who MORRIS was. Thatcher had sworn an oath in court. She could not ignore that Blunt had perjured himself and she also knew he had already (secretly) confessed. MI5. Fearing the information that would be made public by exposing Blunt, she tried to protect him. Then in Parliament it was announced that Blunt had been a spy and had been stripped of his honors by a very angry Margaret Thatcher.

The government then announced that the penetration of MI5 was totally due to Blunt. This was, of course, untrue, as most of the penetration occurred after Blunt was out of MI5. Everyone was misled by the Security Service. Then, when they tried to go after Mitchell, he revealed the actual story to the newspapers. This was followed in the book, Spycatcher[4]:For an excellent review of Peter Wright’s book, see . This site also has copies of newspaper articles about MI5 penetration that shocked the entire world.

The government made a huge effort to stop the publishing of the book, and tried to invoke the Official Secrets Act, but failed. We still do not have all the answers, and several Russian defectors have claimed that there was no penetration of MI5 at all.

Reviewed by George C. Constantinides[5]

Both the original British and the U.S. edition appeared prior to the official naming of Anthony Blunt as the “fourth man” and should be passed up for the revised version put out by Coronet Books. In it, Boyle was able to include the name of Blunt and material on his life and career, which he could not do earlier. At the same time, some minor slips are corrected. The persistence of some factual errors and the criticisms by certain reviewers that Boyle’s effort is marred by lack of evidence in support of particular facts, allegations, or opinions need to be kept in mind. Allen Weinstein, the author of Perjury: The Hiss-Chambers Case[6], was particularly hard on Boyle for using what he called “anecdotal evidence uncritically and without corroboration.” Boyle has, in fact, an unfortunate tendency to present some facts, both large and small, with a certainty that is better avoided. For instance, he states that Philby was not able to pass on to the Soviets anything of value while he was with MI6 other than the names of British agents in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe in 1941-1943.

Despite these criticisms, Boyle’s descriptions of these Soviet agents and of British attitudes toward them—official, personal, and class—are perhaps the best to date [1983]. The implicit trust, lack of effective vetting, and failure to report to proper authorities crucial knowledge or reservations are still as instructive and difficult to comprehend as ever, despite Boyle’s detailed recounting of security attitudes and procedures that are classic examples of a sort. The Economist as late as 1979 still called these cases of Soviet espionage and the British handling of them a history of bungling and coverup. As for Boyle’s allegations that there are two or three others involved and that a fifth man was an American double agent (denied by one individual), one must refer to Pincher’s Their Trade Is Treachery[7] for further revelations or allegations and for confirmation of Boyle’s prediction that “Britain has not heard the last of the Cambridge conspiracy.” This warning that more could be expected makes the U.S. edition’s subtitle (“The Definitive Account”) all the harder to understand and all the more inappropriate. Foreign Affairs was also hasty in calling the book as full an account of the Soviet spy ring as we were likely to get without full access to internal documents. It would be more prudent to call Boyle’s work a new and important landmark in the literature of these cases.

This is a review by the Defense Intelligence School.[8]

This book, (originally published in England under the title of The Climate of Treason), created a sensation in the press, perhaps beyond its intrinsic merits as a book. It deals basically with the cases of the British Foreign Office and intelligence officers, Philby, Maclean, and Burgess, as Soviet spies, while indicating that there were “fourth’’ and “fifth” men, and perhaps more, in this net. The book led to the exposure of Anthony Blunt, formerly a war-time member of the British Security Service, a distinguished art historian and Surveyor of the Queen’s Pictures. Before the war, while at Cambridge University, he was known for Marxist views and acted as a Soviet intelligence talent spotter. Blunt confessed his role to the British security authorities in 1964. In exchange for his information, Blunt was granted immunity from prosecution. As a result of this book’s publication, the Prime Minister made a statement in the House of Commons exposing Blunt’s case, followed by extensive revelations and debate in the press. The latter are perhaps of more interest than the book itself.

Some comments by Roy Berkeley:[9]

In the South Kensington area of London, Just off Old Brampton Road to the north is found Rosary Gardens. Early in this street, on the left is 3 Rosary Gardens. In The Climate of Treason, Andrew Boyle identifies this as the probable site of Philby’s recruitment to-Soviet intelligence. In Reilly: The First Man[10], Robin Bruce Lockhart notes that a man named Rostovsky ran moles in the British government from here. Nicholas Kelso, however, sounds a cautionary note on such speculations in Hostile Action: The KGB and Secret Soviet Operations in Britain. This was the Soviet consulate, writes Kelso. “As such it was probably watched by the British police and MI5, and was a highly unsafe place in which to arrange a meeting with a potential secret agent.” We don’t know what may have taken place here. The Russians still own the building. I imagine they would deny any recent use of it for intelligence work: all they’ve done here is publish an English-language magazine. (Novosti, the Russian press agency, works from here.) But don’t miss the television camera constantly watching the front door. And I’ll bet the basement has a superb darkroom.

Some more comments by Roy Berkeley:[11]

[At what was the famous Lucy in Disguise Fashion shop in West London is] 11 King Street. Here was no dissembler, hiding behind a pretended patriotism. In this house, owned by the CPGB and within spitting distance of CPGB headquarters, lived the Party’s national organizer, Douglas Frank Springhall.

Known as “something of an extremist”, Springhall went to prison for agitation during the General Strike of 1926. He was expelled by the Royal Navy for similar activities. But he was more than an agitator. A member of the CPGB’s Central Committee since 1932, he was apparently used regularly, writes Andrew Boyle in The Fourth Man, as an intermediary between the talent-spotters at Cambridge and the resident director of Soviet Intelligence in London; Donald Maclean first met the Soviet rezidens through Springhall, says Boyle. AU the university communists knew of Springhall. At one large meeting during the 1932 Easter holiday at the home of James Klugmann’s parents (see Site 69, Norgeby House, 82 Baker Street), Springhall’s rhetoric inspired students from Cambridge, Oxford, the London School of Economics, and University College London.

Springhall went off to the first of the Comintern’s wars in 1936, serving in Spain as political commissar of the British component of the International Brigades. There he met Allan Foote (see Site 58, 9-17 Clifton Gardens), he later recruited to the GRU. Foote regarded him, probably correctly, as “the contact man for the Red Army in the British Communist Party.”

MI5 was obviously interested in this obviously disaffected Briton. Surveillance of him led in 1942 to an Air Ministry clerk, Mrs. Olive Sheehan, who had given Springhall crucial reports on jet engine research. In exchange for a minimal jail term she promised to testify against him if he ever came to trial. In 1943 he did come to trial, charged with obtaining “highly secret” information about British policy in Eastern Europe from a very young British Army officer in SOE, Captain Ormond Uren (see Site 69, Norgeby House, 83 Baker Street). The CPGB expelled Springhall immediately after his conviction—“not because the Party disapproved of his activities as such,” the former editor of The Daily Worker would later reveal, but “because we had no desire, least all at that moment of growing popularity, to get the public reputation for condoning spying by our members.”

It is no surprise that the CPGB piously denied any knowledge of Springhall’s espionage activities. Overseas communist parties often danced the obligatory gavotte and denied any connection to Soviet intelligence work. Andrew Boyle writes that “Springhall’s disgrace had no deterrent effect whatever on the Party faithful” who, anything, intensified their spying. The real surprise is that so very few of them were ever caught.

[1] This entry is a summary of a talk given on July 16, 2010 by Nigel West in Cambridge, UK

[2] Eleanor Philby (1968). Kim Philby: The Spy I Loved

[3] Andrew Boyle (1987).The Climate of Treason

[4] Wright, Peter (1987) with Paul Greengrass. Spycatcher: The Candid Autobiography of A Senior Intelligence Officer. New York: Viking

[5] Constantinides, George C. (1983). Intelligence and Espionage: An Analytical Bibliography. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, pp. 93-94

[6] Weinstein, Allen (1997). Perjury: The Hiss-Chambers Case. New York: Random House

[7] Pincher, Chapman (1981). Their Trade is Treachery. London: Sidgwick & Jackson

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

[9] See Berkeley, Roy (1994). A Spy’s London. London: Leo Cooper, pp. 95-97

[10] Lockhart, Robin Bruce (1987). Reilly: The First Man. New York: Penguin Books

[11] See Berkeley, Roy (1994). A Spy’s London. London: Leo Cooper, pp. 276-278



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