Kim Philby

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Kim Philby : biography

1 January 1912 – 11 May 1988

However, a more serious threat to Philby’s position had come to light. During the summer of 1945, a Soviet cipher clerk had reused a one time pad to transmit intelligence traffic. This mistake made it possible to break the normally impregnable code. Contained in the traffic (intercepted and decrypted as part of the Venona project) was information that documents had been sent to Moscow from the British Embassy in Washington. The intercepted messages revealed that the British Embassy source (identified as "Homer") travelled to New York City to meet his Soviet contact twice a week. Philby had been briefed on the situation shortly before reaching Washington in 1949; it was clear to Philby that the agent was Donald Maclean, who worked in the British Embassy at the time and whose wife, Melinda, lived in New York. Philby had to help discover the identity of "Homer", but also wished to protect Maclean.

In January 1950, on evidence provided by the Venona intercepts, Soviet atomic spy Klaus Fuchs was arrested. His arrest led to others: Harry Gold, a courier with whom Fuchs had worked, David Greenglass, and Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. Meanwhile, the investigation into the British Embassy leak was still ongoing, and the stress of it was exacerbated by the arrival in Washington, in October 1950, of Guy Burgess – Philby’s unstable and dangerously alcoholic Cambridge colleague and fellow Soviet spy.Seale and McConnville, 209

Burgess, who had been given a post as Second Secretary at the British Embassy, took up residence in the Philby family home and rapidly set about causing offence to all and sundry. Aileen Philby resented him and disliked his presence; Americans were offended by his "natural superciliousness" and "utter contempt for the whole pyramid of values, attitudes, and courtesies of the American way of life." J. Edgar Hoover complained that Burgess used British Embassy automobiles to avoid arrest when he cruised Washington in pursuit of homosexual encounters. His dissolution had a troubling effect on Philby; the morning after a particularly disastrous and drunken party, a guest returning to collect his car heard voices upstairs and found "Kim and Guy in the bedroom drinking champagne. They had already been down to the Embassy but being unable to work had come back."Seale and McConnville, 210

Burgess’ presence was problematic for Philby, yet it was potentially dangerous for Philby to leave him unsupervised. The situation in Washington was tense. From April 1950, Donald Maclean had been the prime suspect in the investigation into the Embassy leak.Boyle, 362 Philby had undertaken to devise an escape plan which would warn Maclean, currently in England, of the intense suspicion he was under and arrange for him to flee. Burgess had to get to London to warn Maclean, who was under surveillance. In early May 1951, Burgess got three speeding tickets in a single day – then pleaded diplomatic immunity, causing an official complaint to be made to the British Ambassador.Boyle, 365 Burgess was sent back to England, where he met Maclean in his London club.

The SIS planned to interrogate Maclean on 28 May 1951. On 23 May, concerned that Maclean had not yet fled, Philby wired Burgess, ostensibly about his Lincoln convertible abandoned in the Embassy car park. "If he did not act at once it would be too late," the telegram read, "because [Philby] would send his car to the scrap heap. There was nothing more [he] could do."Boyle, 374 On 25 May (Maclean’s thirty-eighth birthday), Burgess drove Maclean from his home in Tatsfield to Southampton, where the two of them boarded a boat to France and thence to Moscow.

London

Burgess had been intended to aid Maclean in his escape, not accompany him in it. The "affair of the missing diplomats," as it was referred to before Burgess and Maclean surfaced in Moscow, attracted a great deal of public attention, and Burgess’ disappearance, which identified him as complicit in Maclean’s espionage, deeply compromised Philby’s position. Under a cloud of suspicion raised by his highly visible and intimate association with Burgess, Philby returned to London. There, he underwent MI5 interrogation aimed at ascertaining whether he had acted as a "third man" in Burgess and Maclean’s spy ring. In July 1951, he resigned from MI6, preempting his all-but-inevitable dismissal.Hamrick, S.J. Deceiving the Deceivers: Kim Philby, Donald Maclean and Guy Burgess. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004. pp. 137