The son of Harry St John Philby (an explorer, author, diplomat and even one time an adviser to the King of Saudi Arabia), Harold Adrian Russell (Kim) Philby, was born in Ambala, India, where his father was serving as a magistrate, in 1911. Kim came by his nickname – a reference to the Rudyard Kipling hero – when he spoke Punjabi before English.
He was educated at Westminster School, one of the first-rank British Public Schools and went from there to Trinity College, Cambridge. While at university he met Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean who were also students at the college, and Anthony Blunt who was a Fellow. It was at Cambridge that his support of communist ideals solidified. He was keen, from the beginning of his involvement with communism, to take an active role in promoting the cause – he’s often spoken of as being ‘recruited’ as a spy by Anthony Blunt, but in fact he volunteered.
Via an introduction by another leftist tutor at Trinity, Maurice Dodd, Kim was passed to a Communist front organisation when he left Cambridge in 1933 and from there to Comintern, an underground movement for whom he worked in Vienna. There, he met Litzi Friedman, a Soviet agent and member of the Austrian Communist Party, and married her on February 24, 1934. It was around this time he became a fully-fledged Soviet agent himself, having been approached direct by the Soviet Intelligence Force. With the rise of Adolf Hitler in Germany, the communist movement in Austria began to crumble, Litzi was in danger of arrest, so Philby returned to England with his wife.
To be useful to Moscow, however, Philby needed to find a place within the establishment – something his background would have entitled him to, but his political leanings would have disbarred him from, if they had continued to be openly expressed. Litzi was an early casualty of a determined campaign to bury the past, which saw Philby publically espousing pro-fascist opinions in Review of Reviews, a liberal periodical. He joined the Anglo-German Fellowship, a right-wing evangelical pressure group highly regarded in the upper echelons of the British establishment at this point – before Hitler was seen as a threat.
His next career move was to find a journalist position at The Times who sent him to Spain at the outbreak of the Spanish Civil. Still building his right-wing persona, he cultivated a relationship with Canadian actress and fascist supporter Frances 'Bunny' Doble, and spent around two years stoically delivering articles sympathetic to General Francisco Franco and his Nationalist Army, while his friends from Cambridge, such as poet Julian Bell, were fighting and dying on the opposing side, and his chosen cause. He was, however, simultaneously collecting a wealth of facts and figures which he passed to Moscow.
On New Years Eve 1937, Philby was amongst a group of journalists, whose car was attacked by a Russian gun, in which most were killed. Philby escaped with a few minor injuries, and was presented with the Red Cross of Military Merit, by Franco himself. Several people commented that Philby received the medal with considerably more emotion than he generally displayed – a situation that probably arose more from distaste for the donor, rather than pride.
Even so, Philby’s smokescreen was effective, establishing him in the minds of the British political establishment as a right-winger, whatever his views might have been at University. When he returned home from Spain in 1940 Marjorie Maxse, chief of staff of MI6 Section D's training school recruited Philby into British intelligence, at the suggestion of Guy Burgess, and with clearance from Guy Liddell of MI5. After training, he was attached to Section D of the Secret Intelligence Services, serving directly under Guy Burgess. From there, he transferred to a new school for general training in techniques of sabotage and subversion at Beaulieu, Hampshire, before transferring to SIS, Section V, responsible for British Intelligence in Spain and Portugal, in 1941.
Several times during his career, Philby came under suspicion of spying – in 1939 Walter Krivitsky, a senior defector, Krivitsky provided details to MI5 of 61 agents working for Moscow, including a clear description of both Kim Philby and Donald Maclean. The investigating officers, who included Guy Lidell, were unconvinced , however, and didn’t follow up the leads.
During WWII Philby took control of the Special Operations Executive’s propaganda training programme. By 1943 he had married his second wife, Aileen Furse, and risen to responsibility for Spanish, Italian, French and African affairs. He so impressed the Director-General of MI6, Major General Stewart Menzies, in this role that in October 1944 he was placed in charge of Section IX (Soviet Affairs).
The position, which he retained after the war, allowed him to actively protect the Soviet agents he was supposed to be monitoring, and allowed him to forestall dangerous situations. For example, when in 1945, Russian diplomat, Constantin Volkhov approached British Intelligence with information, Philby had only to inform his KGB contacts to have Volkhov arrested and rendered harmless.
Whilst he was unable to prevent the defection of Igor Gouzenko, a cipher clerk in the Russian Legation to Canada, Philby was handed the job of investigating his claims. Although evidence Gouzenko provided led to many arrests in Canada, and also exposed Klaus Fuchs and Allan Nunn May as spies, unsurprisingly, no evidence led to the Cambridge Ring.
In 1946 Philby took a field position, heading up MI5’s team in Turkey and from there, went on to become MI6’s Washington liaison officer. Working with the CIA and FBI, he became aware of the planned Anglo-US overthrow of Communist Enver Hoxha, in Albania. Acting on information passed on by Philby, the plan was thwarted, and Albanians involved in the conspiracy were executed.
Philby was successful enough a double-agent to be considered as Director-General of MI6 in 1950. It was only at this point, that a full-scale, in-depth investigation of his past began to ring real alarm-bells, as it uncovered the speed with which Kim’s sympathies had switched from communist to fascist and the disregarded evidence from Walter Krivitsky – the possibility of his being a double-agent was recognised. Then, in 1951, Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean defected to Moscow. Naturally, Philby came under suspicion of informing these two known friends that they were under investigation. Despite all this, after interrogation by MI6, he was cleared of being part of a spy ring; however, the CIA demanded his recall to London. He officially resigned from MI6 on his return, although he continued to work for the organisation part-time. He received a golden handshake of £4,000.
The New York Sunday News, reported in 1955 that Kim Philby was a Soviet spy, leading to questions in the House of Commons, but again, allegations against him were dismissed, and he called a press conference, denying any involvement in espionage or communism.
For the next five years Philby continued to work part time for MI6, while pursuing a career as Middle-east Correspondent for The Observer in Beirut. In 1957 his second wife died, and a year later, he married Eleanor Brewer.
The end came after KGB agent Anatoli Golitsin, defected to the CIA in 1961. He was interviewed by James Jesus Angleton, who had trained under Kim Philby before the war. Information supplied by Golitsin uncovered a large number of Soviet agents based in the West, and once again cast suspicion on Philby. MI5 agent, Arthur Martin travelled to the US to follow this up, and this time the evidence was sufficient to confirm that Philby was, after all, a member of the spy ring that included Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean.
Nicholas Elliott of MI5 was sent to Beirut to interview Philby, who admitted his involvement in the ring, but refused to name any other members apart from Burgess and Maclean. Aware that his arrest was imminent, Philby fled to Moscow on 23rd January, 1963. Unlike his fellow spies, he settled well into life in Russia, taking up a position in the KGB, and rising to the rank of Colonel. In 1965 he was awarded the Soviet Union's ‘Red Banner Order’.
In 1968, Kim Philby published My Silent War, an autobiography which confirmed his activities as a Soviet spy for more than 30 years. He died in 1988.