Editor's Pick

31 December, 2018

ON 1 JANUARY 1968, Harold Adrian Russell Philby—better known as Kim Philby—is photographed walking the streets of Moscow, following his defection five years earlier from the United Kingdom. A high-ranking member of the British intelligence agency MI6, Philby fled to the Soviet Union in 1963, after investigations revealed his role in setting up the Soviet spy ring known as the Cambridge Five.

Philby was born in Ambala in 1912. His father, a civil servant, nicknamed him after the protagonist of Rudyard Kipling’s Kim. While studying history and economics at Trinity College in Cambridge, he became an avowed communist and was recruited by Soviet intelligence. He was also recruited by MI6 in 1940, and by the end of the Second World War had been appointed the head of counterespionage operations for the agency. In 1949, he was named MI6’s chief liaison with the American intelligence agencies.

As he ascended the echelons of British intelligence, Philby became an increasingly valuable asset for the Soviets. Along with Donald Maclean, Guy Burgess, Anthony Blunt and John Cairncross—four other Cambridge graduates who had become Soviet spies during the 1930s—Philby passed over nine hundred secret British documents to the Soviet Union during and after the Second World War.

Philby came under scrutiny following the 1951 defection of Maclean and Burgess. He was investigated, and made to resign from MI6. Although his name was cleared by the House of Commons, his friend Flora Solomon revealed in 1962 that he had attempted to recruit her as a Soviet spy in 1937. Confronted by his friend Nicholas Elliott in Beirut, where he was working as a journalist, Philby confessed. However, before a written confession could be taken, he boarded a Soviet freighter bound for Odessa and escaped.