Kim Philby was the greatest spy in history, a brilliant and charming man who rose to head Britain s counterintelligence against the Soviet Union during the height of the Cold War while he was secretly working for the enemy.Read more...
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Kim Philby was the greatest spy in history, a brilliant and charming man who rose to head Britain s counterintelligence against the Soviet Union during the height of the Cold War while he was secretly working for the enemy. And nobody thought he knew Philby like Nicholas Elliott, Philby s best friend and fellow officer in MI6. The two men had gone to the same schools, belonged to the same exclusive clubs, grown close through the crucible of wartime intelligence work and long nights of drink and revelry. It was madness for one to think the other might be a communist spy, bent on subverting Western values and the power of the free world.
But Philby was secretly betraying his friend. Every word Elliott breathed to Philby was transmitted back to Moscow and not just Elliott s words, for in America, Philby had made another powerful friend: James Jesus Angleton, the crafty, paranoid head of CIA counterintelligence. Angleton's and Elliott s unwitting disclosures helped Philby sink almost everyimportant Anglo-American spy operation for twenty years, leading countless operatives to their doom. Even as the web of suspicion closed around him, and Philby was driven to greater lies to protect his cover, his two friends never abandoned him until it was too late. The stunning truth of his betrayal would have devastating consequences on the two men who thought they knew him best, and on the intelligence services he left crippled in his wake.
Told with heart-pounding suspense and keen psychological insight, and based on personal papers and never-before-seen British intelligence files, "A Spy Among Friends" is Ben Macintyre s best book yet, a high-water mark in Cold War history telling."
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2014-05-05
- Reviewer: Staff
In this engaging real-life spy story, Macintyre (Double Cross) pulls back the curtain on the life and exploits of Kim Philby, who served for decades in Britain’s intelligence community while secretly working as a Soviet double agent. Macintyre covers the full range of Philby’s career, from his work during WWII and the early years of the Cold War to his downfall and defection to the Soviet Union. Moreover, Macintyre widens his scope to look at Philby’s closest allies and friends, including fellow MI6 officer Nicholas Elliot and CIA operative James Jesus Angleton—the men who stood by him when all others were convinced of his as-yet-unproven guilt. Working with colorful characters and an anything-can-happen attitude, Macintyre builds up a picture of an intelligence community chock-full of intrigue and betrayal, in which Philby was the undisputed king of lies. There’s a measure of admiration in the text for Philby’s run of luck and audacious accomplishments, as when he was actually placed in charge of anti-Soviet intelligence: “The fox was not merely guarding the henhouse but building it, running it, assessing its strengths and frailties, and planning its future construction.” Entertaining and lively, Macintyre’s account makes the best fictional thrillers seem tame. Agent: Ed Victor, Ed Victor Ltd. (Aug.)
Don't cross a double-crosser
Real life spy Kim Philby had a level of charm that fictional spy James Bond could only aspire to. To meet Philby, it seemed, was to fall under his convivial sway. Thus, when it was disclosed in 1963 that this very proper, well-placed and Cambridge-educated Englishman had been spying for the Soviet Union since 1934, two people were particularly shaken by the revelation: Nicholas Elliott, his longtime drinking buddy and colleague at MI6, the British Secret Intelligence Service, and James Angleton, the zealous spymaster at America’s Central Intelligence Agency. Both men had regarded Philby as the supreme exemplar of their shadowy trade. Of course, he was.
The focus of A Spy Among Friends is the fragility of trust in the spy business. Apart from the pain of losing his best friend when Philby was outed and subsequently fled to Russia, Elliott also suffered the embarrassment of having brought Philby back into MI6 after he had been nearly exposed as a spy a few years earlier. Angleton never recovered from Philby’s betrayal, which made him paranoid and suspicious of everyone he worked with.
Both Elliott and Angleton tried to rewrite history to show that Philby hadn’t fooled them as completely as the records show he did. From Philby’s perspective, though, his story was of unwavering allegiance to the noble cause of worldwide communism, a goal that trumped nationalism and friendship. That dozens, maybe hundreds, of undercover agents were killed as a direct result of his dissembling never appeared to bother him.
British author and historian Ben Macintyre (Double Cross, Operation Mincemeat) does a masterful job of bringing these intriguing personalities to life and of recreating the World War II and Cold War milieus that forged their passions and alliances.
Spy novelist John le Carré, who served under Elliott in MI6, provides a poignant afterword concerning his former superior’s attempts to purge himself of Philby’s ghost.