Kim Philby was the most famous spy of the twentieth century. He was born in 1912 in Ambala (India), where his father was an official of the British Raja and a famous specialist of British issues. When his parents divorced, Kim followed his mother in England and attended the same schools of his father, first the Westminster school and then the Trintity College in Cambridge. Kim is a brilliant, cultured and refined person, but can’t recognize himself in the environment meant to forge the empire’s ruling class. That elitist and conformist world is hostile to him, so he studies the classics of Marxism and, after establishing a partnership with other students, he enrolls in the intellectual and political Cambridge University Socialist Society (CUSS), but for two years he only attends meetings. After further studies, he gradually realizes that the British Labour Party is very different from the forces of the left internationalist.
But the real turning point in his thinking takes place when the Labour Party in 1931 reveals its inefficiencies and fails in its political struggle losing the election. He was disappointed that with an electorate of alleged political preparation they had been overwhelmed by the cynical propaganda of the time and this raises serious doubts in him on the validity of the parliamentary system. He then begins to take an active part in the meetings of CUSS, and from 1932 to 1935 he serves as the treasurer. This brings him into contact with leftist groups in a critical position towards the Labour Party, and especially with the Communists. Kim alternates readings of the classics of European Socialists to heated discussions in the student section. After a trip to Berlin in March of 1933, which gives him the possibility to see Hitler’s persecution of the KPD (German Communist Party), Kim Philby asks for advice on how to help the communist cause to his professor Maurice Dobb. He illustrates to Kim the role of the Comintern (Communist International) in the fight against fascism and brings him into contact with a legal Communist group in Paris: the World Committee for Aid to Victims of Fascism, designed by Willi Münzenberg, leader of the German Communist Party. Philby moves to Austria, officially to learn German, but acts as a courier for the Comintern and helps the escape of many communists and socialists during the conflict between left and right that in 1934 bloodies the country. Following the advice of Theodore Maly, that was responsible for the authorship of the first recruits in Cambridge, he has an absolutely ingenious insight: he publicly distances himself from its overt left-wing convictions, becomes part of the establishment and works organically from within, secretly.
Kim gains access to the Anglo-Germanic Friendship Society, has numerous meetings with the German ambassador in London, von Ribbentrop, and visits Goebbels, propaganda minister in Berlin, several times. In 1937 he goes to Spain during the Civil War as a correspondent for The Times and is even decorated by Franco as a result of a wound received in the explosion of a grenade. Back in London, he finally reaches the goal for which he worked so hard: entering the SIS, the Secret Intelligence Service; Guy Burgess, one of the magnificent five, finds him a job in Section D (disinformation). Philby’s career within the service is so fast that his inspectors have mountains of material to transmit to the center of Moscow. With a little trickery in 1944 he even becomes the head of the newly formed Section IX of the SIS, that covers all Soviet and communist activities. His rapid rise in the British Intelligence is likely to be nipped in 1948 when a Soviet diplomat in Istanbul, Konstantin Volkov, tries to go to the West. Kim Philby goes to Turkey to manage the operation, certain that the defection of Volkov, aware of many secrets, would have caused his discovery; Volkov is “repatriated” to the USSR and Kim returns to London stating that Volkov was a double agent. In 1949 he lands in Washington as a coordinator between the British and American secret services to try to resize the invincibility of the Soviet secret service.
He is therefore in a nerve center in the heart of the West’s spy networks. With Burgess and McLean he provides information on the atomic research, the Korean War, the NATO, Japan. But too many failures have warned London and Washington, triggering a hunt for traitors. In the end the circle closes and the first to be discovered is MacLean. With his exceptionally cold blood Philby can divert any suspicion from himself, and at the same time warns his two friends. Burgess and Maclean fly to Moscow, but then Philby is no longer above suspicion, is cut off from the “great game” and put under control. Nothing is revealed on him, and in 1955 the Foreign Minister Harold MacMillan in a speech to the House of Commons clears him of all suspicion. Kim can work again, this time under cover as a journalist in Beirut, with a mandate to provide information on the complex situation in the Middle East. His too much anti-Israel articles cause for suspicion and the MI5 in London gets the information of a British journalist stationed in Beirut that has always worked for the Soviets: London sends an old friend of Philby in Beirut for questioning. After a first meeting they decide to meet again at the British Embassy, but Philby does not attend and after a daring escape through Syria he arrives in Moscow. The situation in the Soviet Union is not what he expected: he is not a KGB colonel as he believed, but only a simple agent. Kim provides plenty of information but only in 1972 he is admitted to the headquarters of the KGB. Increasingly dependent on alcohol, Philby is removed from the KGB and in 1988 he dies of a heart attack. The portrait of Kim Philby occupies a place of honor in the museum where the PDC secret commemorates its heroes.