Saturday, November 29, 2014

Background for Reading A Spy Among Friends

I am reading A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal by Ben Macintyre. Philby became a Soviet Spy in 1934, and from 1937 to 1939 he worked in Spain reporting the Civil War for British media (and to Moscow via his controllers). He worked as a foreign correspondent again with the British Expeditionary Force in late 1938 until Dunkirk and then again in France until its surrender.

Philby was then inducted into British Intelligence. He provided the USSR with intelligence that it would be invaded by Germany (which was not believed) but not by Japan (which was believed, and allowed Stalin to move troops from the East to the defense of Moscow). He was in late 1941 put in charge of the section of MI6 that dealt with Spain and Portugal; later north Africa was added to that section's responsibility. As he rose in the British Secret service, and as his credibility increased in Moscow, his importance as a Soviet Agent also increased. He provide a huge amount of information to Russia during the war, and much of it went directly to Stalin himself.

In February 1947, Philby is put in charge of British intelligence in Turkey where he provides information to the USSR on British and American efforts to destabilize Albania and Georgia. In 1949 he is moved to Washington, where he serves as liaison between British and U.S. intelligence agencies; in that position he provides intelligence of great value to the USSR. However, in 1951 Philby warned McClain and Burgess of MacClean's impending arrest as a spy; when they defected to Russia, Philby himself came under suspicion. Under that cloud, he resigned from MI6 in 1951.

In 1956 he was sent to Beirut as a correspondent for The Observer and The Economist; under this cover, he was reemployed by MI6 as an agent. However, more evidence accumulated against him, and in 1963, under interrogation, he made a partial confession; he then defected to Moscow.

Things I Thought to Research While Reading

Kim Philby was born on New Year's Day 1912 in India, the Jewel in the crown of England's empire. That empire actually increased in size as a result of World War I. In the aftermath of World War II, however, the empire fell apart. In the east, India, Pakistan, Burma and Malaysia all gained independence by 1963. Britain's position in the Middle East was diminished by the partition of Palestine in 1948, Egyptian independence in 1952 and the Suez Crisis in 1956 (which also led to the independence of Sudan); in 1968 Britain announced it would withdraw military bases east of Suez, and had done so by 1976. Britain's African colonies continued to gain independence with most independent by the late 1960s. Britain applied for membership in the decade old European Common Market in 1961, and succeeded in achieving membership in 1973. Thus in Philby's lifetime Britain had ceased to be in command of a global economic and political empire and become instead one of a number of nations combined in a new western European political and economic entity.

Philby was born into the British elite, and was the product of an exclusive public school (Americans read that as private school) and Cambridge University. Post war Britain was quite different than the interwar society in which he grew up. In 1945 the Labor Party gained power and held it for six years; after the war, England lived through a decade of austerity. By the 1960s, "reforms in education led to the effective elimination of the grammar school. The rise of the comprehensive school was aimed at producing a more egalitarian educational system, and there were ever-increasing numbers of people going into higher education." The 1950s and 60s saw a rise in immigration to Britain, primarily from former colonies, and an accompanying rise in racism. While Philby's MI6 remained relatively elitist, MI5 became much more an organization of middle class people.

Macintyre's book does not deal in much detail with the global environment in which Philby's career took place. It seems to me that his role as a spy for the USSR was different during World War II and the Cold War. In the form, when the USSR and Britain were allies, Britain and the USSR faced an existential threat from Nazi Germany. During the Cold War, when Britain was engaged in an effort with the USA to contain the USSR. the threat from Soviet weapons of mass destruction and its efforts to expand Communist government globally appeared comparably existential to Britain.

It also seems to me important to note that the nature of the intelligence agencies was changing. In World War II sabotage was a major function; in the Cold War, espionage was perhaps the leading function. Moreover, technological improvements led to changes in the way information was gained by intelligence agencies. Signals intelligence became important as agencies were increasingly able to capture telephone and other communications. Aerial and then satellite remote sensing allowed intelligence agencies to literally see what was happening on the ground, with professionals becoming amazingly proficient in interpreting imagery. Computers augmented human capacity to deal with huge amounts of signals and imagery data.

It should also be noted that there has been a proliferation of other forms of intelligence. Of course the military continues to have strong intelligence services. The U.S. State Department has a Bureau of Intelligence, drawing on its strong cadre of political and economic officers. However, other agencies of government also gather information on trade, agriculture, climate, fisheries, health, and other topics.

As an aid to memory, here is a timeline of some of the events that bear on the story of Kim Philby, the double agent.

World War II
1938 Munich Pact and German Sudeten Anexation
         The Anschluss
1939 Molotov-Ribentrop Pact
1940 German invasion of France and Low Countries; Dunkirk
1941 German invasion of the Soviet Union
1942 Battle of El Alemein
1943 Allied invasions of Sicily and Italian mainland
         Battle of Kursk
1944 Normandy invastion
1945 VE Day
         VJ Day

Cold War
1946 Churchill gave "Iron Curtain Speech"
         Central Intelligence Group created in USA
         Keenan wrote "Containment memo" leading to U.S. policy
1947 CIA and National Security Council created
         Truman Doctrine announced opposing Communist expansion in Europe 
         U.S. provided $400 million economic aid to Greece and Turkey
1949 USSR tested its first Atomic bomb
         NATO Treaty signed
         Communists take over government of mainland China
1950 Klaus Fuchs and others who spied on U.S. Atomic bomb exposed.
1952 National Security Agency created responsible for signals intelligence
1953 Stalin died
1956 First U2 Spy Plane flight over Russia
         Suez Crisis
1957 Sputnik 1, the first artificial satellite, launched
1958 Explorer 1, the first U.S. satellite, launched.
1960 Gary Powers U2 Spy Plane shot down over USSR
1961 Bay of Pigs Invasion
1962 Cuban Missile Crisis

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