When Kissinger spied for Russia

Phillip Knightley

  • Cold Warrior. James Jesus Angleton: The CIA’s Master Spy Hunter by Tom Mangold
    Simon and Schuster, 403 pp, £17.99, May 1991, ISBN 0 671 69930 X

In the international intelligence community, (a loose term to cover spies, spy writers and spy groupies) there are two views on Kim Philby. One is that after he fled to Moscow he was a burnt-out case, a pathetic drunk living on the memory of his great triumph – fooling the West for thirty years. In this scenario, Philby drank to drown the thought of what might have been. If only he had not been so friendly with Guy Burgess, whose follies gave Philby away, he might have become director-general of the British Secret Intelligence Service, Sir Harold Philby, invulnerable to exposure and in a position to have handed the British and American services to Moscow on a plate.

The other view is that Philby’s greatest service to Communism came after he was forced to flee to Moscow, that just by being there he indirectly achieved victories in the intelligence war beyond the KGB’s wildest dreams. Supporters of the second view, and I am one, argue that Philby was instrumental in paralysing Western intelligence operations against the Soviet Union for ten years, that he ruined the careers of some of the CIA’s finest officers, that he neutralised a string of Soviet defectors, caused havoc in the British and French services, and generally undermined the whole conceptual basis of intelligence work.

Philby achieved this by tipping the spy-catcher for the Western world, the CIA officer James Jesus Angleton, into clinical madness. Philby had help, of course. Alcohol, Angleton’s own personality, the very nature of spy-catching, the power of bureaucracies, and the appalling inefficiency of the CIA’s system of checks and controls, all contributed to Angleton’s paranoia. But even Angleton would have had to admit that in Philby’s terrible personal treachery lies the key to understanding both what went wrong with Angleton and what went wrong with the CIA.

Angleton first met Philby in 1944 when Angleton was a raw counter-intelligence officer in OSS (Office of Strategic Services), a gung-ho outfit under the command of General ‘Wild Bill’ Donovan, who thought that the way to win the war was with clandestine groups operating behind enemy lines, a sort of American SOE. Philby was the glamorous, experienced SIS officer. The two worked in the same building in London, and although at that stage they were not close friends, contact had been made – they were on the same side and shared the same aim, the defeat of Fascism. So after the war, when Philby, rising steadily in SIS, was posted to Washington, one of the first Americans he looked up was James Angleton, who was still, like Philby, in the spy business. Philby, after a spell running SIS’s Soviet desk and a tour of field duty in Turkey, was the new SIS liaison officer with the CIA and the FBI, a job that put him at the heart of Western intelligence. Angleton was executive assistant to ADSO (the assistant director of Special Operations) and it was his job to look after Philby and the representatives of other friendly foreign intelligence services. The two men now became close. They lunched together regularly, dined at each other’s houses, met with their families for celebrations such as Thanksgiving. Mrs Angleton remembers them as genuine friends and when I spoke about Angleton to Philby in Moscow in 1988 he agreed that this was so. But all the time Philby was remorselessly using Angleton as his unwitting conduit to the secrets of the CIA. Angleton introduced Philby around, opened doors for him, vouched for him: ‘This is my friend Kim. We knew each other in London.’

When Burgess and Maclean fled to Moscow in May 1951 Philby came under suspicion by association. The reasoning was as follows: ‘Burgess is a Communist spy. He shared a house in Washington with Philby, the crack counter-intelligence officer. If Philby didn’t know, then he is a lousy counter-intelligence officer. If he did, then he is dirty too.’ Angleton would have none of this. He wrote a four-page memorandum to the CIA Director, General Walter Bedell Smith, defending Philby. Philby, Angleton said, had been duped by Burgess and knew nothing of Burgess’s work for the Soviets. He urged the Director to wait; his friend would soon be cleared. A year later, Angleton was still defending him. He told a US foreign service officer he met in Paris that Philby would one day be director-general of SIS.

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