A Spy Among Friends

Another spy book, but this one will be the last one for a while.

Review: A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal, Ben Macintyre, 2014.51iInMVMdeL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_

“I was asked about him, and I said I knew his people,” and with that Harold Adrian Russell aka Kim Philby passed his security check on the personal word of Valentine Vivian, deputy head of the Secret Intelligence Service aka MI6, and started on his legendary career as a double agent.

My impression of the British Empire is that, for a long time, it ran on the cheap and its administrators were often picked via nepotism and allowed a great deal of flexibility. (That element of nepotism was a large resentment on the part of the rebels in the American Revolution.) That method worked for a long time. But the career of Kim Philby shows its downside.

Macintyre assures us

this is not another biography of Kim Philby . . . it is an attempt to describe a particular sort of friendship that played an important role in history.

There are a lot of biographies of Philby. I myself have read three, but there are several in this book’s bibliography that I’ve never heard of much less read. Philby himself, when he died in 1988, had a bookshelf full of them in his Moscow apartment. Continue reading

The Spy and the Traitor

More spy stuff because I decided to read a spy book from my library for every new one I reviewed.

Review: The Spy and the Traitor: The Greatest Espionage Story of the Cold War, Ben Macintyre, 2018.untitled

For once, the subtitle on this one is not an exaggeration. The only other contenders I can think for “greatest espionage story of the Cold War” would be those of Oleg Penkovsky and, of course, Kim Philby who Macintyre also wrote a book about.

Like Penkovsky, Oleg Gordievsky was a Soviet intelligence officer who was a double agent for the West. Like Philby, Gordievsky made a daring escape to be with the country he secretly served. In Philby’s case, though, it was the considerably easier task of smuggling himself out of Lebanon and to the Soviet Union. Gordievsky was smuggled out of Moscow while he was under surveillance.

I certainly have not read every espionage memoir or case history ever written, but I’ve read a fair number, and Macintyre’s book is simply the best book on a spy case I’ve ever read. Macintyre not only has a nice turn of phrase but also delves into the psychology of the spy. This is a book that examines the complex motives – more complicated than the acronym MICE (money, ideology, compromise, and ego) would suggest – of the spy, and their intimate relationships with the case officers who “run” them. Macintyre shows the KGB and MI6 and the CIA as bureaucracies full, to varying degrees, of time servers, those psychologically unsuited for the work, and, of course, the usual bureaucratic tendency to bury failure or shift blame for it. Continue reading