The rise of Kim Philby, through the ranks of the British spy system over three decades, without anyone ever realizing that he was a double agent working for the Soviets, could not have been possible without the consummate loyalty of his close associates and friends. A mastermind who brought death and destruction to those who should have been his friends, working for the same end as he was supposed to be working, instead betrayed them for the cause of Communism which was apparently his greatest love. A master spy, as well as a bit of a philanderer, he somehow managed to enjoy the allegiance of many in the business, notably one in the CIA and one in MI6, regardless of his untoward behavior or the accusations brought against him.
Nicholas Elliott, who did not rise as quickly to the top as Philby, was one of his greatest allies, always coming to Kim’s defense regardless of evidence to the contrary. He simply always gave him the benefit of the doubt in all situations. In spite of accusations and eventual proof against him, at no time do we ever get the feeling that Philby felt the slightest remorse or regret, rather he believed he stayed true to his principles, above all else, eventually escaping to Russia under questionable circumstances, believing he could still maintain his friendships abroad.
Without today’s technology, it was not easy to trace or track Philby’s duplicitous activities or to compile the evidence in a logical format. He was arrogant, and yet he was charismatic. He was a consummate liar who was totally able to manipulate others, and charm most of those who came into contact with him, leaving a path of adoring followers in his wake. So it took decades for the information to finally reach a point where they were sure he was a mole.
This author has written an amazingly well researched, detailed treatise on Philby’s escapades, filling in the blanks wherever possible, surmising what happened using many sources of reference and interviews. I thought that the British service seemed extremely naïve and self-protective, as did the CIA, attempting to cover up their errors instead of correcting them to achieve better results and punish those who did not perform up to standard or who committed treason. Today, with computers and the internet, it would be nigh impossible to fool so many people who were so high up without leaving a trail that could prove to be disastrous, but in Philby’s day, it was difficult to get proof against him, especially with so many who believed he was so talented. He played everyone around him like musical instruments. Facts were missed or deliberately ignored as Philby lied his way through life. He seemed above reproach. Reading of his disloyalty that went undiscovered will certainly surprise and tax the reader’s patience, as seemingly blatant treachery went unnoticed, but we must all realize that we live in the age of the cloud and they lived in the age of the mimeograph machine!
Because most of the information, by admission, is based on 3rd party sources since much of the information is protected by the governments involved or is still classified, perhaps this should really be considered speculative non – fiction! Regardless of what you call it, it is an eye opening thriller that reads like a novel as Philby fools his counterparts in the United States and Britain in the service of Russia.