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Cold War spy Kim Philby details life of betrayal in secret video

The only known footage of Britain’s biggest Cold War traitor, Kim Philby, discussing his life as a double agent has been unearthed in Berlin.

world Updated: Apr 04, 2016 21:07 IST
Kim Philby,Cold War,Stasi video
A view shows the gravestone of British double agent Kim Philby at a cemetery in Moscow.(Reuters)

The only known footage of Britain’s biggest Cold War traitor, Kim Philby, discussing his life as a double agent has been unearthed in Berlin, the BBC said on Monday.

In the grainy 1981 video, Philby, who defected to the Soviet Union, is seen giving an hour-long lecture to spies in then communist East Germany.

The BBC said it found the footage in the official archives of the Stasi, the East German intelligence service. It said the previously unseen footage shows Philby discussing how he went about betraying his country.

Philby was one of the Cambridge Five spy ring, a group of upper class men shockingly uncovered as traitors to Britain. He was one of the Soviet Union’s most successful spies who penetrated the heart of the British establishment and passed secrets back to Moscow for three decades, part of a ring of British double agents recruited in the 1930s.

After his cover was blown, he fled from Beirut to Moscow in 1963 and spent the last 25 years of his life in the Soviet Union.

In the footage, Philby begins his lecture with “Dear comrades”, then says he is “no public speaker”, having spent most of his life trying to avoid publicity. He talks about how he rose through the ranks of Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), the foreign intelligence agency dubbed MI6, while secretly passing on information to his Soviet contacts.

“You have probably all heard stories that the SIS is an organisation of mythical efficiency, a very, very dangerous thing indeed,” he said. “Well, in a time of war, it honestly was not.”

He said he befriended the MI6 archivists by going out for drinks with them two or three times a week.

“Every evening I left the office with a big briefcase full of reports which I had written myself, full of files taken out of the actual documents – out of the actual archives,” he said.

“I used to hand them to my Soviet contact in the evening. The next morning I would get the file back, the contents having been photographed, and take them back early in the morning and put the files back in their place.

“That I did regularly, year in, year out.”

He was appointed number two in a new SIS section devoted to countering Soviet espionage. He was then instructed by his KGB employers to unseat his boss in order to become head of the department, which he did.

“I set about the business of removing my own chief. You oughtn’t to listen to this,” he told the East German spies, drawing laughter.

“It’s a very, very dirty story, but, after all, our work does imply getting dirty hands from time to time,” he added.

Taking questions afterwards, he advises the East German intelligence officers to never confess during an interrogation.

Philby died in Moscow aged 76 in 1988 before the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The shadowy world and double-dealing of Philby and others in the “Cambridge Five” spy ring – such as Anthony Blunt, Guy Burgess, Donald Maclean – has long fascinated British audiences.

Philby, stationed in Washington as the liaison officer between the CIA and MI6 from 1949-51, said he escaped detection for so long because he was part of the British governing class system. Many MI6 colleagues had much to lose as they had been involved in his recruitment and promotion, he said.

He fled to Moscow in 1963 when new evidence of his work for the Soviet Union arose. He alleged he was able to escape from Beirut because the MI6 agent sent to watch him was an avid skier and had gone off to the Lebanese mountains after hearing news of a snowfall.

First Published: Apr 04, 2016 21:06 IST