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Monday, August 18, 2014

The Biggest British Intelligence Scandal of the 20th Century

A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great BetrayalA Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal by Ben Macintyre
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This review refers to an uncorrected proof I received from Goodreads. The book has been at the number one spot in non-fiction for the last two weeks and it truly deserves its place. A group of five Cambridge students, upper class British gentlemen, became enamored of the Communist regime in Russia in the 1930's. They proceeded to infiltrate MI5 and MI6 through their connections and moved upwards within the ranks of these British counterparts of American CIA and FBI. They served as spies for their own country and moles for the Soviets.

Their work began during WWII when the Soviets were allies with the West against fascism and Nazism but it continued during the Cold War. Kim Philby was the most Janus-like of them all. This is no James Bond story with dark alleys and jumping off trains or shooting guns at each other. These are men drinking gallons of booze, dining in fine restaurants, going to conservative and proper mens' clubs, having all night parties and sharing secrets with one another. Americans, Italians, British--all buddies and trusting each other with plans meant to infiltrate the Soviet Union or to stymie Soviet activities. They were men who devised the plans and were the men who sent the field agents like Bond in to carry them out.

Kim Philby learned about plans of American intelligence and planned many British operations. He then proceeded to share all his knowledge for over 30 years with his Soviet handlers. He was charming, a ladies man, a bon vivant and never had any remorse over the lives that were lost as a result of his spying. He was slippery--almost caught several times. He lost his position with the government for four years--distrusted by the American as well as British intelligence only to be reinstated in a position with even more access to secrets. It is an unbelievable story, told in a most readable way. Makes one wonder how far off Joe McCarthy really was. It is a story of arrogance, old boy politics and snobbery, and total lack of discretion. The actions of Philby and his friends reverberated through many years after the defection of three of the original British spies to Moscow, where they lived as drunken expatriates, devoted to their Communist ideals to the end.

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