- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 5, 2005

Consider, for a moment, a staggering thesis that runs counter to conventional wisdom concerning the so-called “Cambridge Three” — the Englishmen Harold “Kim” Philby, Donald Maclean and Guy Burgess, three of the most notorious spy figures of the 20th Century. The British government long maintained that their services on behalf of the USSR were not detected until 1951, just before the latter two fled to Moscow. Philby followed in 1963.

Now we have an intriguing counter-argument in S. J. Hamrick, DeceivingtheDeceivers (Yale, $29.95, 297 pages). Mr. Hamrick is a longtime Foreign Service officer, now resident in Rappahannock County, Va., who wrote seven superb novels under the name W. T. Tyler. He argues that British intelligence realized the three were traitors long before their exposure, and that they were left in place so that (a) Philby could be played back against the Soviets; and (b) the other two were shielded for political purposes involving US-British relations.

When word of Mr. Hamrick’s book first circulated some weeks ago, many Old Boys, men long conversant with the Cambridge Three case, scoffed, calling his theory daft and improbable. Perhaps. But let’s see what the man offers, in a summary that of necessity must be terse.

The Philby matter is the most intriguing. Mr. Hamrick postulates that suspicion fell on him in 1946 when a Soviet diplomat in Ankara tried to defect to the British embassy. He was urged to stay-in-place as long as he could (accepted tradecraft) or at least until a ranking MI-6 officer could interview him. This turned out to be Philby, but by the time he arrived in Turkey, the Soviet had been hauled to the airport on a stretcher, his face showing signs of a savage beating. He was never heard of again. This episode alone was not enough to finger Philby as a Soviet spy. But in ensuing years, more information dribbled out, chiefly through the so-called VENONA intercepts of cables from the KGB rezident in Washington to Moscow.

But why leave a suspected agent in place? Here is where the Hamrick thesis makes a reader scratch his head and think, “You know, this fellow just might be onto something.” And here is why. During the period 1945-1950 the Western deterrent to Soviet expansion rested upon a supposed American nuclear monopoly — if the USSR started trouble, Moscow would be obliterated with atomic bombs.

But the truth is that the “nuclear deterrent” was non-existent. In early 1947, when David Lilienthal was named chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, he went to Los Alamos to inspect the “arsenal.” As Lilienthal told the Cold War historian Greg Harkin, he was shown a chicken wire enclosure that contained the entire stock of atomic weaponry: one bomb. “One of the saddest days” of his life, Lilienthal lamented. The remaining bombs had been disassembled after V-J Day. Putting them back together would require days. Further, the U. S. had no means of delivering the bombs on Soviet targets even had they existed.

Thus commenced one of the grander scams of the Cold War. The U.S. and Britain decided to mount a black deception operation to peddle the nuclear-superiority myth to Moscow. Doing so, Mr. Hamrick writes, “required a suspected or known Soviet agent of proven credibility whose long loyalty to Moscow and unique access to official secrets amounted to verification. Was one available? Evidently he was” — Philby, of course.

Mr. Hamrick maintains that the Philby deception was solely a British operation, and that documentary proof of his thesis will never be revealed, even if it exists. Such is the nature of deception. The only “verification” came in an off-hand remark by Gen. Edwin Sibert, longtime military intelligence officer, in an interview with the British writer Anthony Cave Brown. But the chronology that Brown gave for what Sibert said had many inconsistencies, Mr. Hamrick states.

The decision to conceal that Maclean and Burgess were spies waspolitical. Briefly, Great Britain was trying to work out a deal with Washington to share nuclear secrets. London knew that revealing that two officials in its Washington embassy were Soviet agents would squelch any deal. Hence the silence until the 1950 identification of Klaus Fuchs as a Russian spy, which made continued protection of Maclean and Burgess moot.

Mr. Hamrick devotes considerable space to a convincing debunking of the media portrayal of Philby as a “master spy” who managed to deceive the all-powerful Central Intelligence Agency. He correctly notes that the CIA in those years — 1947-49 — was a tissue-paper tiger, ill-organized, staffed by pass-along military officers unwanted by their own services, an ineffectual laughing stock in the national security establishment. He maintains that the “Philby myth” was created in by journalists and others who delighted in tweaking CIA’s nose. And even if CIA was witting of how Philby had been used against the Soviets, tradecraft demanded that the secret be kept.

Now, be forewarned that “Deceiving the Deceivers” is not an easy read, even for someonefamiliarwith the Cambridge Three case. But Mr. Hamrick should not be ignored.

One missing element in much non-fiction espionage literatureis an answer to the question, “Just what information did this agent actually obtain? And was it of any value?” For obvious reasons, neither the spy’s masters nor his targets care to reveal his “take.” Now we have a notable exception the story of Fritz Kolbe, ably told in Lucas Delattre, ASpyattheHeartoftheColdWar (Grove/Atlantic, $24, 206 pages, illus.).

The bare outlines of Kolbe’s remarkable story have been told in biographies of Allen Dulles, the OSS officer to whom he reported in Switzerland during World War II. Mr. Delattre, a French journalist, goes further, using Kolbe’s and OSS documents in the National Archives.

Kolbe, a Foreign Ministry official, developed a keen hatred of the Nazis, so much so that he risked his life to sneak across the frontier to talk with Dulles and give him pilfered documents. His information was sweeping, from the Wehrmacht order of battle and morale to sketches of the location of Hitler’s bombproof underground hideout, and the railroad sidings where Himmler and Goering set up quarters. One of dozens of political reports enabled the U.S. to bring pressure on Ireland to stop helping the Germans. No wonder that the late Richard Helms called Kolbe’s information “the very best produced by any allied agent in World War II.”

I offer one quibble. In his prologue, Mr. Delattre writes that “the Germans had an informer in the entourage of … Vice President Henry Wallace.” He offered nothing further. Curious, I queried Mr. Delattre by e-mail. He replied that he had no source other than a single document in the National Archives, and a reference in an unclassified 1966 edition of the CIA’s in-house journal, “Studies in Intelligence.” Given that the latter is unavailable to most laymen, I suggest that Mr. Delattre should have printed what he had or otherwise ignored Wallace. Nonetheless, a good read.

Joe Goulden is writing a book on Cold War intelligence. His e-mail is JosephG894@AOL.COM

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