Philby was a Secret Intelligence Service officer who transferred into Section V in 1941 from Special Operations Executive, where he had worked as an instructor on propaganda techniques. As the longest serving foreign correspondent in Spain during the Civil War, working for The Times, Philby was fluent in German, French, and Spanish and was an able writer. A Cambridge graduate with a graduate degree in economics, he had been recruited as a Soviet agent in mid-May 1934, after his marriage to Litzi Friedmann in Vienna, and joined the SIS as a lecturer, apparently unhindered by a speech impediment and his father, a fervent Arabist who was detained under the Defence of the Realm Emergency Regulations as a Nazi sympathizer.
Philby established his reputation as a counterintelligence specialist while working as an analyst of intercepted Abwehr ISK and ISOS traffic pertaining to his designated sphere of interest, the Iberian Peninsula. By the end of the war, he had been promoted to head of the anti-Soviet branch, Section IX, and was sent to the SIS station in Istanbul on his first overseas posting. In 1949 he was recalled to London for a new assignment to Washington, D.C., where he remained until May 1951, when he was summoned home to face interrogation over the disappearance of his friend Guy Burgess. Sacked by the SIS in November 1951, Philby eked out a living as a journalist in Beirut, often writing under a pseudonym, but in January 1963 defected to Moscow after he had been offered, and had accepted, a British immunity from prosecution in return for a detailed confession. Philby’s statement, in which he implicated a schoolfriend and colleague and made other misleading assertions, was later demonstrated to have been fabricated.
As a Soviet mole, Philby had proved an assiduous spy, sending Moscow vast quantities of information from inside the SIS during the decade he was employed there, and even afterward when he maintained contact with former colleagues who were unaware of the scale of the evidence against him. He admitted compromising Konstantin Volkov, a GRU officer who had attempted to negotiate his defection in Istanbul in September 1945, and tipping off his Soviet contacts when he was indoctrinated into the VENONA project prior to his appointment to Washington. Although famously labeled “the third man,” a charge for which the Macmillan government was obliged to exonerate him in November 1955, and a member of the notorious Cambridge Five, Philby was actually the first of the five to be recruited, by the illegal rezident Arnold Deutsch on the recommendation of his wife’s Austrian friend, Edith Suschitzsky. Later he would be handled by several Soviets, including Alexander Orlov, who later defected.
Philby’s life in Moscow proved unfulfilling and he descended into alcoholism, from which he was rescued by his third wife, Rufina, whom he met in 1970, two years after the publication of his memoirs, My Silent War. He died in a Moscow hospital in May 1988, disappointed by the lack of attention he had received from the KGB and the organization’s unwillingness to entrust him with any serious assignments.