Kim Philby and Jim Angleton first met at Bletchley Park, in early 1944. A precociously literate 26-year-old Yale graduate, Angleton had been spotted as a promising spy by his professors and sent to the British intelligence centre for espionage training. There, Philby, chief of MI6 intelligence operations in Spain and Portugal, taught him the black arts of counter-intelligence.
The two formed a friendship. Philby, then aged 32, preferred Angleton’s quiet good manners to the fawning Anglophilia of his more provincial countrymen. A year later, when Angleton was assigned to run the US counter-intelligence office in Rome, Philby dropped in from his posting in Turkey. They compared notes on marriage and the growing threat of the Soviet Union.
The men renewed their friendship in Washington in 1949, when Philby took over the MI6 station here. Angleton, a rising star at the newly created CIA who would go on to become its counter-intelligence chief, never guessed that his friend was a communist spy, who was passing on his every confidence to Moscow.
Philby’s epic treachery is now the stuff of legend, as is the futile mole hunt by Angleton that followed.
As a double agent, Philby not only betrayed his home country, but the Americans who placed so much trust in their more experienced British counterparts. That is why I have written a biography of Angleton – not only to capture Kim Philby through American eyes, but to understand the impact his audacious treachery had on the CIA in its formative years.
These were times fraught with sexual tension in intelligence agencies on both sides of the Atlantic.
Philby touched on homoerotic currents as electric and buried as the phone lines those spies routinely wiretapped. His betrayal of Angleton was ideological and emotional. Its impact was political and psychological.
Philby and Angleton’s friendship blossomed in the spring of 1950, amid a moral panic in Washington. In a series of sensational speeches, Republican senator Joe McCarthy had woven together the threats of communism and homosexuality into twin fervours that historians have dubbed the “Red Scare” and the “Lavender Scare”.
The two spies were cosmopolitan men who disliked McCarthy’s demagogic style. Angleton was married and a father of three. Philby was on the second of his four marriages, had four children, several mistresses, and many conquests. His housemate in Washington (and fellow spy) was Guy Burgess, a Cambridge classmate who had previously worked for the BBC and the Home Office. Openly gay, he did not conceal his amused contempt for American morality.
Philby’s affection for Burgess bordered on the physical. Wilfred Mann, a scientist who worked in the British embassy, dropped by Philby’s house unannounced one morning in early 1951 and found Philby and Burgess lounging together in bed, sipping champagne and dressed only in bathrobes.
Angleton was half-amused, half-appalled by Burgess’ exuberant style. When Angleton invited both men to his house, his daughter remembered how they frolicked. “They’d start chasing each other through the house in this little choo-choo train,” Siri Hari Angleton once remarked. “These men in their Eton ties, screaming and laughing!”
Thanks to McCarthy’s insinuations, homosexuals were presumed to be a security risk because of the potential for blackmail. For these spies, same-sex liaisons were seen as an aberration; an indicator of psychological weakness (but not sufficient for disqualification from the intelligence community).
In May 1951, the friendship of Philby and Angleton was tested by terrible news. While on home leave, Burgess had disappeared, along with Donald Maclean, an Embassy official who GCHQ and National Security Agency code-crackers had identified as a probable Soviet spy. The two men soon turned up in Moscow.
Had someone tipped off Burgess and Maclean that the net was closing?
Many suspected Philby, who insisted, with sheepish aplomb, that he had been fooled like everyone else. Angleton sided with his friend.
Perhaps, some colleagues later wondered, he had been blinded by affection. In a memo, he wrote: “Philby had consistently ‘sold’ [Burgess] as a most gifted individual … In this respect, he has served as subject’s apologist on several occasions when subject’s behaviour has been a source of extreme embarrassment in the Philby household.”
Bill Harvey, a senior CIA Soviet expert, scoffed. “Where’s the rest of the story?” he scrawled on Angleton’s memo, confiding in one colleague he thought there had been a homosexual relationship between the two friends.
After Maclean and Burgess defected, it became apparent the Soviets had agents deep in Western intelligence. Still, Angleton remained blind to any involvement on the part of Philby, insisting to James McCargar, a CIA colleague: “I still feel Philby some day will head the British service.”
Philby never escaped the shadow of suspicion but Angleton sided with MI6 officials who rejected the charge that he was a spy. By the time Philby moved to Beirut in 1956 to work as a journalist, Angleton had become chief of counter-intelligence at the CIA, with a staff of 200.
Knowing there were lingering suspicions, he arranged for Lebanese police to watch his old friend. They reported that Philby had been spotted sneaking off to rendezvous with the wife of a friend and Angleton was satisfied. Kim was a rogue, not a Red.
So when Philby finally defected to Moscow in January 1963, Angleton was shattered. For 19 years, his mentor and dear companion had played him for a fool, while stealing atomic secrets, US plans for the Korean War and countless secrets that had been read by Stalin.
The realisation came as a “terrible shock”. Angleton knew he had confided in Philby “far beyond any routine relationship between the colleagues of two friendly countries”, said Nicholas Elliott, Philby’s best friend in MI6. “The knowledge that he, the top expert in the world on Soviet espionage, had been totally deceived had a cataclysmic effect.”
The powerful and now paranoid Angleton redoubled his search for a KGB mole in the upper ranks of the CIA, certain that another Philby was lurking. He investigated 40 agency employees, and effectively killed the careers of about a third of them. Yet he never found a plausible suspect.
From Moscow, his former pal Philby tormented him. In his witty, malicious 1968 memoir, My Silent War, Philby depicted Angleton as a hapless dupe.
“The key to Philby, if there is a single one,” wrote McCargar who worked with both men, “is less likely to be found in the faults of the Establishment, than it is in a compulsion to betray and deceive, which underlay all his relationships.”
Ultimately, Angleton knew that better than anyone. Near the end of his life, his CIA colleagues threw him a farewell luncheon where he was asked if he wanted to say anything that he had previously never disclosed about the Philby case.
“There are some matters I shall have to take to the grave with me,” he replied, heartbroken to the end, “and Kim is one of them.”
The Ghost: The Secret Life of CIA Spymaster James Jesus Angleton by Jefferson Morley is published by Scribe.
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