BY RANDY BOSWELL, POSTMEDIA NEWS SEPTEMBER 30, 2010
UNDATED — Harold “Kim” Philby (British Secret Service) 1955 file photo. (Died May 1988). A new book about the history of Britain’s foreign intelligence service has shed fresh light on Canada’s most famous spy case — the 1945 defection of Soviet embassy employee Igor Gouzenko — and the clandestine efforts by notorious British double-agent Kim Philby to manipulate events in Ottawa and London to Moscow’s advantage.
Queen’s University Belfast historian Keith Jeffery, author of The Secret History of MI6: 1909-1949, says classified documents that only he was authorized to see while researching the book show the powerful and traitorous Philby issuing memos at MI6 headquarters with a “cautious and soothing tone” — a strategy designed to “downplay” the significance of what were, in fact, sensational revelations from Gouzenko about the existence of a Soviet spy ring in North America.
Gouzenko, a cipher clerk at the Soviet embassy in Ottawa, defected in September 1945 with about 100 telegrams and other classified documents he’d snatched from a consular safe, exposing an extensive espionage network — including scientists, bureaucrats and even the Montreal-area socialist MP Fred Rose — operating in North America and Britain at the end of the Second World War.
Among the secret dispatches stolen by Gouzenko were several that revealed the August 1945 handover of experimental uranium samples to Soviet agents in Montreal by Alan Nunn May, a British nuclear scientist working in Canada at the time.
Gouzenko’s revelations about May, later dubbed the “Atom Spy” when his crimes became public, stunned political leaders in Canada, Britain and the U.S.
Secret papers declassified in 2007 through the U.K. National Archives and others published last year in historian Christopher Andrew’s official history of the MI5 — Britain’s domestic spy agency — have previously documented some of Philby’s efforts to stymie the Gouzenko investigation.
But Jeffery told Postmedia News that the secret MI6 files he probed contained “spanking new stuff” that showed how Philby was exploiting his position as head of counter-intelligence at MI6 to restrict information flows in London and to thwart Canadian, British and American officials who were trying to understanding the scope and implications of Gouzenko’s disclosures.
“It would appear,” Philby notes in one memo unearthed by Jeffery, that Gouzenko’s information is “genuine though not necessarily accurate in all details.”
And when Canadian and British intelligence officials make arrangements to arrest May at a meeting he had scheduled with his Soviet handler in London, Philby pointedly asserts in a report that “other members of the (Soviet spy) network will have been warned” of Gouzenko’s defection and predicts that the expected rendezvous “between May and the Soviet agent in the U.K. will fail to materialize.”
As Jeffery writes, it was Philby himself who was secretly notifying Moscow about the Soviet spy crisis unfolding in Ottawa, and his memos to unsuspecting MI6 colleagues and Canadian partners included “predictions of developments which he had already engineered himself.”
Furthermore, Jeffery discovered, Philby took steps to make certain that MI6 sent agent Roger Hollis instead of the more competent Jane Archer to interrogate Gouzenko.
Philby’s “preference, significantly, was for Hollis rather than Archer, whom he considered the abler and more knowledgeable, and therefore more of a threat.”
Jeffery — reached for an interview in Washington, where he’s scheduled to discuss his book on Friday at the Woodrow Wilson International Center — describes the Gouzenko affair as “the start of the Cold War.”
What he discovered in the secret MI6 archives on the Canadian episode, he said, “are the footprints of Kim Philby” appearing everywhere as he scrambled to dampen British interest in Gouzenko’s revelations.
“He was in a powerful position — just the right place — to impede the investigations that the Gouzenko defection triggers,” said Jeffery. “He was communicating directly to the Soviet Union. He knows that Nunn May is coming back to London and that a rendezvous is set up” with a Soviet agent outside the British Museum — and that British and Canadian intelligence officials are planning to arrest the pair at the meeting.
Philby and his Soviet contacts “are not able to warn Nunn May or to get him out — he’s kind of sacrificed,” said Jeffery. “But the Soviet link — of course crucial if he’d been captured — never turns up for the rendezvous because he’d been tipped off by Philby.”
Nunn May was eventually charged and convicted of passing official secrets to the Soviets. He was sentenced to 10 years hard labour, but served only six before his release in 1952.
He worked as a scientific researcher in Ghana until the late 1970s, and died in Britain in 2003.
The fallout from the Gouzenko affair was far-reaching and — according to many experts — the episode locked the U.S., Britain and their allies into a political and military standoff with the Soviet Union that would dominate global politics for nearly 50 years.
In the end, notes Jeffery, Philby “can’t prevent the big picture” revealed in Gouzenko’s smuggled documents that Soviet agents had penetrated North American society.
“What he manages to succeed to do in the micro-story is to manipulate things a bit and to protect the Soviet network in the United Kingdom.”
Philby’s accurate “prediction” that Nunn May’s contact won’t show at the planned sting even had the effect of reinforcing for MI6 brass “what a brilliant man he is — this man who can see how the Soviets are operating.
“Self-fulfilling prophecies are great — especially if you know what’s going to happen,” Jeffery said. “It actually confirmed his reputation within the service as a man of very sharp intelligence.”
Philby wasn’t exposed as a double-agent until 1963, when he escaped to the Soviet Union. He was “absolutely trusted” in Western intelligence circles until that time, said Jeffery.
The historian’s 800-page book — published in Britain under the title MI6: The History of the Secret Intelligence Service, 1909-1949 — was researched under what Jeffery has acknowledged was a “Faustian pact” with the spy agency that gave him unprecedented access to secret files but allowed MI6 officials to vet the final manuscript prior to publication.
© Copyright (c) Postmedia News