The BBC aired footage of notorious MI6 traitor Kim Philby briefing agents of East Germany’s Stasi secret police on Monday. Philby and his “Cambridge five” cohort of British double-agents working for Soviet bloc organizations eviscerated Britain’s intelligence organs and stunned Britain between his recruitment in the 1930s and his flight to Moscow in the early 1960s.

Recruited by the Soviets in the 1930s, Philby was nevertheless a decorated British intelligence officer and reputedly in line to be the next head of MI6 (Britain’s CIA) by the late 1940s. Over the course of his career on behalf of the Soviets, he betrayed untold Western assets and intelligence missions in the East.

Finally under suspicion in the early 1950s, Philby “exposed” two Soviet agents who had already been blown or would be imminently to clear his own name.  Despite that measure, Philby was forced to leave British intelligence in 1951.  Tasked with identifying the third member of the spy ring Philby had exposed, British Foreign Secretary Harold Macmillan told the House of Commons in 1955, “I have no reason to conclude that Mr. Philby has at any time betrayed the interests of his country, or to identify him with the so-called ‘Third Man’, if indeed there was one.”

Notwithstanding Mr. Macmillan’s speech, Philby was the “Third Man.”  It wasn’t until CIA and MI6 debriefed KGB defector Anatoliy Golitsyn in 1961 that Philby’s betrayal became known.  During Golitsyn’s interrogation Philby fled to Moscow by means that are still not clear.

Among those Philby exposed was British patriot David John Moor.  Better known as renowned spy novelist John Le Carré, Moore was a successful and advancing British agent when Philby’s betrayal became public and his own cover was blown.  Decades later, Moore recalled being motivated by the same patriotism that motivated his forebears in WWII:

In was in those days most definitely a calling and for all that I’ve written about it, it was a pretty decent calling, in the sense that we were very patriotic people in ways I don’t think we are anymore.

In 2010 Moore recalled to British journalist John Snow:

I had been betrayed by Philby, I actually refused to meet Philby in Moscow in 1988. For me, Philby was a thoroughly bad lot, just a naturally bent man

Philby’s success was due in part to British laxity and overconfidence after WWII.  The Anglo-American West, after all, had defeated the Nazis’s great military and ideological power.  In 2011, Moore told the Daily Mail:

In my day, MI6 – which I called the Circus in the books – stank of wartime nostalgia. People were defined by secret cachet: one man did something absolutely extraordinary in Norway; another was the darling of the French Resistance. We didn’t even show passes to go in and out of the building. Our faces were known and I don’t remember ever being stopped. The janitors at the entrance would merely say, ‘Good morning.’ In a way, the trust invested in us was charming, a remnant of the war. And then it completely busted.

I’d go out to shop at lunchtime, bring parcels back, shove them beside my desk and take them out in the evening. That was part of the comedy with Kim Philby, who was exposed in 1963. He came into the building on a Friday morning carrying a suitcase, as did half the people there. They were going off to the country for the weekend with their dinner jackets. But Philby had other plans. He piled bunches of documents into his suitcase and took them out, spending the weekend photographing the papers with his Soviet controller and coming back on the Monday looking as though he’d been away. It was a riot.

In the new video obtained by the BBC, Philby offers an eerily similar account:

“If there had been proper discipline in the handling of papers in SIS that would have been quite impossible.

“But there was, in fact, no discipline.”

Philby goes on to explain what he did with all the documents.

“Every evening I left the office with a big briefcase full of reports that I had written myself, full of files and actual documents from the archive.

“I used to hand them to my Soviet contact in the evening.

“The next morning I would get the files back, the contents having been photographed and early the next morning I would put them back in their place. That I did regularly year in year out.”

Philby’s enduring legacy and his lesson to the West should be that we cannot hold our adversaries in such contempt and hope to defeat them.  They are genuinely committed to destroying our way of life and devising every possible stratagem to do it.  Victory will require as great a commitment and a deep conviction that, yes, our ideals are better than theirs are.

In the Cold War, the Soviets and its Western aiders and abetters insinuated themselves into the highest levels of the Western security apparatus over the course of decades in order to hamstring Western efforts to block Soviet expansion.

Today’s Western adversaries are less subtle, but Western societies are too poorly educated in Western democracy’s alternatives to endure the onslaught of misinformation and misdirection.  Rather than try to defeat the West in any great strategic or military game, today our adversaries would have us simply abdicate by demoralizing us into believing that the West is guilty of some crime against the rest of the world.

Both against the Soviets and today, the West needs a population and committed champions who recognize and fight for the superiority of Western ideals.

Follow Jonathan Levin on Twitter @JNLevin


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