A Spy Among Friends Summary By Ben Macintyre

*This post contains affiliate links, and we may earn an affiliate commission without it ever affecting the price you pay.

A Spy Among Friends, released in 2014, is a gripping account of one man’s incredible story.

A true paragon of British values on the surface, Kim Philby was actually working for the Russians all along.

This thrilling book details his incredible journey from a highly respected operative in British secret services during World War II and Cold War to a spy for Russia.

Discover Philby’s career as an undercover agent and delve into his astonishing rise through the ranks of power.

Get ready for an action-packed journey with this stunning biography!

A Spy Among Friends

Book Name: A Spy Among Friends (Philby and the Great Betrayal)

Author(s): Ben Macintyre

Rating: 4.2/5

Reading Time: 22 Minutes

Categories: History

Author Bio

Ben Macintyre is a renowned journalist and historian.

He is an associate editor and columnist for the Times, and has authored numerous best-selling books on various historical war events such as D-Day and Operation Mincemeat.

He also writes extensively about intelligence operations and espionage in his newest book, "A Spy Among Friends".

In this book, Ben Macintyre reveals the true story of the friendship between Kim Philby - a senior British intelligence officer - and two fellow agent recruits during the height of World War II.

Using never before revealed documents from MI6, Ben investigates how Philby betrayed his friend's trust and put their lives at risk while spying for Soviet Russia.

The True Story of Double Agent Kim Philby – How He Betrayed His Country and Charmed His Way to Infamy

Kim Philby

Kim Philby was the quintessential double agent – a spy who flourished in British intelligence while swearing loyalty to Moscow, and whose treacherous actions likely caused thousands of deaths.

His story serves as a reminder of the deeper truths that may lie beneath British manners and charm.

The story of Kim Philby shows us how he used his winning charm to convince a nation of his innocence; how intoxication can be a dangerous thing for spies; and what handlers teach recently recruited spies about the importance of staying safe.

Through numerous works of fiction and film, Kim Philby and his Cambridge spy ring have become part of our collective imagination.

But we need to remember that behind all the derring-do and escapades there is a much darker reality.

From Upper Class Student to Revolutionary Activist: The Radical Transformation of Kim Philby

Kim Philby’s Socialist beliefs first began to take shape during his time at Cambridge.

As a first-year 18-year-old in the distinctly upper class University, he was burning with academic ambition.

It wasn’t until his trip to Berlin in 1933, however, that his political outlook truly shifted as he witnessed Nazi thugs demonstrating against Jewish citizens.

Philby was inspired by this and committed himself to the cause of Socialism.

He purchased works of Karl Marx but never had much opportunity to preach Communist ideas back home in Britain.

Vienna eventually provided him with such an opportunity – revolution was in the air, meaning that tensions between right and left had reached boiling point, culminating in a dictatorship clampdown and a short but violent civil war.

It was here that Philby fell for Socialist activist Alice Kohlman who was on the proscription list of wanted Socialists.

He married her so she could flee to Britain for safety, cementing his commitment towards the Socialist cause even further.

From then on, Kim Philby was devoted to counteracting oppressive policies from authoritarianism around the world – shaped both by his education at Cambridge and experiences amidst revolutionary Vienna .

The Power of Charm: How a Lucky Escape Gave Philby Access to the British Secret Intelligence Service

Intelligence Service

Before he became a British spy, Philby was first a journalist.

He built up his career at The Times and had many successes, often due to his innate charisma.

Furthermore, an epic incident in 1937 found him miraculously escaping a car bomb unscathed in Spain during the Civil War – for this he was even decorated by Franco himself!

During World War II, Philby was then posted to France to report on the Nazi advance.

After filing cracking reports of his experience, he escaped as the Nazis neared Amiens.

It wasn’t until 1940 that Philby had his first direct contact with MI6 (the British Secret Intelligence Service).

By chance, he shared a first-class train compartment with Hester Harriet Marsden-Smedley (a famous war correspondent) who recommended that he be recruited.

Soon after, following some background checks and interviews, Philby officially became a spy and started his new life as an undercover operative.

The Double Life of Kim Philby: From Cambridge Radical to Soviet Spy

In the summer of 1934, Philby had been in Vienna and was required to meet with a mysterious man by the name of Otto, who quickly charmed Philby.

Later on, Philby would know that this man was Arnold Deutsch, one of the top recruiters of Soviet spies in Britain, and he had enlisted Philby into the Soviet secret services.

From there, Philby began leading a double life.

He had to break off all contact he had with Communist circles; instead he became a right-wing conservative with Fascist sympathies and furthered his career in bourgeois society.

To further facilitate his life as a spy, Deutsch trained him on how to arrange secret meetings safely and leave messages without anyone noticing.

He also received instruction on how to tell if anyone was following him – or if needed, how to disappear altogether – as well as being given a tiny camera for copying documents.

With all these resources at his disposal, Philby’s new life as a Russian spy was officially launched.

The Soviet Suspicions of Kim Philby’s Easy Ascent in British Intelligence

Philby was highly respected in the eyes of the British thanks to his heroic activities during World War II, and it earned him greater and greater opportunities within the war effort.

He first gained notoriety acting as a spy for the Allies in the Iberian Peninsula.

From there, he was assigned to head a counterintelligence team for North Africa, followed by a lengthy position in Italy.

Despite all this and Philby’s undoubtedly impressive work ethic, elevation within the ranks of MI6 caused suspicion among some members of Soviet intelligence — one analyst in particular.

Elena Modrzhinskaya was sure that something wasn’t right with Philby’s rapid rise to power — she even had him tracked throughout London looking for evidence of treason.

Ultimately, it came down to Philby’s reputed standing among the Allied powers — it simply seemed too good to be true.

Modrzhinskaya saw that Philby’s reputation as an Allied agent was impeccable, and felt suspicious enough towards him to believe he might be double-crossing his own people.

That mistrust from Russian intelligence led her to have him watched more closely than ever before – but eventually nothing substantial could be found linking Philby to any kind of treasonous activity.

How Philby Undermined the British Establishment for Moscow’s Gain

British Establishment

By the end of World War II, Philby was in a position of power within British intelligence.

He had strategically maneuvered himself into the head of Britain’s newly established Section IX, which was specifically designed to fight Communism.

He had been careful to continuously keep himself in good standing with all those who were senior decision-makers in the service and caused friction between Cowgill and his superiors.

This allowed for C, the head of MI6, to appoint him as head of Section IX in September of 1944.

Philby was now directly responsible for fighting Communism through British intelligence officers and agents, making him the perfect figurehead to keep Moscow informed about every move made by British intelligence.

Philby Responsible for Massacre of Thousands of Albanians After Betraying British Intelligence

In 1950, a British plan to disrupt Communist Albania was severely compromised by the actions of Philby.

He had been put in charge of anti-Soviet intelligence and was providing key information to the Soviets that compromised many British intelligence plans.

The most notable example was Operation Valuable – the plan to train and parachute Albanian revolutionaries back into their country to lead an insurgency against Communism.

Unfortunately, when the rebels arrived, they were met with waiting troops from the Communist government and most of them were immediately killed or imprisoned.

This betrayal by Philby took a heavy toll; not just on those who died trying to fight against Communism, but on their families and acquaintances who were also massacred as a result.

Russian informants have since confirmed that they knew precisely how many insurgents there were, where they would land and what weapons they’d be armed with – all thanks to Philby’s disclosure of vital information to both Russia and Albania.

In total, it is estimated that Philby was responsible for hundreds, if not thousands of deaths in Albania as a result of this treachery.

Kim Philby’s Personal and Professional Lives Collide When A Fellow Spy Visits His Home, Leading to a Surprising Escape Plan for Maclean

Philby was not alone in the United States.

He was joined by his fellow Soviet spy, Guy Burgess.

However, their protection was far from ideal; the CIA had them in their sights.

It would be only a matter of time before they were caught.

The situation became even more precarious when Burgess decided to visit Philby and his second wife, Aileen Furse.

Not only did Burgess have a habit of being indiscreet and a promiscuous homosexual, his presence certainly didn’t help the couple’s strained relationship.

Despite this, Philby allowed him to stay in their home.

This move attracted further unwanted attention from the CIA, who proceeded to intercept decodable messages that revealed one member of the Cambridge Spy Ring—Donald Maclean—who worked in the British Foreign Office.

They alerted London but also sent information straight back to Philby.

Philby’s Friends Temporarily Save Him from the Worst in MI6 Investigation

MI6 Investigation

When Donald Maclean fled the country and his identity as a Soviet spy was revealed, Philby’s cover was nearly blown.

After all, he had been Maclean’s houseguest and close friend–plus, the two spies were known to be connected.

Suddenly, Philby was summoned back to London by his boss, Jack Eaten, for questioning about the disappearance of both Maclean and Burgess.

Luckily, Philby still had enough trusting colleagues in MI6 that an urgent letter was asked of him to be delivered by hand–which meant it could only reach its destination if it came from someone they trusted.

But as the CIA delved deeper into the events leading up to Maclean’s flight, Philby’s name kept coming up.

Consequently, a formal investigation began involving two reports: one damning by Bill Harvey and another excusing the behavior by James Angleton who was a close friend of Philby’s.

Neither report necessarily won out though and Phillby was suspended from service; this is when his loyal friends inadvertently saved him temporarily from possibly worse consequences.

Philby’s Chutzpah: How A Disgraced Ex-Spy Manipulated the Press and Triumphantly Returned to MI6

In 1955, Philby came under public scrutiny for the first time due to a statement made by Labour MP Colonel Marcus Lipton.

This statement propelled the press interest in Philby’s activities and put him in a very precarious position.

However, instead of crumbling under the pressure, Philby took matters into his own hands and arranged an interview with journalists in his mother’s sitting room.

He used this opportunity to present his side of the story and deny any accusation of wrong doing against him.

He cited his obligation as an MI6 officer to remain confidential as one of the reasons why he has not been able to explain his activities until now.

Furthermore, he also negatively spoke about his former friend Kim Burgess so that all suspicion is thrown off himself and on Burgess instead.

This unshakeable nerve coupled with his intricate lies were enough to convince everyone who was watching and Phibly was soon welcomed back into MI6 without any suspicions.

It was no doubt a masterful performance from Philby that allowed him to wheedle out of another difficult situation unscathed.

The Negligence and Foresight of MI6 Helped Seal Philby’s Fate as a Treacherous Double Agent

Kim Philby, a one-time MI6 agent and master spy, had built up a web of deceit around his true identity for years.

After decades of exploits and double lives, he was finally brought to justice by those closest to him.

It all started with a conversation that Philby had years ago in 1935 with one Flora Solomon.

In it, he mentioned the Communist cause and even tried to recruit her as a Soviet spy.

Although he eventually got away with it, Solomon never forgot this incident and decided to tell her friend, Lord Victor Rothschild—who was an MI5 agent—about their shady tete-a-tete.

This lead MI5 to seriously consider the possibility that Philby could be guilty of treason.

Soon afterwards Nicholas Elliott—one of Philby’s closest friends in MI6 who had long defended his loyalty—traveled to Beirut for a face-to-face meeting with him.

Wracked by withdrawal symptoms due to severe alcohol addiction and his guilt about leading a double life, Philby caved easily when presented with the offer of immunity from prosecution if he confessed all that he knew about Russian intelligence networks.

Wrap Up

Kim Philby was a thrilling story of deception and espionage.

A key member of the Cambridge Five in the early 1930s, he managed to infiltrate both MI6 and CIA circles during World War II and World War II, providing crucial intelligence to the Soviet Union for more than 20 years.

Despite his immense skill at hiding his true identity, his cover was eventually blown in 1963, leading him to flee to Moscow.

A Spy Among Friends is a fascinating look into the mysterious life of one of history’s greatest spies.

It provides a thrilling narrative full of secrets and lies from Kim Philby’s devious exploits to his eventual downfall.

If you’re looking for an exciting story filled with twists and turns, then this book is definitely worth checking out!

Arturo Miller

Hi, I am Arturo Miller, the Chief Editor of this blog. I'm a passionate reader, learner and blogger. Motivated by the desire to help others reach their fullest potential, I draw from my own experiences and insights to curate blogs.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.