The New York Review of Books has a very interesting but subscription-only review of S. J. Hamrick's Deceiving the Deceivers: Kim Philby, Donald Maclean, and Guy Burgess by Phillip Knightley, one of the original journalists to break the spy-ring story and the author of The First Casualty: The War Correspondent as Hero and Myth-Maker.

According to Mr. Knightley, Mr. Hamrick's book brings into question many of the accepted ideas about the "Ring of Five," the British traitors Philby, Burgess, McLean, John Cairncross and Anthony Blunt, and the inspiration for dozens and dozens of Cold War spy novels. In particular, Mr. Hamrick questions the idea that they were the most devastating traitors in history, with Philby in a unique position as a double agent, acting as a liaison between British intelligence and the CIA/FBI, able to feed Moscow everything of importance the Allies shared. Mr. Hamrick points out that the CIA at the time was actually a minor, scattered agency looking for a purpose, so its failures, notably in Bulgaria, shouldn't be attributed to Philby exposing the operations. Those were screwed up on their own.

Mr. Hamrick even re-visits one of the longstanding puzzles about the Ring: Why did it take so long for Burgess and McLean to be extricated by Moscow? In comparison, two of the American "atom bomb spies," Morris and Lona Cohen, fled within hours of being notified their covers were blown. Burgess actually took an ocean voyage from the US. And Philby, of course, tried to brazen it out, stuck around for years and finally skipped from Beirut.

Mr. Hamrick's most provocative contention, Mr. Knightley argues, will have to be labeled "unproven" -- that some American and British officials knew at the end that Philby and the others were probably double agents and used them to plant disinformation, a nuclear bluff against the Soviets.

Interesting stuff, still poring over the questions left by the Cambridge spies. So here's my question: Why is Mr. Knightley reviewing a book that has been out for three years?

April 9, 2007 4:34 PM |



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