Officials feared Russia planned to use Kim Philby's memoirs

British officials feared Russia planned to use Cold War traitor Kim Philby’s memoirs as part of a propaganda campaign to undermine Harold Wilson’s government

  • Officials thought memoirs a ‘frontal attack on HMG’ [Her Majesty’s Government]
  • Mandarins believed that the KGB was ‘hawking’ around the manuscript
  • Thought they wanted it published by a well-known Western publishing house 
  • Concluded the UK would have to retaliate with interviews with Soviet defectors 

Officials feared that the Russians planned to use Cold War traitor Kim Philby’s memoirs as part of a propaganda campaign to undermine Harold Wilson’s government  

Papers released by the National Archives show the news that Philby was planning to publish his memoirs from exile in Moscow sent shock waves through Whitehall.

The Foreign Office deemed the exercise a ‘frontal attack on HMG’ [Her Majesty’s Government] designed to incite young people to rally to the Communist cause, the archives reveal.

Mandarins believed that the KGB was ‘hawking’ around the manuscript because it wanted it published by a well-known Western publishing house. 

They concluded the UK would have to counter the ‘hostile propaganda’ by retaliating with interviews with Soviet defectors.

Officials feared that the Russians planned to use Cold War traitor Kim Philby’s memoirs as part of a propaganda campaign to undermine Harold Wilson’s government

Philby was one of the five Cambridge spies whose unmasking as Soviet agents during the Cold War threatened the stability of the Government.   

He was recruited by the Russians in the 1930s after graduating from Cambridge, and became one of MI6’s most senior officers.

He defected in 1963, following fellow spies Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean who had fled to Moscow in 1951.

In a report prepared after a newspaper interview with Philby in 1968, officials noted: ‘What Philby is reported as having said bears all the marks of a planned propaganda exercise.’

Papers released by the National Archives show the news that Philby was planning to publish his memoirs from exile in Moscow sent shock waves through Whitehall. Pictured: Harold Wilson outside Number 10 Downing Street

They added: ‘The story is a frontal attack on HMG. His remark ‘I would still do it again if I were young again in Britain today and I am sure there are [others] such [as] me’ is an incitement to work for the Communist cause.

‘It may also be designed to raise the question whether there are any more Philbys, and to damage public confidence in our intelligence and security services.’

In an accompanying briefing note, officials said: ‘This is a switch from the earlier attack on the intelligence services to a broader attack on HMG and an attempt to exploit the present discontent over the economy and unemployment.’

Separately, Sir Denis Greenhill, head of the Foreign Office, wrote that the Russians would ‘attempt to draw a parallel between the situation now and the situation in the ’30s’.

‘They will compare the present Government to the Ramsay MacDonald Government and the economic and employment situation.’

The Foreign Office deemed the exercise a ‘frontal attack on HMG’ [Her Majesty’s Government] designed to incite young people to rally to the Communist cause, the archives reveal. Pictured: Kim Philby in London in 1955

He concluded: ‘This is in toto a campaign against the Government in support of the Communist Party here which must be taken seriously and answered effectively.’

Officials debated trying to suppress the material, but concluded that it could still be published abroad. 

Notes reveal the battle with the UK and foreign press to try to prevent material being published. French news magazine Paris Match initially bought the book.

Sir Denis said: ‘I must regret it if the French have finally agreed to pay him a considerable sum.

‘However, treachery is more familiar to the French than it is to us and no doubt the publisher was for this reason better able to accommodate himself to the fact that he was liberally rewarding someone who had damaged his own country’s interests.’

The memos also reveal that broadcaster David Frost was in negotiations with Philby about an interview.

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