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Treason In The Blood: H. St. John Philby, Kim Philby, And The Spy Case Of The Century

Category: Autobiography

  • Book Title: Treason in the blood: H. St. John Philby, Kim Philby, and the spy case of the century
  • ISBN 13:
  • ISBN 10:
  • Author: Anthony Cave Brown
  • Category: Biography & Autobiography
  • Category (general): Autobiography
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH)
  • Format & Number of pages: 677 pages, book
  • Synopsis: In this dual biography, Anthony Cave Brown, tells the extraordinary story of two men whose lives were directly opposed to the establishment into which they were born and for which they were bred.

Another description

St John Philby

St John Philby

St John Philby in Riyadh

Harry St John Bridger Philby CIE (3 April 1885 – 30 September 1960), also known as Jack Philby or Sheikh Abdullah (الشيخ عبدالله), was a British Arabist. explorer, writer, and colonial office intelligence officer .

As he states in his autobiography, he "became something of a fanatic" and in 1908 [ 1 ] "the first Socialist to join the Indian Civil Service ". He was posted to Lahore in the Punjab in British India in 1908. He acquired fluency in Urdu. Punjabi. Baluchi. Persian. and eventually Arabic languages.

Philby married Dora Johnston in September 1910, [ 2 ] with his distant cousin Bernard Law Montgomery as best man. He had one son, Kim Philby. later a British intelligence agent infamous as a double agent for the Soviet Union. and three daughters. [ 2 ] He also later married an Arab woman from Saudi Arabia. [ 3 ]

Arab Revolt

In late 1915 Percy Cox. chief political officer of the small British Mesopotamian Expeditionary Force. recruited Philby as head of the finance branch of the British administration in Baghdad. a job which included fixing compensation for property and business owners. Their mission was twofold: (1) organise the Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Turks ; (2) protect the oilfields near Basra and the Shatt al Arab. which was the source of oil for the Royal Navy. The revolt was organised with the promise of creating a unified Arab state, or Arab federation, from Aleppo in Syria to Aden in Yemen. Gertrude Bell of the British Military Intelligence Department was his first controller and taught him the finer arts of espionage. In 1916 he became Revenue Commissioner for Occupied Territories.

In August 1917 he was appointed a Companion of the Order of the Indian Empire. [ 4 ]

Philby was sent to the interior of the Arabian peninsula as head of a mission to Ibn Saud in November 1917. The Wahhabi chieftain and bitter enemy of Sherif Hussein was sending raids against the Hashemite ruler of the Hejaz. leader of the Arab Revolt. Philby secretly began to favour Ibn Saud over Sherif Hussein as "King of the Arabs", a difference with British policy, which was promising support for the Hashemite dynasty in the post-Ottoman world. On return Philby completed the crossing from Riyadh to Jeddah by the "backdoor" route, thus demonstrating Ibn Saud was in control of the Arabian highlands, whereas Sherif Hussein could not guarantee safe passage. Later (1920) he was awarded the Royal Geographical Society Founder's Gold Medal for his two journeys in South Central Arabia. [ 5 ]

On 7 November 1918, four days before the Armistice, Britain and France issued the Anglo-French Declaration to the Arabs assuring self-determination. Philby felt the betrayal of this assurance, along with the Balfour Declaration of 1917. Sykes-Picot Agreement. and other diplomatic manoeuvres broke faith with the promise of a single unified Arab nation in exchange for aligning themselves with the Allies in the war against the Ottoman Turks and Central Powers. Philby argued that Ibn Saud was a "democrat" guiding his affairs "by mutual counsel" as laid out in the Quran (Surah 42:38), [ citation needed ] in contrast to Lord Curzon 's "Hussein policy". After the Iraqi revolt of 1920 Philby was appointed Minister of Internal Security in the British Mandate of Iraq. He roughed out a democratic constitution complete with elected assembly and republican president. [ citation needed ]

In November 1921, Philby was named chief head of the Secret Service for the British Mandate of Palestine. He worked with T. E. Lawrence for a while, but did not share Lawrence's views on the Hashemites. Here he met his American counterpart, Allen Dulles. who was stationed in Constantinople .

At the end of 1922, Philby travelled to London for extensive meetings with parties involved in the Palestine question. They included Winston Churchill. King George. the Prince of Wales. Baron Rothschild. Wickham Steed. and Chaim Weizmann. the head of the Zionist movement. [ 6 ]

Adviser to Ibn Saud

Philby was of the view that both British and the Saud family's interests would be best served by uniting the Arabian peninsula under one government from the Red Sea to the Persian Gulf. with the Saudis supplanting the Hashemites as Islamic "Keepers of the Holy Places" while protecting shipping lanes on the Suez–Aden–Bombay route of the British Empire. Philby was forced to resign his post in 1924 on differences of allowing Jewish immigration to Palestine. He was found to be in unauthorised correspondence with Ibn Saud, which carried with it the connotation of espionage, sending information he gained in his post to Ibn Saud. The Secret Service, however, continued to pay Philby for another five years. Shortly after Philby's resignation, Ibn Saud began to call for the overthrow of the Hashemite dynasty. Philby was able to advise Ibn Saud on how far Saud could go in occupying Arabia without incurring the wrath of the British government, then the principal power in the Middle East. By 1925, in the words of Philby, Ibn Saud brought unprecedented order into Arabia.

Philby settled in Jeddah and became a partner in a trading company. Over the next few years he became famous as an international writer and explorer. Philby personally mapped on camel back what is now the Saudi–Yemeni border on the Rub' al Khali. In 1932, while searching for the lost city of Ubar. he was the first Westerner to visit and describe the Wabar craters. In his unique position he became Ibn Saud's chief adviser in dealing with the British Empire and Western powers. He converted to Islam in 1930. [ 7 ] In 1931 Philby invited Charles R. Crane to Jeddah to facilitate exploration of the kingdom's subsoil oil. Crane was accompanied by noted historian George Antonius. who acted as translator. [ citation needed ]

In May 1932, Standard Oil of California (SoCal) sought out Philby in its quest to obtain an oil concession in Saudi Arabia, ultimately signing Philby as a paid adviser to SoCal. Philby, in turn, recognising that competition by foreign interests would get a better deal for the Saudi King, made contact with Dr George Lees, Chief Geologist of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company. in order to alert him to SoCal's interest in gaining oil exploration rights in Saudi Arabia. Anglo Persian was one of five international partners in the Iraq Petroleum Company (IPC), through which it pursued its interest in the Saudi concession. In March 1933, IPC sent a representative, Stephen Longrigg, to join negotiations with the Saudi government in Jeddah. However, Philby's primary loyalty was to the Saudi King and, although he was being paid by SoCal, he kept the arrangement a secret from Longrigg. In May 1933, IPC instructed Longrigg to withdraw from Jeddah, leaving SoCal free to conclude negotiations with the Saudi Arabia for a 60-year contract to obtain the exclusive concession for exploration and extraction of oil in the al-Hasa region along the Persian Gulf. [ 8 ]

Meanwhile, at Cambridge, Philby's son, Kim, was being recruited by the OGPU of the Soviet Union. In recent years the theory has been propounded that Kim was recruited in particular to spy on his father, who had such powerful influence over the founder of the Saudi state and its connections with Britain and with American oil interests. [ citation needed ] By 1934, in an effort to safeguard the port of Aden. Britain had no fewer than 1,400 "peace treaties" with the various tribal rulers of the hinterlands of what became Yemen. Philby undermined British influence in the region, however, by facilitating the entry of United States commercial interests, followed by a political alliance between the US and the Saud dynasty.

In 1936 SoCal and Texaco pooled their assets together "East of Suez " into what later became ARAMCO (Arabian–American Oil Company). The United States State Department describes ARAMCO as the richest commercial prize in the history of the planet. [ 9 ] Philby represented Saudi interests. In 1937 when the Spanish Civil War broke out, Philby arranged for his son, Kim Philby. to become a war correspondent for The Times .

Later Philby began secret negotiations with Germany and Spain, concerning Saudi Arabia's role in the event of a general European war. These discussions would allow neutral Saudi Arabia to sell oil to neutral Spain, which then would be transported to Germany. John Loftus, who worked in the United States Department of Justice Office of Special Investigations Nazi -hunting unit, claims Adolf Eichmann. while on a mission to the Middle East, met with Philby "during the mid-1930s". [ 10 ]

Philby Plan

St John Philby fought a by-election held on 20 July 1939 for the parliamentary constituency of Hythe. Kent. He stood for the far right, anti-war British People's Party. declaring "no cause whatever is worth the spilling of human blood" and "protection of the small man against big business". He lost his deposit. Soon after the war began.

When he travelled to Bombay he was arrested on 3 August 1940 under Defence Regulation 18B. deported to England and there briefly interned. Shortly after his release from custody Philby recommended his son, Kim, to Valentine Vivian. MI6 deputy chief, who recruited him into the British secret service. When Harold Hoskins of the United States State Department visited Ibn Saud in August 1943, he asked if the king would be willing to have an intermediary meet with Chaim Weizmann. Ibn Saud angrily responded, that he was insulted by the suggestion that he could be bribed for £20 million to accept resettlement of Arabs from Palestine. Hoskins reports the king said Weizmann told him the promise of payment would be "guaranteed by President Roosevelt". A month later Weizmann, in a letter to Sumner Welles wrote: "It is conceived on big lines, large enough to satisfy the legitimate aspirations of both Arabs and Jews, and the strategic and economic interests of the United States;. properly managed, Mr. Philby's scheme offers an approach which should not be abandoned". [ 11 ]

This section requires expansion with: All about the plan itself was deleted om 17 February 2012, probably for lack of references. (May 2015)

Suez Crisis

After Ibn Saud's death in 1953 Philby openly criticised the successor King Saud. saying the royal family's morals were being picked up "in the gutters of the West". He was exiled to Lebanon in 1955. In exile he wrote:

". the true basis of Arab hostility to Jewish immigration into Palestine is xenophobia. and instinctive perception that the vast majority of central and eastern European Jews, seeking admission. are not Semites at all. Whatever political repercussions of their settlement may be, their advent is regarded as a menace to the Semitic culture of Arabia. the European Jew of today, with his secular outlook. is regarded as an unwelcome intruder within the gates of Arabia".

While in Beirut he reconciled with Kim, and the two lived together for a time. [ 12 ] The son was reemployed by MI6 as an outside informer on retainer, with the assignment to spy on his father. Jack Philby helped further his son's career by introducing him to his extensive network of contacts in the Middle East, including President Camille Chamoun of Lebanon. Both were sympathetic to Nasser during the Suez Crisis of August 1956. Between Jack's access to ARAMCO and Kim's access to British intelligence there was little they did not know about Operation Musketeer. the French and British plan to capture the Suez Canal. The Soviet Union exposed the entire plan in the United Nations and threatened Britain and France with "long-range guided missiles equipped with atomic warheads ". [ citation needed ]

In 1955 Jack Philby returned to live in Riyadh. In 1960, on a visit to Kim in Beirut, while in bed, with his son at his side, he reportedly exclaimed "God, I'm bored", and died. He is buried in the Muslim cemetery in the Basta district of Beirut. [ 12 ]


In his travels he took great interest in wildlife and gave a scientific name to the Arabian woodpecker (Desertipicus (now Dendrocopos ) dorae ), as well as a subspecies (no longer valid) of an scops owl (Otus scops pamelae ). Most of his birds were named after women whom he admired. He contributed numerous specimens to the British Museum. He also contributed to the draft of a book on the birds of Arabia by George Latimer Bates. It was not published but was made use of in Birds of Arabia (1954) by Richard Meinertzhagen. Philby is remembered in ornithology by the name of Philby's partridge (Alectoris philbyi ). [ 13 ] [ 14 ]


Some authors have summarised Philby as a British traitor and an anti-Semite. [ 15 ] [ 16 ] They suggest Philby never forgave the British government for ending his civil service career (due to sexual misconduct). [ 17 ] Once recruited by MI6, according to these authors, Philby used his intelligence assignment to take revenge on the British government. [ 18 ] With the extensive contacts he acquired as a British agent, Philby continued to betray British policy and resist all efforts at creating a Jewish homeland throughout his life. Philby disclosed classified British intelligence to Ibn Saud during wartime; he secretly helped secure American oil concessions in Saudi Arabia, double-crossing British competitors; [ 12 ] he created economic partnerships, allied against British interests and in favor of Nazi Germany, with the help of Allen Dulles (later CIA Director); and Philby worked with Nazi intelligence to sabotage efforts at creating a Jewish homeland. [ 19 ]

  • The heart of Arabia; a record of travel & exploration. (London: Constable) 1922.
  • Arabia of the Wahhabis. (London: Constable) 1928.
  • Arabia. (London: Ernest Benn) 1930.
  • The empty quarter: being a description of the great south desert of Arabia known as Rub 'al Khali (London: Constable & Company Ltd) 1933. scanned book
  • Harun al Rashid (London: P. Davies) 1933.
  • Routes in south-west Arabia [map]: From surveys made in 1936 (Methuen & Co Ltd) 1936.
  • Sheba's daughters; being a record of travel in Southern Arabia (London: Methuen & Co Ltd) 1939.
  • A Pilgrim in Arabia (London: The Golden Cockerel Press), [1943].
  • The Background of Islam: being a sketch of Arabian history in pre-Islamic times (Alexandria: Whitehead Morris) 1947.
  • Arabian Days, an autobiography (London: R. Hale) 1948.
  • Arabian Highlands (Ithaca, N.Y. Cornell University Press) 1952. scanned book
  • Arabian Jubilee (London: Hale) [1952]
  • Sa′udi Arabia (London: Benn) 1955, New impression: Librairie du Liban, Beirut 1968
  • The Land of Midian. (London: Ernest Bean Limited) 1957.
  • Forty Years in the Wilderness (London: R. Hale) c1957.
  • Arabian Oil Ventures (Washington: Middle East Institute) 1964.
See also References Sources
  • Kingmakers: the Invention of the Modern Middle East. Karl E. Meyer and Shareen Blair Brysac, W.W. Norton (2008)
  • Princes of Darkness. Laurent Murawiec, Rowman and Littlefield (2005)
  • Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press (2004)
  • Arabian Jubilee. H. StJ. B. Philby, Robert Hale, (1952)
  • Philby of Arabia. Elizabeth Monroe, Pitman Publishing (1973)
  • The Secret War Against the Jews. John Loftus and Mark Aarons, St Martin's Press (1994)
  • Arabia, the Gulf and the West Basic Books (1980)
  • The House of Saud. David Holden and Richard Johns, Holt Rinehart and Winston (1981)
  • The Philby Conspiracy. Bruce Page, David Leitch and Phillip Knightley. Doubleday (1968)
  • Saudi Arabia and the United States, 1931–2002 by Josh Pollack (2002)
  • Mirage: Power, Politics, And the Hidden History of Arabian Oil. by Aileen Keating, Prometheus Books (2005)
External links




London Review of Books

23 February 1995 · · 4,027 words Lucky Kim Christopher Hitchens
  • The Philby Files. The Secret Life of the Master Spy: KGB Archives Revealed by Genrikh Borovik. edited by Phillip Knightley. Little, Brown, 382 pp, £18.99, September 1994, ISBN 0 316 91015 5
  • The Fifth Man by Roland Perry. Sidgwick, 486 pp, £16.99, October 1994, ISBN 0 283 06216 9
  • Treason in the Blood: H. St John Philby, Kim Philby and the Spy Case of the Century by Anthony Cave Brown. Hale, 640 pp, £25.00, January 1995, ISBN 0 7090 5582 X
  • My Five Cambridge Friends by Yuri Modin. Headline, 328 pp, £17.99, October 1994, ISBN 0 7472 1280 5
  • Looking for Mr Nobody: The Secret Life of Goronwy Rees by Jenny Rees. Weidenfeld, 291 pp, £18.99, October 1994, ISBN 0 297 81430 3

While I was still reading these books, and thinking about them, I chanced to have two annoying near-KGB experiences. A creepy individual named Yuri Shvets published a book called Washington Station: My Life as a KGB Spy in America. which was fully as lurid and preposterous as its title (put out by the ‘respected firm’ of Simon and Schuster) might suggest. Its central allegation was that an old personal enemy of mine had been a key ‘agent of influence’ in Reagan-era Washington. I could believe anything of this man except that his ‘controllers’ had awarded him the hilarious code-name of ‘Socrates’. And every checkable allegation in the book turned out to be grotesquely false. So that was irritating, because it meant another portentous non-scare about a virtual non-person. Then, at a party in Georgetown, I found myself being introduced to Mr Oleg Kalugin. Now apparently retired from his foul career as a secret policeman, Mr Kalugin gave me a card with the name of his consulting firm (offices in Moscow and Washington) on it. The outfit was called Intercon, which seemed more appropriate than was perhaps intentional. Mr Kalugin looked as if he had been dreamed up in an Ian Fleming nightmare. His idea of light conversation, since I decided to ask him about some of the books under review, was to hint that he could say a lot if he chose. ‘Your Kim Philby. ha, ha, ha, that’s quite another story. Yuri Modin – well, he’s a character. ’ and so on. I found myself getting irrationally pissed-off. Here am I, a journalist and a free citizen of the Anglo-American world. But if I seek to know what was really done in the Cold War dark, I must attend upon someone who was a criminal in that war. My ‘own side’ has no intention of enlightening me, and the spook industry has built up such an oligopoly in journalism and publishing that no untainted rival – such as the old-fashioned idea of full disclosure – has been permitted to challenge the self-interested ghouls who pay out their ration of ‘secrets’ in a niggardly and mysterious fashion as a form of individual and collective welfare. What if, I decided, what if, just for once, one read this output as if history mattered and as if the war of ideas was a real thing?

For some people, the defining, moulding episode of this moribund century is the Final Solution; for others it is the Gulag, the 1989 revolutions, the Spanish Civil War, the Somme, Hiroshima, the storming of the Winter Palace or the Easter Rising. All of these can still lay great claims on the minds and emotions even of people who do not remember them. They furnish our stocks of imagery and they define what we mean by moments of truth and choice. Revisiting these territories we find that, as Auden phrased it about Spain, ‘Our thoughts have bodies’ and ‘The menacing shapes of our fever are precise and alive.’ For me, anyway, the most absorbing moment is the Hitler-Stalin Pact. It was not merely a test of global institutions and of ideologies and principles and individuals, but a sort of key to how power really thinks and how potentates truly behave. The declared interests or manifestos of great contending parties are never what they are proclaimed to be. (Salient current example: the obvious collusion of those ‘historic, atavistic foes’ Serbia and Croatia in the dismemberment of Bosnia. Memorable example: Brezhnev’s intimate consultation with Lyndon Johnson in the days before the invasion of Czechoslovakia.)

The Cold War was ostensibly ‘about’ some quite important differences, arising from the post-war Stalinisation of Eastern Europe and from the competition for nuclear superiority. But it also had remarkable elements of superpower collaboration and symbiosis. And, though this could never be admitted by the ideologues of the supposedly bipolar Kulturkampf. it did leak out to a wide public through the fictions of Len Deighton and John Le Carré. Watching the shadow-play on the walls of the Cold War cave, and seeing the literal interpenetration of opposites as Karla penetrated ‘us’, and ‘we’ reciprocated, one could make the induction that the spy game was a thing in itself, and that those who took part in it, and those who paid them to do so, had more in common with one another than with the poor bloody infantry, which in Cold War terms meant the poor bloody civilians who lived under thermonuclear blackmail and paid through the nose for ‘protection’.

Now that this stupid war is over, and a certain amount of daylight has been let in, we ought to be reading a grown-up account of what was done in our names, what was known, and in each case by whom. We ought not to be viewing history through the optic of penny dreadfuls, yellow journalism and adventure stories for boys. Instead, at least for the present, the opening of certain archives seems to have made the situation worse. Selective release of documents, very often by spies to other spies, or by spies to certain ‘trusted’ journalists and freelancers, has turned any old snooper into a historian. One of the few people of any wit, seriousness or integrity to have done well out of this business is Phillip Knightley, and look what we find on page 190 of his book, produced with Genrikh Borovik. Kim Philby is apparently talking:

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Christopher Hitchens is a contributing editor of Vanity Fair. His books include For the Sake of Argument and Blood, Class and Nostalgia: Anglo-American Ironies .

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In the course of reviewing five books on Soviet intelligence (LRB. 23 February ) Christopher Hitchens dwells upon an occasion in 1982 when he and Victor Navasky, then editor of the Nation. were my luncheon guests at the University Club in New York. With remarkable precision, Mr Hitchens remembers that the club’s ‘fine silver’ gave off a discreet ‘tinkle’. In all other respects his memory is, to say the least, blurred.

Mr Hitchens refers to me as ‘a Cambridge spy’. He asserts that I was recruited during the ‘very period’ of the Hitler-Stalin Pact. He adds that he asked me ‘flat-out’ if I had not worried that (in transmitting secrets to the Russians) I was ‘giving ammunition to the enemy’. All of these assertions are simply untrue. I was not a spy in the accepted usage of that word: I was approached (by Anthony Blunt) not in the ‘very period’ of the Hitler-Stalin Pact but in the spring of 1937, when the Soviet Union seemed to be the principal antagonist of Nazi Germany. In my brief terms as an economist for the State Department and a speechwriter for the White House I never sought, received or transmitted any secrets of any kind.

Mr Navasky and Mr Hitchens did indeed question me – as to whether I was not worried that in publishing my book, After Long Silence. I was rekindling the flames of McCarthyism. That was the question to which I replied that the possibility had not occurred to me.

Michael Straight

Christopher Hitchens writes: I can only blame myself if Mr Straight fails to notice that the passage about tinkling silver was written in a cod spy-fiction mode. But for the rest I am on safe ground. After Long Silence does indeed record that the initial approach from Blunt took place in 1937. But it also records that the Russian agent, sent to meet Mr Straight in Washington, turned up in 1938. At that time, and subsequently, he was working in the State Department. The Nazi-Soviet alliance persisted until 1941.

Mr Straight also tells us how he kept quiet about spotting Guy Burgess at the British Embassy after the start of the Korean conflict, and disarmingly concedes that he sat on all that he knew until the day when President Kennedy offered him a job that required a security clearance. That was when he chose to shop Blunt. So he did indeed risk re-igniting McCarthyism, just as he had risked augmenting it by keeping his trap shut so long. As William Safire put it sarcastically when After Long Silence was published: ‘How delicious it must have been for a Red under the bed to deride Joe McCarthy for looking for Reds under the bed.’ The fact that Mr Straight was for most of the time an Establishment liberal rather than any kind of socialist would have lent point to the exposure, which was why Navasky and I did indeed raise the question. It’s near-incredible that he gave the answer he mentions, but so he did.

I can be pretty certain that I did press Mr Straight on the Hitler-Stalin Pact, because I wrote up our meeting for the Nation in February 1983 and went on about the subject at some length. I was surprised at the time that Mr Straight did not respond, but was obviously mistaken (as others had already been) in assuming that ‘long silence’ meant any kind of admission.

Christopher Hitchens is on his way to join the spy fantasists he saw off in his witty review if he believes that John Cairncross, ‘a working-class lad’ and ‘believing Communist’, ‘got hold of the real stuff’ and thus ‘enabled the Russians to re-equip in time to win the battle of the Kursk Salient’. Cairncross may well have been a quieter and more competent spy than the toffs, but his best efforts would hardly have helped here. Ever since the invasion in 1941 the Russians had been producing the T34, the best tank in the world as the Germans described it, in prodigious numbers, and Hitler remarked that if he had known of its existence he might not have invaded. The Russians won at Kursk through crushing tank superiority, and a shrewd assessment by the Stavka – not difficult to make in June 1943 – where Hitler would strike next. They certainly benefited during the war from Allied intelligence, but they needed no help in this instance from Cairncross, or any other Western spy.

Incidentally, I should like to thank Kevin Laffan (Letters, 9 February ) and Brian Donaghey (Letters, 9 March ) for informing us in such scholarly detail about F. Desprez’s memorable recitation favourite ‘Lasca’ (in the authoritative text of which she draws her ‘dear little dagger’ neither from her ‘bosom’ nor her ‘garter’ but from her ‘girdle’). If such recitations were still given poetry today might be more memorable?

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