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KGB: The Inside Story
By Christopher Andrew and Oleg Gordievsky
776 pages, $29.95

JUST WHEN historians of international espionage thought that Britain's world-famous case of "The Cambridge Spy Ring" had run out of fresh revelations, along comes "KGB: The Inside Story."

Not only does it deglamorize and demythologize some of the legend surrounding English turncoat Kim Philby, who spied for the Soviet KGB while high in London's intelligence community, but it also identifies the celebrated spy case's "Fifth Man," about whom uncertainty and controversy have swirled during decades of mole hunting within the British Secret Intelligence Service.

"KGB" is a massive work, already hailed as the most insightful study yet of the Soviets' once formidable intelligence apparatus. It is written by Cambridge University historian Christopher Andrew, longtime expert on the U.K.'s espionage operations, and Oleg Gordievsky, a double agent for the British SIS for 11 years before escaping from Russia to the West in 1985, just months after his appointment as KGB chief in London. During his 23-year KGB career, Gordievsky prepared an in-house history for the KGB of its foreign operations, which made him privy to many of the Soviet spy service's innermost secrets.

Before their collaboration, Andrew and Gordievsky were both especially interested in the "Ring of Five," the quintet of disaffected leftist British students who became communists while undergraduates at Cambridge University in the 1930s and who, for ideological reasons, allowed themselves to be recruited by the KGB to infiltrate their country's official establishment as long-term penetration agents.

Moscow's spy headquarters, which called them the "Magnificent Five," admitted they were "the ablest group of agents in KGB history." These traitors included Foreign Office officials Donald Maclean and Guy Burgess and intelligence officer Kim Philby. All bolted to Moscow. Philby was named by the British media as the "Third Man," the spy ring member who tipped off the other two when Whitehall's counterintelligence agency was closing in on them in London. The "Fourth Man" was later revealed as Anthony Blunt, the queen's art curator.

Subsequently, the British government remained in a tumult over the identity of the remaining member -- the "Fifth Man" -- who rounded out the "Ring of Five." Until "KGB" was published, most experts in England seemed agreed he was the late Sir Roger Hollis, one-time chief of Britain's Security Service (the equivalent of our FBI).

But "KGB," whose co-author Gordievsky reportedly knew the true identity of the "Fifth Man" from his research in 1980 for the KGB's Foreign Intelligence Directorate, identifies the fifth spy ring member as Glasgow-born John Cairncross, another 1930s Cambridge grad who, during his later career in government service, "successfully penetrated a greater variety of the corridors of power and intelligence than any of the other four."

Now retired, the 76-year-old Cairncross lives in the South of France and recently denied being the "Fifth Man."

Another of "KGB's" fascinating revelations is that traitor Kim Philby found less satisfaction and fulfilment than he'd hoped for after defecting to Moscow in 1963. The authors report he was often deeply depressed, sometimes sought alcoholic oblivion, and was angry at the KGB for neglecting his talents and denying him a high military rank in the KGB that he felt his espionage contributions merited.

"He was dismayed," report the authors, "to discover for the first time that Western agents, however successful, were never allowed officer rank in the KGB. They remained, like Philby, simple agents. Up to his death in 1988, Philby's code name in the (Moscow) Center was Agent Tom."

"KGB" also reports that turncoat Philby, during his 25 years in Moscow, became increasingly disillusioned as he noted the growing sharp contrast between the Utopian concept he had had of Russia while an idealistic Cambridge student in the 1930s, and the gray, stagnated Soviet Union under Brezhnev in which he was forced to live his exile years.