Ian Fleming and Kim Philby
All of the official biographies of Ian Fleming acknowledge that he took the name for his fictional 007 hero from James Bond, the author of the book Birds of the West Indies, but they also all falsely claim that Bond enjoyed the celebrity status Fleming gave him and took it as a joke, when in fact Bond was quite annoyed and deeply resented the “theft of his identity.”
So I also began to question the validity of the frequently repeated statement that Fleming began to write the 007 novels on a lark, to take his mind off his impending marriage, and considered the possibility that there was a more significant “operational” motive behind the literature. They could have been written either to boost the morale of the British Secret Service which was severely damaged by the betrayal of Kim Philby and the Cambridge spy ring or to salvage some of the operations they may have exposed.
This thought occurred to me when I read Jim Houghan (in Secret Agenda – Watergate, Deep Throat & the CIA, Random House, 1984, p. 5-6) where he notes that:
“When (E. Howard) Hunt first approached Colson for work in the White House, he was still a part of the CIA. His retirement from the agency would not occur until April 30, 1970, and, considering his record, the possibility of his retirement was bogus is quite real. Indeed, this was the third time that Hunt had left the Central Intelligence Agency. The first occasion was in 1960, when he was issued fraudulent retirement papers to facilitate his liaison with anti-Castro exiles. When that invasion was launched, only to founder, Hunt returned to the agency’s staff – having never actually left its payroll. Five years later, in 1965, Hunt quit for a second time. The author of more than four dozen pulp thrillers and novels of the occult, Hunt left the agency in furtherance of a counterintelligence scheme that revolved around his literary efforts. The purpose of the scheme, according to government sources familiar with Hunt’s curriculum vitae at the agency, was to draw the KGB’s attention to books that Hunt was writing under the pseudonym David St. John. These spy novels alluded to actual CIA operations in Southeast Asia and elsewhere, and contained barely disguised portraits of political figures as diverse as Prince Norodom Sihanouk and the late Senator Robert F. Kennedy. It was the CIA’s intention that the KGB be led to believe that the books contained security breaches, and toward that end the agency created a phony ‘flap’ that was capped by Hunt’s supposedly ‘forced retirement.’ In his memoir of his years as a spy, Hunt does not mention the counterintelligence aspects of the David St. John novels, but writes, ‘I resigned from the CIA [this second time], and was at once rehired as a contract agent, responsible only to [the CIA’s Deputy Director of Plans, Thomas Karamessines.’”
Since it has also been acknowledged that E. Howard Hunt obtained official permission to write his spy-fiction novels in light of the success of Ian Fleming’s 007 books, perhaps there is something to the idea that Fleming began to write his novels as a counter-intelligence project as well.
Fleming began to write his first 007 novel within a year of the defection of Burgess and Maclean.
In January 1952, when Fleming sat down at his typewriter to begin his first 007 novel, “Casino Royale,” it was no longer a matter of speculation as to whether the British Secret Service had been betrayed by its own long standing members, it was only a matter of determining the severity of the damage and what could be done to rectify it.
When Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean disappeared the previous May, 1951, shortly before MacLean was to be confronted with the evidence he was a Soviet spy and interrogated, the speculation centered on the identity of the “third man” who had tipped them off and allowed them to flee. Since these secrets were tightly held by only a few men in the counter-intelligence field, the “third man” was certainly positioned in a high place within the Secret Service, and a major effort was made to identify him.
The investigation quickly focused on Kim Philby, a former Cambridge classmate of Burgess and Mclean, who at the time was serving in Washington D.C. as liaison to the CIA and FBI.
Both Burgess and Maclean had been posted to America and associated with Philby, and Burgess drew suspicion on himself and Philby by his outrageous behavior, having William Harvey being one of the first to question whether Philby and Burgess were Soviet agents. But James Angleton, chief of the CIA’s counterintelligence branch, discounted any such notions, especially after many three-martini lunches with Philby.
When President Kennedy, already familiar with the 007 novels, and having entertained Fleming at dinner at his home, requested to meet the “American James Bond,” he was presented with William Harvey, who insisted that Philby and Burgess were Soviet spies.
While Burgess’ treachery was confirmed by his disappearance, Philby weathered the storm and though relieved from his position as liaison to the American services, was eventually rehired by MI6 – the British foreign intelligence service.
President Kennedy then nominated Michael Straight to be the director of the National Endowment for the Arts, a move that unraveled a whole new line of inquiry that revitalized the spy hunt for the elusive “third man.”
At first Straight accepted the prestigious position, but when he realized that he would have to undergo a vigorous background check, he declined because he too was one of those recruited by the Soviets while a student at Cambridge. When he explained his dilemma to a friend he was advised to go to the FBI and tell them everything, which he did.
After writing the first 007 novel Casino Royale, Fleming and his wife returned to England for the birth of their son Casper. After dropping her off at the hospital, Fleming visited an old friend from their school days, the American born Whitney Straight, then chairman of BOAC airlines. Both Whitney Straight and his younger brother Michael had attended Cambridge and were personal friends with Guy Burgess, and according to Fleming biographer Andrew Lycett, the case of the Missing Diplomats is what they discussed.
Michael Straight was preceded at Cambridge by his older brother Whitney, a playboy race car driver who introduced Michael to the Pitt Club, which has been described as a “hunting and drinking” club, where he first met Guy Burgess, who Straight dismissed as “an alcoholic adventurer, a name dropper and gypsy.”
While most of the Cambridge spy ring were members of the Apostles, Michael Straight, Guy Burgess and James Bond himself, from some years earlier, were members of the Pitt Club, and continued their affiliation with the club years after they left Cambridge.
Among those who attended Cambridge, James Bond and Michael Straight, while years apart, stood out conspicuously as American “Yanks,” though they too were products of the British prep school system, Bond having attended St. Paul’s school in New Hampshire and then Harrow in England, while Michael and his older brother Whitney attended Dartington Hall in South Devon.
A month after his arrival at Cambridge Michael Straight was reluctantly recruited into the Cambridge Communist cell by Anthony Blunt, who would go on to become a member of the Secret Service as well as the surveyor of the Queen’s extensive art collection. Although he declined Blunt’s invitation to join them, Straight never betrayed his friends and assisted them in other ways.
Straight’s reluctance to willingly serve the Soviets did not prevent them from obtaining valuable use of him, especially when he returned to America and became editor and publisher of the New Republic, which published some of Philby’s commentaries.
J. E. Hover had ordered a complete investigation of all the American students who attended Cambridge in the 1930s to see if there were any more similar communist moles who had burrowed into the heart of the American government bureaucracy, the Straight brothers among them, but James Bond himself apparently avoided that dragnet since he had attended in the 1920s, even though the communist recruiters were busy at work there at that time too.
According to John Costello [Mask of Treachery – Spies, Lies and Betrayal, Warner Books, 1988], Straight “…was given a list of eighty-five Americans who attended Cambridge University between the years 1930 and 1934, from which he picked out one American who he knew casually at he Department of State. He then named two more Americans with whom he had studied at Cambridge between 1936 and 1937 and whom he knew to have been Trinity cell members and/or Communist sympathizers…The FBI representative in the U.S. Embassy in London recommended a full review of all Americans who had studied at either Oxford or Cambridge before the war.” [Costello would die suspiciously while engaged in his investigation of the Cambridge spy ring.]
Although J. E. Hover allegedly balked at “the political repercussions of an investigation of over 500 American citizens with no basis for such inquiry in fact,” the CIA reportedly changed his mind and “as a result, the records of nearly six hundred Americans who had attended Oxford or Cambridge before World War II were carefully compiled, examined and scrutinized.”
If James Bond was among those scrutinized, it wasn’t the first time he came to the attention of the counter-intelligence, counter-spies, as Bond had called attention to himself by providing information to the FBI about some German activity in the Caribbean during World War II.
According to Mrs. Mary W. Bond, in her book To James Bond With Love [Sutter House, 1980], while on a bird hunting expedition in Haiti, Bond met a reclusive and suspicious German on Morne La Selle mountain. When he returned home Bond “told his friend Brandon Barringer about the encounter with the German, and Brandon took it up with the authorities in Washington. Jim (Bond) was promptly visited at the Academy of Natural Sciences by Army, and then Navy intelligence officers.”
As Mrs. Bond related, “Fleming would have been intrigued with the final twist to the story. The intelligence people asked a lot of foolish questions and seemed far more suspicious about Jim’s reason for climbing Morne La Selle than about the German’s activities.”
Whether by intent or coincidence, James Bond’s Cambridge ties add credence to the theory that Ian Fleming wrote the 007 novels as part of a concerted psychological warfare operation rather than on a ‘lark,’ and the James Bond stories have more to do with actual covert operations than has been acknowledged.
One biographer, Andrew Lycett, [in The Man Behind James Bond, Turner, 1995] while mocking Fleming’s actual intentions and motives, acknowledges how Fleming’s first novel was at least inspired by the betrayals of the Cambridge spies when he wrote: “What raised Casino Royale out of the usual run of thrillers was Ian’s attempt to reflect the disturbing moral ambiguity of a post-war world that could produce such traitors like Burgess and Maclean. Although Bond is presented like Bulldog Drummond with all the trappings of a traditional fictional secret agent,…in fact he needs ‘Marshall Aid’ from Leiter (CIA) to enable him to continue his baccarat game with Le Chiffre. Bond is rescued from his kidnappers not by the British or the Americans but by the Russians, who complete the job he should of done by eliminating Le Chiffre. Bond does not even get the girl: [ Vesper ] she has been duplicitous throughout, betraying not only him personally but all Western Intelligence’s anti-Soviet operations. No wonder, feeling let down and abandoned, he fails to conceal his bitterness at the end and spits out, ‘The bitch is dead now.’”
Casino Royale was Ian Fleming’s response to the betrayal of the Cambridge spy ring, portraying the women who loved James Bond as the sexy snake who actually worked for the opposition, much like the sexual ambiguity and background of the Cambridge spies.
Although his official biographies hardly mention their names, Ian Fleming had many close associations with all three traitors – Philby, Burgess and Maclean.
The career paths of Ian Fleming and Kim Philby crossed more than once, but most certainly during World War II when Philby was responsible for MI-6 counter-intelligence for the Iberian peninsula – Spain and Portugal, which includes Gibralta, for which Fleming was given the responsibility of planning the defense of for the Admirality, a plan he codenamed “Goldeneye,” also the name of his Jamaican estate.
In his fictional obituary of 007, Fleming notes that his James Bond attended Eton, as did many of those involved in these intrigues beginning with “C,” Sir Stewart Menzies, the head of the British Secret Service and on whose watch the Cambridge moles were recruited into it. Other former Eton students include Ian Fleming and Guy Burgess, and Eton headmaster Charles Elliot was the father of Fleming’s chief MI6 contact Nicholas Elliot. The old Eton ties facilitated recruitment into the British Secret Service when Menzies served as its head.
The day before Burgess embarked on his sudden journey to Moscow with Maclean, he returned to Cambridge where he visited a former history professor to explain a moral dilemma concerning his authorship of a biography of the Earl of Sandwich authorized by the family.
At the same time Maclean was in London where he met and had lunch with Fleming’s close associate Cyril Connolly, who after the defection, was assigned to write about the missing diplomats by Fleming’s Sunday Times.
According to Douglas Sutherland [in The Fourth Man – The Story of Blunt, Philby, Burgess and McLean, Arrow Books, 1980], “The late Cyril Connolly, the well-known Sunday Times book critic, was a close friend of Maclean’s and lunched with him the day before he left on 25 May, 1951.”
Sutherland quoted Connolly as saying: “I was very interested to read your remarks about Mclean and Burgess…because I knew them both and actually lunched with Maclean the day before he disappeared. The point I want to mention to you was that on that day I am sure he had no intention of leaving the way he did. He spoke to me so normally as to his private affairs…this makes me feel that, subsequent to meeting me on May 24th, he received some warning that he was under suspicion, and immediately left the country with Burgess. It may be, therefore, that someone in the Foreign Office told him on May 25th that you had authorized him to be questioned. Of course it was not until the Foreign Office knew that the security office knew as well.” Now we know that person was Kim Philby.
Cyril Connolly’s book on the affair was to have been published by Queen Anne’s Press, on his board of directors Ian Fleming served. The publishing company’s name did not disguise the nature of their interests, as Queen Anne’s Gate was where the offices of the British Secret Service were located.
Most intriguing among the connections between Fleming and the Cambridge moles is the sequence of events that resulted in Burgess and Maclean publicly surfacing in Moscow. While most people suspected they were in the Soviet Union, it wasn’t known for sure until Fleming’s chief foreign correspondent Richard Hughes urged the Russians to produce the two defectors before a major British-Soviet summit conference. At Fleming’s suggestion Hughes made an effort to contact the “missing diplomats,” succeeded in meeting the two in a Moscow hotel and obtained a formal statement from them. Hughes did so by making an official inquiry, suggesting that the scheduled summit conference would not be successful unless the matter of the missing diplomats was first explained.
Then after Burgess and Maclean publicly surfaced, the British-Soviet summit conference was disrupted by a botched covert operation, much like the Gary Powers-U2 incident wrecked the USA-Soviet summit in 1959. British frogman Buster Crabb disappeared while investigating the hull of Kruschev’s ship in Portsmouth harbour, his body discovered a few days later. Fleming even wrote about the incident, which was a joint venture between MI6 and British Naval Intelligence, and reportedly directed by Fleming’s chief contact in MI6, Nicholas Elliot, and eventually led to the resignation of the director of MI6.
The resurfacing of Burgess and Maclean also called unwanted attention to Kim Philby, who somehow had reclaimed his job with MI6 and was working in Beruit, Lebanon with the cover job as a correspondent for two British publications.
When Philby arrived in Beruit the MI6 station chief there was his long time friend and faithful supporter, Nicholas Elliot, Fleming’s contact who was reportedly responsible for the botched Buster Crabb operation that led not only to the resignation of the head of MI6 but also brought about a change in the political party in power. That November, shortly before relinquishing power, outgoing Prime Minister Anthony Eden and his wife took a vacation to Jamaica, where they stayed at Fleming’s Goldeneye.
With the change in government, the Buster Crabb incident also forced a change in the leadership of both MI6, responsible for foreign intelligence, and MI5, counter-intelligence, with the director of MI5 Dick White assuming the position of director of MI6, the first time anyone had served both positions. White was astonished when he learned that Philby, after all the fuss over the “Third Man,” was still working for MI6 in Beruit.
Tom Bower [in The Perfect English Spy – a biography of Sir Dick White] wrote, “Even thirteen years later when he met Burgess in Washington, he (Michael Straight) volunteered that he had never betrayed his friends. But in 1963 Straight was offered a government post and, apparently fearful of exposure, he had spent June closeted with FBI officers, including Bill Sullivan, detailing Blunt’s futile attempt at recruitment. In January, 1964, Straight repeated the story to Arthur Martin. By any measure, the confession was a major breakthrough. Not surprisingly, the MI5 officer returned to Britain excited about the disclosure. The molehunt had been legitimized.”
While the earlier evidence was inconclusive, with the addition of Michael Straight’s confession and a number of Soviet defectors who had identified Philby as a Russian spy, the evidence was overwhelming, his longtime friend Nicholas Elliot was ordered to confront him. Elliot did extract a confession of sorts from Philby, he did not get him to return to England, and instead Philby disappeared, resurfacing in Moscow with his Cambridge mates, Burgess and Maclean.
How he got there, while a mystery for some time, had something to do with his Armenian friends, a connection he shared with Fleming.
Of their life in Beirut, Philby’s wife Eleanor wrote: “People are constantly asking me how it was possible that I, who shared his daily life, could have remained so unaware of his secret work for Russia. Perhaps the answer is that I just was not looking for clues. Looking back over our life together in Beirut, I can see some significance in one or two odd incidents which I thought nothing of at the time. There was, for example, the occasion when Kim, after a few drinks too many, decided late in the evening to take me and a friend out to dinner. We took a taxi and Kim directed the driver outside the city to an Armenian shanty town which sprawls across the malodorous Beirut river. In one of the mean streets, we stopped outside a first-floor restaurant full of shabby people. The food was good, but Kim, fuddled with alcohol, seemed hardly aware of his surroundings. Some weeks later I suggested we return to the Armenian restaurant. ‘What Armenian restaurant?’ Kim asked, giving a sharp look. He strongly denied that we had ever been to any such place.” [p. 48 Kim Philby-The Spy I Married, Eleanor Philby, Ballentine, 1968]
In “The Third Man – The Full Story of Kim Philby [by E. H. Cookridge, Berkley Medllion, 1968] the mystery deepens further into the Armenian mist. Cookridge wrote: “On one occasion, however, Philby was almost caught red-handed. He was observed on night on the terrace of his apartment waving a dark object to and fro in the air. The observer was a security agent of the Lebanese secret police, the head of which was Colonel Tewfik Jalbout, a trusted ally of the American CIA, whom he had rendered many services in the past…To find out who was at the receiving end, Colonel Jalbout sent out a posse of agents, but Philby’s house stood on a hill overlooking a fairly large part of the city. The receiver of the signals could be one of several hundred people, looking from any window. However, the search was narrowed down to two or three suspects, one of them an Armenian, believed to be a Soviet agent….On another occasion one of Jalbout’s detectives reported that he had seen Philby twice changing taxicabs and eventually arriving at a small sweetshop belonging to an Armenian in the old city. Soon after, the Soviet assistant military attaché entered the shop. The detective did not dare stop the two men, as he was afraid to cause a diplomatic incident. The fact that both Philby and a Soviet officer had gone to a dirty little sweet shop, whose regular customers were Arab children, was significant, particularly if considered in conjunction with the other incidents observed.”
Then in the Philby Conspiracy [by Bruce Page, Daid Leitch and Philip Knightley (Times Newspaper-Signet, 1968)] it is revealed: “How did Philby get to Moscow? We are able to reveal for the first time, that Philby arrived on Russian soil four days after he left Beirut, i.e. on January 27, 1963…He made his way across Syria into Turkey. From there on,m using his knowledge of the country gained during his earlier periods there and his contacts with Armenians which he had built up in Cyprus, he walked into Soviet Armenia. Then, feeling safe for the first time in thirty years, he ‘went home’ to Moscow.”
Before Philby fled however, Ian Fleming himself visited Beirut, arriving in November 1960 on his way to Kuwait, where he had been commissioned to write the official history of the Gulf emirate by the Kuwait Oil Company. In Beirut he me up with his friend and MI6 contact Nichoals Elliot. According to Fleming biographer Andrew Lycett, “…Elliot was delighted to see him. Their conversation ranged over a variety of intelligence-related topics, including Kim Philby, a key participant in the Missing Diplomats affair, who had been working in Beirut as a newspaperman since 1956. Ian told Elliot that he had his own minor freelance intelligence assignment to perform: the then NID chief Vice Admiral Sir Norman Denning had asked him for information about the Iraq port of Basra…Ian did not delay…at 10:30 sharp he asked to leave, saying he had a rendezvous with an Armenian in the Place de Canons in the center of town.”
“Perhaps,” speculated Lycett, “Ian was meeting Philby, whom he had certainly met during the war. But Elliot had the distinct impression his dinner guest had arranged to see a pornographic film in full color and sound.”
As we see, even though Kim Philby, Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean are not mentioned in the first two official biographies of Fleming and dismissed by Lycett, they played a major role in his life and work, as well as his fiction.
“Casino Royale,” Fleming’s first 007 book, concerns the betrayal of a fellow agent named Vesper, the snake, and John Pearson, who wrote The Life of Ian Fleming, the first official biography, also wrote a companion book, A Biography of James Bond, an ostensibly fictional work in which he acknowledges discovering the real James Bond while researching and writing Fleming’s biography.
According to this account, Fleming wrote the 007 books in order to make James Bond such a famous and outrageous super hero, the Soviets would not believe that he really existed. And it worked.