Escape to the USSR: Kim Philby's secret documents revealed

Kim Philby's notes reveal the circumstances of his life, when he fled from Beirut to the USSR in 1963. Source: Archive Photo: Rufina Philby, the Russian wife of the spy.

Kim Philby's notes reveal the circumstances of his life, when he fled from Beirut to the USSR in 1963. Source: Archive Photo: Rufina Philby, the Russian wife of the spy.

We publish the secret notes Kim Philby provided by the Soviet Foreign Intelligence Service with about the circumstances surrounding his wife, Eleanor, when he fled from Beirut to the USSR in 1963. These were declassified especially for the book about Philby written by Nikolai Dolgopolov.

On January 23 my wife and I had a dinner engagement with the Balfour-Paul’s, at which the Copelands were also to be present. At 3pm I received a signal from our friend indicating a rendevous at 6pm for the purpose of consultation. I therefore left our flat shortly after 5:30pm informing my wife that if I were detained she should go to the Balfour-Paul's without me and await me there. On meeting our friend, I was informed that the arrangements had been speeded up and that I should have to leave [Beirut] at once. I therefore telephoned our flat and told my son who answered the call to tell Eleanor I should probably be very late. Some time between 6pm and 7pm, Peter Lunn telephoned my wife and asked to speak to me. He did not give any particular indications of urgency. My wife answered that I was out but that I would be rejoining her for dinner at the Balfour-Pauls and that he would be able to reach me there.

During the dinner my wife became increasingly anxious. The Copelands tried to soothe her by arguing that I was obviously out on some journalistic scoop. Their arguments did not succeed in calming her down because I had always previously kept her punctually informed about my movements. My wife therefore left the Balfour-Paul's very soon after dinner and got back home at about 10:30pm. She waited until after midnight and then called back to Peter Lunn. He was out at the time, but his wife was able to locate him. Lunn then telephoned Eleanor who asked him if he knew my whereabouts. He answered that he did not, but that he was ready to visit her to discuss this situation. He arrived at the flat at about 2am. (My wife's anxiety at that stage was that I had had some serious accident).

My wife was unable to detect any particular signs of agitation in Lunn's behaviour, but that is hardly surprising because he is a particularly cool fish and my wife had only met him on a few occasions. It was a very stormy night and Lunn said that the Lebanese police would probably decline to take immediate action and that they might therefore just as well wait until morning before setting enquiries on foot (which was Lunn's big mistake).

Early the following morning, Lunn contacted Eleanor and informed her that, acting in concert with Pierotti, the British Consul, that they were informing the Lebanese police to check all hospitals and accidents that may have occurred the previous night.  (The story in the Observer that Copeland and Eleanor spent £100 on taxis searching for me is completely untrue).

The position of my wife was also complicated by a note which I had left in a drawer.

Two or three days later Pierotti turned up with two Lebanese police officers, who interrogated Eleanor closely about what I was wearing when I disappeared. The next event was the arrival of my first letter telling Eleanor where to find 3,000 Lebanese pounds which I had left behind for her and my instructions for her to tell everybody that I was on a long tour of the area. This letter Eleanor showed to Lunn. Roundabout this time Eleanor also informed Lunn that I had taken nothing with me. (Sometime thereafter Eleanor decided that this statement had been unwise and told people that certain articles of mine were, in fact, missing). Late in January Lunn asked Eleanor to lunch alone with him and asked her detailed questions as to my state of health, financial position, and other possible sources of worry, Eleanor answered that she had thought that 1 had been worried for quite some time, but attributed it to a general run-down state of health plus worries of the previous year. (I had, in fact, had a lot of exceptional expense in connection with the wedding of my eldest daughter and a motorcycle accident in which my son seriously injured an old woman). Early in February Eleanor decided to contact Miles Copeland whom she had known for twelve years; an additional reason for her doing this was that she could not find much confidence in Peter Lunn. Copeland offered to get in touch with Nicholas Elliott who was somewhere in the area at the time and ask him to come urgently to Beirut. Eleanor agreed with the suggestion and Elliott arrived within 24 hours.

Elliot's conversations with Eleanor were of a general character. They consisted to a considerable extent on my whereabouts, state of health state of mind, etc. At times Elliott seemed to give the impression that I had been double-crossed and had left against my will. He also promised to do everything possible to elucidate the mystery and assured Eleanor that, any time she wanted to speak to him, that he could be in Beirut within 48 hours. He also suggested that, in view of the lack of sympathy between Eleanor and Lunn, she should make Balfour-Paul her principle confidant in the Embassy. In fact, Eleanor told Balfour-Paul very little, but he was a very beneficial influence on her morale in general and was extremely helpful in matters of the press and Harry's documents.

Roundabout this time the Lebanese police began to show interest in the contents of my strongbox (actually it was a very weak box which any child could have opened) and it was taken into custody by Pierotti. In fact it contained nothing but personal documents. Throughout this period, my wife was subjected to routine persecution from press correspondents and photographers. She also states that agents of the Surete moved into an empty flat overlooking ours in order to keep the place under observation. Other normal security precautions were taken, such as bribing the porter and tapping our telephone.

Eleanor's secret departure from Beirut was achieved with the help of Balfour-Paul, Dick Parker of the U.S. Embassy, Miles Copeland and the local BOAC manager, Mr. Ingham, who between them kept her name off the passenger list and obtained a certificate from the airport commandant permitting her to drive up to the airplane on the alleged grounds of illness. At the London end the aircraft was met by cameramen and journalists, but through the courtesy of the captain of the aircraft Eleanor was allowed to remain in the plane until the journalists, who were overcome by the intense heat, had drifted off to the bar. A car was then provided for her and she slipped through unnoticed.

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From the time of her arrival to the time of her departure to the US, Eleanor stayed with my sister Pat. (The press story about the secret MI5 hideout was sheer rubbish). For the first few days she was laid up with bursitis and could not walk. She spoke to Elliott over the telephone who sent his doctor around to see her. As soon as she was able to walk again he saw the Elliotts and soon afterwards Nicholas suggested to her that he should have a talk with Arthur Martin, of MI5, whose name you will
doubtless remember from 1950 – 51 when he was in charge of the investigation of Maclean.

The FBI contacted Eleanor by telephone within days of her arrival. They had presumably got her address from the immigration authorities. She made an appointment… the following week. Two agents called on her, one of them giving the name of Miller. They were young, probably in their early 30s, and were conspicuously well dressed. Their manner was polite in the extreme. The interview lasted less than an hour, and the only follow-up was a telephone call the next day, to check whether there was a graveyard on the way to our flat. From this cursory treatment, it seems clear that Eleanor gave a convincing display of total ignorance.

The only interest in my past life which they displayed concerned my stay in the United States. They asked Eleanor whether she knew anything about my activities in Washington. She replied that she had never met me before my arrival in Beirut, so knew nothing. They did not try to press the question. Their principal interest was in finding out where and how we lived.

They evidently knew nothing about Moscow, and had great difficulty in pronouncing Kutuzovski. They wanted to know whether we were comfortable, how much I earned, what we did in the evenings. They appeared to be mildly interested in our holiday journeys. Eleanor gave them a picture of a very comfortable and easy life with enough money to buy anything we wanted.

They asked about our friends. Eleanor told them that we avoided Western contacts for fear of getting pestered by journalists. She said that we saw a lot of the Macleans and described our weekends at the dacha. As regards Russian contacts, she said that we had a lot, but that she could not remember anything beyond their Christian names, Ivan, Serge, etc. They did not press her on the subject. They did not ask her to identify any photographs. She told them that I was working as a freelance journalist, but that she did not know whether that was my sole source of income. They did not ask her which papers printed my articles.

I find it rather difficult to account for this extremely summary treatment of Eleanor – they did not take a single note throughout the interview. It suggests that they had already made up thair minds that she knew nothing, and spoke to her simply as a matter of routine. It looks as though we need not expect any danger from that quarter in the future.

Of all Eleanor's friends, only one – a Californian painter named Mildred Sophy Porter — turned against her as a result of my exposure. The rest, without exception, seem to have treated me with exaggerated respect. Miles Copeland, however, told her that Nicholas Elliott has a fit whenever my name is mentioned. Could that be the result of that letter we sent him? According to Miles, Nicholas very nearly lost his job as a result of my case.

Miles himself is still very friendly. He has opened offices in both London and New York (at the Rockefeller Centre) and is specialising in the field of education, particularly in backward countries, selling teaching machines, whatever they may be. He has parted company with his former partners, Eichelberger and Lufkin. He is thinking of moving to London, but is deterred by the fact that his dog, a mastiff, would have to spend six months in quarantine. The only other bit of interesting gossip from Miles is that Ed Sheehan has written a book on Kermit Roosevelt, which is to be published shortly. (The Philby Story, by the way, has been written by a certain Ronald Kirkbridge, whom I have never heard of).

Eleanor succeeded at last in straightening out her inheritance problems, and the stocks are now in her bank. The custody agreement transfers legal custody to Brewer, but Eleanor has the right of access to her either in England or in the "continental United States". Eleanor had two frightful scenes with Brewer. She describes him as wholly morose and almost friendless as a result. There is apparently a real chance of him losing his job on the New York Times. (He is now on their United Nations bureau).

Eleanor was finally issued with an unrestricted passport, except for the general restrictions applying to all Americans, e.g. Albania, Cuba, etc. The only man she saw in the State department was a Mr Schwart, who was very decent to her. The whole business was over in half an hour. The cost was something like 2,500 dollars, and she is thinking of asking her lawyer to set about recovering some of the money spent. It might be possible to get the State Department to admit wrongful action and pay compensation. For myself, I do not think that there is much hope for this, but it might be worth trying.

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