History | October 3, 2017 10:08 am

How Double Agent Kim Philby Got the Last Laugh

More loyal to Marxism than Russia, he is now the country's honored hero.

Kim Philby, a British K.G.B. spy who spent the last 25 years of his life in Moscow “often drunk and miserable but still loyal” is being honored with a portrait in a Russian state art gallery and is featured in a soon-to-be broadcast film on state television, The New York Times reports.

Philby was a double-agent who defected to Moscow in 1963 and died in 1988. A new exhibit in Moscow focuses on the life and work of the “so-called Cambridge Five Soviet spies” in Britain, writes the Times. Philby is portrayed as an “unwavering Russian patriot” and the exhibit includes the first public display of some of the more than 900 secret British document he passed on to the K.G.B.

According to the Times, the Kremlin has launched a campaign to try to polish the image of the K.G.B., who formally employed President Vladimir Putin. They want to make loyalty to the state “the bedrock of Russia’s resurgence as a great power,” writes the Times. 

It has been hard to show the secret police officers as “selfless public servants” however. But Philby is a good example, writes the Times, because he didn’t believe he was serving Stalin as much as he was serving the people, Mikhail P. Lyubimov, a former K.G.B. officer in London, told the Times. 

Mark Galeotti, a researcher on Russian security and intelligence issues at the Institute of International Relations in Prague, told the Times that the Philby exhibition is part of an effort to create a “national idea that revolves around the military and special services.”

By celebrating Philby, Gaelotti told the Times, security service veterans can also try to rehabilitate the image and reputation of Felix E. Dzerzhinsky, who founded the Soviet security apparatus. Philby sent a message to K.G.B. officers in 1977, on the 100th anniversary of Dzerzhinsky’s birth. According to the Times, He hailed Dzerzhinsky as “your great founder” and wished Soviet secret service officers “every success in your important and responsible labors.” In the same letter, he said he hopes to see the red flag flying on Buckingham Palace and the White House someday.

Philby gave 54 years of service to the K.G.B. And though it seems like he was driven more by an “ideological commitment to Marxism,” according to the Times, the exhibition, put on by the Russian Historical Society, presents him as a man who had a love for Russia and a determination to battle injustice and fascism.

Galeotti told the Times that though Philby was a lifelong enemy of fascism, he would be “spinning in his grave” over his portrayal in Moscow as a defender of Russia’s narrow national interests.

“This was a man motivated by Marxism, not by love of Russia,” he said to the Times. “Presenting him as a great Russian patriot is far from the truth.”