How Double Agent Kim Philby Was Behind Italian Physicist’s Defection To Russia — With Tip-Off, FBI Was On To Him
Ollie Gillman, writing in today’s (Jan. 31) DailyMailOnline,writes “for decades, the mystery of why Italian nuclear physicist — Bruno Ponteconvo defected from the Allies to the Soviet Union — had baffled Cold War historians. The scientist, while on holiday in Italy with wife and children in 1950, suddenly disappeared — surfacing years later on the other side of the Iron Curtain. But now,” writes Mr. Gilman, “a new book has revealed that Ponteconvo was being trailed by the FBI for suspected communist activity; and claims that he fled to Russia — after being tipped of by none other than the infamous British double-agent Kim Philby.” As Mr. Gilman noted, “Ponteconvo,” considered a a prominent by Britain, Canada, and the U.S., “shocked the world when he defected to the Soviet Union.”
“After re-emerging five years later in Moscow, Ponteconvo eventually said he left the West for ideological reasons — but, the reason he fled when he did had remained [mostly] shrouded in mystery for nearly 60 years,” — until now, Mr. Gilman wrote, though I suspect there were many who had a pretty good idea at the time, or certainly within a few years, but that is speculation on my part.
“Frank Close, a scientist who believes that Ponteconvo could have gone on to win a Nobel Prize had he stayed in the West, told London’s Observer that the FBI was investigating Ponteconvo at the time of his disappearance. Mr. Close obtained a previously declassified letter that shows the Americans suspected the physicist of having communist sympathies. The letter, written shortly before Ponteconvo went on the Italian vacation with his family, — was sent from the British embassy in Washington D.C., to London’s MI5,” Mr. Gilman noted. The letter said: “The [FBI] now asks [for] any information which may be available to us which would indicate that Ponteconvo may be engaged in communist activities at the present time; or, [previously] during his residence in the United States.” It adds that “the Secret Intelligence Service in the U.S., had been unable to find previous communications on the subject, sent by the FBI in 1943. It’s representative in the U.S. capital was Philby — who later defected to the Soviet Union — along with fellow members of the Cambridge spy ring.”
“Mr. Close believes Philby would have known about the investigation — and tipped off Russia, who would have immediately informed Ponteconvo; and, helped him escape.”
“Mr. Close said the family flew from Rome, to Moscow, via Stockholm and Helsinki, they were in two cars; and, his father was in the trunk of one car. [The son[ said, in a huge understatement, “I knew something was up.” “Ponteconvo,” . Mr Gilman wrote, became a British citizen in 1948; and, was a member of the Atomic Energy Authority Research Station at Hartwell, Berkshire.”
Kim Phlilby was the highest ranking member of British intelligence who was secretly working for Soviet intelligence; and has been the subject of numerous books; and, a book/movie by John Le Carre — “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.”. His defection was a huge embarrassment to London’ MI5, and the CIA ; and, a sensational scandal/intelligence coup when it became known he defected to Moscow in 1963. Philby, along with fellow traitors Guy Burgess, Donald Maclean, Guy Burgess, and Anthony Blunt were; and, are still infamously known as ‘The Cambridge Five.’
Philby was also the subject of a new book (July 2014), “A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby And The Great Betrayal,” by British historian Ben MacIntyre.
Philby Died Disillusioned With Communism; Slashed His Wrists, Tried To Drink Himself To Death; And, Died A Disillusioned And Broken Man
In a March 30, 2011 interview in London’s. The Guardian, Philby’s former wife in Russia claims that Philby died a disillusioned old man, who tried to drink himself to death, and asked, “why do old people live so badly here?” Tom Parfit and Richard Norton-Taylor write that according to Rufina Pukhova, Philby’s Russian-Polish wife, Philby “tried to drink himself to death in Moscow; because, he was disillusioned with Communism and, tortured by his own failings.” “His alcoholism was suicide,” she told the Moskovsky Komosmolets newspaper. “He once even said that it [excessive alcohol consumption] was the quickest way to bring life to an end,” she noted. “His habit,” she added, “was fueled by his sorrow over what he saw around him. Kim believed in a just society; and, devoted his whole life to communism. And, here he was struck by disappointment, brought to tears.” He said, “Why do old people here live so badly? After all, they won the war.”
He and Pukhova married in 1971, some eight years after his defection, wrote Mr. Parfit and Norton-Taylor. He was 59, she was 38. He was treated with respect she says but, “he felt isolated,” she said. “Kim said to me, ‘I came here totally fully of information, I wanted to give them everything I had…..but, no one was interested,” Ms. Pukhova explained.
“The gang of British spies who ended up in Moscow in the 1950s and 1960s were employed in KGB training schools and international research institutes,” according to Mr. Parfit and Norton-Taylor. “They met each other socially, but soon fell out,” they add. “Philby drank, while Guy Burgess, who was gay, missed his friends in London, including Anthony Blunt, whose spying activities, though known to the government, were kept under wraps until they were exposed much later, in 1979. Donald Maclean, although arrogant, and someone who also liked to drink, was regarded as more convivial. George Blake, who is still alive [at the time of this article in March 2011] got on well with him and Philby. Maclean bequeathed Blake his library of books, including Trollope, Macaulay’s History of England, Morley’s Life of Gladstone, and the MacMillian and Eden memoirs.”
“In contrast to Blake,” the authors conclude, “Philby and Burgess — and to a less extent Maclean — suffered from nostalgia for Britain. Philby’s less attractive personal qualities were matched by a charm to which many of his MI6 colleagues succumbed. Some, could never quite come to terms….that he was a traitor.”
According to an obituary in Wikipedia, Philby was “under virtual house arrest ,” in Moscow, for many years, for fear he might try and re-defect to London. It was ten years after his defection, before he was allowed to visit the KGB; and even then, was given little real work.
Though Philby claimed publicly in 1988 that he did not regret his decisions; and, that he missed nothing about England except some friends, his wife Rufina Pukhova later described him as a “disappointed in many ways,” by what he found in Moscow. “He saw people suffering too much,” she said, but, consoled himself by arguing that “the ideals were right, but the way they were carried out was wrong. The fault lay with the people in charge,” Pukhova said. Pukhova added that “he was struck by disappointment, brought to tears.”
Philby suffered from loneliness and depression, according to Rufina, and he attempted suicide by slashing his wrists in the early months and years after his defection; before dying of heart failure in 1988 at the age of 76.
Philby’s tragic life and his betrayal his home country, no doubt, is what really killed him. Perhaps, something for Edward Snowden to ponder. V/R, RCP