H.A.R. "Kim" Philby

Nowadays, Harold Adrian Russell “Kim” Philby’s betrayal of British and American military secrets to the beavering Bolsheviks of the Soviet security apparatus seems almost quaint.

But that’s only because even with their nuclear arsenal the Soviets’ Russian successors aren’t much of a threat any more — which they certainly were through the post-war 40s and 50s as Philby, an apparent upper class twit burrowed deep in the heart of Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service, forwarded Western secrets by the boatload to Moscow.

When Philby finally vanished into the Soviet Union in 1963, later to be trotted out as an honoured if not trusted Soviet citizen, a mighty brouhaha erupted. He was, after all, most likely the “Third Man” in the now-infamous Cambridge spy ring, even if he wasn’t a colonel of the KGB as he had imagined.

And he did it all for England, he later implied in his KGB-approved biography, My Silent War.

“My decision to play an active part in the struggle against reaction was not the result of a sudden conversion,” he wrote from Moscow of his university years. Nevertheless, “I left university with a degree and with the conviction that my life must be devoted to Communism.”

The Soviet Union wasn’t perfect, he conceded in 1968, and likely wouldn’t be for a spell yet, but he was building up “the inner fortress of the world movement” — thereby making ideology the 20th Century excuse for English treason, as religion was in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Today, Philby is long dead and no matter what you may hear from the retired colonels who appear as “analysts” on Canadian TV news channels, the leakage of military secrets to Capitalist Russia is unlikely to risk the defeat of the West. Au contraire, about all that’s in danger today is Canada’s place at the third table of the Espionage Club.

To arouse a similar rumpus in 2013, someone like Philby would have had to decamp in the night to Mecca, there to produce a tome called My Secret Jihad — something that his father St John, the renowned Arabist and convert to Islam, might have contemplated had he lived today.

Meanwhile, Canadian Sub-Lieutenant Jeffrey Delisle, who is expected to be sentenced in Halifax on Friday after pleading guilty to selling naval secrets to the Russians, is a pathetic piker by comparison.

Sub-Lieut. Delisle did it for the money, and not very much at that — which, as has been suggested in this space before, may have been his downfall.

Indeed, to have wrapped himself in the raiment of ideology, as Philby did and others will, Sub-Lieut. Delisle would have had to sell his country out for billions, not a few thousand and a dramatic end to an unhappy marriage.

The half-hearted attitude of the Russians — and the pittance the GRU was willing to pay — probably tells those of us who are not privy to the esoteric world of state security all we really need to know about the true value of the secrets at HMCS Trinity, notwithstanding puffed-up claims in the media this was “one of the biggest spying debacles possibly in decades.”

Rather than waste time on such piffle, let me remind readers of the wisdom of Sir John Harington, the first Queen Elizabeth’s “saucy godson” and inventor of the flush toilet, who famously observed: “Treason doth never prosper: what’s the reason? Why, if it prosper, none dare call it treason.”

Real treason is afoot in Canada — the sale of our country’s sovereignty, not its picayune military secrets, to foreign powers who would dominate us forever.

But the people who are busy today selling out Canada do it from better addresses in the nation’s capital, and they do it in the names of globalization, the perfection of the market, and the notions of Freidrich Hayek and Ayn Rand.

In other words, they do it for ideology — an ideology not so far removed in time or nature from that of H.A.R. Philby — and in the service of literally billions of dollars.

So, if you look hard enough for the Canadian Second, Third, Fourth and Fifth Men, and a good many more after that, you’ll likely find them, possibly in a comfortable retirement, but not in a murky corner of the naval dockyard in Halifax.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga’s blog, Alberta Diary.

David J. Climenhaga

David J. Climenhaga

David Climenhaga is a journalist and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. He left journalism after the strike...