Despite the fact that I cannot get enough on the subject of the Cambridge Spies, it took me nearly six months to plough through S.J. Hamrick's "Deceiving the Deceivers." It is not as if his thesis is not provocative: that SIS, Britain's Secret Intelligence Service, in anticipation, laid a trap for Burgess, Maclean, Philby, and Blunt. However, the author explores so many tangents that I found it difficult to grasp the central thread of his narrative.
Certainly, the possibility that British Intelligence had set a trap for the Cambridge Spies is plausible. Such a scenario would explain why the sequence of events ceases to make any logical sense after the Volkov affair in 1945, when Kim Philby delays his arrival at Istanbul, to such an extent that the would-be Soviet defector, Konstantin Volkov, is apprehended by the Russians and--encased in bandages like a mummy--whisked off to Moscow and apparent oblivion. After this point, one is left with a series of anomalies: 1) Donald Maclean's unspeakable rampage in Cairo results (after a recuperative dose of psychoanalysis) in an appointment to the sensitive American Desk in the Foreign Office. 2) Guy Burgess, after running amok in Tangiers and blowing the cover of SIS officers left and right, is nevertheless appointed as third secretary to the British Embassy in Washington, arguably Britain's most important foreign post. 3) Burgess's drunken rumbustiousness in Washington succeeds in embarrassing his host, Kim Philby--who has hitherto been regarded as a respected first secretary to the British Embassy--so much so that not only Burgess but also Philby is declared PNG and sent home to London ASAP. The upshot is the ruination of one of the NKVD's (KGB's) most valuable agents and the eventual downfall of the entire Cambridge ring. The question that is raised--and not addressed by Hamrick--is whether SIS might have "turned" Burgess with the express objective of bringing down his friend Philby (After all, Burgess, when the going got rough, was reportedly ready to negotiate a hit on another pal, Goronwy Rees, so presumably he would not be adverse to bringing down Philby, if it meant saving his own skin). Despite Burgess' famous espousal of E.M. Forster's maxim, "if I had a choice between betraying a friend and betraying my country, I hope that I would have the guts to betray my country," Burgess could well have been promised an unimpeded escape with Maclean if he would embarrass Philby in Washington, which he certainly did. Of course, one will never know due to the British Official Secrets Act.
One would, however, like to have a bit more solid evidence to support Mr. Hamrick's hypothesis. Furthermore, from all that one reads about SIS and its serial blundering, one wonders whether it would have been clever enough to have accomplished such a coup (especially when it continued to employ Philby as an agent in the Mid-East until 1963, when he defected to Moscow). Nevertheless, the Cambridge Spies were brought down (Anthony Blunt was being questioned in 1964, the year after Burgess died and Philby defected, and eventually John Cairncross was revealed to be a Soviet agent).
Hamrick certainly raises some of the important questions, even though he does not--and likely cannot--provide the answers.