Yuri Modin was born in Russia on 8th November, 1922. Modin joined the NKVD and in 1947 he was sent to London and became the main contact of Kim Philby, Donald Maclean, Guy Burgess, Anthony Blunt and John Cairncross. Modin told Philby that "his position was becoming increasingly endangered through an intensification of the Security Service's inquiries about him." (1)
At first Modin feared that Philby was still working in the interests of British intelligence: "He (Philby) was so completely, psychologically and physically, the British intelligence officer that I could never quite accept that he was one of us, a Marxist in the clandestine service of the Soviet Union." (2) Modin was told by Moscow to be very careful with him: "We were forbidden to eat with him, or drink with him, or sit in armchairs together... You cannot take the measure of a man under these circumstances. You can judge such a spy only by his performance. His intelligence was consistently high-level, important, the sort that the opposition was not likely to want out, the sort that we could not get by other means... Only Deutsch's early estimates of him spoke of his ideological loyalty. But men change, especially with men such as Philby, who before 1951 and his partial exposure could have had anything he wanted out of his life. He was psychologically the complete British Secret Service officer. He looked like one. We thought he could never be anything else." (3)
In 1949 Kim Philby was able post he was able to discover that SIS planned to overthrow Enver Hoxha, the communist dictator of Albania. Philby was able to communicate this information to the Soviet Union and the Albanians involved in the conspiracy were arrested and executed. Modin later recalled: "He gave us vital information about the number of men involved, the day and the time of the landing, the weapons they were bringing and the precise programme of action... The Soviets duly passed on Philby's information to Albanians who set up ambushes." (4)
Yuri Modin arranged the escape of Donald Maclean and Guy Burgess. Modrin refused to tell the journalist, Anthony Cave Brown, how he discovered that Maclean was about to be interrogated. Although he was say was that he "acted from information received". (5) According to MI5 officer, Peter Wright, the author of Spycatcher (1987), the main candidates were Roger Hollis and Graham Mitchell. Wright believes that it was the same source who warned Kim Philby in 1962. "Russians still had access to a source inside British Intelligence who was monitoring the progress of the Philby case. Only a handful of officers had such access, chief among them being Hollis and Mitchell." (6)
Suspicion also fell on John Cairncross. MI5 began surveillance of Cairncross and followed him to a meeting with Modin. Just in time, Modin noticed the surveillance and returned home without meeting Cairncross. Modin later arranged to pay Cairncross "a large sum of money" and after resigning from the Treasury he went to live abroad. (7) Modin later recalled: "I liked Cairncross best of all our London agents. He wasn't an easy man to deal with, but he was a profoundly decent one" (8)
Anthony Blunt became very concerned that he was about to be arrested. Modin told Moscow: "YAN (Blunt) remarked that if danger of exposure arose he would try to flee to Paris or would commit suicide. The thought about suicide in the case of extreme necessity has appeared in his head because of his feelings towards his mother who, according to his words, will be able to get over his suicide but won't be able to get over his exposure and imprisonment. YAN announced that his whole position testified to bourgeois individualism, but added that he would hardly be able to act differently and resolve to begin a new life." (9)
In late 1952 Modrin attended a lecture given by Blunt at the Courtauld Institute. Modin managed to talk with Blunt without being observed, and they arranged to meet after dark in the place Modin favored as safe for clandestine conversations, a poorly lit street in Ruislip. When Modin reached the street at the appointed time, he was conscious that Blunt had been followed. Blunt told him that Philby was in serious trouble. Philby then appeared and said he had severe trouble with Aileen Philby, and he felt he could be arrested at any time. Philby stated that he might have to use his escape plan, but he had no money left. Modin agreed to transmit £5,000 to him. (10)
In 1956 Nicholas Elliott arranged for Kim Philby to work for British intelligence in Beirut. His cover was as a journalist being employed by the Observer and the Economist: "The Observer and Economist would share Philby's services, and pay him £3,000 a year plus travel and expenses. At the same time, Elliott arranged that Philby would resume working for MI6, no longer as an officer, but as an agent, gathering information for British intelligence in one of the world's most sensitive areas. He would be paid a retainer through Godfrey Paulson, chief of the Beirut MI6 station." (11)
Yuri Modin later pointed out that Philby provided some very important information to the Soviet Union. "Philby was by no means our only asset in the Middle East, and the KGB had its own experts here in Moscow and in the capitals, highly trained Arabists all. But I can say that Philby sent us excellent results that attracted much attention at the top, although occasionally there was criticism of him concerning his tendency to send us hard news wrapped up in beautifully-written political evaluations. We did not need this because we had our own people to make evaluations. What we needed from Philby was not his views but his news. But in all he served as well." (12)
Ever since Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean fled to Moscow, Kim Philby was suspected of being a Soviet agent. An old friend of Philby's, Flora Solomon, disapproved of what she considered were Philby's pro-Arab articles in The Observer. It has been argued that "her love for Israel proved greater than her old socialist loyalties." (13) In August 1962, during a reception at the Weizmann Institute, she told Victor Rothschild, who had worked with MI6 during the Second World War and enjoyed close connections with Mossad, the Israeli intelligence service: "How is it that The Observer uses a man like Kim? Don't the know he's a Communist?" She then went on to tell Rothschild that she suspected that Philby and his friend, Tomas Harris, had been Soviet agents since the 1930s. "Those two were so close as to give me an intuitive feeling that Harris was more than a friend."
It was expected that Arthur Martin would be sent out to interview Kim Philby in Beirut at the beginning of 1963. However, it was decided to send Philby's friend and former SIS colleague Nicholas Elliott instead. According to Philby's later version of events given to the KGB after he escaped to Moscow, Elliott told him: "You stopped working for them (the Russians) in 1949, I'm absolutely certain of that... I can understand people who worked for the Soviet Union, say before or during the war. But by 1949 a man of your intellect and your spirit had to see that all the rumours about Stalin's monstrous behaviour were not rumours, they were the truth... You decided to break with the USSR... Therefore I can give you my word and that of Dick White that you will get full immunity, you will be pardoned, but only if you tell it yourself. We need your collaboration, your help." (14)
Roger Hollis wrote to J. Edgar Hoover on 18th January 1963, about Elliott's discussions with Kim Philby: "In our judgment Philby's statement of the association with the RIS is substantially true. It accords with all the available evidence in our possession and we have no evidence pointing to a continuation of his activities on behalf of the RIS after 1946, save in the isolated instance of Maclean. If this is so, it follows that damage to United States interests will have been confined to the period of the Second World War." (15) This statement was undermined by the decision of Philby to flee to the Soviet Union a week later.
It later emerged that Philby met Yuri Modin in Beirut just before he defected. Modin had been the KGB controller for Blunt, Philby, Burgess and Maclean. Modin later wrote: "To my mind the whole business was politically engineered. The British government had nothing to gain by prosecuting Philby. A major trial, to the inevitable accompaniment of spectacular revelation and scandal, would have shaken the British establishment to its foundations... the secret service had actively encouraged him to slip away... spiriting Philby out of Lebanon was child's play." (16)
Anthony Blunt was also in the Lebanon when Philby defected. He stayed with his old friend, Moore Crosthwaite, the British ambassador in Beirut. "The possibility therefore exists that Modin met Blunt to tell him of the immunity deal offered to Philby. Blunt would have returned to London fortified by the knowledge that with Philby in Moscow, if MI5 ever obtained hard evidence against him, it would offer him the same secret immunity deal. The thought would have reassured him. He would never need to flee to Moscow or spend the rest of his life in prison." (17)
Yuri Modin was appointed deputy head of Service A. One of his tasks included damaging the reputation of Martin Luther King. Modin arranged for articles to appear in the African press which could be reprinted in American newspapers, portraying King as an "Uncle Tom" who was secretly receiving government subsidies to tame the civil rights movement and prevent it threatening the President Lyndon B. Johnson administration.
Moscow Centre authorized Modin: "To organize, through the use of KGB residency resources in the US, the publication and distribution of brochures, pamphlets, leaflets and appeals denouncing the policy of the Johnson administration on the Negro question - and exposing the brutal terrorist methods being used by the government to suppress the Negro rights movement. To arrange, via available agent resources, for leading figures in the legal profession to make public statements discrediting the policy of the Johnson administration on the Negro question. To forge and distribute through illegal channels a document showing that the John Birch Society, in conjunction with the Minuteman organization, is developing a plan for the physical elimination of leading figures in the Negro movement in the US." (18)
Yuri Modin died in Moscow in 2007.
In 1947... the benign but dangerous Yuri Modin appeared in London to take charge of his case. Philby appeared to Modin to have become so completely the typical bourgeois English Secret Service officer that it was impossible to believe wholly that he continued to accept Marxism. Had he indeed been turned? This question also troubled the Center in Moscow.
We were forbidden to eat with him, or drink with him, or sit in armchairs together... You cannot take the measure of a man under these circumstances. You can judge such a spy only by his performance. His intelligence was consistently high-level, important, the sort that the opposition was not likely to want out, the sort that we could not get by other means... Only Deutsch's early estimates of him spoke of his ideological loyalty. But men change, especially with men such as Philby, who before 1951 and his partial exposure could have had anything he wanted out of his life. He was psychologically the complete British Secret Service officer. He looked like one. We thought he could never be anything else.
Philby was by no means our only asset in the Middle East, and the KGB had its own experts here in Moscow and in the capitals, highly trained Arabists all. But I can say that Philby sent us excellent results that attracted much attention at the top, although occasionally there was criticism of him concerning his tendency to send us hard news wrapped up in beautifully-written political evaluations. We did not need this because we had our own people to make evaluations. What we needed from Philby was not his views but his news. But in all he served as well.
(1) Anthony Cave Brown, Treason of Blood (1995) page 502
(2) Yuri Modin, My Five Cambridge Friends (1994) page 350
(3) Yuri Modin, interviewed by Anthony Cave Brown (Moscow, 1991)
(4) Yuri Modin, My Five Cambridge Friends (1994) page 123
(5) Yuri Modin, interviewed by Anthony Cave Brown (Moscow, 1991)
(6) Peter Wright, Spycatcher (1987) pages 170
(7) Christopher Andrew, The Mitrokhin Archive (1999) page 210
(8) Yuri Modin, My Five Cambridge Friends (1994) page 107
(9) Nigel West, The Crown Jewels: The British Secrets Exposed by the KGB Archives (1999) page 185
(10) Yuri Modin, interviewed by Anthony Cave Brown (Moscow, 1991)
(11) Ben Macintyre, A Spy Among Friends (2014) page 205
(12) Yuri Modin, interviewed by Anthony Cave Brown (Moscow, 1991)
(13) Flora Solomon, Baku to Baker Street (1984) page 226
(14) Genrikh Borovik, The Philby Files: The Secret Life of the Master Spy - KGB Archives Revealed (1995) pages 344-345
(15) Roger Hollis, letter to J. Edgar Hoover (18th January 1963)
(16) Yuri Modin, My Five Cambridge Friends (1995) page 236
(17) John Costello, Mask of Treachery (1988) page 586
(18) Christopher Andrew, The Mitrokhin Archive (1999) page 309