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Wednesday, 14 November, 2001, 07:03 GMT
Secret files reveal Franco plot
Kim Philby
Double agent Kim Philby worked for The Times
Soviet spy Kim Philby may have been recruited to assassinate Spain's fascist leader General Franco, according to secret British files.

The double agent is thought to be the "young Englishman" sent on the deadly mission in early 1937, who features in MI5 documents released at the Public Record Office on Wednesday.

But the plot, allegedly ordered by Soviet leader Josef Stalin, failed after a key spymaster was recalled to Moscow.

General Francisco Franco
General Franco went on to rule Spain for 39 years

The documents also reveal that MI6 had its own man inside the Soviet Communist Congress of 1920.

What the mole reported was later 'planted' in The Times of London on the orders of Winston Churchill, who was then Minister for War in the Lloyd George coalition government.

Details of the Franco plot were devised by Nikolai Yezhov, head of OGPU, the Soviet secret police, according to an MI5 memo by Soviet defector General Walter Krivitsky.


Yezhov instructed another agent, Paul Hardt, to find an Englishman to carry out the job.

"He did in fact contact and sent to Spain a young Englishman, a journalist of good family, an idealist and a fanatical anti-Nazi," said Gen Krivitsky in his memo.

The words "prob Philby" were later written next to this passage in the margin of the document by an intelligence officer.

Vladimir Ilyich Lenin in 1919
The spy reported Lenin's message to the secret congress
Philby was a journalist covering the Spanish Civil War for The Times when the alleged plan was hatched.

The memo continues: "Before the plan matured, Hardt himself was recalled to Moscow and disappeared."

General Franco's forces went on to win the war and the dictator ruled Spain for 39 years.

Philby, head of the notorious Cambridge spy ring which leaked sensitive state secrets to the USSR, fled to Russia in the 1960s after the extent of his deceit was unmasked.

Lenin's message

Disclosures about the Moscow mole are made in copies of MI6 papers about the late Soviet leader Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, compiled by the domestic security service MI5.

The Third International in Moscow in September 1920 was a critical moment for Lenin and the fledgling Soviet government, mapping a new global strategy while preparing to deal with its own post-war problems.

Daily Herald 1938
The Daily Herald featured Nicolai Yezhov, former head of the Soviet Secret Service
Delegations of Communist parties from all over Europe came to Moscow - even a three-man delegation from Switzerland.

It was one of the Swiss delegation, Pastor Humbert Droz, from La Chaux de Fonds, whose report to MI6 in London appears on the file.

He gives a concise and detailed account of Lenin's message to the secret congress:

  • That Russia was the seed-bed for Communist revolution elsewhere in Europe

  • That the Versailles Treaty which ended the first world war must be smashed

  • That the source of French and British wealth, their colonies, must be destabilised, in Africa and India

    Churchill told MI5 to leak the Droz report, adding sternly that "it must not appear as having been furnished by the War Office".

    The file shows the result of these endeavours, a cutting from the London Times some weeks later, on 6 November, 1920.

    It included several substantial paragraphs, from what The Times called a special correspondent in Helsinki, setting out an edited version of Pastor Humbert Droz's account of Lenin's message.

    Mark Seaman, Imperial War Museum
    outlines what the documents contain
    See also:

    13 Sep 99 | Britain betrayed
    The Cambridge spy ring
    01 Jan 01 | UK Confidential
    Unlocking the secrets of government
    23 Oct 01 | Americas
    CIA's licence to kill
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