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Tomás Harris, the youngest son and sixth of the seven children of Lionel Harris and Enriqueta Rodriguez, was born at 21 Lymington Road, Hampstead, London, on 10th April 1908. His father ran a Spanish Art Gallery in Mayfair dealt in the works of Diego Velázquez, Francisco Goya and El Greco. (1) It has been argued that his father was responsible for importing almost all the important works of art which came from Spain into England in the years before and after the First World War. (2)
His mother was Spanish and Tomás was educated mainly in Spain. Harris also attended University College School and at the age of fifteen won the Trevelyan-Goodall scholarship to the Slade School of Fine Art where he studied from 1923 to 1926, concentrating mainly on sculpture. According to John Costello, the author of Mask of Treachery (1988): "Harris was a gifted artist, sculptor, engraver, and ceramicist... His striking Mediterranean features were accentuated by his swept-black hair, beaky nose, and intense dark eyes." (3)
Tomás Harris continued his studies in the arts by spending a year at the British Academy in Rome, but in 1928 he decided to become an art dealer. He set up a small gallery of his own in Sackville Street. Later he was to join his father's business in Bruton Street. According to his biographer, Anthony Blunt: "Tomás Harris was also a talented amateur musician, and played the piano, the saxophone, and other wind instruments." On 10th August 1931 he married Hilda Webb. There were no children of the marriage. (4)
Soon after the outbreak of the Second World War Harris and his wife found work as "rather grand housekeeper-cooks" at Brickendonbury Hall, the Special Operations Executive training establishment. According to Chapman Pincher, the author of Their Trade is Treachery (1981), it was Guy Burgess who arranged for him to get the job. (5) He soon became friends with Kim Philby, who later wrote in My Secret War (1968): "Our outstanding personality, however, was undoubtedly Tomás Harris, an art-dealer of great distinction. He was taken on, at Guy's suggestion, as a sort of glorified housekeeper, largely because he and his wife were inspired cooks. He was the only one of us who acquired, in those first few weeks, any sort of personal contact with the trainees. The work was altogether unworthy of his untaught but brilliantly intuitive mind." (6)
In early 1941 with the help of Anthony Blunt, Tomás Harris joined MI5. (7) Later that year he established a social group of younger Secret and Security Service officers in both intelligence and special intelligence that met at his home at 6 Chesterfield Gardens. Other members included Blunt, Kim Philby, Guy Burgess, Tim Milne, Desmond Bristow, Victor Rothschild, Guy Liddell, Richard Brooman-White and Peter Wilson. "They were known among themselves simply as the Group, and they met in a magnificent house at 6 Chesterfield Gardens, the home of one Tomas Harris... Tomas had inherited much of his father's artistic talent, as he had inherited the house and his father's fortune." (8)
Philby later explained he was a regular visitor to 6 Chesterfield Gardens and asked his friend if he could get him a job with British intelligence: "It was now more than ever necessary for me to get away from the rhododendrons of Beaulieu. I had to find a better hole with all speed. A promising chance soon presented itself. During my occasional visits to London, I had made a point of calling at Tomás Harris's house in Chesterfield Gardens, where he lived surrounded by his art treasures in an atmosphere of haute cuisine and grand vin. He maintained that no really good table could be spoiled by wine-stains. I have already explained that Harris had joined M15 after the break-up of the training-school at Brickendonbury." (9)
In his autobiography, A Game of Moles (1993) Desmond Bristow wrote about his first meeting with Tomás and Hilda Harris: "Chesterfield Gardens was in a very beautiful part of London and meant that the Harrises were rich. Hilda Harris greeted us, Kim made the introductions, and Hilda took me up to my bedroom on the third floor. The wardrobe was a seventeenth-century cupboard with brass-studded lattice work on its doors; very Spanish, and very rare in England. I washed and changed; walking downstairs I could not help noticing the virtual museum pieces of furniture and art decorating the landings. After the inevitable drink, Kim excused himself and drove off, supposedly to see his mother. Hilda, Tommy and I walked around the corner to a little hole-in-the-wall restaurant and started an early supper.... Tommy was an enchantingly enigmatic character, who from this meeting appeared to have many talents and a lot of energy." (10)
In July 1941, Tomás Harris suggested to his boss, Richard Brooman-White, that Philby would make a good head of M15's Iberian section, which defended Britain against any spies who might come from neutral Spain or Portugal. Brooman-White, in turn, recommended him to Dick White, a senior officer in MI5. White then recommended Philby to the head of Section Five, Major Felix Cowgill, a former officer in the Indian Police. Cowgill approved of Philby but first had to recommend him for the job to Valentine Vivian, because, as well as being deputy chief, Vivian had special responsibilities for counter-espionage. Vivian decided to check Philby out by interviewing his father, Harry St John Bridger Philby. Vivian asked St John about his son. "He was a bit of a communist at Cambridge, wasn't he?" St John replied: "Oh, that was all schoolboy nonsense. "He's a reformed character now." Vivian accepted this assessment of Philby's political past and told Cowgill to go ahead and engage him. (11)
Tomás Harris became involved in what became known as the Double-Cross System. Created by John Masterman, it attempted to "influence enemy plans by the answers sent to the enemy (by the double agents)" and to "deceive the enemy about our plans and intentions". (12) Desmond Bristow was also a member of the team and later recalled the first time he went to a committee meeting: "The room was square, bare and cold. So was the table in the middle with chairs around. Tar Robertson, a big haughty fellow with friendly eyes and an assertive way about him, came up and shook my hand.... I'm sure you can imagine the type of people who were present: John Masterman, the head of the committee, M15, Oxford University; John Marriot, the secretary, MI5, a London solicitor; T. A. Robertson, Lieutenant Colonel, M15; Ewen Montague, Lieutenant Commander, naval intelligence; John Drew, Home Defence executive; Colonel Bevan, army; Flight Lieutenant Cholmondeley, air force, Cambridge, and myself for this meeting and the following four Wednesday meetings." (13)
Operation Torch was the first major Allied offensive of the war invasion of the Second World War. Planning the invasion of French North Africa began in July 1942. Eight double agents were used to pass disinformation to the enemy. Harris was the case-officer of the Spanish double agent, Juan Pujol García (GARBO). Christopher Andrew, the author of The Defence of the Realm: The Authorized History of MI5 (2009) has argued: "The most inventive disinformation came from the Spanish double agent GARBO and his full-time case officer, Tomás Harris... who formed one of the most creative and successful agent-case-officer partnerships in MI5 history." (14)
Desmond Bristow was also involved in this project. He had met Juan Pujol García, along with Harris, when he first arrived in England: "Juan, a short man with slicked-back dark hair revealing a high forehead, and warm brown eyes with a slight mischievous glint, smiled as I shook his hand. The room was sparsely furnished, with just a table and four chairs set against a window overlooking the small back garden of the semi-detached house. I spent the next four hours translating the messages he had sent to the Abwehr into English. In the afternoon I started the preliminary debriefing. As the representative of M16, it was my task for the next eight days to interrogate this enigmatic Catalan." (15)
As MI5 wanted to use GARBO in later operations, it was agreed that he should send accurate details of the planned Allied invasion. However, it was arranged for these reports to be delayed in the post. They did not reach GARBO's case-officer until 7th November, a a few hours before the Allied landings and after the invasion force had already been spotted by the Germans. It did not occur to the Abwehr to blame GARBO for the delay or to suspect the involvement of British intelligence. His German case-officer told him: "Your last reports are all magnificent, but we are very sorry they arrived late."
By 1943 GARBO had convinced Abwehr that he had a network of highly productive sub-agents. It was claimed that the twenty-eight agents, were mostly in the UK but some of them were as far afield as North America and Ceylon. Duff Cooper reported to Winston Churchill that "GARBO works on average from six to eight hours a day - drafting secret letters, enciphering, composing cover texts, writing them and planning for the future. Fortunately he has a facile and lurid style, great ingenuity and a passionate and quixotic zeal for his task." (16) As a result of receiving this information Churchill apparently said: "In wartime, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies."
Tomás Harris and GARBO played an important role in the deception plans for the D-Day landings. The key aims of the deception were: "(a) To induce the German Command to believe that the main assault and follow up will be in or east of the Pas de Calais area, thereby encouraging the enemy to maintain or increase the strength of his air and ground forces and his fortifications there at the expense of other areas, particularly of the Caen area in Normandy. (b) To keep the enemy in doubt as to the date and time of the actual assault. (c) During and after the main assault, to contain the largest possible German land and air forces in or east of the Pas de Calais for at least fourteen days." (17)
According to Christopher Andrew: "During the first six months of 1944, working with Tomás Harris, he (GARBO) sent more than 500 messages to the Abwehr station in Madrid, which as German intercepts revealed, passed them to Berlin, many marked 'Urgent'... The final act in the pre-D-Day deception was entrusted, appropriately, to its greatest practitioners, GARBO and Tomás Harris. After several weeks of pressure, Harris finally gained permission for GARBO to be allowed to radio a warning that Allied forces were heading towards the Normandy beaches just too late for the Germans to benefit from it." (18) In 1945, as a result of his role in thw success of the D-Day landings, Tomás Harris was awarded the OBE.
Tomás Harris's friend Anthony Blunt, pointed out: "After the war he gradually freed himself from his commitments as a dealer and spent more and more time in Spain, first at Malaga and then in Majorca where he designed and built a house at Camp de Mar. Here he was able to paint as much as he wanted, and he also experimented with making ceramics and stained glass and designing tapestries, three of which were woven at the royal tapestry factory at Madrid. His great versatility enabled him to master all the technical problems involved in these activities with astonishing ease." (19)
In August 1962, during a reception at the Weizmann Institute, Flora Solomon told Victor Rothschild, who had worked with MI6 during the Second World War and enjoyed close connections with Mossad, the Israeli intelligence service, that she thought that Tomás Harris and Kim Philby were Soviet spies: "How is it that The Observer uses a man like Kim? Don't they know he's a Communist?" She then went on to tell Rothschild that she suspected that Philby and his friend, Tomás 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." (20) It would seem that Solomon was motivated by 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." (21) She also suspected that Philby and the KGB had been involved in the death of his wife, Aileen Philby, who had started to suspect him of being a Soviet spy.
Rothschild arranged for Solomon to be interviewed by Arthur Martin. Another MI5 agent, Peter Wright, was also involved and later wrote about it in his book, Spycatcher (1987): "I monitored the interview back at Leconfield House on the seventh floor. Flora Solomon was a strange, rather untrustworthy woman, who never told the truth about her relations with people like Philby in the 1930s, although she clearly had a grudge against him. With much persuasion, she told Arthur a version of the truth. She said she had known Philby very well before the war. She had been fond of him, and when he was working in Spain as a journalist with The Times he had taken her,out for lunch on one of his trips back to London. During the meal he told her he was doing a very dangerous job for peace - he wanted help. Would she help him in the task? He was working for the Comintern and the Russians. It would be a great thing if she would join the cause. She refused to join the cause, but told him that he could always come to her if he was desperate. Arthur held back from quizzing her. This was her story, and it mattered little to us whether she had, in reality, as we suspected, taken more than the passive role she described during the 1930s." (22)
Arrangements were made to interview Tomás Harris about these charges. However, on 27th January, 1964, he was killed in a motor accident at Lluchmayor, Majorca. Some observers have suggested that Tomás Harris was murdered. Andrew Lownie has argued: "One afternoon driving along a familiar stretch of road in Majorca, where he lived, Harris' new Citroen inexplicably veered off the road. He had not been drinking or speeding and the suspicion has always been that someone had tampered with the car." (23)
Chapman Pincher, the author of Their Trade is Treachery (1981), agrees that it is possible that Harris had been eliminated by the KGB: "The police could find nothing wrong with the car, which hit a tree, but Harris's wife, who survived the crash, could not explain why the vehicle had gone into a sudden slide. It is considered possible, albeit remotely, that the KGB might have wanted to silence Harris before he could talk to the British security authorities, as he was an expansive personality, when in the mood, and was outside British jurisdiction. The information, about which MI5 wanted to question him and would be approaching him in Majorca, could have leaked to the KGB from its source inside MI5." (24) Pincher goes onto argue that the source was probably Roger Hollis, the director-general of MI5.
Flora Solomon was one of those who thought Tomás Harris had been murdered. Peter Wright reported that she was very scared. "I will never give public evidence. There is too much risk. You see what has happened to Tomás since I spoke to Victor... It will leak, I know it will leak, and then what will my family do?" Although Solomon never provided any hard evidence against Harris, who was also a close friend of Guy Burgess, he had already been under suspicion that he was a Soviet spy. "Solomon could not have known it was Harris who had been instrumental in rescuing Philby from operational oblivion in SOE... Just how Harris himself managed to jump to MI5 has never been accounted for. Burgess, who was responsible for obtaining Harris's semi-official MI6 status, had no direct office contact with Liddell." (25)
Our outstanding personality, however, was undoubtedly Tomás Harris, an art-dealer of great distinction. The work was altogether unworthy of his untaught but brilliantly intuitive mind. He was soon snapped up by M15 where he was to conceive and guide one of the most creative intelligence operations of all time. It will be seen that those days at Brickendonbury were days of almost unrelieved gloom, as far as I was concerned. They were illumined only by the beginning of a close and most highly prized friendship with Tomás Harris.
The job Burgess had got for Kim Philby was in Section D of SIS (the "D" standing for "destruction"). His salary was £600 a year, and no nonsense about income tax. The aim of the section was to stir up resistance to the Germans in Europe by sabotage. The work consisted largely of sitting around at conferences discussing ways of interrupting the supply of Romanian oil to Germany, or considering plans to launch balloons over Central Europe in the hope that the incendiary bombs attached to them would set the grain fields on fire and cripple German food production: Section D was starved of funds, distrusted by other sections of SIS, and viewed with extreme suspicion in Whitehall. It, was soon taken over by the newly created Special Operations Executive (SOE), set up in July 1940 to "set Europe ablaze". Given the exclusive responsibility for sabotage operations overseas, one of SOE's first moves was to take over Section D.
But by then Philby had already made his mark. At Burgess's suggestion he had written a paper outlining the creation of a school for training agents in the techniques of underground work. Out of this grew a large establishment based at Brickendonbury Hall near Hertford, where a staff that included such famous secret agents as George Hill, who had worked against the Bolsheviks during the Russian Revolution, taught groups of men and women from the countries of Occupied Europe the skills of sabotage and subversion. When SOE took Section D over, Burgess was sent packing. Tommy Harris, the art dealer Philby first met at Brickendonbury and who was to become a close friend, found a job with M15. But Philby was kept on by SOE and made an instructor at the agents' school at Beaulieu in Hampshire. He did the agents' course himself and performed so well that he was briefly considered for service in France, but his French was not quite good enough. Instead he taught a course in underground propaganda.
Philby was good at it. To prepare himself for the job he consulted Richard Crossman (later a Labour minister) and Sefton Delmer (a well-known newspaper correspondent), who were working in a "black propaganda" outfit at Woburn Abbey. "At Beaulieu (Philby) developed the notion of the "subversive rumour" which, he insisted, should be both concrete and plausible. It was his idea, for example, to feed to the enemy the alarming information that French girls suffering from VD were being encouraged to go to bed with German soldiers - in contrast with the commonly held view that savage head-shaving was the penalty inflicted for such fraternization." The alarm and despondency this caused in the German army can well be imagined when we recall that in those days some types of VD took three painful years to cure.
Philby soon showed the ingenuity that was to distinguish his spying career. He argued that it was useless to teach SOE agents merely the methods of disseminating political propaganda; the content of that propaganda was equally important. If the SOE field agent was to inspire people under the Nazi heel to risk their lives, then the propaganda he put out would have to offer them some hope for a better future. So Philby got permission to seek political guidance on Britain's views of Europe after victory. He turned to Hugh Gaitskell, later leader of the Labour Party, but at that time principal private secretary to Hugh Dalton, the Minister for Economic Warfare, who was also responsible for SOE. Gaitskell had met Philby in Vienna and, now, anxious to help, he took Philby back to his office to consult Dalton himself.
In this way, Philby, ostensibly a humble SOE instructor, learnt that the British government's view of postwar Europe was a simple return to the pre-Hitler status quo, with a reinstatement of those governments which had shown themselves to be reliable in maintaining the cordon sanitaire against the Soviet Union. This was very important information for the Russian intelligence service because it meant that, although Britain might be willing now to support communist resistance movements in Europe if they were more effective than others in fighting the Germans, it would turn against them if they looked like becoming the postwar rulers. This knowledge coloured relations between communist resistance movements and London throughout the war.
Important though this was, Philby remained impatient. He was on the periphery of the real intelligence world. His elation at joining SIS had faded as he was pushed further away from his goal. For once Burgess had no inside influence and could not help him this time, but his newly found friend Tomás Harris did. Harris, half Spanish and half English, had been a fine artist in his youth but had given up painting for dealing. He and his wife Hilda ran the Spanish Art Galleries, and had a magnificent house called Garden Lodge in Logan Place, just off the Earls Court Road. Both were brilliant cooks, they entertained lavishly and during the war Harris's house became a sort of drinking club for off-duty M15 and SIS officers. (It differed from Bentinck Street in that it was usually a male enclave.)
As Philby recalled in Moscow, "Tommy was an amazingly generous fellow. He'd already made a lot of money buying cheap from English country houses and selling dear and he liked to entertain a lot. So we had a little drinking circle at his place... You'd drop in to see who was around. Tommy, as the host, was there most of the time. The others came and went. The regulars were me, Burgess, Blunt and perhaps Aneurin Bevan. Victor Rothschild dropped in from time to time but he wasn't one of the regulars."
It was now more than ever necessary for me to get away from the rhododendrons of Beaulieu. I have already explained that Harris had joined M15 after the break-up of the training-school at Brickendonbury. It must have been sometime in July that he asked me if I would be interested in a job that called for my special knowledge of Franco's Spain. He explained that it would not be with M15, but with SIS.
In order to make sense of Harris's suggestion, it is necessary to anticipate, very briefly, matters that will be discussed in detail in subsequent chapters. SIS was responsible for all secret intelligence work, both espionage and counter-espionage, on foreign soil. M15 was responsible for counter-espionage and security in Britain and in all British territory overseas. The counter-espionage section of SIS, known as Section V, and M15 were in fact two sides of the same medal. The primary function of Section V was to obtain advance information of espionage operations mounted against British territory from foreign soil. It was clear that effective advance warning from Section V would go far to help M15 in its task of safeguarding British security.
Section V, according to Harris, was not providing adequate service. M15 had been pressing SIS hard to make the necessary im¬provements, even to the point of threatening to go into the foreign business itself. Such an extension of M15's charter could not have taken place without a government decision, but some officials at least were prepared to take the issue up to the top. SIS, therefore, yielded to the pressure by substantially increasing Section V's budget to finance additional staff. As a high proportion of German intelligence operations against Britain were mounted from the Iberian Peninsula, the biggest expansion, from two officers to six, was planned for the sub-section dealing with Spain and Portugal. Harris told me that Felix Henry Cowgill, then head of Section V, was looking for someone with a knowledge of Spain to take charge of the expanded sub-section. If I was agreeable, Harris thought that he could put forward my name with good hope of success.
I decided at once to fall in with the suggestion, but I asked Harris for a few days to think it over. There might have been snags; in any case, I must rationalize my decision. Section V was located at St. Albans, not ideal, but immeasurably better than Beaulieu. My new job would require personal contacts with the rest of SIS and with M15. There was also a suggestion of Foreign Office interest, not to mention the service departments. By accident, I discovered that the archives of SIS were also located at St. Albans, next door to Section V When I looked for drawbacks, I could only think that the job was not in all respects the one which I would have chosen, Spain and Portugal now lying far out on the flank of my real interest. But the same applied, a thousandfold, to Beaulieu.
A few days later, I told Harris that I would be most grateful if he took the matter further. He first interested his own boss, Dick Brooman-White,* who was then head of M15's Iberian section, and was later to become a close friend, and I assume that the old-boy network began to operate. I rather think that the formal approach to Section V was made by Dick White,t then a senior officer of M15, and about the only one whose personal relations with Cowgill re¬mained tolerable. (Dick White, "Big Dick," is not to be confused with Dick Brooman-White, "Little Dick." The former was much later to become head of SIS while the latter was elected Conservative MP for the Rutherglen constituency.) It was not long before I received a telephone call from Cowgill, asking me to go and see him.
Harris, son of a Spanish mother and an English father, had been a successful art dealer, mainly in Spanish paintings. Tommy, as he was known, was a talented artist who then turned to art dealing himself and became wealthy in his own right. At the outbreak of war, as a contribution to the fight against Hitler, he and his wife. served as rather grand housekeeper-cooks to a defense establishment near Hertford for teaching the techniques of sabotage.
Harris was introduced there by his old friend Burgess, who had managed to insinuate himself on to the staff. From there, Harris secured a transfer as an officer to the section of M15 at ran the double-cross system, whereby German agents were "turned" to work for the British either because they volunteered or as an alternative to execution or imprisonment fur life.
He had an outstanding qualification for the work because of his knowledge of Spain and Portugal and became head of UI5's Iberian section. He proved to be a most ingenious exponent of deception techniques, mainly designed to mislead the Germans about Allied invasion plans. The particular agent he ran, code named "Garbo," was the most effective of the war.
After the hostilities, Harris gave up art dealing and devoting himself to painting and collecting, spending more and '' re time in Spain and Majorca. He was, therefore, not available for interview by his old MI5 colleagues when he naturally came under suspicion following the defection of his friends, Maclean and Burgess.
Most of his colleagues whom I have consulted do not believe that he was an active Soviet spy or even a Communist. But he was named as having served as a courier during the Spanish Civil War for Philby, who, while reporting from the Franco side, needed to get information to the Russians. The person who named him was Flora Solomon, whose other accusations eventually led to the exposure of Philby as a spy. It is also believed that Harris may have assisted in the escape of Melinda Maclean from Switzerland to join her husband in Moscow in 1953, but there was nothing illegal in that, and he may have been doing it to help an old friend. What is the view, for instance, of such a balanced former colleague as Col. T A. Robertson. Others are also prepared to believe that any financial assistance Harris may have given to Philby was no more than his natural generosity, though it remains possible that he was serving as a paymaster for the Russians.
Harris was killed in January 1964 in a car crash in Majorca. The police could find nothing wrong with the car, which hit a tree, but Harris's wife, who survived the crash, could not explain why the vehicle had gone into a sudden slide. The information, about which MI5 wanted to question him and would be approaching him in Majorca, could have leaked to the KGB from its source inside MI5.
The job Burgess had got for Kim Philby was in Section D of SIS (the `D' standing for `destruction'). At Beaulieu (Philby) developed the notion of the "subversive rumour" which, he insisted, should be both concrete and plausible. It was his idea, for example, to feed to the enemy the alarming information that French girls suffering from VD were being encouraged to go to bed with German
There is a fascinating story of how Philby was supported by his former Intelligence colleague Tomás Harris when the former was drummed out of MI6 after the flight of Burgess and Maclean in 1951. Philby had originally approached Deutsch offering to write about his experiences in the Intelli- gence Services and a contract had been drawn up. What Philby did not know was that when a large part of the advance had to be repaid for non-delivery, Harris did so himself.
Harris is an intriguing character. Originally trained as an artist he had made a fortune as an art dealer. The parties he and his wife Hilda gave were lavish affairs regularly attended by Blunt, Burgess and Philby. Together with Flora Solomon, who later denounced Philby, he was a witness when Philby married his second wife Aileen and one of Philby's prized possessions in Moscow was the antique table given by Harris.
What Knightley does not say is that there is now growing evidence that Harris was another Soviet mole and that his fortune was made as a middleman selling the Spanish artworks looted by Soviet agents during the Spanish Civil War. Nor does he mention the strange circumstances in which Harris died. One afternoon driving along a familiar stretch of road in Majorca, where he lived, Harris' new Citroen inexplicably veered off the road. He had not been drinking or speeding and the suspicion has always been that someone had tampered with the car.