Defectors – by any other name

Kim Philby, Britain’s most notorious cold war traitor, told an audience of East German spies after his defection, that he was able to avoid being rumbled for so long because he had been “born into the British governing class.” So says the Guardian – His exploits, along with those of Burgess, Blunt, and Maclean make for dramatic reading.

Known as the Cambridge Spy ring, it turns out that they may have been influenced and possibly led by a woman, Edith Tudor-Hart. Documents declassified after 50 years reveal that Edith was under round the clock surveillance.

The MI5 files detail the way in which the agency’s close scrutiny of Tudor-Hart’s life eventually drove her to a breakdown and serious mental illness. Its officers never caught her spying, however; the only time they witnessed her committing an offence was when she dodged paying her bus fare.”

Blunt told his MI5 interrogators in 1964 that she had been “the grandmother of us all.

I am not defending their actions or choices, but I am fascinated by why people buck the trend and some of this does not make sense.

There must be more to this story. It seems to involve the personal and the contradictory.

Tudor-Hart had been friendly with Philby’s Austrian first wife, Litzi Friedmann, and when the Philbys also moved from Vienna to London, she arranged to introduce him to Arnold Deutsch, the Soviet agent who would eventually run the Cambridge spy ring.

MI5 noted that the interrogation had “produced some interesting reactions … and profoundly affected her”. She had been admitted to a psychiatric hospital and was being treated for “persecution complex.” Surveillance devices inside the Communist party’s headquarters in Covent Garden, where she was registered as a member under the alias Betty Grey, showed that her comrades believed she could no longer be trusted, as she was “off her head.

Were they all unduly influenced or were they rejecting a belief system that was intolerable to their being? Will we ever know?

I pose this question because I watched a YouTube video yesterday about another type of defection. The title of the video is “Defectors or Truth seekers?” Some extreme religious groups such as Jehovah’s Witnesses and Seventh Day Adventists, call questioning and leaving; a defection – or apostasy. None of these terms explain the background. It is the complexity of choice and decision making that interests me.

The video explores how defectors/apostates who refuse to go along with a system of beliefs, do so after research and much heart rending. They lose family and friends, but seem to gain a freedom that was not possible when rules could not be questioned.

I know these two types of “defection” are different, but I wonder whether the action, that produces such condemnation, is part of a global and a personal process to resolve what does not make sense? The defector and the system play their part.

What do you make of it?

This post is written as part of the A-Z month of Blogging

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  1. Very interesting. I am fascinated by this as well. Amazing that what got the grandmother type in the end was the problem with the bus fare. Some of the biggest cases in history were resolved when they caught the wrong doer on a trivial matter such as a parking ticket. Thank you. Found this a captivating read.

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