Espionage’s Coming of Age in the Spanish Civil War

In El Pais, a story of how the Spanish Civil War became a training ground for the spies of the Cold War.

When, in 1937, The Times of London published an interview with General Francisco Franco, those in the know will have had a hearty chuckle. For the man standing next to the caudillo was a Soviet spy.

The article was reprinted in Spanish newspaper ABC several days later. At the time, Franco was the man spearheading the war against the Republic. The man in the picture next to him, who is looking at Franco with an intense look of concentration on his face as he points at a map, was supposedly a journalist. The photo shows him to be an impeccably dressed man in his thirties. He is thin, with dark eyes, sharp features and combed back hair. Protruding from his top jacket pocket is a handkerchief, coquettishly arranged, giving him a dandyish appearance that was to the liking of the Burgos authorities—for it added a touch of respectability to the fact that an Englishman was taking such an interest in the future dictator and his opinions.

The hilarity the photo caused the spy’s bosses must have been even greater when they found out that Franco had seen fit to award him with a military cross of merit. Franco’s heads of press liked his balanced, well-written chronicles, which were somewhat favorable to the fascist cause.

The reporter’s name was Harold Adrian Russell Philby, although his friends preferred to call him Kim.