Spartacus Blog

The Death of Tomás Harris

Tuesday, 24th September, 2014

John Simkin

On 27th January, 1964, Tomás Harris 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." (1)

Who would have wanted Tomás Harris dead? Was this event connected to his friendship with Kim Philby? Did it have anything to do with the death of Aileen Philby in 1957? Had he been killed because of his work in the Second World War?

In early 1941 Tomás Harris joined MI5. (2) 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". (3) Operation Torch was the first major Allied offensive of the 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." (4)

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." (5) 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." (6)

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." (7) In 1945, as a result of his role in the success of the D-Day landings, Tomás Harris was awarded the OBE.

Is it possible that a German far-right group was gaining revenge on a man who played a significant role in their defeat in 1945? There is little evidence that these kind of assassinations took place after the war. However, it is possible that another foreign government wanted Tomás Harris dead.

On 12th December 1957, Aileen Philby was discovered dead in the bedroom of her house in Crowborough. Her friends believed she had killed herself, with drink and pills. However, her psychiatrist suspected, that she "might have been murdered" by Kim Philby because she knew too much. "The coroner ruled she had died from heart failure, myocardial degeneration, tuberculosis, and a respiratory infection having contracted influenza. Her alcoholism undoubtedly accelerated her death." (8)

Aileen's friend, Flora Solomon, definitely believed that Philby had been responsible for her death. However, it was not until several years later, that she decided to gain her revenge. Solomon was a strong supporter of Israel and had been upset by what she considered to be Philby's pro-Arab articles in The Observer. It has been argued that "her love for Israel proved greater than her old socialist loyalties." (9)

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 the 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." (10)

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." (11)

Arrangements were made to interview Tomás Harris about these charges but as he was living in Spain the meeting was delayed and he was killed before it took place. 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." (12) 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 both 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." (13)

Kim Philby clearly had a great deal of respect for Tomás Harris. He later wrote in My Secret War (1968) how he worked with him at Brickendonbury Hall, the Special Operations Executive training establishment: "Our outstanding personality, however, was undoubtedly Tomás Harris, an art-dealer of great distinction.... 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." (14)

Shortly before his death on 11th May 1988, Philby agreed to be interviewed by the journalist, Phillip Knightley. Philby admitted that it was Harris got 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... Harris had joined M15 after the break-up of the training-school at Brickendonbury." (15)

Knightley asked him if he had any regrets. Philby replied: "None in the sense that no course of action is ever entirely right or entirely wrong. So, trying to strike a balance in my life I would say that the right I've done is greater than the wrong I've done. I accept that many would disagree with me."

"It's hard to believe that you have no regrets at all" Knightley persisted. "Of course I regret what happened to my relationship with friends. People like Tommy Harris." It is interesting that the only person mentioned by Philby was Harris. (16) Was he reflecting on the fact that he had informed the KGB that he would need to be eliminated because of the information given by Flora Solomon to Victor Rothschild? Philby was responsible for the deaths of several people who were on the verge of exposing him as a spy. In his book, My Secret War, he dismissed these people as "a nasty piece of work" who "deserved what he got". Philby is considered by many as someone who was unable to show any empathy for his victims. Maybe, it is with the case of Tomás Harris that he becomes a man who does feel guilt.

Tomás Harris has an entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. However, there is no mention in that article about him being suspected as a Soviet spy. Maybe that is because the article was written by his close friend, and the man who helped him to join MI5. That is to say, Anthony Blunt, who confessed to being a Soviet spy on 23rd April, 1964, only two months after Harris was killed.


(1) Andrew Lownie, The Spectator (5th November, 1988)

(2) Christopher Andrew, The Defence of the Realm: The Authorized History of MI5 (2009) page 284

(3) John Masterman, The Double-Cross System in the War of 1939-45 (1972)

(4) Christopher Andrew, The Defence of the Realm: The Authorized History of MI5 (2009) page 284

(5) Duff Cooper, letter to Winston Churchill (5th November, 1943)

(6) Michael Howard, British Intelligence in the Second World War (1990) pages 106-107

(7) Christopher Andrew, The Defence of the Realm: The Authorized History of MI5 (2009) page 305

(8) Ben Macintyre, A Spy Among Friends (2014) page 212

(9) John Costello, Mask of Treachery (1988) page 387

(10) Flora Solomon, Baku to Baker Street (1984) page 226

(11) Peter Wright, Spycatcher (1987) pages 172-173

(12) Chapman Pincher, Their Trade is Treachery (1981) pages 169-170

(13) John Costello, Mask of Treachery (1988) page 388

(14) Kim Philby, My Secret War (1968) page 17

(15) Phillip Knightley, Philby: KGB Masterspy (1988) pages 35-37

(16) Phillip Knightley, Philby: KGB Masterspy (1988) pages 254

Previous Posts

The Death of Tomás Harris (24th September, 2014)

Simulations in the Classroom (1st September, 2014)

The KGB and the JFK Assassination (21st August, 2014)

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Alger Hiss was not framed by the FBI (17th June, 2014)

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Google, Bing and Operation Mockingbird: The CIA and Search-Engine Results (10th June, 2014)

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