St John Philby

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St John Philby
Harry St. John Bridger Philby.jpg
St John Philby in Riyadh
BornHarry St John Bridger Philby
3 April 1885
Badulla, British Ceylon
Died30 September 1960(1960-09-30) (aged 75)
Beirut, Lebanon
Alma mater Westminster School
Trinity College, Cambridge
Occupation Arabist, explorer, writer, intelligence officer
Spouse(s)Dora and Rozy Philby,
Children8, namely Kim Philby, Diana, Helena, Patricia, from first marriage, and Fahad, Sultan, Faris and Khaled Philby from the second

Harry St John Bridger Philby, CIE (3 April 1885 – 30 September 1960), also known as Jack Philby or Sheikh Abdullah (الشيخ عبدالله), was a British Arabist, adviser, explorer, writer, and colonial office intelligence officer.

Order of the Indian Empire series of award in an order of chivalry of the British Empire

The Most Eminent Order of the Indian Empire is an order of chivalry founded by Queen Victoria in 1878. The Order includes members of three classes:

  1. Knight Grand Commander (GCIE)
  2. Knight Commander (KCIE)
  3. Companion (CIE)
Arabist academic or researcher who specialise in the study of the Arabic language and Arabic literature

An Arabist is someone normally from outside the Arab world who specialises in the study of the Arabic language and culture.

An Intelligence Officer is a person employed by an organization to collect, compile and/or analyze information which is of use to that organization. The term of 'Officer' is a working title, and is not to be confused with rank as in the police services, where Sergeants are also 'Police Officers,' or with Non-Commissioned Military ranks that can be Intelligence Officers as well. Organizations which employ intelligence officers include armed forces, police, civilian intelligence agencies, customs agencies and private corporations.


As he states in his autobiography, he "became something of a fanatic" and in 1908 [1] "the first Socialist to join the Indian Civil Service". After studying Oriental languages at the University of Cambridge, he was posted to Lahore in the Punjab in 1908, acquiring fluency in Urdu, Punjabi, Baluchi, Persian, and eventually Arabic. He converted to Islam in 1930, and later became an adviser to Ibn Saud, urging him to become King of the whole of Arabia, [2] and helping him to negotiate with the United Kingdom and the United States when petroleum was discovered in 1938; in addition he married for the second time, to a Saudi Arabian. [3]

British Raj British rule in the Indian subcontinent, 1858-1947

The British Raj was the rule by the British Crown in the Indian subcontinent from 1858 to 1947. The rule is also called Crown rule in India, or direct rule in India. The region under British control was commonly called British India or simply India in contemporaneous usage, and included areas directly administered by the United Kingdom, which were collectively called British India, and those ruled by indigenous rulers, but under British tutelage or paramountcy, and called the princely states. The whole was also informally called the Indian Empire. As India, it was a founding member of the League of Nations, a participating nation in the Summer Olympics in 1900, 1920, 1928, 1932, and 1936, and a founding member of the United Nations in San Francisco in 1945.

University of Cambridge University in Cambridge, England, United Kingdom

The University of Cambridge is a collegiate public research university in Cambridge, United Kingdom. Founded in 1209 and granted a Royal Charter by King Henry III in 1231, Cambridge is the second-oldest university in the English-speaking world and the world's fourth-oldest surviving university. The university grew out of an association of scholars who left the University of Oxford after a dispute with the townspeople. The two 'ancient universities' share many common features and are often referred to jointly as 'Oxbridge'. The history and influence of the University of Cambridge has made it one of the most prestigious universities in the world.

Lahore Place in Punjab, Pakistan

Lahore is a city in the Pakistani province of Punjab. Lahore is the country's second-most populous city after Karachi, and is one of Pakistan's wealthiest cities with an estimated GDP of $58.14 billion (PPP) as of 2015. Lahore is the largest city, and historic cultural centre of the Punjab region, and one of Pakistan's most socially liberal, progressive, and cosmopolitan cities.

His only son by his first wife Dora Johnston was Kim Philby, who became known worldwide as a double agent for the Soviet Union, where he defected in 1963. [4] One of his three sons with his second wife Rozy al-Abdul Aziz is the former United Nations Resident Coordinator in, inter-alia, Kuwait and later Turkmenistan, Khaled Philby.

Kim Philby British spy and KGB double agent for the Soviet Union

Harold Adrian Russell "Kim" Philby was a high-ranking member of British intelligence who worked as a double agent before defecting to the Soviet Union in 1963. He served as both an NKVD and KGB operative.

Soviet Union 1922–1991 country in Europe and Asia

The Soviet Union, officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), was a socialist state in Eurasia that existed from 30 December 1922 to 26 December 1991. Nominally a union of multiple national Soviet republics, its government and economy were highly centralized. The country was a one-party state, governed by the Communist Party with Moscow as its capital in its largest republic, the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. Other major urban centres were Leningrad, Kiev, Minsk, Alma-Ata, and Novosibirsk.

A United Nations Resident Coordinator is the highest United Nations official and the chief of UN diplomatic mission in a country. It confers the same rank as an Ambassador of a foreign state. The resident coordinator is the designated representative of the UN secretary general and leader of United Nations Country Team of agencies such as UNICEF, WHO, WFP or UNFPA.

Early years

His son Kim Philby Kim Philby.jpg
His son Kim Philby
Percy Cox Percy Cox 1916.JPG
Percy Cox

Born in Badulla in British Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), the son of a tea planter, he was educated at Westminster School and Trinity College, Cambridge, where he studied oriental languages under Edward Granville Browne, and was a friend and classmate of Jawaharlal Nehru, who later became the first Prime Minister of independent India. Philby married Dora Johnston in September 1910, [4] with his distant cousin Bernard Law Montgomery as best man. In addition to their son Kim, who was born in 1912, they had three daughters: Diana, Helena and Patricia.

Badulla City in Sri Lanka

Badulla is the main city of Uva Province situated in the lower central hills of Sri Lanka. It is the capital city of Uva Province and the Badulla District.

British Ceylon former British Crown colony

Ceylon was a British Crown colony between 1815 and 1948. Initially the area it covered did not include the Kingdom of Kandy, which was a protectorate from 1815, but from 1817 to 1948 the British possessions included the whole island of Ceylon, now the nation of Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka Island country in South Asia

Sri Lanka, officially the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, is an island country in South Asia, located in the Indian Ocean to the southwest of the Bay of Bengal and to the southeast of the Arabian Sea. The island is historically and culturally intertwined with the Indian subcontinent, but is geographically separated from the Indian subcontinent by the Gulf of Mannar and the Palk Strait. The legislative capital, Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte, is a suburb of the commercial capital and largest city, Colombo.


In late 1915 Percy Cox recruited Philby as head of the finance branch of the British administration in Baghdad, a job which included fixing compensation for property and business owners. Their mission was twofold: to organise the Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Turks and to protect the oil fields near Basra and the Shatt al Arab, which was a source of oil for the Royal Navy. The revolt was organised with the promise of creating a unified Arab state, or Arab federation, from Aleppo in Syria to Aden in Yemen. Gertrude Bell was his first controller and taught him the finer arts of espionage. In 1916 he became Revenue Commissioner for British Occupied Territories.

Percy Cox British Indian Army general

Major-General Sir Percy Zachariah Cox was a British Indian Army officer and Colonial Office administrator in the Middle East. He was one of the major figures in the creation of the current Middle East.

Baghdad Capital of Iraq

Baghdad is the capital of Iraq. The population of Baghdad, as of 2016, is approximately 8,765,000, making it the largest city in Iraq, the second largest city in the Arab world, and the second largest city in Western Asia.

Arab Revolt uprising against the ruling Ottoman Turks during World War I

The Arab Revolt or Great Arab Revolt was officially initiated by Hussein bin Ali, Sharif of Mecca, at Mecca on June 10, 1916 with the aim of securing independence from the ruling Ottoman Turks and creating a single unified Arab state stretching from Aleppo in Syria to Aden in Yemen.

In November 1917 Philby was sent to the interior of the Arabian peninsula as head of a mission to Ibn Saud, the chieftain who professed Wahhabism, the movement within Sunni Islam, and bitter enemy of Hussein bin Ali, Sharif of Mecca, leader of the Hashemites and of the Arab Revolt, both contenders to become "King of the Arabs". Philby secretly began to favour Ibn Saud even though British policy supported Sherif Hussein. Philby completed a crossing from Riyadh to Jeddah by a "backdoor" route, thus demonstrating Saud and not Hussein was in control of the Arabian highlands.

Ibn Saud Founder of Saudi Arabia

Abdulaziz ibn Abdul Rahman ibn Faisal ibn Turki ibn Abdullah ibn Muhammad Al Saud, usually known within the Arab world as Abdulaziz and in the West as Ibn Saud, was the first monarch and founder of Saudi Arabia, the "third Saudi state".

Wahhabism Religious movement and branch of Sunni Islam

Wahhabism is an Islamic doctrine and religious movement founded by Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab. It has been variously described as "ultraconservative", "austere", "fundamentalist", or "puritan(ical)"; as an Islamic "reform movement" to restore "pure monotheistic worship" (tawhid) by devotees; and as a "deviant sectarian movement", "vile sect" and a distortion of Islam by its opponents. The term Wahhabi(ism) is often used polemically and adherents commonly reject its use, preferring to be called Salafi or muwahhid. claiming to emphasize the principle of tawhid, for exclusivity on monotheism, dismissing other Muslims as practising shirk, (idolatry). It follows the theology of Ibn Taymiyyah and the Hanbali school of jurisprudence, although Hanbali leaders renounced Abd al-Wahhab's views.

Sunni Islam denomination of Islam

Sunni Islam is the largest denomination of Islam, followed by nearly 90% of the world's Muslims. Its name comes from the word sunnah, referring to the behaviour of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. The differences between Sunni and Shia Muslims arose from a disagreement over the succession to Muhammad and subsequently acquired broader political significance, as well as theological and juridical dimensions.

In November 1918, Britain and France issued the Anglo-French Declaration [5] to the Arabs, promising self-determination. Philby felt there was a betrayal of this assurance, along with others made in the Balfour Declaration and the Sykes-Picot Agreement. He saw the promise of a single unified Arab nation as having been betrayed. Philby argued that Ibn Saud was a "democrat" guiding his affairs "by mutual counsel" as laid out in the Quran, in contrast to George Curzon, 1st Marquess Curzon of Kedleston's support for Hussein. After the Iraqi revolt of 1920 Philby was appointed Minister of Internal Security in the British Mandate of Iraq.

In November 1921, Philby was named chief head of the Secret Service in Mandatory Palestine, working with T. E. Lawrence and meeting his American counterpart, Allen Dulles. At the end of 1922, Philby travelled to London for extensive meetings with parties involved in the Palestine question, included Winston Churchill, George V, Edward, Prince of Wales, Walter Rothschild, 2nd Baron Rothschild, Wickham Steed, and Chaim Weizmann. [6]

Adviser to Ibn Saud

Philby's view was that both British and Saud family's interests would be best served by uniting the Arabian peninsula under one government, stretching from the Red Sea to the Persian Gulf, with the Saudis supplanting the Hashemites as Islamic "Keepers of the Holy Places" while protecting shipping lanes along the Suez CanalAdenMumbai (then Bombay) route.

Philby was forced to resign his post in 1924 over differences of allowing Jewish immigration to Palestine. He was found to have had unauthorised correspondence with Ibn Saud, sending confidential information, which carried with it the connotation of espionage. Shortly afterwards Ibn Saud began to call for the overthrow of the Hashemite dynasty, with Philby advising him on how far he could go in occupying Arabia without incurring the wrath of the British, the principal power in the Middle East. In 1925 Philby claimed Ibn Saud had brought unprecedented order into Arabia.

Philby settled in Jeddah and became a partner in a trading company. Over the next few years he became famous as an international writer and explorer. Philby personally mapped on camel back what is now the Saudi–Yemeni border on the Rub' al Khali. In his unique position he became Ibn Saud's chief adviser in dealing with the British Empire and Western powers. He converted to Islam in 1930. [7] In 1931 Philby invited Charles Richard Crane to Jeddah to facilitate exploration of the kingdom's subsoil oil. Crane was accompanied by noted historian George Antonius, who acted as translator.[ citation needed ]

In May 1932, Standard Oil of California (SoCal) sought out Philby in its quest to obtain an oil concession in Saudi Arabia, ultimately signing Philby as a paid adviser to SoCal. Philby, in turn, recognising that competition by foreign interests would get a better deal for the Saudi King, made contact with George Martin Lees, Chief Geologist of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, in order to alert him to SoCal's interest in gaining oil exploration rights in Saudi Arabia. Anglo Persian was one of five international partners in the Iraq Petroleum Company (IPC), through which it pursued its interest in the Saudi concession. In March 1933, IPC sent a representative, Stephen Longrigg, to join negotiations with the Saudi government in Jeddah. However, Philby's primary loyalty was to the Saudi King and, although he was being paid by SoCal, he kept the arrangement a secret from Longrigg. In May 1933, IPC instructed Longrigg to withdraw from Jeddah, leaving SoCal free to conclude negotiations with the Saudi Arabia for a 60-year contract to obtain the exclusive concession for exploration and extraction of oil in the al-Hasa region along the Persian Gulf. [8]

By 1934, in an effort to safeguard the port of Aden, Britain had no fewer than 1,400 "peace treaties" with the various tribal rulers of the hinterlands of what became Yemen. Philby undermined British influence in the region, however, by facilitating the entry of United States commercial interests, followed by a political alliance between the US and the Saud dynasty.

In 1936 SoCal and Texaco pooled their assets together into what later became ARAMCO (Arabian–American Oil Company). The United States Department of State describes ARAMCO as the richest commercial prize in the history of the planet. [9] Philby represented Saudi interests. In 1937 when the Spanish Civil War broke out, Philby arranged for his son, Kim Philby, to become a war correspondent for The Times .

Later Philby began secret negotiations with Germany and Spain, concerning Saudi Arabia's role in the event of a general European war. These discussions would allow neutral Saudi Arabia to sell oil to neutral Spain, which then would be transported to Germany. John Loftus, who worked in the United States Department of Justice Office of Special Investigations Nazi-hunting unit, claims Adolf Eichmann, while on a mission to the Middle East, met with Philby "during the mid-1930s". [10]

Philby Plan

Philby, a known anti-Zionist, outlined a plan to reach a compromise with Zionism, after consultation with Arab leaders, and it was reported in The New York Times in October 1929. The Plan foresaw a shared confirmation of the Balfour Declaration and continued Jewish immigration into Palestine in exchange for a renunciation by Zionists of any desire to seek political dominance. Representation of the two groups would be based on respecting the numerical proportions between the two groups. Judah Magnes, chancellor of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and a member of Brit Shalom, reacted to the proposal positively, and suggested alterations in order to secure guarantees for the Jewish minority. [11]

St John Philby, previously a member of the Labour Party, fought a by-election held on 20 July 1939 for the parliamentary constituency of Hythe, Kent. He stood for the anti-Semitic British People's Party, declaring "no cause whatever is worth the spilling of human blood" and "protection of the small man against big business". He lost his deposit. Soon after, the Second World War began. He is recorded as having referred to Adolf Hitler as "un homme tres fin" ("a most sophisticated man"). [12]

When he travelled to Bombay he was arrested on 3 August 1940 under Defence Regulation 18B, deported to England and there briefly interned. Shortly after his release from custody Philby recommended his son, Kim, to Valentine Vivian, MI6 deputy chief, who recruited him into the British secret service. When Harold Hoskins of the United States State Department visited Ibn Saud in August 1943, he asked if the king would be willing to have an intermediary meet with Chaim Weizmann. Ibn Saud angrily responded, that he was insulted by the suggestion that he could be bribed for £20 million to accept resettlement of Arabs from Palestine. Hoskins reports the king said Weizmann told him the promise of payment would be "guaranteed by President Roosevelt". A month later Weizmann, in a letter to Sumner Welles wrote: "It is conceived on big lines, large enough to satisfy the legitimate aspirations of both Arabs and Jews, and the strategic and economic interests of the United States;... properly managed, Mr. Philby's scheme offers an approach which should not be abandoned". [13]

Suez Crisis

After Ibn Saud's death in 1953 Philby openly criticised the successor King Saud, saying the royal family's morals were being picked up "in the gutters of the West". He was exiled to Lebanon in 1955. In exile he wrote:

the true basis of Arab hostility to Jewish immigration into Palestine is xenophobia, and instinctive perception that the vast majority of central and eastern European Jews, seeking admission ... are not Semites at all. ... Whatever political repercussions of their settlement may be, their advent is regarded as a menace to the Semitic culture of Arabia ... the European Jew of today, with his secular outlook ... is regarded as an unwelcome intruder within the gates of Arabia

While in Beirut he reconciled with Kim, and the two lived together for a time. [14] The son was reemployed by MI6 as an outside informer on retainer. Jack Philby helped further his son's career by introducing him to his extensive network of contacts in the Middle East, including President Camille Chamoun of Lebanon. Both were sympathetic to Nasser during the Suez Crisis of August 1956. Between Jack's access to ARAMCO and Kim's access to British intelligence there was little they did not know about Operation Musketeer, the French and British plan to capture the Suez Canal. The Soviet Union exposed the entire plan in the United Nations and threatened Britain and France with "long-range guided missiles equipped with atomic warheads".[ citation needed ]

In 1955 Jack Philby returned to live in Riyadh. In 1960, on a visit to Kim in Beirut, he suddenly became ill and was rushed to hospital. "The man whose life had been so eventful and panoramic, so daring and theatrical, now lay unconscious. He awoke only for a moment and murmured to his son, "I am so bored." And then he expired."". [15] He is buried in the Muslim cemetery in the Basta district of Beirut. [14] His tombstone reads, "Greatest of Arabian Explorers".

Academic interests

A Wabar meteorite etched section Widmanstatten patterns 1.jpg
A Wabar meteorite etched section

In his travels he took great interest in wildlife and gave a scientific name to the Arabian woodpecker (Desertipicus (now Dendrocopos) dorae), as well as a subspecies (no longer valid) of a scops owl (Otus scops pamelae). Most of his birds were named after women whom he admired. He contributed numerous specimens to the British Museum. He also contributed to the draft of a book on the birds of Arabia by George Latimer Bates. It was not published, but was made use of in Birds of Arabia (1954) by Richard Meinertzhagen. Philby is remembered in ornithology by the name of Philby's partridge ( Alectoris philbyi). [16] [17]

In 1932, while searching for the lost city of Ubar, he was the first Westerner to visit and describe the Wabar craters. [18]

Awards and legacy

In August 1917 he was appointed a Companion of the Order of the Indian Empire. [19] In 1920 he was awarded the Royal Geographical Society Founder's Gold Medal for his two journeys in South Central Arabia. [20]

A subspecies of Middle Eastern lizard, Uromastyx ornata philbyi , and a partridge, Alectoris philbyi , are named in his honour. [21] [22]

Some authors have summarised Philby as a British traitor and an anti-Semite. [23] [24] They suggest Philby never forgave the British government for ending his civil service career (due to sexual misconduct). [25] Once recruited by MI6, according to these authors, Philby used his intelligence assignment to take revenge on the British government. [26] With the extensive contacts he acquired as a British agent, Philby continued to betray British policy and resist all efforts at creating a Jewish homeland throughout his life. Philby disclosed classified British intelligence to Ibn Saud during wartime; he secretly helped secure American oil concessions in Saudi Arabia, double-crossing British competitors; [14] he created economic partnerships, allied against British interests and in favour of Nazi Germany, with the help of Allen Dulles (later CIA Director); and Philby worked with Nazi intelligence to sabotage efforts at creating a Jewish homeland. [27]


See also

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  1. The London Gazette Publication date: 3 November 1908 Issue:28191 Page: 7933
  2. "Middle East Time Bomb: The Real Aim of ISIS Is to Replace the Saud Family as the New Emirs of Arabia". The Huffington Post. 3 September 2014.
  3. Ben Macintyre A Spy Among Friends pg 24
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  5. The King-Crane Commission Report, August 28, 1919, II-The Report Upon Mesopotamia.
  6. "Harry St John Philby". World News.
  7. Macintyre B (2014). A Spy Among Friends. Bloomsbury, London, United Kingdom. p. 27. ISBN   9781408851722.
  8. The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money, and Power, by Daniel Yergin, p. 290
  9. "Context of '1945: US State Department Official Calls Saudi Oil 'One of the Greatest Material Prizes in World History".
  10. John Loftus & Mark Aarons, The Secret War Against the Jews, p. 45.
  11. Daniel P. Kotzin,Judah L. Magnes: An American Jewish Nonconformist, Syracuse University Press, 2010 pp.225–235.
  12. Pryce-Jones, David (2011). Treason of the Heart. Encounter Books. p. 144. ISBN   1594035288.
  13. Philby of Arabia, Elizabeth Monroe, Pitman Publishing (1973), p. 225.
  14. 1 2 3 Carver, Tom (11 October 2012). "Diary: Philby in Beirut". London Review of Books. Retrieved 4 October 2012.
  15. Yergin, Daniel (1990). The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money, and Power . Simon & Schuster. p. 301. ISBN   978-0671502485.
  16. Morrison-Scott, T. C. S. 1939 Some Arabian Mammals Collected by Mr. H. St. J. B. Philby, C.I.E. Novitates Zoologicae, 41: 181–211.
  17. Pocock, R I 1935 The Mammals Collected in S. E. Arabia by Mr. Bartram Thomas and Mr. H. St. J. Philby. Ann. Mag. Nat. Hist., Ser. 10, 15: 441–467.
  18. "Wabar". Earth Impact Database . University of New Brunswick . Retrieved 2009-08-15.
  19. The London Gazette: 24 August 1917 Issue:30252 Page: 8852
  20. "RGS Gold Medal Recipients" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 27 September 2011.
  21. Beolens, Bo; Watkins, Michael; Grayson, Michael (2011). The Eponym Dictionary of Reptiles. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. xiii + 296 pp. ISBN   978-1-4214-0135-5. ("Philby", p. 206).
  22. Madge, S.; McGowan, P. J.; Kirwan, G. M. (2002). Pheasants, partridges and grouse: a guide to the pheasants, partridges, quails, grouse, guineafowl, buttonquails and sandgrouse of the world. A&C Black.
  23. Anthony Cave Brown, Treason in the Blood: Harry St. John Philby, Kim Philby, and the Spy Case of the Century, 1994, Houghton Mifflin.
  24. John Loftus & Mark Aarons, The Secret War Against the Jews 21, 24, 32, 38, 41–44 (1994)
  25. John Loftus & Mark Aarons, The Secret War Against the Jews,supra, at 23–26
  26. John Loftus & Mark Aarons, The Secret War Against the Jews,supra, at 24
  27. John Loftus & Mark Aarons, The Secret War Against the Jews,supra, at 24, 32, 38, 42–44


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