By acclamation, the late Kim Philby holds the title Spy of the Century, and the tale of his flight to the Soviet Union in 1963 is still being retold in books and movies. Three of his fellow spies in England -- Guy Burgess, Donald Maclean and Anthony Blunt -- were also unmasked. But there has long been suspicion that there was a fifth man and much speculation about his identity. Last week the KGB offered confirmation of sorts. After a Moscow screening of a propaganda film on the Soviet intelligence service, British correspondent Rupert Cornwell buttonholed Yuri Modin, who had been the KGB's controller for the Philby network, and asked the fifth-man question. "Yes, there was," replied Modin, then declined to provide any clue to the man's identity.
Cornwell is the half-brother of spy novelist John Le Carre (real name: David Cornwell), and perhaps has a special interest in the genre. Though Cornwell's story was front-paged in his London paper, the Independent, British intelligence experts feigned boredom and suggested that Soviet spooks were simply trying to stir up a bit of mischief.
The Brits' blase attitude was perhaps understandable. The revelation came after the screening of a KGB film that went to absurd lengths to present its intelligence agents as humane, sensitive blokes with a fondness for cooking and poetry.