Portrait of a Secret Agent

March 2, 2015

Two years ago I made a major breakthrough in my research: I found the personal papers of Major C.K.O.B. Giffey. Not in the UK where he had died in 1967, but in Sweden, in the home of a kind relative who unfortunately was able to give me just three days to look at the collection. None of the Baltic Heritage Network lessons had prepared me for what I found on arrival: a large pile of unsorted paper. I spent three adrenalin-filled days in the living-room of the relative and among other things discovered that the major had been promoted to lieutenant colonel and that friends and family called him Brian. The personal papers form the core of the biography that was published last year as Portrait of a Secret Agent who Knew Kim Philby.

Brian Giffey’s biography is really a book about belonging, loyalty and identity. Brian wrongly believed that he was Welsh, but his mother was actually Canadian and his father German. Born illegitimate as Otto Chester Kurt Brian Petersen in London in 1887, he was brought up in Germany. On his return to Britain he obtained a degree from Oxford and, with the help of an unscrupulous lawyer, a military career became possible. Brian joined the Worcestershire Regiment in 1911. His intelligence career with MI6 started in 1928; he served in Tallinn, London and Baghdad. In 1944, however, he was mysteriously dismissed from the secret service, and in post-war years he represented Britain in Berlin on the denazification committee and, back in London, worked for the Association of Ukrainians in Great Britain.

Brian was a specialist in Soviet affairs who knew the notorious Kim Philby. His biography helps us to understand how the Soviets used the information obtained for them by Philby. The book is also relevant today as Russia flexes its muscles. What happened in Crimea in 2014 is reminiscent of the annexation of Estonia in 1939-40 experienced first-hand by Brian.

The book is also an unusual and moving love story. How was it possible for this middle-aged womaniser to fall in love with an inexperienced and immature Estonian girl, Anni Oras, to whom he remained faithful for the rest of his life?

A paperback copy of the book is available from www.ypdbooks.com or from Amazon. There is also an eBook.

 Tina Tamman