Kim Philby, the British double agent who defected to the Soviet Union in 1964, was believed to have been recruited by Stalin to assassinate the former Spanish leader General Franco, the Times newspaper said yesterday. The newspaper said that according to newly declassified MI5 security services files, Philby was assumed by MI5 to be the man sent on the mission by Moscow in 1937 -- while Philby was covering the Spanish Civil War for the Times itself. The assassination plot was eventually abandoned when one of Philby's spymasters disappeared after being recalled to Moscow, the files said. According to an MI5 document written by a Soviet defector, the plot was devised by Nikolai Yezhov, head of the OGPU, the forerunner to the KGB, on the orders of Stalin. Yezhov instructed agent Paul Hardt to find an Englishman for the job. “OGPU received orders from Stalin to arrange assassination of General Franco. Hardt was instructed by OGPU chief Yezhov to recruit an Englishman for the purpose,” the Times quoted the defector, General Walter Krivitsky, as writing. “He did in fact contact and send to Spain a young Englishman, a journalist of good family, an idealist and fanatical anti-Nazi. Before the plan matured, Hardt himself was recalled to Moscow and disappeared.” The Times reported that the description fitted that of Philby, whose communist convictions led him to betray Britain. It said MI5 was so convinced it was him that an intelligence officer wrote “prob Philby” in the margin of the document. Philby, who died in 1988, was for many years a Soviet spy inside the British intelligence service. He came under suspicion when two of his associates, Donald Maclean and Guy Burgess, defected to the former USSR in 1951, but his activities were not fully exposed until he himself defected. The Public Records Office was not immediately available for comment.

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