Espionage Writer Anthony Cave Brown, 77

By Matt Schudel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 28, 2006

Anthony Cave Brown, 77, a British journalist who became the author of several books exploring the inner workings of 20th-century espionage, died July 15 at Oak Springs, a Warrenton nursing home, of complications from dementia. He had lived in Washington and in the Fauquier County community of Broad Run for more than 35 years.

Early in his career, he was a globe-trotting Fleet Street reporter known as much for his questionable ethics and exorbitant debts as his journalistic scoops. Later, Mr. Cave Brown turned to writing books about the murky netherworld in which spycraft, warfare and international politics met. One of his books was about Kim Philby, the British spy who became a Soviet agent and was once Mr. Cave Brown's drinking partner.

As a correspondent for London's Daily Mail in the 1950s and '60s, Mr. Cave Brown cut a swaggering figure as he covered the Hungarian revolt against communism and the Algerian war for independence. In 1959, after visiting Boris Pasternak at his Russian dacha, he smuggled a poem by the Nobel laureate out of the Soviet Union and had it published in the Daily Mail. He claimed that Pasternak had given him a second poem but that he lost it during a night of revelry in Berlin.

Among his other achievements, Mr. Cave Brown rode aboard the first nuclear-powered submarine, visited the South Pole and secured a face-to-face interview with Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser. He was based in Paris and later in Beirut, where he enjoyed the city's sybaritic night life and its Cold War aura of intrigue. He sometimes met Philby for martinis in Beirut before the double agent was unmasked and fled to Moscow in 1963.

His book about Philby, "Treason in the Blood" (1994), was called "the most definitive Philby biography yet" by The Washington Post and posited the theory that Philby inherited his treachery from his father, a British government official who settled in Saudi Arabia, took a second wife without divorcing his first and tried to undermine British interests in the Middle East.

For his first book, "Bodyguard of Lies" (1975), Mr. Cave Brown examined newly unsealed files to describe Allied efforts to deceive German forces before the D-Day invasion in World War II, including false broadcasts and dummies dropped from airplanes to resemble airborne attacks. He took his title from a statement by British Prime Minister Winston Churchill: "In wartime, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies."

Mr. Cave Brown was born March 21, 1929, in Bath, England, and later moved to London and Luton, England. As a boy, he stuffed bomb casings with propaganda leaflets to be dropped on German troops with the aim of lowering their morale. He was a photographer with the Royal Air Force, then worked at a newspaper in Bristol before landing on London's legendary Fleet Street.

He was a resourceful, if occasionally underhanded, reporter who impersonated intelligence officers and repeated barroom confidences if it would help him get a story. Eventually, though, his epic drinking, extravagant spending and cavalier manner began to wear on his employers.

When editors balked at paying for the speedboats and private airplanes he routinely chartered, they recalled him to London. He proved to be as dogged on home turf as he was abroad, uncovering corruption in Scotland Yard and tracking down an author who had run off with a band of gypsies.

He first came to Washington in 1962 to freelance, then embarked for Australia and Vietnam, where he reported for a television station owned by Rupert Murdoch and ran up monumental expense accounts.

After a year at Stanford University's Hoover Institution think tank, Mr. Cave Brown settled in Washington in 1969 -- "The only reason I live in Washington is because of the Freedom of Information Act," he told The Post -- and adopted a more sedate life writing about real-world spies. He later moved to a renovated 19th-century church in Broad Run.

In 1982, Mr. Cave Brown published "The Last Hero," a biography of "Wild Bill" Donovan, who founded the Office of Strategic Services, the wartime precursor to the CIA. He chronicled communist inroads in Europe before World War II ("On a Field of Red," 1981) and wrote a 1987 biography of British spy chief Sir Stewart Menzies. His final book, "Oil, God and Gold" (1999), examined the Arabian American Oil Co. (Aramco), which he called "the origin and the fount of American power in the Middle East."

Although his books were generally well received, reviewers noted a tendency to spin dramatic tales without full regard for the facts. Among them, Mr. Cave Brown revived a discredited story that British officials, in an effort to protect their code-breaking secrets in World War II, failed to warn citizens of German bombing plans.

Mr. Cave Brown was a gregarious raconteur known for his high spirits and bonhomie. He once greeted the reserved English actor Trevor Howard with a hearty, "What now, Trevor -- big things?"

He also had a talent for traveling at other people's expense. He persuaded airlines to charge his flights to papers and magazines for whom he no longer worked and sometimes had to climb down the fire escapes of luxury hotels, leaving his clothing and unpaid bills behind.

His marriage to Caroline Gilliat, the daughter of British filmmaker Sidney Gilliat, ended in divorce.

His companion of 37 years, Joan Simpson, died in March.

Survivors include two children from his marriage, Amanda Eliasch of London and Toby Brown of Wiltshire, England; a brother; and two grandchildren.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company