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quarta-feira, 6 de dezembro de 2017

O CASO PROFUMO (1963)



Profumo scandal wasn’t about sex — it was about spying

It’s seen as a morality tale with Christine Keeler at its heart, but the really interesting person is the largely forgotten KGB agent

On June 14, 1963, nine days after John Profumo resigned in a welter of scandal over his affair with Christine Keeler, a spy deep inside the KGB sent a sensational report to his American handler.

The KGB spy, who has never been identified, reported that “the Russians had in fact received a lot of useful information from Profumo from [sic] Christine Keeler, with whom Ivanov had established contact, and in whose apartment Ivanov had even been able to lay on eavesdropping operations at appropriate times”.

The “Ivanov” in question was Yevgeni Mikhailovitch Ivanov, a Soviet intelligence officer posing as assistant naval attaché in the Soviet embassy in London, who had also had an affair with Keeler. It was the fact that a British cabinet minister had been sharing the favours of a call girl with a Soviet agent and lying about it that precipitated Profumo’s resignation.

Yet Ivanov is often treated as a bit-player in the drama. It was assumed that Keeler was simply too dim to have passed on important secrets as pillow-talk, and that British national security was never compromised. The Profumo case is treated as a moral saga rather than an espionage case.

In fact, Profumo was the target of a highly sophisticated and successful Soviet intelligence operation. He was about to be blackmailed by the Russian spy. MI5 had got wind of what was happening, but, as with more modern intelligence failures, didn’t do anything about it.

And at the centre of the Profumo saga stands the shadowy figure of Ivanov: louche, seductive and extremely dangerous.

Ivanov arrived in London in March 1960, ostensibly a low-level diplomat, but in reality an officer of the GRU, the military counterpart of the KGB. With his broken nose and fractured English, Ivanov was an unlikely lothario, but during an earlier posting in Norway he had proved himself a serial womaniser, who may have been sent to London with the avowed purpose of worming his way into the confidence, and the beds, of women in or on the fringes of high society.

At the Garrick Club, the editor of The Daily Telegraph, Colin Coote, introduced Ivanov to Stephen Ward, a fashionable osteopath, sexual eccentric, portrait painter and party-giver, who was also said to procure women for powerful men.

In 1961 at a party at Lord Astor’s Cliveden estate, Ward introduced Profumo, the secretary of state for war, to Christine Keeler, a 19-year-old showgirl and sometime model, with whom he started an affair. She called it a “very, very well-mannered screw of convenience”. It would prove exceptionally inconvenient for Profumo and the British government. During the same weekend, Ivanov and Profumo had a swimming race.

Ward was strongly pro-Soviet and was used by Ivanov to try to extract information from Profumo. Ward “practically worked for me and concealed nothing”, Ivanov later claimed. Ward also introduced his glamorous Russian contact to his powerful and well-born friends, including Princess Margaret, with whom Ivanov flirted outrageously: “He admired her lovely hair and she was furious when he pretended he did not think it was her real colouring.”

MI5, meanwhile, was taking an interest in Ivanov and may have tried, unsuccessfully, to recruit him as a double agent through Ward.

The Russians got important information through Keeler

In June 1961, shortly before the Keeler-Profumo affair started, Ward was interviewed by the MI5 officer Keith Wagstaffe (who used the pseudonym “Wood”). A complacent figure in a bowler hat, Wagstaffe reported: “Ward, who has an attractive personality and talks well, was completely open about his association with Ivanov. Despite the fact that some of his political ideas are certainly peculiar and exploitable by the Russians, I do not think he is of security interest.”

The Foreign Office even used Ward to pass messages to and from the Russians. At the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis Ivanov passed a message to the British permanent under-secretary Harold Caccia, stating “that the Soviet government looked to the United Kingdom as their one hope of conciliation”.

Ivanov, meanwhile, was trying to get his hooks into Profumo. Keeler later revealed that at the end of 1962 or the beginning of 1963, “she had been asked by Mr Ward to try to obtain secret information from Mr Profumo”.

According to the historian Jonathan Haslam, Keeler handed over love letters written to her by Profumo. The Russian spy also claimed to have used a hidden camera to take photographs of Keeler and Profumo making love in Ward’s home at 17 Wimpole Mews, with a view to blackmail.

Yet Ivanov is often treated as a bit-player in the drama. It was assumed that Keeler was simply too dim to have passed on important secrets as pillow-talk, and that British national security was never compromised. The Profumo case is treated as a moral saga rather than an espionage case.

In fact, Profumo was the target of a highly sophisticated and successful Soviet intelligence operation. He was about to be blackmailed by the Russian spy. MI5 had got wind of what was happening, but, as with more modern intelligence failures, didn’t do anything about it.

And at the centre of the Profumo saga stands the shadowy figure of Ivanov: louche, seductive and extremely dangerous.

Ivanov arrived in London in March 1960, ostensibly a low-level diplomat, but in reality an officer of the GRU, the military counterpart of the KGB. With his broken nose and fractured English, Ivanov was an unlikely lothario, but during an earlier posting in Norway he had proved himself a serial womaniser, who may have been sent to London with the avowed purpose of worming his way into the confidence, and the beds, of women in or on the fringes of high society.

At the Garrick Club, the editor of The Daily Telegraph, Colin Coote, introduced Ivanov to Stephen Ward, a fashionable osteopath, sexual eccentric, portrait painter and party-giver, who was also said to procure women for powerful men.

In 1961 at a party at Lord Astor’s Cliveden estate, Ward introduced Profumo, the secretary of state for war, to Christine Keeler, a 19-year-old showgirl and sometime model, with whom he started an affair. She called it a “very, very well-mannered screw of convenience”. It would prove exceptionally inconvenient for Profumo and the British government. During the same weekend, Ivanov and Profumo had a swimming race.

Ward was strongly pro-Soviet and was used by Ivanov to try to extract information from Profumo. Ward “practically worked for me and concealed nothing”, Ivanov later claimed. Ward also introduced his glamorous Russian contact to his powerful and well-born friends, including Princess Margaret, with whom Ivanov flirted outrageously: “He admired her lovely hair and she was furious when he pretended he did not think it was her real colouring.”

MI5, meanwhile, was taking an interest in Ivanov and may have tried, unsuccessfully, to recruit him as a double agent through Ward.

The Russians got important information through Keeler

In June 1961, shortly before the Keeler-Profumo affair started, Ward was interviewed by the MI5 officer Keith Wagstaffe (who used the pseudonym “Wood”). A complacent figure in a bowler hat, Wagstaffe reported: “Ward, who has an attractive personality and talks well, was completely open about his association with Ivanov. Despite the fact that some of his political ideas are certainly peculiar and exploitable by the Russians, I do not think he is of security interest.”

The Foreign Office even used Ward to pass messages to and from the Russians. At the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis Ivanov passed a message to the British permanent under-secretary Harold Caccia, stating “that the Soviet government looked to the United Kingdom as their one hope of conciliation”.

Ivanov, meanwhile, was trying to get his hooks into Profumo. Keeler later revealed that at the end of 1962 or the beginning of 1963, “she had been asked by Mr Ward to try to obtain secret information from Mr Profumo”.

According to the historian Jonathan Haslam, Keeler handed over love letters written to her by Profumo. The Russian spy also claimed to have used a hidden camera to take photographs of Keeler and Profumo making love in Ward’s home at 17 Wimpole Mews, with a view to blackmail.

As a member of the cabinet defence committee, Profumo was privy to vital Cold War secrets. He knew about details of negotiations with America to give West Germany access to nuclear weapons, plans to hand over control of Scottish naval facilities to America in exchange for Polaris-firing submarines, and Britain’s chronic lack of preparation for chemical or biological attack.

Ivanov claimed that he had twice been left alone in Profumo’s study, in Nash House on Chester Terrace, by Valerie Hobson, Profumo’s actress wife, and had taken the opportunity to photograph secret documents using a miniature Minox camera. Among the information that Ivanov passed back to Moscow were details of the top-secret X-15 experimental high-altitude hypersonic aircraft and “plan M-70”, for the deployment of tactical nuclear weapons in Europe.

Ivanov wrote an account of his espionage in the 1990s, entitled The Naked Spy, but the British translation omitted the details of his clandestine photography for fear that Hobson might sue for libel. Haslam studied the full Russian version and revealed the details of Ivanov’s espionage in his 2015 book Near and Distant Neighbors.

The GRU undoubtedly planned to go farther and force Profumo into revealing everything he knew. At the end of 1961 Ivanov flew back to Moscow to be briefed by the head of the GRU’s British department, one Captain Ievlev, who outlined a classic blackmail operation: “The idea was to confront Profumo with evidence of his indiscretions, including photocopies of the documents, in order to press him into service.”

The agent who set the story in train remains largely forgotten

The scandal exploded before the plot could be put into operation. The disintegration of Keeler’s private life brought into the open the fact that she had been sleeping with a cabinet minister and a Russian spy. Profumo first denied any impropriety, but later admitted the affair and resigned.

The British public and press responded with what Macaulay called “one of its periodic fits of morality”, but in reality this was a highly complex and extremely significant case of Cold War espionage: the Russians were attempting to blackmail a British minister; the government was using a dodgy osteopath to pass messages to an even dodgier Russian spy; MI5 had interviewed a key figure in the case and missed the danger signals.

The Profumo story was more than a mere sex scandal. It was a significant security breach and a direct threat to western military secrecy — and the Americans, through their unnamed KGB spy, knew it. The suggestion that Ivanov had bugged Keeler’s flat was probably speculation, but the report that the Russians had obtained important information from Profumo through Keeler was certainly true.

According to declassified FBI files, the spy working for the US was based in one of the KGB’s overseas residencies (or stations); he overheard the description of Ivanov’s espionage in Britain from a colonel in the Soviet mission to the UN, and in June informed his American handler. The agent’s report was hand-delivered to Robert Kennedy, who was then the US attorney general, to pass to his brother, the president, who was due to meet the British prime minister, Harold Macmillan, the next month. A secret cablegram, sent by the head of the FBI, J Edgar Hoover, to the FBI in London, read: “President reportedly concerned lest there are hidden ramifications which might affect his forthcoming conference with Macmillan.”

According to Christopher Andrew, the authorised historian of MI5, Hoover did not inform MI5 of the report for several years, probably because he believed that “the British leak like a sieve”.

Profumo was disgraced. Keeler was found guilty of perjury charges and sentenced to nine months in prison. Ward was charged with immorality offences, abandoned by his society friends and convicted of living off immoral earnings. He took an overdose of sleeping pills and died three days later. The Macmillan government was fatally undermined.

A joint MI5-MI6 working party, set up immediately after the scandal, investigated whether the “Russian intelligence service had a hand in staging the Profumo affair in order to discredit Her Majesty’s Government” and concluded that it had not. However, in reality the affair was not a scandal manufactured for Soviet propaganda purposes, but a very successful espionage operation that burrowed into the heart of the British government and extracted secret military plans of the highest importance.

“Had a conflict between Nato and the Warsaw Pact broken out at the moment, Soviet knowledge of these plans would have enabled them to inflict severe damage on western conventional forces,” Haslam writes.

Keeler and Profumo became household names, bywords for 1960s sexual scandal and hypocrisy, but the Russian agent who set the whole extraordinary story in train remains mysterious and largely forgotten. He was recalled to Moscow as the Profumo scandal broke. Despite his earlier success, when Ivanov’s involvement as Keeler’s sometime lover became public it embarrassed the GRU and led to his demotion. “Christine Keeler was my biggest mistake,” he later said. “She wrecked my career.”

Ivanov drank himself to death in 1994, at the age of 68.

According to Christopher Andrew, the authorised historian of MI5, Hoover did not inform MI5 of the report for several years, probably because he believed that “the British leak like a sieve”.

Profumo was disgraced. Keeler was found guilty of perjury charges and sentenced to nine months in prison. Ward was charged with immorality offences, abandoned by his society friends and convicted of living off immoral earnings. He took an overdose of sleeping pills and died three days later. The Macmillan government was fatally undermined.

A joint MI5-MI6 working party, set up immediately after the scandal, investigated whether the “Russian intelligence service had a hand in staging the Profumo affair in order to discredit Her Majesty’s Government” and concluded that it had not. However, in reality the affair was not a scandal manufactured for Soviet propaganda purposes, but a very successful espionage operation that burrowed into the heart of the British government and extracted secret military plans of the highest importance.

“Had a conflict between Nato and the Warsaw Pact broken out at the moment, Soviet knowledge of these plans would have enabled them to inflict severe damage on western conventional forces,” Haslam writes.

Keeler and Profumo became household names, bywords for 1960s sexual scandal and hypocrisy, but the Russian agent who set the whole extraordinary story in train remains mysterious and largely forgotten. He was recalled to Moscow as the Profumo scandal broke. Despite his earlier success, when Ivanov’s involvement as Keeler’s sometime lover became public it embarrassed the GRU and led to his demotion. “Christine Keeler was my biggest mistake,” he later said. “She wrecked my career.”

Ivanov drank himself to death in 1994, at the age of 68.
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