Saturday, March 11, 2006

The Affair That Brought Down A Government

On March 22nd, 1963, shortly after 11 am, the Minister of War for the United Kingdom stood before the House of Commons and said:

My wife and I first met Miss Keeler at a house party in July 1961, at Cliveden. Among a number of people there was Dr Stephen Ward, whom we already knew slightly, and a Mr. Ivanov, who was an Attaché at the Russian Embassy. Between July and December 1961 I met Miss Keeler on about half a dozen occasions at Dr Ward’s flat when I called to seem him and his friends. Miss Keeler and I were on friendly terms. There was no impropriety whatsoever in my acquaintance with Miss Keeler...
It was a lie, and it would eventually bring down the government of Harold Macmillan. It was a lie that would never be forgiven. John Profumo would live the rest of his life in disgrace.

In fact, Profumo's first meeting with Christine Keeler was as he described it. From there it deviated somewhat. Within days of their first meeting, Profumo and Keeler were having what was politely called an "affair", although Profumo always provided "gifts" at each meeting. What Profumo didn't know is that Eugene Ivanov, the assistant naval attache to the Soviet embassy, was also having a sexual relationship with Keeler.

While all of that would have been bad enough, within a week of Profumo meeting Keeler, the British Security Service, MI5, was aware of it and knew of subsequent meetings, including some of the intimate details. Dr. Stephen Ward had been recruited by MI5 as a means to gather information on Eugene Ivanov, who MI5 knew was a spy.

Ward had always been considered unreliable by MI5, however, with knowledge of Profumo's affair they saw a lead-in to Ivanov. The chief of MI5, Sir Roger Hollis, warned Profumo to be careful what he said around Ward - and then pushed him to continue his affair with Keeler in hopes of compromising Ivanov. As elaborate as it might have sounded, it was a classic "honey trap".

Profumo declined. He also realized that he had been caught. He wrote a "goodbye" letter to Keeler and spent the summer with his family.

By the summer of 1962 word had started to leak out of Profumo's involvement with Keeler and Keeler's involvement with Ivanov. A gossip column in the July issue of Queen magazine made reference to a chauffeur-driven ZIS arriving at Keeler's front door while a chauffeur-driven Humber gathered its passenger from Keeler's back door.

Everything might have died had it not been for the love life of Christine Keeler. Ward, of course, was very much involved and had set up Keeler with a string of "unstable" lovers. One of them showed up at Ward's apartment on the afternoon of December 14th, 1962 demanding to see Keeler. When she refused to let him in, he shot up the door with a revolver. The neighbours raised the alarm and the street was flooded with police - and the press.

Keeler and Ward were now under suspicion for living off the avails of prostitution and the press pursued the story. Keeler started to tell her story of sexual and political intrigue. Keeler also told her story to former Labour Member of Parliament, John Lewis. What Keeler didn't know is that Lewis despised Dr. Ward and now had the means to destroy him. Lewis repeated Keeler's story to Labour MP George Wigg. Wigg was the Labour critic of the Ministry of War and possessed a strong dislike for Profumo.

Shortly after Profumo's speech to Parliament, George Wigg appeared on BBC television and issued a statement warning of a serious state security issue. The next day, Ward met with Wigg and provided a written statement of events which later, Prime Minister Harold Wilson would describe as "A nauseating document... with references to Mr. Profumo and the Soviet naval attache."

On March 29th, 1963, Michael Eddowes, Ward's attorney, went to Scotland Yard and provided the details of Keeler's story, insisting that Ivanov had pressed Keeler to pump Profumo for information concerning the delivery of nuclear warheads to Germany - not Ward, as had been presented in all other accounts up to this point.

Roger Hollis, at MI5, was scrambling to cover his tracks. When called in by the Home Secretary, he did not disclose his knowledge of Keeler's affair nor the fact that MI5 knew Profumo had lied to Parliament. Instead he threw Ward under the bus.

Hollis told the Home Secretary that Ward had been the one to ask Keeler to get information from Profumo on nuclear warheads, although he did not feel there was sufficient information to prosecute Ward under the Official Secrets Act. There was however, Hollis suggested, enough information to prosecute Ward for living off the avails of prostitution. With that one of the largest vice inquiries, completely out of context with the allegations against Ward, began.

Ward, under extreme pressure, and realizing that the inquiry was reaching far deeper than a simple prostitution investigation began to chatter. He told the Prime Minister's secretary, Timothy Bligh and MI5 that "strictly speaking" Profumo had lied to Parliament about his affair with Christine Keeler.

Ward, asserting that he had told MI5 about the Keeler/Profumo affair in the first week of its existence, was rebuffed when Roger Hollis denied that MI5 had ever had contact with Ward.

At the end of May 1963, after a circus of publicity and accusations coming from the press, Profumo decided to tell the truth. He resigned in early June. The spotlight turned to Ward who was vilified in the press and shunned in public.

Profumo managed to fall out of circulation. Considering the severity of the information he was suspected to have provided Christine Keeler, his mandatory interrogation by the Security Service was remarkably short and it was never shown that he had breached national security. In fact, it was the unusually short debriefing that caused analysts to believe MI5 did not need to debrief Profumo. They had known from the beginning of the affair exactly what information Profumo had offered Keeler, if any.

Profumo spent the rest of his life working for the east end London charity, Toynbee Hall, where his work was considered invaluable.

John Profumo died March 9th, 2006, in London after having suffered a stroke.

The Profumo Affair is over.

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