The newly released MI5 files include a 1965 report on whether Soviet spies “had a hand” in the controversy known as the Profumo affair.
The scandal rocked the British government when war minister John Profumo quit in disgrace after lying to parliament over an affair with society girl Christine Keeler.
She had also had sex with Eugene Ivanov, a Soviet intelligence officer and assistant naval attache in London.
Both men were introduced to her by Stephen Ward, a high-society osteopath with Conservative MPs among his patients whom MI5 concluded was a Soviet “collaborator”.
In its 15-page interim report filed two years after the scandal first erupted, MI5 found there was “no direct or circumstantial evidence” that it was “a Soviet-inspired disruption game”.
But it and other files reveal a raft of details about the Profumo affair and its central players, including confirmation that Moscow tried to use Ward as a backchannel during the Cuban missile crisis which brought the US and Soviets to the brink of nuclear war.
“During the Cuba crisis in October 1962 the Russians used the Ivanov/Ward channel not only in attempts to obtain unofficial reactions from Her Majesty’s Government,” the report stated.
It added Moscow used the pair — who first met a lunch hosted by the Daily Telegraph’s editor — to persuade Britain “to bring pressure on the United States government and if possible weaken the resolution of the West”.
Ward died in 1963 aged 50 after overdosing on sleeping tablets as he was being prosecuted for prostitution-related crimes, in what critics claim were trumped-up charges following the Profumo revelations.
Historians have reportedly long been aware that he claimed to have acted as a backchannel to Moscow, after Ward made a set of recordings about his activities months before he died.
But they were considered tainted because police had him under constant surveillance and he was desperate to clear his name, The Times said in 2020.
Ward’s intriguing case got fresh attention at that time following a West End musical flop about him by Andrew Lloyd Webber.
The theatre impresario showed the newspaper secret documents he had acquired including a previously unseen 1963 letter that Ward sent to future Labour prime minister Harold Wilson from prison.
In it, he claimed his work as an intermediary had the aim of de-escalating the nuclear stand-off.
Memories of the 1962 crisis have been revived in recent weeks amid Russia’s war in Ukraine and fears it could use a tactical nuclear weapon.
Ward’s letter and his other correspondence, as well as transcripts of police interviews with the key characters in the Profumo affair, are also in the newly-digitised archives released.
In a 1963 statement, Keeler admitted having sex with Ivanov once and Profumo “about twice”, while suggesting Ward was doing Moscow’s bidding.
“Ward has asked me to get information from Jack (Profumo) about the Americans giving the Germans the bomb,” she said, referring to plans to station US nuclear weapons in Germany.
“I did not get this information because it was ridiculous and could have been made in a joke,” she added.
The files also detail the briefly lavish Moscow lifestyle of John Vassall, one of the KGB’s most notorious British double agents, in another sensational cloak-and-dagger spy scandal of the era.
MI5’s records show Vassall enjoyed a life of cocktails, tennis and skiing while a junior naval attache to the British embassy in Moscow from 1954 to 1956.
He began seven years of spying for the Soviet Union when he was blackmailed there after being set up and photographed with a homosexual partner at a time when same-sex relations were banned back home.
After Vassall returned from Moscow, he continued spying while working at the Admiralty, the British government department responsible for the Royal Navy until 1964.
The archives contain pictures of a cupboard housing a secret compartment in which films containing information copied from Admiralty files were found when police raided his London flat in 1962.
Other files show a British diplomat describing former Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin after his death as someone who had “the quality of greatness”.
Alvary Gascoigne, who served in Moscow from October 1951, hailed the notorious ruler as having had “salty realism, shrewdness and common sense” in a note to the Foreign Office in March 1953.