This then is one of the most memorable photographs of the 1960s, or at least here, a depiction of one of the most eponymous pictures of that decade. The original hangs in the Gay Hussar restaurant in Soho, London. It depicts Christine Keeler, something of a goodtime girl, who managed to conduct two affairs at the same time – one with the British Secretary of State for War, John Profumo, the other Yevgeny Ivanov, a naval attaché at the Soviet Embassy in London.
When the scandal broke, Profumo denied any ‘impropriety’ had taken place, which was odd as plenty of people had seen the pair cavorting around a swimming pool – Keeler in a state of undress - at the Cliveden Estate. Profumo was forced to resign; Ivanov sent packing, and the man who had made the introductions, Dr Stephen Ward, and ultimately the fall guy, committed suicide. Keeler, not a willing spy, was later to be assessed as ‘not being particularly intelligent’, so it seems doubtful that she could have passed a great deal of useful information on to the Russians. As a postscript John Profumo devoted the rest of his life to charitable work in the East End of London, a form of penance it is difficult to imagine disgraced politicians volunteering for now.
I was immediately reminded of this ground breaking British scandal as I looked at a picture of the more contemporary scarlet woman, replete with red hair and red dress, at the centre of the Russian spy scandal in the United States. Anna Chapman, we learn, ran a $2 Million online real estate business from her luxury penthouse, although it would seem that her real name may have been Irina Kutsov, and she was a Russian spy. This much is known because she bought a cell phone in Brooklyn, using that name, but giving her address as ’99 Fake Street’. The difference between Keeler & Kutsov, is that presumably the latter knew exactly what she was doing.
I can’t help but think that there must be a few middle aged men, politicians, diplomats, maybe businessmen, who are even now beginning to panic. Will their numbers and email addresses feature on Ms Kutsov’s cell phone that was bought in Brooklyn? What will she – and the other deeply embedded Russians actually reveal to their interrogators? Will it all be so embarrassing that the whole affair is hushed up?
For those who imagined that the ending of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union would bring an end to cloak and dagger, or in this case red cocktail dress, spying, think again. Most nations with the wherewithal ritually use their diplomatic missions to gather intelligence. That’s why they are there for the most part. But what is surprising is the apparent scale of the Russian subterfuge. It also demonstrates, for all that the Cold war is over, the Russians are still sufficiently suspicious, or even hostile to US interests, that they are prepared to go to almost any lengths to get their hands on sensitive information.