John William Vassall

John Vassall was born William John Christopher Vassall on September 20, 1924 in the City of London. His father was a clergyman and his mothers maiden name was Sellicks. Vassall worked as a photographer for the Royal Air Force during World War II and afterward became a clerk for the Admiralty. In 1954 he was posted as a Naval Attache at the British Embassy in Moscow. In '55 he went to a party and was encouraged to drink by KGB agents. He was then photographed in a compromising position with several men. They then blackmailed Vassall into working for them as a spy. During this career, he provided the KGB with information on British radar, torpedoes and anti-submarine equipment.

Vassall was eventually given up by Anatoliy Golitsyn, a senior member of the KGB who had defected to the United States, and Yuri Nosenko. Although there were many doubts in the claims by Golitsyn and Nosenko, Vassall was eventually arrested on September 12, 1962. He confessed and gave up the documents that he had stolen. He was sentenced to 18 years in jail but was released early in 1972 and published an autobiography in 1975. He later changed his name to Phillips and worked as a clerk at the British Records Association. He died November 18, 1996.


Newspaper Articles:

Stars and Stripes Newspaper (Pacific Editions) - May 5, 1963

Britain Eyes U.S.-Style Security

LONDON (AP) - With spy jitters running high in Britain, word spread this week that Whitehall may have to adopt American-style security techniques before getting Polaris rockets from the U.S.

Deficiencies in the present security setup here were featured in a blaze of publicity emanating from a government tribunal investigating espionage at the Admiralty. The tribunal was charged with investigating how John William Vassall, a homosexual clerk at the Admiralty, managed to work undetected for seven years as a spy for the Russian.

The shock came with the tribunal's finding that, under the existing security system, little specific blame could be laid for the failure to spot Vassall. The Vassall case followed other spy scandals at the Admiralty. And the tribunal's findings were published at a time when the Admiralty is preparing to take America's Polaris secrets under its wing.

In the Nassau agreement whereby America contracted to sell Polaris rockets to Britain there was a specific security proviso. This called on Britain to give Polaris secrets "substantially the same degree of protection afforded by the government of the United States."

Present British procedures differ substantially from the U.S. system. A major difference is in the field of "positive vetting." As the Vassall tribunal revealed, British security officials do not insist on the degree of vetting employed by their American counterparts who conduct exhaustive inquiries into the part background of anyone to be entrusted with secrets.

The Sunday Telegraph reported that stringent new rules have been issued from Whitehall to check espionage activity carried out by communist diplomats in Britain. The Telegraph said the new measures ever made in peacetime (in Britain)," They include, the paper said, an order for all government officials to report any contact they make with a communist diplomat - even a social phone call, The mass circulation News of the World also reported: "British security is now being geared up to face the most formidable assault by Russian espionage that the secret war has yet seen."

The Telegraph story said: "The American system is frequently described as cumbersome. The British government has hitherto been averse to excessive 'snooping.' But more thoroughness might have stopped Vassall and there is a growing feeling that those with access to secret information must be prepared to accept such investigations."

Stars and Stripes Newspaper (Pacific Editions) - May 10, 1963

More Spy Cases Coming - Macmillan

LONDON (UPI) - Prime Minister Harold Macmillan has told the House of Commons that more Soviet spies will be caught in Britain. He opened debate on the 50,000-word report completed last month by a special tribunal which invetigated the circumstances of espionage committed for the Russians by British spy William Vassall.

Vassall, 38-year-old son of an English clergyman, was sentenced to 18 years imprisonment last October for spying for the Russians for more than seven years while he was employed in the British Embassy in Moscow and as an Admiralty clerk in London.

Civil Records:

Births Index - England (1916-2005)

Vassall, William J. C.
Date: July/August/September, 1924
mother: Sellicks
place: London C, Greater London
Record location: Vol. 1c Page 20a

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