John Vassall



John Vassall | Press Association (?) | 14296

William John Christopher Vassall was born on 20 September 1924 in St Bartholomew’s Hospital in London, where his father was a long-serving chaplain, and died on 18 November 1996. He was a British civil servant who was blackmailed into spying for the Soviet Union. After working as a photographer for the Royal Air Force, in 1948 he became a clerk at the Admiralty.


Vassall’s RAF service record | National Archives | 14245

In 1952, Vassall was appointed to the staff of the Naval Attaché at the British embassy in Moscow. He did not like it and was lonely, and he was homosexual which was illegal in both Britain and the Soviet Union. He met a Pole named Mikhailsky, who worked for the Embassy, and who introduced him to the homosexual underworld of Moscow.

In 1954 he was invited to a party, where he was encouraged to become extremely drunk, and where he was photographed in compromising positions with several men. It had been a trap. The Soviets used the photographs to blackmail Vassall into working for them as a spy, initially in the Moscow embassy, then when he returned to London in June 1956, in the Admiralty. They threatened to send his mother photographs of her son enjoying a homosexual orgy. Vassall was identified as a potential spy after Anatoliy Golitsyn, a senior member of the KGB, defected to the United States in 1961.

On 12 September 1962 he was arrested and charged with spying. He made a full confession. In October, Vassall was sentenced to 18 years in jail. He was eventually released on parole in October 1972. The importance of his espionage disclosures were never made public.

He changed his surname to Phillips, and worked as an administrator at the British Records Association and for a firm of solicitors in Gray’s Inn. He died after suffering a heart-attack on a London bus in November 1996.



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