Espionage and the Two Queens with Kent Tiernan
Andrew Hammond: Welcome to SpyCast, the official podcast of the International Spy Museum. I'm your host, Dr. Andrew Hammond, the museum's Historian and Curator. Coming up next on SpyCast:
R. Kent Tiernan: Our analysts do a wonderful job. But it's very difficult for them because they're looking for -- for continuity in the information or congruity in the information in order to come up with an answer or at least a best evaluation of truth. Our job was to look -- was looking for incongruities in the information, things that didn't make sense that the other evidence was leaning one way. But then we'd get a bit of evidence, and it just didn't make sense to -- to what we were seeing normally.
Andrew Hammond: Kent Tiernan is the author of the book, "The Walsingham Gambit," which looks at how the denial and deception play out in the contest between Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots. He has previously served as an Intelligence Officer in the United States Air Force. He was an Assistant Professor of History at the United States Air Force Academy, and he was involved in various aspects of deception for over 20 years as an Air Force Special Studies Division Chief. Kent latterly served as the Vice Chairman and Staff Director of the Foreign Denial and Deception Committee. In this episode, we discuss the spy plot to trap Mary Queen of Scots, Sir Francis Walsingham, Elizabeth's Spymaster, 16th-century intelligence tactics, the importance of recruiting agents from your opponent's camp, and denial and deception. If you enjoy the show, please tell your friends and loved ones and consider leaving us a five-star review. The original podcast on intelligence since 2006, we are SpyCast. Now sit back, relax, and enjoy the show.
I'm looking forward to speaking to you about denial and deception, and of course, about your book and about Walsingham and the Babington plot and so forth. Just to set out our stall, can you just explain what denial and deception are and how they're different?
R. Kent Tiernan: Sure. It's nothing more than hiding the real truth and showing the fake truth to gain an advantage. I better, you know, for public disclosure and so forth, I have several biases that I have to deal with. I find in history that the more things change, the more they really remain the same. I believe that deception is a common behavior of people. It is nothing new. It's nothing more than hiding the real truth and showing the fake truth to gain an advantage. So these are some biases that I have to be careful of, that I'm not paranoid. And we made sure our analysts always questioned their own biases when we looked at data. Our analysts, in my estimation, do a wonderful job. But it's very difficult for them because they're looking for continuity in the information or congruity in the information in order to come up with an answer or at least a best -- a best evaluation of truth. Our job was look -- was looking for incongruities in the information, things that didn't make sense that the other evidence was leaning one way, but then we'd get a bit of evidence. And it just didn't make sense to -- to what we were seeing normally. We had to understand our adversaries and how they did deception. How can we break a deception if we don't know how to make a deception? And so we are all aware of what it takes to manipulate something. And, of course, we had to know the capabilities of our adversaries. So if I may, I just wanted to read something that's in the book by Dr. Barton Whaley. Out of the 37th translation of "Sun Sue's Principles War," he said this quote, "War is the first and foremost a psychological contest, specifically a mind game between the deceiver and the dupe. To play the game and win, one must be a con artist, a magician, or a deception analyst. To even understand this mind game, one must have at least a strong grasp of cognitive psychology, information warfare, intelligence analysis, or the like."
Andrew Hammond: Yeah, I guess to some extent, denial can be part of deception, and deception can be part of denial, and sometimes it can just be one. Or sometimes, it can just be another. We don't need to get into how many angels can dance on [inaudible] kind of stuff. Let's kick on to the book because I think that that's going to be a good way to bring this topic alive through this case study. So just for people that don't know anything about this era -- And it's a famously complicated era where there's divisions within the countries, not just between the countries. And there's so much going on in terms of religion and so forth. But just for the listeners, just boil it down to the essentials. Let's start at the beginning. What time periods are we talking about? And just give us a brief encapsulation of the context within which we're going to be speaking about today.
R. Kent Tiernan: We're talking about a period of Elizabethan history, which is in the 16th century. She reigns in 1558. Her sister or half-sister, Mary -- Mary Tudor, dies. And Mary Tudor is Catholic, and Elizabeth is Protestant. And this causes, of course, quite turmoil in the country. And the Catholics have decided that they are not going to go easily. And they decide that they're going to try to get rid of Elizabeth as soon as possible. Elizabeth is faced with a lot of problems, and luckily, she has, at the time, Sir William Cecil, who is her chief advisor, who takes her through some really rough times. Let me give you an example. She told William Cecil that my policy, my national security policy, will be based on three things: We will continue to promote the Reformation, which means the continuation and gains of the Protestants. We will not fight a war. It's too expensive. And I want to make sure that my treasury is full, the X checker is full. And with that, go forth and make us grow. Well, it wasn't that easy facing this. And there were other issues that they had to deal with. So the Catholics made it very difficult for her, and plots began. And so she had a series of plots that she had to deal with and ended with the Babington plot, which is the subject that I address in the book.
Andrew Hammond: It's quite interesting this period as well because the Monarch before Elizabeth, Mary I, she's known by Protestants as Bloody Mary because she persecutes the Protestants. So there's this whole background of religious war that goes up through the English Civil War. And still plays out today on those islands in the Northwest part of Europe. But I think it's quite interesting the religious component to all of this because this is one of the main rationales for these types of plots and subterfuges and the espionage. It's about making sure that the person on the throne is either a Protestant or a Catholic.
R. Kent Tiernan: The interesting thing about this to me, Andrew, is that this is a unique, the Babington plot itself in 1585 and '86, it is a significant, unique paradox in that the conspirators, the Catholics who want to remove Elizabeth, probably want to kill her end up killing their own queen. It's a paradox that the English Intelligence Service was able to infiltrate and actually manipulate the conspirators that led to Mary Stuart's death.
Andrew Hammond: That's something that we'll go on to discuss because it's quite an elaborate scheme that takes place over a number of years. Can you just briefly tell our listeners so if Elizabeth's sister who preceded her, Mary I, if she was a Catholic, how did Elizabeth become a Protestant? How did two sisters from one family end up on opposite sides of this religious schism? Help us understand that.
R. Kent Tiernan: Sure. Elizabeth's mother was Anne Boleyn. And Anne Boleyn and her family were Protestants. Elizabeth, after her mother was beheaded, was essentially denied the throne, just basically called a bastard child because Henry so much wanted a son. And he did have the son with Jane Seymour. Just talking about the Tudors and Henry VIII, who wouldn't be interested in a king who had six wives? Two were beheaded. One died at childbirth with the son, Edward. And the two of them made it to old age. Well, one was sent out to pasture too. I mean, he didn't like her and so forth. So we have a queen now who is Protestant. And she is just now replacing the Catholic Queen, Mary. And, of course, that's causing all types of turmoil in the country. When Mary Luke says that the country, at the time that Elizabeth took the throne, at least 60 to 70% were still practicing Catholics.
Andrew Hammond: And this period as well with Elizabeth and Mary's father, Henry VIII, this is the time when England transitions from being ostensibly Catholic to being Protestant. But then there's still some degree of flux whether or not that's going to continue to be the case. And this is where all the plotting and the conspiracies and so forth come in?
R. Kent Tiernan: Well, here's what she faced. First of all, she finds out that Mary Stuart, Henry VIII, was her great uncle. Mary Stuart asks for asylum, or at least safety. The Scottish Protestants essentially incarcerate her, and she escapes and asks for asylum in 1568. So now we have Elizabeth with her rival and a claimant to her throne. Not only that but right immediately after that, as a casus belli, she has people in the north, her nobles revolt in the Northern Rebellion. Six hundred of those nobles are -- people were killed by Elizabeth as a result. Close on the heels of that, in 1570, Pope Pius V excommunicates her, called Regnans in Excelsis. So she's excommunicated. And then, a year later, the first plot against her, the Ridolfi plot, attempts again to replace Elizabeth. The only person that dies as a result of that is the Duke of Norfolk, who had plans to marry Mary Stuart. Immediately following that, in 1572, we had the St. Bartholomew massacre in France, where thousands of Protestants are killed and so forth. Immediately after that, we have a cardinal called William Allen, a Catholic Cardinal who goes to Europe and establishes universities to train more laymen to become priests to infiltrate and go back into the country. And at that time, and by the mid-seventies, there's talk about the justification for Regicide. So she's facing quite a thing. And it's up to William Cecil and Francis Walsingham to somehow get her through this based on her strategic guidance in terms of we must continue with the Protestantism, et cetera.
Andrew Hammond: It's a really fascinating time, and the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre, that's a breach of the rules of hospitality, isn't it? The Protestants are invited there to, you know, everything's going to be okay. You're going to be safe. And then they basically get massacred. So this is a -- this is the context that's playing out across Europe. Europe is convulsed by these religious wars that come about after the Reformation. And I guess one thing that Elizabeth does have is the 20-odd miles of the English Channel from the European continent on our side. So just to give our listeners a little bit of context, she's born in 1533 and dies in 1603. And the person that takes over from her is James, who becomes the very first king of both Scotland and England. And he's actually the son of Mary Queen of Scots, who everybody knows gets beheaded. So it's very complicated. Even within one family, you have people that have different religions. And many people will know this era as an era of Shakespeare as well. And he's born in 1564 and dies in 1616. So he's born after Elizabeth and dies after Elizabeth. That being said, we've got all of the background in place now, so help us just to understand the plot. But before we get there, let's just talk about Elizabeth's spymaster, Sir Francis Walsingham. He's actually in France for the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre, isn't he? And this informs his worldview. So just give us a pen portrait, who is Sir Francis Walsingham. And walk us forward from St. Bartholomew's Day to his place at the core of Elizabeth.
R. Kent Tiernan: Sure. Francis Walsingham wasn't exiled during Mary Tudor's reign. He came back, and Cecil, I believe, had picked as his successor as the First -- as the First Secretary. He was the Ambassador Representative of England to France during the St. Bartholomew massacre, was a strict Puritan of the Protestant faith. And he was initially very aggressive. He didn't believe in compromise. He wanted to go after and do something positive against the Catholics. But because of Elizabeth's guidance, he was sort of hamstrung. So he, with Cecil, went on and said, you know, we don't have the capability right now to go on the offensive. But our counterintelligence seems to be pretty good. And it was because they detected the Ridolfi plot. They detected the Throckmorton plot. They knew about the Somerville incident. They detected the Parry plot. And so they were able to survive. But they said we still don't have the capability. They had the -- they had the motive to go after and somehow resist Catholicism. And, but they didn't have the means or opportunity. So from a period of, oh, I say when Walsingham became the First Secretary in 1573, from 1573 to 1580, they decided to use something I call indirect preemptive strategy, which is the use of deception and attacking, not directly militarily, the centers of gravity of the Catholic resistance in the plots. But they decided to use deception in order to disperse the resources of the Catholics. And they built up a capability of capabilities in their intelligence system in order to go on the offensive. And I think it's around 1580 during the Throckmorton plot that they used as cover to use their deceptive tactics and techniques and procedures to infiltrate the next deception or plot that would come about. And that was the Babington plot.
Andrew Hammond: Just briefly, can you tell us a little bit more about the types of people that Mary Stuart and Elizabeth I were? So how much are those stereotypes that people have true? And how much are they false? Or just give us your read on both of them as people, as rulers.
R. Kent Tiernan: It turned out that I believe Walsingham and Cecil felt they could not bring Elizabeth into this deception because they were concerned about her behavior. They -- she was very unpredictable, very hesitant to do anything that would somehow impair her image. The death of her mother, I think, had a tremendous impact on Elizabeth and how she conducted her business. She was well aware of Sir Thomas Moore and Niccolo Machiavelli and the importance of deception and ruse and so forth. She was very conscious of her subjects. I'm talking about Elizabeth. She knew the importance of ensuring that her subjects loved her or were impressed with her and knew that she cared about them. On the other hand, I consider Mary Stuart somewhat aloof. She was born to be a queen. She used her beauty, I think, to influence people but wasn't as much as Elizabeth involved in impressing and supporting her subjects. And I have to just say that although she was, I guess, very alluring, and except for her marriage to Francis the second, her first husband, she did not pick men well. Where Elizabeth wasn't as beautiful, there was a competition between them. Elizabeth always asked about Mary Queen of Scots, even though they never met. She wanted to know more about her. Is she as beautiful? Does she play the piano better, and so forth? So I think we have two very different women.
Andrew Hammond: And just let's go back to Sir Francis Walsingham. You mentioned being the First Secretary. Like when does he appear on the scene as an influence at the core? And when does he become the spymaster? Because there's no MI5 or MI6 at this time. It's not codified in some independent agency. So just help us understand his path through government to become Elizabeth's spymaster.
R. Kent Tiernan: He had a very short period of time before he came spymaster. He exiled himself when Mary Tudor was reigning. He came back in 1573. Cecil and he were almost, in fact, in the book, I said they almost had a yin and yang relationship where their purpose was the same to protect the queen, to protect Protestantism. Cecil, for a long period of time, felt that compromise was the best. But as all these things happened, I mentioned earlier about excommunication, about the St. Bartholomew plot, and so forth, they began to understand that they would have to do something on the offensive to save her. So those two working together, I think, were the geniuses that were able to turn it around and eventually rid themselves of Mary Queen of Scots.
Andrew Hammond: And who's Cecil?
R. Kent Tiernan: William Cecil, a very important family. He was part of the Marion reign, as a matter of fact, but very low-key. He was identified by Mary Tudor as an essential person. But he -- he's remained in the background. He just didn't want to be upfront and close to the reign. And then he became a friend of Elizabeth as she was incarcerated in the -- in the Tower for a while. And he looked out for her. And in fact, it was Cecil that informed Elizabeth of Mary Tudor's death. So Elizabeth knew him well.
Andrew Hammond: It's also quite fascinating to me that during this whole period as well, that this also plays out in the new world. Spain is the big naval power at this period of time. Spain obviously has a major foothold in the Western hemisphere. But this is also a period when England is setting up colonies and beginning to get -- attempting to foothold in North America, Roanoke, and Jamestown later on. And even a lot of the names in the northeast are all derived from people that are associated with or around this kind of era. So that's really fascinating to me. But just to get back to Sir Francis Walsingham. So this is a period of time where it's very dangerous to speak your mind quite often. Like if you're a courtier, quite often, you're having to wear a mask and pretend to be someone that's completely in line with the monarch. You could secretly be a Catholic but appear to be a Protestant or vice versa. So there's a lot of like hiding who you really are. There's a lot of island deception going on. But Walsingham is quite famous for being very blunt and plain spoken with Elizabeth. So can you just tell us a little bit more about their dynamic? Why does her spymaster speak to her in this way? And she comments on this, you know, you speak to me in very blunt and direct ways. And I'm not particularly used to that. So just help us understand that, please, Kent.
R. Kent Tiernan: Well, they did not have a good relationship. But it was a necessary relationship, and Elizabeth knew it. He was, like you said, he was very blunt. He was outspoken to her. And I always felt that Cecil was the intermediary there. When things got tough, he stepped in. They did not get along. And at the very end, he felt very unappreciated before he died. As a matter of fact, he, when he was dying, he questioned, well, why didn't I receive the benefits of everything that I did for you? I was never appreciated. He was very blunt. But the thing about his openness, that could be used also to influence the target, which were the Catholics. They understood how good he was and how good his intelligence service was becoming. And so they're very aware of Walsingham and his intelligence service.
Andrew Hammond: The Babington plot was a plan to assassinate the Protestant Elizabeth I and put her cousin, the Roman Catholic Mary Queen of Scots, on the English throne. To help you make sense of this episode, here is a short history of religion on the island of Britain. Britain first entered the Roman imaginary of the Caesar's invasions of 55 and 54 BC. And at this point, there was a wide variety of religious practices on the island, often invoking ancestor worship and a reverence for the power of nature. Christianity arrived in the wake of this Roman contact through merchants, soldiers, and immigrants, and it steadily grew alongside indigenous belief systems in the coming centuries. Rome went from persecution to tolerance to officially adopting Christianity in AD 380 with the Edict of Thessalonica. This affected the influence of Christianity across Rome's wide-ranging empire, which at that point, included modern-day England, Wales, and parts of the Scottish Lowlands. The fall of the Western Roman Empire in the fifth century, followed by waves of migration and conquest by Germanic tribes, inflicted the trajectory of Christianity on Britain since these newcomers were not Christianized. The island was gradually reconverted, a process accelerated by the Norman Conquest in 1066. There were, of course, regional differences. But the 16th-century Protestant Reformation would convulse the island of Britain as well as the rest of Western Europe into a complicated kaleidoscope of doctrinal religious and political wars that could be intra-family, international, and interdenominational, whose implications last to this day, including the fact that many of the largest denominations in the United States can trace their roots back to these convulsions. In the second interlude, we will pick up the rest of this story.
And the Babington plot comes from a gentleman that Elizabeth wrote to from prison called Anthony Babington. Flesh that story out for us a little bit more.
R. Kent Tiernan: Yeah. Well, I'll tell you, Walsingham knew about Babington years earlier and knew that he was enamored with Mary Stuart. And he decided not to do anything because Babington was part of that Throckmorton plot. But he let Babington go because he said, this person I can use later. So they watched Babington and so forth. And eventually, the actual plan of Walsingham was to do this: When they wanted to execute their plan, number one, they wanted Babington to lead the group in London. Why? Because Babington could be manipulated. And Walsingham liked that. So if I can have Babington lead the plot in England, in London, that's a good thing. Number two, I've got to make sure that Mary Queen of Scots buys into this plot, and we have the evidence that she's buying into it. Three, I've got to ensure that they believe that there's enough support in England to overthrow Elizabeth. And four, we've got to ensure that this plot continues and does not stop. So those are the four objectives or stories that his double agents spread throughout the Catholic center of gravity or the intelligence area, that those four stories if they believe those, they can actually entrap Mary Stuart. By May -- by May, Andrew, of 1586, all four of those have been accomplished as the Babington plot is ongoing. But something goes wrong -- something goes wrong because, for some reason, Babington and his [inaudible] in London all of a sudden say, I don't think this is going to work. I don't think we have the support you're telling us in order to get rid of Elizabeth. Now look at the paradox -- look at the paradox that Walsingham is in. His queen does not know about this -- about this deception that he's playing on the -- on the Catholics. And yet he has got to convince the Catholics to continue their desire to kill his queen. So he's encouraging them to kill his queen in order to get Mary Stuart. And what a paradox he -- he must have faced. So, anyway, they eventually take control of Babington. They assure him that he's all right. As a matter of fact, Babington actually talks to Walsingham and asks for a license to leave the country because he is getting cold feet. And they encourage him to stay in, and you know the rest of the story.
Andrew Hammond: How does one do that? How do you play a deception game for seven years? It seems quite interesting to me because what if he's encouraging people that want to take out Elizabeth? What if he encourages them too much? Or what if that happens as a result of his encouragement? Or if you're doing a multi-year deception, it's very difficult to know when you move one chess piece, you know, you can think about -- you can think about how you are going to play the game. But you can't control every move that the other player is going to make. You can maybe try to lure them into positions. Or you can maybe try to guess what they're going to do based on what they've done historically. But there's always going to be some part that you can't predict. As somebody that spent a career looking at deception, how do you control a multi-year deception? It seems very difficult to know what all of the second- and third-order effects are going to be. How do you keep it on track towards the desired outcome?
R. Kent Tiernan: You prepare for unintended consequences. That's all you can do. You can brainstorm. You know, what if, what if, what if? And you've got to continue to stay with your story. Tell people what they want to believe. You've got to -- and I think it's sort of almost contemporary here. You tell people what they want to believe. And you prepare for the unintended consequences. I don't think Walsingham thought he'd ever be put in a position to encourage the death of his queen in order to get Mary Queen -- or the people to support Mary, which leads to her death. I don't think that was -- that was an object. But they were so infiltrated because of their communication system, the -- the [inaudible] plot, and how they knew the messages that England was -- or France was passing to Mary at Chartley House and so forth. They had all the information they needed to give them a heads up in order to react to, let's say, a Babington saying, I'm not so sure I want to do this anymore. I'd like to leave the country as Sir Walsingham, Sir Francis, and so forth. They had the information, so they could respond early enough.
Andrew Hammond: And l let's speak about Gilbert Gifford.
R. Kent Tiernan: Gifford is a real still kind of a mystery. He was a Catholic. In fact, he was in Europe training. He was sort of a wild child, I guess you could say. Got into a lot of trouble. And the question is, when did -- when did he flip? I've read numerous books about, you know, when he actually became an agent for -- for Walsingham. I have a -- in the book, I express a reason why I think and when he flipped. But he was a very interesting guy. And he turned out to be the messenger of communications between Mary and Paris. He'd pick up the messages at the French Embassy in London and carry it -- carry them to Chartley House. A very interesting character as he did such a wonderful job. But he went back to France before the plot was completed. And he ended up in -- in prison. And died in prison. So, all I can say is he's a very interesting character. His family was from the area that Chartley House was used to put Mary in. And I've always wondered, Ian Fleming said this, and you've probably heard it many times. Once is happenstance, twice as coincidence, and the third time is enemy action. And isn't it a coincidence that he was from the area where Mary was incarcerated at Chartley Hall? So he is very vital to this -- this whole thing at the very end, passing the messages to Walsingham and then getting them to Mary and so forth.
Andrew Hammond: So help us understand now how the net closes in on Mary Stuart. So we've got the Babington plot. We've got a multi-year deception. We've got Walsingham playing multilevel chess of deception. Help us understand how the net closes in going into the gallows letter and the way that she's proved conclusively to be plotting against her cousin, Elizabeth. Well, it all -- it all really started, first of all, she bought into the plot very early on, in May of 1568. And he -- They didn't have the smoking gun. They needed the smoking gun. So eventually, they used Babington. They encouraged Babington to write Mary about the plot and in detail. And, of course, that letter was written under -- and being encouraged by double agents, encouraging him to write this -- this letter to Mary at Chartley Hall. The -- the letter was immediately sent, and then Walsingham read it. And they passed it on through their chain -- chain of custody to Chartley Hall. It took 11 days for Mary to respond. And essentially, she asked questions, which indicated she was all for ridding England of -- of Elizabeth. Of course, Walsingham and Cecil read that, showed the -- the letter to Elizabeth. And that's just about the story. They're about ready to wrap it up after that.
Andrew Hammond: We left the last interlude talking about the Protestant Reformation. In England, Henry VIII was denied a divorce by the Pope, which led to a break from Rome and a renunciation of Papal authority, and the monarch declared the head of the Church of England. Henry's Protestant-raised son, Edward VI, oversaw transformation of the church's religious practices and doctrine along markedly Reformation-inspired lines. The successor, Mary I or Bloody Mary, as we discuss in the episode, swung the pendulum back in the other direction. Elizabeth I, as discussed in this episode also, inherited the deeply divided country. But under the so-called Elizabethan religious settlement, Anglicanism was formalized as a separate denomination and then formally adopted as a state charge. In Scotland, the Reformation, or more specifically, Calvinism, that much deeper. This led to a more thoroughgoing rejection of Catholicism and the establishment of the Church of Scotland along Presbyterian lines with no bishops and no head of the faith. The nation as a category of analysis, though, only gets us so far. For example, Mary Queen of Scots was a Catholic queen in an increasingly Protestant country, and English Catholics saw her as the legitimate ruler of England. Elizabeth I was a Protestant monarch with Catholic revolts and plots against her life, but one whose ascends to the English throne was welcomed by Scottish Protestants. Mary was forced to abdicate in favor of her infant son, who had gone to be James VI of Scotland for also becoming James I of England in 1603 when Elizabeth died, an act which led to the Union of the Crowns of Scotland and England in 1606, and then a century later in 1707, a union of the Parliaments. Complicated for sure, and we haven't even mentioned Ireland yet, or James's son, Charles, who married a Catholic and had a constitutional showdown with parliament, thereby precipitating the English Civil War and his ultimate execution, or how Charles's son, Charles II, forced two daughters of his younger brother James, who had abandoned Anglicanism for Catholicism to be raised as Protestants. So that when James became king and ultimately had a son who was a Catholic, he was deposed in favor of his own daughter Mary, who had married the Dutch Protestant king, William of Orange. If you want to research something interesting, look into where the orange in the Irish tricolor comes from.
Can you just tell us a little bit more about that communication? So here at the museum, we look at covert communication. How do you communicate securely? So how do they go about doing this, and how is it uncovered?
R. Kent Tiernan: Right. We're talking about chain of custody, and this is -- this is fascinating to me. Initially, they -- chain of custody, that message passed chain through nine people to get from the embassy, the French Embassy in London to Chartley Hall. Nine people touched that. Let me just read who's touching from the embassy to Chartley. First of all, you got Gilbert Gifford. All right. There's our double agent. Now, Gilbert Gifford takes it to Thomas Phelippes. That's our right-hand man of Walsingham. That's our cryptographer who's breaking the code. Then Phelippes gives it to a guy named Gregory. He's the flaps and seals man. So he's able to open up the message, the letter, and put it back so no one knows that it's been opened at all. Then Gregory gives it back to Phelippes. Phelippes gives it to an express rider who will ride all the way from London to Chartley Hall. At that time, the express rider will give it to Paulet, who is the jailer for Mary, and then Paulette will give it to Gifford. And Gifford will give it to the brewer. And then the brewer gives it to Mary. Now, Paulet looked at this and said, whoa, we got an issue here. We're passing this message nine times back and forth. But you know, one time they're passing, the Gifford is passing it to the brewer. And this could really cause us problems because they could be manipulating the message before it gets to Mary. So what do they do? They decide to put in an extra step each way. So now they're going to put Paulet, ensuring after Gifford gives the message to the brewer, that Paulet looks at the message and he's seen the message originally. So that at least protects them from saying the message sent is the message received. So it's now changed hands 11 times each way. That's really complex, but I find it fascinating that they were up on their P's and Q's to say, we might have a problem here. Houston, we got a problem. We've got, you know, these two possibles passing the note to each other.
Andrew Hammond: I remember reading that Mary came up with her own code, and it was very sophisticated for the time, but Phelippes was a very good cryptanalyst and managed to crack it. So they find out that Mary is plotting against Elizabeth. You know, we know what -- what happens at the end of the story, but how do we get to the end of the story? So how do they approach Elizabeth and tell her? Where does Mary get executed? When does that happen, et cetera?
R. Kent Tiernan: Elizabeth was shocked. At least she feigned being shocked. And she, in fact, incarcerated the messenger who told her that Mary was condemned for treason and so forth. And they wanted to behead her. So she said she was shocked. And she incarcerated Davison, who is one of her advisors, for telling her that. And she delayed, and she delayed, and she delayed. And it took a long while that finally Elizabeth said, all right, I have no choice. At least that's what she -- that's how she acted. And so she was eventually executed. But that was a long time after she was condemned to death.
Andrew Hammond: I think it would be interesting, just in the context of what we've discussed, just a couple of questions just about your background because you were on the Denial and Deception Committee, Kent. And you spent a lot of time thinking about this type of stuff. And then you applied this tradecraft onto this particular time period. So could you just tell our listeners, just in a few sentences, what was the Denial and Deception Committee?
R. Kent Tiernan: The Denial and Deception Committee was tasked to look at our adversaries and to try to understand the deception techniques, procedures, programs that they used in order to deny us or manipulate us so that our analysis would not -- would not be correct. Again, you know, there's always that paranoia. But at least we had some guidelines that we tried to consider in order to say, wait a second. This is your analysis, but what about this bit of information here? It does not fit. So we were looking for the anomalies. We were looking for the incongruities of information from our various collection sources, trying to understand what they knew about those collection sources, what they, the enemy, the threat knew, and how they could possibly manipulate the data in order to obfuscate the truth. And that's essentially what our mission was.
Andrew Hammond: And you were a career Air Force Intelligence Officer, is that correct?
R. Kent Tiernan: I was. My last, I think, three years, I ran a specialist called a Special Activities Unit, and that was our mission to military to look at, again, what do our adversaries do in order to cloud the truth so that, you know, that we don't know what their capabilities are? And we under -- we tried to understand those techniques and tactics of what they did.
Andrew Hammond: And apart from reading your book on the Babington plot and Walsingham, are there a couple of sources that you'd recommend people go to try to get their heads around this stuff?
R. Kent Tiernan: Absolutely. I would recommend Stephen Alford "The Watchers." I would recommend John Cooper "The Queen's Agent." I would recommend Robert Hutchinson "Elizabeth's Spymaster." I would recommend Charles Nicholl. It's called "The Reckoning." And this has to do with the death of one that supposedly wrote some of Shakespeare's works.
Andrew Hammond: Oh, Christopher Marlowe.
R. Kent Tiernan: That's it. I'm sorry.
Andrew Hammond: Yeah. Oh, that's okay. No problem. Well, this has been a lot of fun. Thanks so much for speaking to me about your research and your career. I've really enjoyed --
R. Kent Tiernan: Well, I want to thank you very much, and you've been great. It's wonderful. It's an honor talking to you. And just know that I greatly appreciate it.
Andrew Hammond: Thank you so much, Kent.
R. Kent Tiernan: Stay well.
Andrew Hammond: Thanks for listening to this episode of SpyCast. Please follow us on Apple, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcast. Next week's episode features NATO's Assistant Secretary General for Intelligence talking about Ukraine. Here's a clip from next week's show.
Unidentified Person: I was at home but had not been sleeping well for quite some time before that because I think we felt our intelligence was really solid, certainly by the point that the war began that it was imminent. And I think I got into the office less than 30 minutes after that. We had some pretty intense meetings right away, as you can imagine, for me to update the Secretary General, the Chair of the Military Committee, some other key officials, my key leadership colleagues on things. And then we started our day. But I'm not going to pretend I still wasn't shocked. It's one thing to know it's coming. But it really is another to see missiles raining down on a city that I had only visited at that point just a few weeks before.
Andrew Hammond: If you have feedback, you can reach us by email at email@example.com or at Twitter at intlspycast. If you go to our page at thecyberwire.com/podcast/spycast, you can find links to further resources, detailed show notes, and full transcripts. I'm your host, Andrew Hammond, and my podcast content partner is Erin Dietrick. The rest of the team involved in the show is Mike Mincey, Memphis Vaughn III, Emily Coletta Afua Anokwa, Elliott Peltzman, Tré Hester, and Jen Eiben. This show is brought to you from the home of the world's pre-eminent collection of intelligence and espionage-related artifacts, the International Spy Museum.