SpyCast 2.6.24
Ep 619 | 2.6.24

“The British Monarchy and Secret Intelligence” with Rory Cormac and Richard Aldrich


Erin Dietrick: Welcome to SpyCast, the official podcast of the International Spy Museum. I'm Erin Dietrick, your host Dr. Andrew Hammonds's content partner. Each week we explore some aspect of the past, present, or future of intelligence and espionage. Please consider leaving us a five star review on Appeal Podcasts if you enjoy the show. Coming up next on SpyCast.

Richard Aldrich: So this is a fascinating period when the worlds of intelligence and information media are coming together. And there is not only unprecedented interest in Charles and Diana, but also kind of a moment when the gloves come off. When the press is becoming less respectful, more intrusive. And this presents a whole range of problems, not least security problems for the royal family. [ Music ]

Erin Dietrick: This week, our guests are Richard Aldrich and Rory Cormac, authors of the new book "Crown, Cloak, and Dagger - The British Monarchy and Secret Intelligence from Victoria to Elizabeth II." Richard is a professor of international security at the University of Warwick, and Rory is a professor of international relations at the University of Nottingham. Both are former colleagues of Andrew. Now we've learned time and time again here on SpyCast that spies are secretive, but this week we take it one step further looking at spies in the royal family. Secrets within secrets. In this episode, the trio discuss Prince William's internship with British Intelligence, how Elizabeth II knew perhaps more secrets than anyone else in history, King Charles's love of intelligence, Queen Victoria as a spymaster, and MI5, MI6, and the Diana conspiracies. The original podcast on intelligence since 2006, we are SpyCast. Now sit back, relax, and enjoy the show. [ Static ]

Andrew Hammond: I'm really looking forward to speaking to both of you guys about your book. And first off, congratulations on the book. And congratulations on getting such a superb quote on back at the top.

Rory Cormac: Aye, we aim for the highest people. They would have got staff.

Andrew Hammond: yeah I like it.

Richard Aldrich: I have to say we really, we really loved doing the book. It was great fun. And actually, I think for both of us, a unique experience because although women are playing a bigger part in espionage now, it's very, very rare to get a chance to talk about women at the top. Women in charge in the sort of espionage space. And this book is, you know, a huge amount of it is about Victoria and Elizabeth II. And you know, they were just the best spy chiefs. And I wonder whether there will ever in our entire careers get another chance to talk about two very impressive, innovative female spy chiefs.

Rory Cormac: But then the thing that struck me and I could talk about here, will we ever get the chance to write about this again, was the other unique part of the experience was the secrecy of it. And Rich and I are trained historians in the secret world, specializing in espionage and intelligence obviously. And then suddenly we're researching the royal family. Which is out of our comfort zones. And oh my goodness, you think the CIA is secretive, you think MI6 is secretive. These guys take it to a whole new level. So wonderful writing about these women at the top of intelligence structures. But my god, it was difficult finding out about them.

Richard Aldrich: These sort of Harry Potter wheels within wheels, secrets within secrets. There's this marvelous moment when the archivist at Windsor Castle who's supposed to know all the secrets suddenly discovers that other people are being told secrets that he doesn't know. And so you never quite know who's on the inside track, who's got the most secret secrets.

Andrew Hammond: And just for our listeners that haven't read the book, how did you research this? Where did you get the material? You mentioned Windsor. Like where does this stuff reside? In archives, private papers, did you have to bribe anyone? How did you get the access to the material?

Rory Cormac: Well I'll tell you where it's not. It's not in the British National Archives. And it's a barren wasteland of royal stuff. And I remember finding a file on the Queen's audience with the Prime Minister. Which is, you know, the most hush-hush meeting in the land, no minute taker. And you know that feeling in the archive where you finally find something and you get this surge of excitement and the little archive dance, the nerdy historians that we are. Well, maybe that's just me. I blew the dust off it. And it was two pieces of paper between the Queen's private secretary and PM's private secretary. And all it said was "Will Her Majesty be okay if the Prime Minister turns up in tails and a tux" or something. And that was that. Originally was an intrepid biography specialist, really. Rich spent ages going through books, second-hand bookshop, pouring, pouring over all sort of things, didn't you?

Richard Aldrich: Yes, I think, you know, the little fragments everywhere. It's that process of putting together endless breadcrumbs and finally reassembling the loaf. And in the strangest places. Obviously, neglected private papers. But my favorite was the National Railway Museum. In the National Railway Museum, they had a record of every train journey, minute by minute, day by day, by the royal family. And as we tried to reconstruct the King's wartime rolling deception, which units he inspected, how he gave credence to typically American deception formations. This was the key, we could see minute by minute what he was doing. So it really took us to the very kind of limits of our ingenuity to research this one.

Andrew Hammond: Well we've recently turned the corner historically with Prince Charles becoming King Charles. So based on your research, what would the onboarding process be like for Charles so he becomes the King. Like does he get an audience with the heads of SIS and the security service? Has he already been read into a lot of this stuff as the Prince of Wales or as the King in Waiting? How will he be inculcated into this world of intelligence that British royals have intersected with as you lay out in the book?

Richard Aldrich: Yes, well, the current king is already read into this stuff because for some years, if you do something really amazing in the British Intelligence community, you get a special secret award. Prince Charles for years would meet intelligence officers from the British community and give them awards for doing something spectacularly brave or successful. And the current members of the royal family actually work as interns in the intelligence community partly to ensure they're read in and they're ready for their roles. But it's also a morale boost to go and have one of the princes go and work at GCHQ MI5, MI6. So they know a lot about this stuff before they already step up.

Andrew Hammond: What's the name of that award? So the CIA's highest award is the Distinguished Intelligence Cross. Like is -- do we know this award is called that he was giving out, or is that classified?

Rory Cormac: It's classified. It's still top secret.

Richard Aldrich: What we love is we can see that Charles's passion about intelligence goes back for decades. There's a wonderful moment when he's just met Princess Diana. You know, years and years ago and they're going off to Scotland, trying to get away from the press. The press, the paparazzi are stalking them, trying to get a long range shot of Charles and Di having a crafty snog in the heather. They zoom in on Charles. Princess Di is not there. She's not there. What they get is just Charles and he's reading a book. And he's reading R.V. Jones's "Most Secret War." He's reading one of the top books on wartime scientific intelligence. All that way back. So this just shows that Charles is an absolute, dyed in the wool spy fanatic.

Andrew Hammond: So for all we know, he could be giving out pots of rhubarb jam? We don't actually know what it is?

Rory Cormac: It's actually probably chutney, but yes.

Andrew Hammond: Okay. Okay. I guess what I'm trying to gather is, so we've got Charles. He's been bloodied in intelligence. But is there some threshold that he would have crossed in becoming the King, the sovereign? Is there some new layer that he would be read into? He was George Smiley but now he's Control? Is there some level of new secrets that he gets? Or are the responsibilities different for him? Are the people that he meets regularly different? Like what will he be doing now on like a weekly, monthly basis with regards to intelligence?

Rory Cormac: He'll get access to all the top staff. He'll get the, you know, copy number one of the Joint Intelligence Committee weekly report, for example, and all the major intelligence assessments. He'll get regular briefings and updates from C, the chief of MI6. But how that differs from his role as prince, it's difficult to know. Because we obviously don't know what he received as prince. What we do know is that it varied depending, you know, historically, depending on the nature of the Prince of Wales and the trustworthiness of the Prince of Wales. Which I'm sure we'll come onto later. And some Princes of Wales were, heirs to the throne, were given stuff at a fairly early age and indicated into secrets. Princess Elizabeth, as she then was, you know, was reasonably well trusted and she was getting access to material in a way that say, Queen Victoria's son and heir, Edward VII, wasn't because he wasn't particularly trustworthy and he was frozen out. So there's no formal process as far as we can tell. And it depends on the personality, trustworthiness, and frankly, blackmail-ability if that's a word, food the heir to the throne.

Andrew Hammond: There is now.

Richard Aldrich: What we can see is down the years for decades, hundreds of years, what monarchs have loved is getting taught secret scandal on other monarchs. So yes, there's these JIC papers, there's the most classified stuff. But there's also raw reports on the misdoings of the cousin of the King of Bulgaria and all this sort of stuff. And that's what the royal family really love, actually.

Andrew Hammond: For King Charles and for the Queen, Queen Elizabeth II, you're basically saying that they get access to like everything? It's just an open door. If they want to see it, then they see it? Wow.

Rory Cormac: That's what really struck me. As I was writing, you know, this book with Richard, what struck me the most was how much access Queen Elizabeth II had. But how much she knew. And I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that she probably knew more state secrets than any human being who has ever walked the history of the Earth. Because she had access to everything for 70 odd years. And we're not just talking about old sorts of intelligence assessments. We're talking, as Richard said, code words, raw material that the Chief of MI6 would brief her and deliver notes in his signature green handwriting. This is the most secretive stuff in the cupboards. And she loved it. She was amazingly briefed. And I remember reading into these with American diplomats who were posted in London and they would go for their dinner in the palace and meet the Queen. And they were always so impressed at how she knew everything. And they thought she was the best briefed person in the whole of London.

Richard Aldrich: Because the intelligence supported that daily role. So you know, the Queen, the current King, heads of state and they're meeting the heads of state of countries which are frankly not democracies. And so, they're meeting with policy makers. These are really important diplomatic meetings. And they're doing these short-term briefings several times a day on the people they're about to meet. And everybody remarks on this astonishing memory which they have to develop. So these people who've been essentially in service for, you know, half a century, and their knowledge of the people that they're interacting with and their secrets is probably unparalleled actually.

Andrew Hammond: Wow. So another way to think about it just institutionally is that she's basically being briefed by every head of MI6 going back to Stewart Menzies. Which is kind of crazy when you think about it.

Rory Cormac: And she had, you know, things like Suez, for example. She had the top secret inside track on really sensitive and controversial and influential decisions like the Invasion of Suez in 1956. And then she becomes a library of state secrets and experience. And she can then in the years and decades to come do her constitutional duty of famously raising an eyebrow at a Prime Minister and then saying "Are you sure that's wise, Prime Minister?" And she had decades of experience and knowledge and secrets to help her raise that famous eyebrow.

Andrew Hammond: I think one of the things that I enjoyed about your book was it makes you think about the royal family in a different way. I always thought being like the Queen or the King sounded like a relatively boring job. But you know, having briefings with the Head of MI6, a glass of Debonair, and a couple of corgis by your side, it doesn't actually sound half bad.

Rory Cormac: Sounds like a Bond villain now, stroking the corgis as Bond arrives.

Richard Aldrich: It has its downside. The Queen is obviously popular, you know, in the UK. She's also very popular around the world. And that was fascinating, because that means -- that interacts with her security procedures. She doesn't think that anybody's going to try and attack her or assassinate her. But her biggest problem is the people she's going to be standing next to when she visits countries overseas. So although she's not in necessarily personal danger herself from an attacker, what happens if they attack the person who she's -- and what happens if someone attacks a visiting dignitary? Typically the Shah in the 1970s was someone that almost every self-respecting terrorist group wanted to assassinate. And the Queen had to ride to Ascot in top carriage and everyone was just saying well how many grenades? How many LPGs? How many rocket launchers are going to be fired at the royal carriage on the way across London? So actually, yes, it's fun, but it's also -- it's also fraught with danger. And one of the reasons the royals love intelligence services is that they help to keep them alive. [ Music ]

Erin Dietrick: Richard just noted that royals have a particular fondness for their intelligence services due to their keen ability to keep them alive and well. And I would probably think the same if there were constant threats on my life and I managed to thwart them all. So let's take a few moments to look at the royals' relationship with assassinations. Despite numerous attempts and many threats, the last monarch of the British Crown to be assassinated rather than executed was James I, King of Scotland in 1437. James's uncle, Walter Stewart, conspired with around 30 of his supporters to kill King James and take the throne for himself. James and his wife had been staying at the royal apartments in Blackfriars's Monastery in Perth, Scotland for a couple of months, when one night in February, James's personal chamberlain let the conspirators into the priory. James and his wife suddenly found themselves trapped in their room. The locks on the doors had been broken and the only thing standing between James and certain death were the Queen's ladies guarding the door. Using a pair of iron tongs, James managed to peel back a floorboard and crawled through a sewer tunnel. A sewer tunnel that just days before the King had ordered to be sealed up. With no exit in sight, James hid until he was eventually found and murdered. With very little support for the conspiracy, all of the individuals who worked with Walter Stewart were eventually tortured and executed. James's six year old son would then assume the throne of Scotland. With only one assassination in the past 600 years, clearly, the services that protect the Crown are doing something right. And if you happen to be in Perth and are looking for a pint, the site of this assassination is now a lovely pub named after King James himself. We'll pick up with more about assassinations, looking from a more global perspective, in the next interlude. [ Music ]

Andrew Hammond: Just going back to Rory's point about the Queen knowing more secrets than any human being who's ever lived. I mean, that's a fascinating point that you make in the book as well. Because her reign was so long and also coincided with the rise of systematized professional intelligence in the UK. So just by definition and given her level of access over that period of time, that's an astonishing number of secrets.

Rory Cormac: Yeah. Let's face it. It's a bold claim, we'll come here and say there's more state secrets than anyone who's ever lived. But I genuinely think it's true. I mean, she was on the throne for 70 odd years. She had high level briefings for all that time. There was one really interesting point where the level of knowledge actually differed from the Prime Minister. And it creates this slight constitutional conundrum. Because she at this point knew more than the Prime Minister about secret intelligence matters. And it was 1964, when Anthony, the Queen's art historian, essentially, to the palace confessed to being famously a Soviet agent. And the Queen was told. And the Prime Minister was not told. And I love to be a fly on the wall in that weekly Tuesday afternoon chat as they're talking about, you know, security and things that have come up and world affairs. And she knows. She knows that this guy at the heart of the British establishment has just confessed to being a Soviet agent. And he agrees to keep him in place and so as not to, you know, alert Soviet intelligence and blow potential counterintelligence investigations. She plays along, she keeps him in place. But the Prime Minister, it seems, did not know. And I'd love to know what the dynamics were like in that particular meeting. They were good friends as well, I mean, Douglas-Home was the Prime Minister. A kind of long forgotten British Prime Minister. But very blue-blooded, aristocratic, friends with the Queen. But she knew and he didn't. Which creates all sorts of interesting constitutional problems.

Andrew Hammond: That's fascinating right there, right? The Queen knew who the fourth man was and the Prime Minister's in the dark. Wow. So I think now it could be quite interesting to jump back to Queen Victoria. We've actually done a couple of podcasts on Elizabeth I and Francis Walsingham. So I'm just going to leave that aside so that we can go into more depth in a couple of other topics. So, let's go back to Victoria. Because you make the point in the book, really, the assassination attempts against her were really the seeds that led to the birth of British intelligence. Could you just tell us a little bit about that?

Rory Cormac: She was the most fascinating woman leader, monarch. She was just amazing. And I came to this not knowing anything about her. She's supposed to feature in about two chapters in the book and she ends up being I think four. Because she just loved intelligence. She was an avid consumer and an obsessive. She, from an early age, she was taught in deception techniques and how to evade counterintelligence. She was an intelligence analyst. She would sit at her desk in Windsor Castle alongside the Prime Minister, and the two of them would be pouring over the latest human intelligence reports. And she would be helping him interpret them and see what they mean. Because they were often about her friends and relatives. And you know, she knew the dynamics of that stuff better than the Prime Minister. She had her own network of agents and spies across the European royal houses. And sometimes she used that to support British foreign policy. Sometimes let's be honest, she used that to outmaneuver and manipulate British foreign policy. So she was an obsessive. And when it came to the assassination attempts, of which there were about nine or so, she shifts from becoming an intelligence analyst come consumer come gatherer, to becoming a kind of ballistics expert. One of the first ones. There was an attempt to shoot her. And she insisted on being shown the bullet holes in the wall where it missed her head and she wanted to see how close it had come. She drags the home secretary off. She wants regular updates on the interrogation and all of these things. And my favorite story of the assassination attempts was when she and Albert were out and about on one of their walks and someone steps forward, tries to shoot them, and fortunately misses. But he escapes. So the next day, the Queen, in talking about bravery of monarchs, decides to use herself as bait with Albert. She sends her ladies away and back into the castle. She says it's far too dangerous for you. And she and Albert go out, retrace their footsteps, in the hope that this assassin would step out again and try for a second time. And this time, the police had planted all sorts of undercover officers disguised as trees and whatnot to try and catch the assassin. And so it goes and they retrace their steps and sure enough, the assassin steps out from behind another tree. And there's this wonderful moment where the undercover officer forgets what he's actually supposed to be doing and he stands forward to solute Her Royal Majesties as they're walking past. He has no intelligence training, to undercover training. His patriotism overtakes him and he salutes Their Royal Majesties. And the assassin tries to pull the gun and fortunately, misses, and this time is apprehended. And it's botched attempts like that with terribly amateurish detective work which help to, as you say, spur the creation of a special branch in undercover policing.

Andrew Hammond: So tell us a little bit more about that. So, the special branch, undercover policing, and then eventually we get to the intelligence bureau, MI5?

Richard Aldrich: Yes, so something that I think intelligence stories haven't realized, that the attempt to assassinate the British royal family, but also royal families across Europe, are a very major driver in terms of the growth of professional intelligence services. The British royal family, Victoria, Albert, are incredibly brave. Albert actually, they were attacked so often that Albert actually commissions a special umbrella made of chainmail to defend the Queen. It's a bit heavy, he doesn't use it very often. But this is -- there's a serious point here. You know, the British royal family survive partly because they're attacked by mostly eccentrics who are mentally disturbed. Across Europe, it's also anarchists and royals, including relatives of Victoria, are dying like flies over a period of about 50 years. And this is a big driver in terms of the creation and the professionalization of intelligence.

Andrew Hammond: I wish I had had that umbrella when I lived in Birmingham. Could have been pretty handy. So that's another fascinating thing that you outline in the book. And what people often forget, around this time, this was a Pan European network of blood relations that is grafted on top of the rise of nationalism within various countries. So tell us a bit more about that. So she's got relatives in Bulgaria, Denmark, Greece, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, Romania, Russia, and Spain. I mean that's basically the whole of Europe. So they're all trading secrets or you know, gossiping about each other that involves secrets? Help the listeners understand a little bit more about how that sort of royal intelligence network functioned.

Rory Cormac: Well she was the head honcho of this network. She sat at the very, very top of it. And they were -- yes, they were gossiping, but they were all feeding intelligence back up to her. And the wonderful thing about it was this was a world where formal intelligence didn't really exist in the way it does now. It was all blurred in with the personals. So you'd have a letter saying oh, so and so's dog is a bit poor today. By the way, Bismarck's amassing troops on the border of Austria. Blurred and merged into one. So it had some genuinely really, really important stuff. And it had material which the government didn't have access to. You know, one of the most famous examples was the Schleswig-Holstein wars in the mid-19th century. Which don't worry, you don't need to know the in's and out's of. In fact, there was a famous quip by Lord Palmerston as Prime Minister when he said something like these wars are so complicated, only three people only ever understood them. One was Prince Albert and he's dead. One was a German professor and he's gone mad. And one was me and I've forgotten. But essentially, she had -- her daughter was married to the Crown Prince of Prussia and was passing her intelligence on Prussian capabilities and intentions. And she used that to effectively change the government's foreign policy and make them not intervene in a war that they otherwise would have intervened in. So whenever dynastic interests clashed with British government interests, the Queen would and did use her royal network of agents to try to shape things. And eventually Bismarck got wise to this and gradually froze her daughter, Vicky, out furthermore. And to be fair, he had a point. Vicky also engaged in what we might call using modern terminology as a hack and leak corporation. She leaked a bunch of letters to the Times Newspaper. To expose Bismarck's naughtiness. And yet, when Bismarck accused her of being a spy, an agent, he had a point, to be fair.

Richard Aldrich: And Bismarck attempts counteroperations. So he put spies into Vicky's household. And they're not just watching her, they're warning her. So they go away for a little holiday, they come back, drawers have been visibly broken into. Locks have been broken. Very much like the KGB used to do in the 1950s. They'd go into a diplomat's flat, visibly mess things up as a kind of physical warning. Things are getting a bit hot. It's the same techniques run down the centuries.

Andrew Hammond: And just to jump back to something you said earlier, Rory, you mentioned that she was trained in tradecraft and counterintelligence and even covert communications. How did that come about? Is that something that royals got taught, or?

Rory Cormac: The informal family business, if you like, this was her uncle who was Leopold, King of the Belgians, when Victoria was a 14, 15 year old girl. Was training her or teaching her about how if you know that the government postal service where you're sending a letter to is going to intercept that letter, or you assume they're going to intercept it, you can release -- you can write something fake in order to deceive them. It's a classic intelligence deception tradecraft. Knowing that the enemy's counterintelligence organizations automatic -- and security organizations are intercepting letters, you feed them some truth, some chicken feed, as Richard said, same principle for other centuries. Same as the D-Day deception operations. And yeah, he pointed out that you can do this. And later on, there was a minor scandal about government interception of letters. And Prince Albert was just kind of, say, blase. He says well of course governments intercept letters. What are worried about? They do and we can exploit that. We can use that to our advantage. Stop being so flipping squeamish, he thought. Stop being so British.

Andrew Hammond: Wow, very hard for them. So we have the Victorian era. We have the birth of British Intelligence in a formal sense. We have MI5, MI6, the government coincides for skill and GCHQ. So just before we go up to the war, my question is do they have a favorite? Is there one that they're particularly close to? Do they love the tattle-tattle that they get from GCHQ? Or are they particularly intrigued by the director of MI6 or?

Richard Aldrich: I think in the first part of the 20th century it has to be MI6. Because they simply won more medals. George V decorated them highly. And the head of MI6 in Russia, Paul Dukes, was knighted for his services. I think pretty much the only MI6 officer as opposed to a chief who was knighted. And this we think relates to two operations. Firstly an attempt to -- a successful attempt to assassinate Rasputin. It's now pretty clear that MI6, not a Russian prince, assassinated Rasputin. And then attempts to extricate the Tsar after the Revolution. And some operations thereafter, an attempt, it seems, to kill Lenin. Certainly these things endeared MI6 very much not only to the King but to bullocks everywhere.

Andrew Hammond: And so we come up to the war. Tell us a little bit more about the Second World War, the royals, and intelligence. This is quite a fascinating story. So tell us a little bit more about King George VI. And his daughter, of course, the future Elizabeth II.

Rory Cormac: Well, when he came to the throne, he had a bit of a trust building exercise to do. He had to win over the intelligence services. Because of course, his brother, Edward VIII, had just disgraced himself. He was spied on by the intelligence services. He was, I think it's fair to say, and put it mildly, sympathetic to the Nazi cause. And the intelligence services did not trust him. They were spying on him. They also knew that he was very leaky with their secrets. You know, there's one occasion where he was having a cocktail party at Fort Belvedere. And was leaving documents, sub-secret documents, lying around. And they'd come back with red wine stains on them. And there was one moment where he said to I think it was the American attache, who he said oh, you're going back to London via Downing Street, aren't you, old chap? Would you mind taking these top secret documents back with you and handing it back to the Prime Minister on your way home? And you could imagine the horror of British Intelligence as he was doing that. So when George VI comes in, he is also an appeaser. And he wasn't a pronounced like his brother, but he was an appeaser. He lived through the horrors of World War I and didn't want to repeat it. And famously publicly aligned himself to Chamberlain when Chamberlain comes back waving this piece of paper in the air saying peace in our time. So when war actually breaks out, he has an uphill task of winning the trust of the intelligence services. It's slow going. But eventually he gets brought in to every secret in the land.

Richard Aldrich: And he really loves cyber traunch. He really loves the sort of stuff that SOE and OSS are doing. He goes off to some of the forward frontline bases in North Africa. And who does he see there? Whole range of people, including some Hollywood movie stars who've rocked up to do some sabotage. He comes back and he's full of tales for the rest of the royal family. The Queen, Princess Margaret, Princess Elizabeth. He can't take them out to North Africa to see this stuff. So he takes them to an SOE air field training base north of London. And they're all there admiring all the top secret gadgets. All the silence pistols, the compasses. Their favorite is exploding horse dung. The Queen goes over to the King, says --

Andrew Hammond: Isn't that everyone's favorite?

Richard Aldrich: -- look at this exploding -- well you know, the whole family love horses. But exploding horse dung. So there's all the royal family admiring this horse poo, which has a special, secret purpose. It's great.

Rory Cormac: Our favorite one was he also got indoctrinated into the D-Day deception secret. So this is possibly the most secret and sensitive part of the Second World War. When MI5 of course are launching the Double-Cross deception operation to try and convince Hitler that the overland, Normandy landings are going to take place in Calais rather than Normandy. And the King has a role. You see, spooks coming over to the palace. And he gets kind of indoctrinated into the secrets. I mean, how it works is he coordinated his movements around the country to align with the deception operation, to align with the material which the MI6 network of fake agents were sending back to Hitler. And he essentially operated as a giant royal highlighter pen, drawing Hitler's attention to certain battalions at certain parts of the country to give this impression that the invasion was going to come from Calais. And this also involves bravery, to be fair to him. Because the less famous -- the less famous part of the operation was something called Fortitude North, which would convince the Germans that there was also going to be an invasion into Norway. And so what the King did to back up and to give more credibility to this deception narrative was to fly to Ireland way off the north coast of Scotland. Closer to Norway than they were to London. And visit the Northern Fleet, knowing full well that the British newspapers report on this. King visits Northern Fleet. Knowing full well that the Nazis were reading what the British press were reporting. And just giving the extra credibility. So it was all -- it was very carefully coordinated. Giving the King himself a role. And he was delighted, to quote in, I think it was his private secretary's diaries, the quote was he was delighted in bamboozling the Germans.

Richard Aldrich: And of course he loved this because this was something that he took part in. So there was a top secret internal report on this deception operation. And it seems this is the last thing he was reading when he died. In the early 1950s.

Andrew Hammond: Wow.

Richard Aldrich: This is clearly close to his heart. Because he was upset about the scale of casualties. And he saw deception as something that would essentially protect the Allied troops as they landed in 1944.

Andrew Hammond: So basically, King George VI was part of the D-Day deception operations. Wow. I'm sure our listeners will find that really interesting. I'm thinking as well, the King, during the war, he finds his metal. He, like you said, he starts off a bit soft and Chamberlain-esque, but I remember reading in Charles's memoirs, he said the King's practicing with his pistol in Buckingham Palace in case the Germans storm the coast and things like this. I think it'd be interesting now to turn to Elizabeth and Philip and I think later, we can go into Diana and Charles and Diana. And so Elizabeth and Philip, you mentioned the Nazi connection. So I think there's, in the book, you say it's three of Philip's sisters are Nazi sympathizers and one of them's even a member of the party. So does that mistrust that the intelligence services have towards King George VI transfer over onto Elizabeth? The future consort's sisters and Nazi connections?

Rory Cormac: They're a bit worried. And so inevitably, they do a bit of digging and came up with a dossier on them. But very, very quickly they realized that he was not to be tainted by his family's connections. And if anything, his worry came more from the leftist side of things. He was a bit more of a socialist than the royal family were used to. So, no, the only real security risk with him was more about potential for blackmail around company he may or may not have kept. To put it delicately. [ Music ]

Erin Dietrick: In the last interlude, I noted that the British Crown has only seen one assassination in its past 600 years of history. This is particularly fascinating when we compare that to the 100 year span between 1864 and 1964, in which four American presidents were assassinated, and unsuccessful attempts made on the lives of three others. Only after William McKinley was killed in Buffalo, the third president to be assassinated, did the United States implement systematic and continuous protection of the president. Now this was not just an American trend. Globally, the era of 1880 to 1914 is known as the Golden Age of Assassination. During this period, the western world saw the assassinations of Tsar Alexander II, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, both the King and Prime Minister of Greece, Umberto I of Italy, Alexander I of Serbia, Grand Duke Sergei Romanov, and later the entire royal Romanov family in 1918. The trend of murdering those in power was certainly not random. The rises of Marxism, nihilism, and anarchism engendered a tumultuous era of revolutionary thought that spread across the world faster than ever due to new and modernized forms of global communication. 100 years after the beginning of the Golden Age of Assassination, anarchy caught popularity again, but this time in the form of musical expression. In English the Sex Pistols sent punk rock shockwaves across the country with their iconic song "God Save the Queen," an anti-monarchy, anti-establishment song that criticized British politics, specifically the so-called old fashioned royals. Without utilizing violence, the punk subculture in the 1980s mirrored much of the same social and political beliefs associated with the revolutionary wave a century earlier. With of course, less assassinations. For more on the Golden Age of Assassinations and the origins of what we now know as terrorism, check out our recent episode with James Crossland. Now, back to Rory and Richard. [ Music ]

Andrew Hammond: So let's do a jump cut forward. So we get to the era of Margaret Thatcher comes into power. Then we have Prince Charles, the future king. And he marries a young woman called Diana Spencer. And you know, this is huge over on this side of the Atlantic. I feel like people in the States are more interested in the British royals than British people in general. So I think that's a good one to zero in on. So tell us a little bit more about the -- tell us about the part of your book where you look at Charles and you look at Diana.

Richard Aldrich: So this is a fascinating period when the worlds of intelligence and information and media are coming together. And there is not only unprecedented interest in Charles and Diana, but also kind of a moment when the gloves come off. When the press is becoming less respectful, more intrusive. And this presents a whole range of problems, not least security problems for the royal family. So you find that intelligence and security officers who traditionally have been trying to protect the royal family from people who are mentally disturbed, assassins, are also trying to keep the press away who are proving to be not just annoying but actually physically dangerous to the royal family.

Rory Cormac: And the press are using intelligence techniques themselves, aren't they? With you know, long range surveillance cameras and wire tapping and all this kind of stuff. There's a weird blurring of intelligence and journalism and royals. They're all mixed in together.

Richard Aldrich: And of course the resources, the resources that the press and the paparazzi have that follow the royals is extraordinary. All the best spy gadgets, all the best telephoning equipment. There's a moment when Prince Charles, very annoyed, confronts the top royal report from The Sun, one of Britain's tabloids. And he's kind of lost his temper. And he says you're scum, you're scum, you're just scum. And the reporter replies very deferentially, sort of tucking his forearm, yes sir, we are scum, but we are the creme de la scum. And what he meant was essentially, they were the A-Team. And what we discovered later was actually MI6 uses a bunch of freelancers with special skills, the top, top, the world's top long-range photographer who moonlights for MI6 is by day a royal paparazzi. So these two worlds really were coming together in a really quite remarkable way.

Andrew Hammond: And tell us about Diana. Did she in any way intersect more directly with the world of intelligence? So we know Charles was interested and involved in it. But Diana as the Princess of Wales was -- what was her relationship like with intelligence?

Rory Cormac: Well I think Diana increasingly became anxious about the role of government, the role of some of the security people around her. This contributed to her anxiety, perhaps even instability. And so as her relationship with the royal family becomes more distant in 1992, 1993, as Charles and Diana separate, she deliberately decides to drop her official security. This is around December 1993. There's fabulously interesting official documents about this. Because Whitehall and Westminster panic. This is unprecedented. Someone who's attracting this much attention from the press, people who are potentially disturbed, doing away with her security. And the home secretary and the Prime Minister want it formally recorded that this isn't their decision. Because they anticipate that this is potentially going to lead to disaster, as indeed it does in Paris a few years later.

Andrew Hammond: She gets paranoid with regards to the intelligence services. She thinks that the men in grey suits, the deep British state are somehow looking at her or somehow she's going to tragically intersect with them at some point. Tell us a little more about that aspect of Diana and maybe even go into the Diana conspiracy. You know, MI6 were involved or British Intelligence were involved in Diana. Because she was cavorting with a Muslim Arab.

Rory Cormac: This is the tragedy of Princess Diana. Is the encroaching paranoia as she sheds the A-team of security and counterintelligence and protection. Because she's convinced they're out to get her. And goes with the more amateurish private setup. Which ultimately lets her down. And she was, you know, there's always the question, just because she's paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you. So the question there is were they spying on her? And we know that the NSA has files on Princess Diana. But the really, really important point is that she wasn't the target. This is stuff when she is dealing with Latin American governments or clearing landmines in Sub-Saharan Africa. NSA or GCHQ or whoever might be intercepting different communications of governments NGOs and listening to different parts of the world. And Diana might well be caught up in some of that material. But you know, we know that doesn't mean that she was a target of espionage. And we certainly know that she was not assassinated as the conspiracy theorists like to point out.

Richard Aldrich: We spent a lot of time on the Diana conspiracy. And it's clear that the main reason that this is not a conspiracy is that when a state decides to assassinate someone, it takes weeks, even months to set this up. You know, governments do assassinate people, but they only do it when all the paperwork is in order. And essentially, Diana's visit to Paris was done on the spur of the moment. And this is a clear indication that this was not an assassination, this was an accident. But there are still nevertheless, in all those inquiries, and there were three enormous inquiries revealing some really top secret documents, there's some amazing stuff. And you can see how because some of those top hotels are sites of intelligence gathering, the top hotels in Paris, working closely with the French Intelligence Service, essentially if you're a royal or a dignitary, a Saudi prince, you visit one of those hotels, you're essentially walking into an intelligence surveillance box. So yes, they were rubbing shoulders with intelligence wittingly and unwittingly all the time.

Andrew Hammond: Just for our listeners, who protects the royal family? So in the United States, it's the secret service that looks after the president, for example. Is there a British version of the secret service?

Richard Aldrich: So in the UK, it's a specialist branch of the police. And of course, they talk to the American secret service all the time. There's a wonderful moment, actually, when -- because the scale of attacks on the British royal family have not been the same as have been directed to American presidents. So the secret service were warning the British in the 80s about the growing scale of attacks. The British police were being a little bit relaxed, we're fine, everything's cool. And then there's that famous moment when someone gets into the Queen's bedroom. Chap called Fagan, who climbs down a drainpipe, gets into the Queen's bedroom. The Queen is phoning the police for assistance, nobody's coming. And we're told that the American secret service were pleased that it all turned out right but were slightly smug. They're like we told you, we told you that you needed to sharpen up and you guys were asleep. I think it was actually a fair comment, fair comment from the American secret service.

Rory Cormac: There was another moment where the secret service were shocked that their British counterparts wouldn't be allowed to rugby tackle the Queen if an assassin stepped out from a crowd in a way they would dive in front of Reagan and push him out of the way. Doing that to the Queen was a no-no. And yeah, dark, dark comic moments.

Andrew Hammond: So a special branch that protect royal family.

Richard Aldrich: Well, special branch doesn't exist anymore. Special branch has been merged with the counterterrorism piece. It's specialist protection officers who cover both the royal family and also diplomats in the UK. So they're actually very like the American secret service. There's a really important point here, which is that monarch can't be locked away. The Queen used to say I need to be seen to be believed. To have any legitimacy, she has to be seen amongst her people and to be respected and cheered. And that means she has to -- and her family have to be in and out amongst the people shaking hands. And whether it was Queen Victoria back in the 19th century or Queen Elizabeth, they knew -- they knew they couldn't hide away behind armored vehicles and rows and rows of armed forces with big riot shields. They had to be with the people. And this meant the intelligence becomes particularly crucial. Because it gives you kind of that forewarning to allow you to minimize the more visible protective security of state. Which would have been a disaster if she'd locked herself away in Buckingham Palace for 60 years.

Andrew Hammond: As we get towards the end, the current Prince of Wales, Prince William, do we know has this position towards intelligence?

Rory Cormac: Well he was doing the work experience. He was doing -- he did a week, a week with each intelligence service two or three years back now. And he was joining MI5 supposedly on undercover drive rounds with him in the back seat. Watching suspects. He was in MI6 headquarters being given briefings on the latest intelligence and threats. Known as Will. And he was there in Cheltenham at The Doughnut sitting around the canteen as Will gossiping with the other, you know, intelligence newbies. So he's clearly interested. And he's clearly wanting to have a feel and a flavor for the different agencies. And what they do. Just like his parents and grandparents always did.

Andrew Hammond: So just to close out, I'm sure some people are listening to this and thinking god, the British are absolutely barking mad. What the hell are those people doing? So that leads into the question, is this something that's going to continue? Do you ever see this kind of close relationship coming to an end? Do you ever see some future Prime Minister who's super modernist saying we're putting an end to this? What's your take on the long-term forecasting on this kind of relationship?

Rory Cormac: I think as long as the monarchy is in existence, then this is going to continue. The general trend of decline in terms of how active and modeling and interfering the Queen can be, you know, Queen Elizabeth did a lot less modeling than Queen Victoria did, for example. But you know, she would still play an active role on occasion. But gradually that role is dwindling. But they're always going to have knowledge, as long as there is a monarch. And what's the phrase? With knowledge comes power.

Richard Aldrich: I think the best reward for a British -- for a spy who's risking their lives to penetrate a terrorist organization, Al Qaeda, ISIS, was to be brought in and given a cup of tea and a cucumber sandwich with the monarch. And as long as we have spies risking their lives, there's going to be a role for the monarch. Dishing out the tea and the cucumber sandwich. And this is a motivator. This is important.

Andrew Hammond: Well thanks ever so much. This has been a really fun and engaging and interesting conversation. And I really did enjoy your book. So congratulations and thanks for sharing your expertise and experience. [ Music ]

Erin Dietrick: Thanks for listening to this episode of SpyCast. Please follow us on Apple, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. Coming up next week on SpyCast.

Leon Panetta: Sometimes when I was Chief of Staff to the President, I'd be alone in the Oval Office. And I'd look around and say my god, here I am, the son of Italian immigrants. In probably the most powerful place on the face of the Earth.

Erin Dietrick: If you have feedback, you can reach us by email at spycast@spymuseum.org, or on Twitter at INTLSpyCast. If you go to our page, thecyberwire.com/ podcasts/spycast, you can find links to further resources, detailed show notes, and full transcripts. I'm Erin Dietrick, and your host is Dr. Andrew Hammond. The rest of the team involved in the show is Mike Mincey, Memphis Vaughn III, Emily Coletta, Afua Anokwa, Emily Rens, Ariel Samuel, Elliott Peltzman, Tré Hester, and Jen Eiben. This This show is brought to you from the home of the world's preeminent collection of intelligence and espionage-related artifacts, the International Spy Museum. [ Music ]