The forgotten world of female espionage

When the Germans occupied northern Italy in the autumn of 1943, they were pleased with the way that young Italian women, pedalling on bicycles around the country lanes in white socks and pigtails, smiled at them. The soldiers offered to help with their loaded baskets and gave them lifts in lorries. It took some months before they discovered that these smiling girls, known as staffette, were working as couriers, spies and carriers of weapons for the Resistance, then busy forming in the foothills of the Alps. When they realised their mistake, their reaction was often brutal. If caught, the women knew they would fare no better than the men. Prison

Do all MI6 men wear such quirky cufflinks?

‘You’re late. About four years too late.’ The lady in the car-hire office gave a casual shrug and turned her gaze towards the perpetual traffic jam in the street outside. Mercedes squeezing past BMWs squeezing past customised 4×4 Jeeps. There’s plenty of wealth in Albania if you go to the right places. Or the wrong ones. ‘It’s all mafia money,’ she went on. ‘This is where they come to spend their money in the summer. It wasn’t like this a few years ago. Now the prices here have gone crazy.’ Put it down to poor research but this wasn’t what we were expecting. The phrase ‘Albanian Riviera’ had a rather

Can we brainwash our enemies?

Disinformation is on the rise, and Britain’s spies are on the back foot. Our intelligence leaders warn about election meddling, and our enemies are trying to undermine public trust in our national institutions. The United Kingdom needs to use covert means to disrupt anti-British activities at their source. That’s what Harold Macmillan said in the 1950s, shortly before becoming prime minister. Over half a century later, in 2017, the Chief of MI6 made the same point: adversaries should be ‘playing in their half of the pitch not ours.’ And half a decade on from that, here we are again. This week’s intriguing peek into the secretive work of the National

The secret spy films made by MI6

Those attending the premiere of No Time to Die this week would perhaps be surprised to learn that the Bond films were once considered to be a national security threat. In the 1960s, with the image of Cold War espionage increasingly becoming shaped by films like Dr No, and TV series like Danger Man and The Avengers, MI6 feared that campy pulp fiction would drown out the real threat of Communist subversion. ‘The biggest single risk to security at the present time,’ one Whitehall report argued, ‘is probably a general lack of conviction that any substantial threat exists.’ ‘The master spy’, the intelligence services complained, ‘seems as much a part

Pakistan is relishing its role as kingmaker in Afghanistan

The details of engagements involving the head of MI6 are, unsurprisingly, usually kept secret. But not so Richard Moore’s meeting with the head of the Pakistani army, General Qamar Javed Bajwa. Officers from Britain’s intelligence service are also said to have met the Taliban, both in Kabul and Qatar. How do we know? Because hours after Moore met Bajwa, the news was plastered all over Pakistani media, much to the dismay and horror of British officials. Pakistani leaders have spent much of the past fortnight basking in the Taliban’s triumph. Imran Khan lauded the Taliban for breaking the ‘shackles of slavery’. The Pakistani prime minister’s office made special social media banners to advertise calls received from world

Licence to fill: MI6 brings in headhunters to hire new Q

MI6 is on the hunt for a new Q and in the spirit of 21st century recruitment, Britain’s secret service has turned to the one truly indestructible force of modern life: corporate headhunters. Consultants Saxton Bampfylde – dubbed the Fortnum and Mason of labour exchanges – have been brought in to lead the search for Director General Q, one of the deputies to the Chief of MI6 Richard Moore known as ‘C.’  Moore told Times Radio on Sunday the new role is inspired by the gadget specialist portrayed in the James Bond films, famously played by Desmond Llewelyn: In this one life imitates art. We were reshaping it a few years ago and we

Sleeping with the enemy: the wartime story of ‘La Chatte’

The name ‘Carré’ immediately evokes the shadowy world of espionage. Ironically, however, few people today have heard of the real Carré, also known as ‘Victoire’ and ‘La Chatte’, a female intelligence agent inside Nazi-occupied France whose life had enough plot twists and moral ambiguity to satisfy any spy novelist. Mathilde Carré (1908-2007) had beena clever but rather neglected child. Desperate to give her life meaning, and inspired by the poems of a patriotic aunt, she had romantically decided ‘at all costs, to die as a martyr for France’. Thirty years later, after a number of false starts, the second world war finally presented her with the chance to live a