Could anyone be trusted in Tudor and Stuart England?

‘Spies, you are lights in state, but of base stuff,/ Who, when you’ve burnt yourselves down to the snuff,/ Stink, and are thrown away.’ Ben Jonson likened his fellow secret agents to a tallow candle: a grotty necessity, to be discarded without regret. Who now remembers Arthur Gregory, and his ‘admirable art of forcing the seal of a letter; yet so invisibly, that it still appeared a virgin to the exactest beholder’? Or the scrivener Peter Bales, so dainty with his quill that he could forge any handwriting, and who touted at Elizabeth I’s court the Renaissance equivalent of microfilm, a script so minuscule that he could fit the Lord’s

The Xi files: how China spies

Most states spy. In principle there’s nothing to stop them. But China’s demand for intelligence on the rest of the world goes far beyond anything western intelligence agencies would typically gather. It encompasses masses of commercial data and intellectual property and has been described by Keith Alexander, a former head of America’s National Security Agency, as ‘the greatest transfer of wealth in history’. As well as collecting data from government websites, parliamentarians, universities, thinktanks and human rights organisations, China also targets diaspora groups and individuals. Chinese cyber intrusions have targeted British MPs and stolen population-level data from the UK Electoral Commission database. In the US, meanwhile, Congress has just cracked

The spycop debacle is another nail in the Met’s coffin

In 2010, Mark Kennedy, a tattooed social justice warrior, was exposed as an undercover police officer. In this guise he infiltrated climate change activist groups and in the meantime formed a number of sexual relationships with fellow activists. Kennedy manipulated and deceived several women, including ‘Lisa’, with whom he formed a particularly close bond, while his wife and children were left in the dark about his exploits. But Kennedy was no lone bad apple. He was part of a group of Metropolitan Police spies deployed to gather intelligence on left-wing protest groups. Deep Deception is the story of these spies, written by five of the eight women who, in 2011,

Should locals be allowed to work at British embassies?

It is just short of 30 years since the collapse of the Soviet Union and suddenly there comes a reminder of how the world used to be. A member of staff at the British Embassy in Berlin has been arrested in Germany on suspicion of spying for Russia. The arrest took place in Potsdam, which used to be in East Germany, and the Glienecke Bridge separating the town from Berlin proper is where Cold War spies used to be exchanged. The suspect has been identified only as David S, and it is believed he worked in a security role at the embassy. Two details that are known, however, are that

We need to act now to block Britain’s social credit system

I have to admit that I didn’t quite get it right when, 12 days ago, I wrote: ‘There is a model for what will be coming our way if we do not resist vaccination passports and electronic ID cards: China’s social credit system, which blacklists people for numerous antisocial offences, from crossing the street on a red light to failing to sort their recycling, and uses the information to deny them the right, for example, to buy rail and airline tickets.’ I had in mind that it would take two to five years for a vaccination passport scheme to morph into a Chinese-style social credit system. In fact, it took

Why the Pegasus spying scandal probably won’t harm Viktor Orban

‘The EU has a dictatorship growing inside of it,’ proclaimed Guy Verhofstadt on Monday afternoon, while calling for an EU inquiry into the ‘Pegasus’ scandal, which has exposed the potential Hungarian misuse of state surveillance on anti-government journalists, media owners and businesspeople. The ‘Pegasus Project’, a multinational investigation led by the French non-profit organisation Forbidden Stories, suggests that investigative journalists critical of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s regime (along with independent media owners and government-critical businesspeople) were the subject of phone hacking in recent years. The Pegasus software, marketed to international governments by the NSO Group, an Israeli company, is capable of recording phone calls, accessing private messages, and switching

Matt Hancock isn’t the only politician who is clueless about cyber security

It is widely acknowledged that Britain has some of the world’s finest cyber capabilities. GCHQ is a global leader in those dark arts, and its offshoot, the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), is making that expertise available to businesses and others in need of help with their digital defences. All the more shocking, then, that our political leaders seem so utterly clueless. They have pledged to make Britain the ‘safest place in the world to be online’, but instead are running around like stars in a digital age ‘Carry On’ movie. Exhibit number one is Matt Hancock. Whitehall has been busy sweeping ministerial offices in search of cameras of the

Why is Macron feigning outrage at the Danish spying scandal?

The feigned outrage in Berlin – but mostly in Paris – at the USA’s proxy use of Denmark’s intelligence services to intercept submarine cable traffic to spy on European leaders raises more than a wry smile. Allies have always spied on allies for legitimate reasons. Few have done so, and continue to do so, as much as the French.  As president of France and commander-in-chief of the French armed forces, Emmanuel Macron will be perfectly aware of this. The French foreign intelligence service, DGSE, runs an interception programme on submarine cables that listens in to potential enemies and friends in similar fashion to the US National Security Agency or Britain’s

How Denmark helped America spy on Sweden

A large, investigative collaboration between Scandinavian public service outlets and European newspapers such as Le Monde and Süddeutsche Zeitung has revealed a rather sensational espionage story. US intelligence agency NSA has reportedly been snooping on American allies, including Swedish politicians, with the help of…Sweden’s neighbour, Denmark. To make matters worse, the Danish defense minister has apparently been sitting on the information for a whole year, without telling her Swedish counterpart. Ouch. Things will be chillier than usual at this June’s Nato-led maritime exercise (‘Baltops 50’) in the Baltic Sea. Germany has been kept in the dark by the Danes, too The closing of the bridge between Denmark and Sweden to