People might be forgiven, in the current avalanche of stories about fake news, robot social media accounts and subversion, for thinking that we live in an age where the old conventions of governance, information and public discourse no long apply. Surely, therefore, the world of secret intelligence has also been so transformed by technology as to be unrecognisable to readers of Ian Fleming, Deighton and Le Carré? This lecture will show that techniques in use today, including disinformation, are as old as human history; and that despite the march of technology, the principles, practices and requirements of the intelligence world have evolved rather than changed. In some ways the role of the human agent ‒ the spy ‒ is more important than ever.
Gill Bennett was Chief Historian of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, 1995‒2005.