Sir Richard Dearlove was Chief of Operations of MI6 from 1996 to 1999, and its Chief - known as 'C' - from 1999 to 2004. He speaks of the effect of Kim Philby's treachery on the Service, Cold War victories against the KGB, James Bond and John Le Carré, and the rosy prospects for British Intelligence post-Brexit.

To view the full transcript of this episode, read below:

Andrew Roberts: I'm pleased to have on Secrets of Statecraft a real life spy. Sir Richard Dearlove was the chief of operations of MI6 from 1996 to 1999 and was chief of the service from 1999 to 2004. Sir Richard, you joined SIS, which we might call MI6 for the purposes of this interview because it's better known by that name, in 1966, at a time when there was a dark shadow over the service because, of course, it was recovering from the penetration, the Soviet penetration of Kim Philby and George Blake and others. What was it like? What was the sense of the service like at that time?

Sir Richard Dearlove: Oh, when I joined, I think while it wasn't immediately particularly conscious of what was going on in terms of the service's penetration, I think what one has to recall is that there was quite a lot of need-to-know, there was quite a lot of, as it were, forbidden areas for discussion. So, I guess I was part of a group which was taken in... I suppose the phrase one would use now, that we were entirely cleaning or unblaming or uncontaminating. And, it was really quite a long time after my training that one began to have a better understanding of these dimensions. That may sound terribly naïve, but in fact, part of joining as a very young officer was to keep us away from that contamination.

Andrew Roberts: And there were two different camps, weren't there? In that one set of people believed that it was an existential thing, that SIS was going to take decades to get over. One might see James Jesus Angleton, the CIA operative who very much thought that SIS was profoundly compromised and would be for a very long time, what you've called the nihilists. And then there was another set of people, wasn't there, who one might group around Harold Shergold, a SIS senior figure, who thought the opposite? He very much thought that those penetrative agents, Philby and Blake and so on, and the time was ripe for really rebuilding the service. Is that a fair appreciation of it?

Sir Richard Dearlove: Yeah. I think that's fair. It's been written about pretty extensively, and there's a very good book, which is a great title, Wilderness of Mirrors, about that whole period. And in fact, the high priest of counterintelligence, and that's the way I would describe Angleton, had a huge amount of influence. And because of what one or two Soviet defectors had said in that period, they had massively exaggerated. The Angletons had a theory, was that every Western service was thoroughly penetrated, and that there wasn't really much point in believing that we could even the equation and penetrate the Soviet services, the Warsaw Pact services, to the same degree. So, there was a very, very nihilistic group, which was represented in most of the major Western services, particularly in the US, and to an extent in the UK, but on the other hand, there were those who took a radically different view, and were already actually working successfully and positively in counterbalancing penetrations of the Soviet... KGB in particular, and then other Warsaw Pact services.

Andrew Roberts: And what did you find when you were a young operative in Prague in 1973? What was the sense then?

Sir Richard Dearlove: What had happened, really, was that after I was trained, I actually went into working counterintelligence, and specifically on Warsaw Pact services, and particularly the Czech services. And then I was posted to Prague specifically to run a really important case, which has now been quite extensively documented because the Czechoslovak STP archives have been released, and certainly in Prague, the case has been extensively written about. I think there's a TV program being made about it. And, what had happened... Before my time, it had offered its services to the West, and one of the key Czechoslovak officers in the STP who was actually responsible for operations against the UK, against the British intelligence and security community, had been recruited and was run over a period of time. There are certain bits of that case which are not in the public domain, which I don't want to put into the public domain, but the Czech end of the case and their investigations... What we know now and that I've been shown the archive files in the STP archives in Prague is that the subsequent investigation turned that whole service completely upside down. It went on for 12 years, the investigation, because they hadn't a clue how long it worked for the West, and how much they had actually seen. It was an important case. And I think now it's getting its just attention historically.

Andrew Roberts: With regard to the history of SIS, you said that there are huge holes in the history, in particular the 1920s, 1945, and the early 1960s. Why is that? What's the reason for these gaps in the history?

Sir Richard Dearlove: Well, there were various hiatuses historically, I think, when weeding wasn't done with any care and attention, when there were physical moves of the archives, more space was required. There are a variety of different reasons. There were certainly groups of officers who believed that none of this material should ever historically be available, and therefore destroyed lots of documentation. And, of course, there are one or two classic cases like, for example, the beginning of World War II, some of the Polish intelligence archives were brought to the UK. This has been a bone of contention between the UK and Poland. In fact, at some point during the war or after the war, they were completely destroyed, and the Poles absolutely cannot accept that their own archives were weeded and destroyed and haven't survived historically.

Andrew Roberts: It's not very easy for any historian to accept it. That's a terrible thing to have done, isn't it, Richard?

Sir Richard Dearlove: Well, wasn't it? And I'm not [inaudible]. I'm just saying it's a fact. It happened. Lots of weird things happened around World War II, particularly with intelligence archives. For example, I'll give you another example, the French Security Service archives were captured by the Nazis in Paris and were taken back to Berlin, and they were captured by the Russians in Berlin and taken to Moscow, and we knew well that the KGB actually had the BSD archives, and they used them, and they weren't [inaudible] into the 1960s. It was a really terrible problem for the French because their complete archive... and it's still there somewhere in Moscow [inaudible].

Andrew Roberts: Fascinating. Tell us about what's called the Lord Chancellor's Blanket, the process of neither confirming nor denying anything when it comes to SIS matters. Is that something that you support, that you think is useful? Do you think it's got a future?

Sir Richard Dearlove: Yeah. What effectively it is that the archives of SIS are not released in line with other government department, so they're excluded. For example, Security Service documents are selectively released under the 30 year rule. If you're familiar with Security Service archives, the MI5 archives, you'll see the stuff which is blacked out. But generally speaking, they're quite extensive releases. This doesn't apply to the archives of MI6 or SIS. And I guess the reason it doesn't is that those who've worked... because espionage agents or agents of the United Kingdom are given a lifelong guarantee of anonymity beyond the grave so that their families and their relatives' families are not, as it were, ever compromised by what might've been done by proceeding generations. And actually, I think... I was originally a historian briefly, and then became an intelligence officer. I can see why this is deeply frustrating for historians. But on the other hand, I think it's entirely understandable. The fact that neither confirm nor deny has then remained the primary policy in regard to disclosure, the official policy of MI6 I think has been successful. I'm talking about things now to you which are historically on the record and disclosed for a variety of reasons, so I'm confirming materials already in the public domain. However, I would not be disclosing to you now material that isn't.

Andrew Roberts: No, absolutely. But there was a moment, wasn't there, until fairly recently, I think it was in the 1990s, when the whole existence of MI6 was something that no government minister would confirm or deny, or they denied it, in fact, denied that it even existed?

Sir Richard Dearlove: It's called avowal. The technical word is avowal, and non-avowal. And what, in fact, happened in the past was that it was a nice convenience for the ministers of a Majesty's Government to be able, in response to a parliamentary question, to say it is not accustom for a Majesty's Government to comment on such matters. The existence of MI6 had never been legally formally acknowledged. Of course, everybody knew the service existed. It was founded in 1909, for God's sake. But, it was only after the intelligence services pact of, I think... I'm trying to remember the date. It was 1994, I think.

Andrew Roberts: Yeah, I think so too.

Sir Richard Dearlove: Where the existence of the service was formally acknowledged by statute, and therefore, it was formally avowed. The consequences of that now are that an oversight committee in Parliament and the name of the Chief when he's appointed is announced publicly in Parliament. But those arrangements are relatively new. When I joined in '66, it was a rather wonderful fixture. You belonged to an organization that didn't exist. I think that that had a certain convenience, and it worked well, but I think in a modern democracy, there was pressure both from within the service and to an extent without that the service should be put on the statutory basis. But of course, it's made life much more complex legally to have the service on a statutory basis. For example, I won't go into detail, there are many, many more lawyers in MI6 than there used to be.

Andrew Roberts: Oh, that's always a bad sign. You mentioned in 1902 the foundation of the service. Sorry, in 1909.

Sir Richard Dearlove: Nine, nine, yeah.

Andrew Roberts: In 1909. Of course, that was in part as a response to the spy stories that William Le Queux and others had written. And I'd like to ask about this aspect of the fictional figure, this fictional spy for British intelligence, because he's quite an important figure, isn't he? James Bond being the classic and best known, I think. What effect does the fictional side of spying have, if any, on the genuine side?

Sir Richard Dearlove: I think it has quite a significant effect in some ways. The essence of it is it projects the myth of British intelligence, as opposed to the actuality. But the myth is important in terms of one's global reputation in, let's say, attracting would-be spies or agents. The irony about the founding of the service is that Le Queux... I'm never quite sure how to pronounce his name, but I think it is correctly pronounced Le Queux. He wrote a series of pretty ghastly thrillers which were based around the concept that German invasion of the United Kingdom, or of England, from East Anglia, and basically brushed out a lot of excitement and activity about German spies, and I think there was even publicity for one of his books where people walked around Regent Street in German army uniforms handing out flyers for the book. It really was taken to quite a strong degree. And there was a lot of alarm in Parliament raised by this scare mongering, which was fictional, but influential. And actually, it's because of that scare mongering, if you look at the historical record, that MI6 was started in 1909, it had been a section of specifically naval intelligence before that, and then it was formalized into a separate organization. So, its origins are tied up strangely with a certain amount of fiction. And since then, you have a whole succession of spy books, le Carre probably being the most prominent recently, and certainly the Bond franchise. And all of these elements have contributed towards the myth of the service and its reputation. There's no more powerful global brand which keeps being regenerated or rejuvenated than Bond. It's absolutely extraordinary the way that it's captured the public imagination. And although it in fact has virtually nothing to do with the reality of the service's existence, it's still probably an important influence in one way or another.

Andrew Roberts: You've said of le Carre, John Cornwell as he was, that he was the literary expression, or at least his books were the literary expression of the counterintelligence nihilists, the people who essentially argued that there was no moral difference between the KGB and MI6, that we were fatally compromised, and generally, he put a very negative... from a tremendously short period of time in MI6 himself, he of course, made a lifetime's career out of writing about it. But at the same time, you have stated, and you got into a bit of a spat with him, I remember, a couple of years ago at the Clifton Literary Festival and afterwards over his portrayal of MI6. I wonder if you'd like to relive that a bit and tell us what you meant by this concept of the literary expression of the counterintelligent nihilists. 

Sir Richard Dearlove: I'm not going to criticize Le Carré as a writer. I think some of his books are really very good and very gripping. He is an outstanding novelist of his time. The vehicle for his reputation is entirely MI6, and he writes about it in this way, which because of the success of his novels, has been quite authoritative. But of course, you have to remember it's fiction. And he was in the service, of course, briefly, and then in the Security Service. And he claims, or he claimed before his death, that I find that hard to accept, because lots of officers get blown early on in their careers for one reason or another, but it's still quite possible to have a successful career. I identified as a British intelligence officer as a result of the case that you mentioned in Czechoslovakia. It didn't stop me having a successful career after that. So, I don't accept Le Carré's analysis of the way his career didn't take off. But on the other hand, if you read his books about the service, they are all about betrayal. They are all about penetration by Russian [inaudible] East Germans. They are about the failure of the West. He is really taking that nihilist theme and juxtaposing Carla and Smiley fighting this battle, which the worst... I would say probably in his books is usually coming off worst, and he paints a very, very corrosive picture. My career, largely, was based on the concept of trust, not betrayal. Of course, if you're working in the trust environment, when a betrayal happens, it's that much more punishing, and the feelings of personal letdown can be extreme, but Le Carré's books are a make believe world where everybody is a villain and not to be trusted except one or two. Smiley. Well, even Smiley doesn't come out of it particularly well. So, if you're not looking at these books purely as literary works, but you're looking at them from a professional angle, I'm very critical indeed, and you well know that when I said this about Le Carré or John Cornwell as he was in reality... He took it in and was very cross with me. But we had previously met, but we had discussed this in quite that detail. And it took me quite a long time to reach this conclusion about his books. One's views form over time. But, I certainly wrote that the piece about this, where... which was probably the Telegraph, alongside the obituary, I think... I don't know whether you wrote his obituary, but somebody...

Andrew Roberts: No, no, I didn't. I actually wrote an article a bit like yours, pointing out that he was a corrosive influence, as you say.

Sir Richard Dearlove: Yeah. 

Andrew Roberts: You've been critical of the biography of MI6 by Kevin Jeffries, but you've been positive about the novels of Alan Judd. I agree with you here again. I think Alan's novels are great, but then, I was never a spy, so I don't know how accurate he was, whereas he and you were. Why do you rate Alan Judd's books so highly?

Sir Richard Dearlove: Well, I think Alan's books have a real... They somehow capture an essence of what modern espionage, as the Cold War ends, is really like. And there's something quite authentic about them. They're cleverly written. And all I'm saying is that if people want to read fiction, and get a sense of what it might be like, they're going to get a more accurate picture from reading Alan. They're also well-written, entertaining, and clever books, and I think he's just struck a note which nobody else has managed to. I won't go into the explanation of how he's done it.

Andrew Roberts: No, fair enough.

Sir Richard Dearlove: Keith Jeffery's book is a courageous book to have written, but essentially, it's an institutional history of MI6. It describes the place of MI6 in government, and it's really almost a departmental history. It's not an operational history. There are some bits in it which are operational, but the fact is, Keith Jeffery wasn't really given the access which would have allowed him to write an operational history, in a way to preserve the neither confirm nor deny, which we've already discussed. It was correct that he shouldn't. But, when I was teaching history, that side was muted. I anticipated the difficulty of producing something that would be consistent with the service's disclosure policies. And my preference would have been to get a group of distinguished historians, like yourself, who had taken a particular vent or a particular series of things that happened in the service, with access to the more interesting operational files, and then written a monograph about illustrative bits of the service's history. I think that would've been a much more exciting and better read. But-

Andrew Roberts: Because that's how the files, aren't they? They're filed by case rather than by theme, as they were.

Sir Richard Dearlove: Of course, with IT, that begins to change, because you can cross-reference your information in so many different ways, but the physical files are largely filed according to source identity and operation. And it makes it very difficult to look at big generic subjects if you're going back into the history of the service. And of course, that determines one's attitude. Keith, within the limitations of the access he was given, wrote an interesting book, but it was a bit disappointing. For example, the lady who was the foreign officer historian, if you go back in time, was allowed access to the files on the Zinoviev letter, and she wrote a monograph on the Zinoviev letter. I can't remember her name. It's a terrible failure on my part. Senior moment. Anyway, that's really interesting and very good because it gives the explanation of these extraordinary political events and the fact that the Zinoviev letter was in fact probably an operation.

Andrew Roberts: Yes. I think you're right. Gosh, her name's on the tip of my tongue as well. Let's move on. Let me start a new idea. You mentioned the future of the West. Sorry. You mentioned the failure of the West in one of your earlier answers. Let's talk about some of the successes of the West, because there have been a lot, haven't there? One thinks of Penkovsky, one things of the Mitrokhin Archive, obviously Oleg Gordievsky. These really do prove that the Harold Shergold, more optimistic view of SIS, was the correct one rather than the counterintelligence nihilists, don't they?

Sir Richard Dearlove: I think that's absolutely the case. We can only talk about the cases that are in the public domain, and strongly so, Penkovsky obviously being one of the most famous, and the Americans allowed a very informative book to be written about him. It's titled The Spy Who Saved the World, I think, by Daniel Schecter. And, it's a very thorough description of the case. I think it was written because the Russians released an account from their archives, and the Americans really wanted their account to... Well, it describes the angle of the British case. It's very complete. Obviously, the Gordievsky case is now thoroughly in the public domain, and there's a book written about that, which is not an official book sanctioned by the service, but there's an awful lot of detail in it.

Andrew Roberts: Is that Ben Macintyre's... the one by Ben... Yeah.

Sir Richard Dearlove: Which is based on interviews. It pretty much accounts to almost a formal release of the case because it's so detailed, and very good and a terrific read. Then, of course, the most extraordinary perhaps of all, but it's very scholarly, is Christopher Andrew's books on the Mitrokhin Archive. Just to remind people, Mitrokhin was KGB archivist who appeared in the West, briefly in the Baltic states, claiming that he had buried under his dasher transcribed documents of all the material on many, many sensitive cases that he had seen as the archivist, indicating that he wanted to come to the West. I won't go into the detail. He tried to attract the attentions of the Americans but failed. Succeeded with the British. And eventually, his family, him, his wife and son, who was handicapped in a wheelchair, were exfiltrated to the West, and including this trunk or several trunks of documents which had been hidden under his dasher in Moscow, and which he had accumulated over many years. The Mitrokhin Archive is probably the most revelatory archive that exists to this day of Cold War espionage, and the whole range of cases are described, successful KGB cases described in detail. It was an amazing intelligence [inaudible], and it was a hugely successful operation. The decision was made to put all material in the public domain. It took a long time for it to be described because Mitrokhin's notes are a bit like Putin's diaries. They're written in a type of code that they had a group of people who worked on them for several years. And, there were a huge number of global CIA investigations that were created from the material. And then, there's another case, which I think is not publicly much talked about but it's in the public domain, which is extraordinary. It was a French case. And it's extraordinary because it was run by the French Security Service, not the French Intelligence Service. And the codename for that case is Farewell. It's the subject of a film in France, a very good movie, and it's also the subject of a very revelatory book. Farewell was in the S&T, science and technology, part of the KGB. It went back to a central job in Moscow, and in that job gave the West massive amounts of documentation, which had never really been seen before. And probably in terms of value in the Cold War and understanding all the systems were the Russians had got to in the development of various environments, the Farewell case probably is almost more important than the Penkovsky case. 

Andrew Roberts: Would you just like to remind listeners about Penkovsky?

Sir Richard Dearlove: Penkovsky was a general in the Russian General Staff, and recently is the subject of a film, which surrounds the character, a man called Greville Wynne. Penkovsky approached Greville Wynne, who was an official contact who had indicated he wanted to spy for the West. Greville Wynne became the courier for the case, and over time, Penkovsky gave the West... and the case was run jointly by British and American services, a massive amount of material which was crucial to understanding Soviet rocket, nuclear capabilities. And the reason that Kennedy was able to take a stand on Cuba over the whole issue of the Cuban Crisis in the early 1960s was because of Penkovsky's intelligence, which was so detailed and so extensive. Eventually, Penkovsky, who was run in Moscow and actually met by the... famously met, and this is all recorded in the book by the wife of one of the British station officers under deep cover in Moscow, but it was the wife that met him with the baby, and he dropped his microfilm photographs into the pram. Anyway, it's all in the book, and it's an extraordinary story. Eventually, Penkovsky was caught and shot because I think to a certain extent the Russians realized they had a serious problem. Much, much later, much later, in the 1990s, after the end of the Cold War, Penkovsky's... the remains of his family, as it were, came out to the West and resettled.

Andrew Roberts: You mentioned it was a joint British/American service. Sorry, operation. You spent some time in Washington, didn't you?

Sir Richard Dearlove: Yeah.

Andrew Roberts: As... Was it head of station of SIS in Washington? Are the assumptions that we all make about the close working relationship between the CIA and MI6 accurate?

Sir Richard Dearlove: It's a very specific question, and I must be careful how I answer it. 

Andrew Roberts: That's true of all of my questions, though, Richard.

Sir Richard Dearlove: The special relationship... Well, it was then, and I think it still is in very good shape. What I mean by that is that at the core of what's called Five Eyes, which is the anglophone for the Anglosphere intelligence alliance, which is United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. At the core of that, the key standard, the architecture, is the relationship between the UK and the US. And, the primary example of that is what's called the UKUSA Agreement, which was signed in 1947, which is a treaty which specifically relates to the co-operation between NSA, that's the intercept service of American intelligence, NRA, and GCHQ. That's not replicated in other areas, but it's represented in the ability of the two service to work together closely. But I would say that the UK, a sovereign nation with its independent service, the Americans as a sovereign nation, don't assume that in all areas this integration exists in the way that it expressed the, let's say, knowledge of what happened in the Penkovsky case. So, there's not a clear cut and straightforward cooperative. It's quite nuanced. 

Andrew Roberts: Do you think that the Official Secrets Act is fit for purpose still in this age? It was passed, of course, in 1911, but in this age of the internet and so on, does it still hold good in your view?

Sir Richard Dearlove: No. It certainly needs updating. And my understanding is that this is under discussion of the current government. It doesn't account for, let's say, disclosure... and it's very easy, as you know, to put stuff on the internet and have it read instantly by millions of people. So, it needs, as it were, adapting for the technology, just like intercept legislation, which is the Regulation Investigatory Powers Act, has been massively updated and changed to take account of modern communications. The Official Secrets Act should also have been adapted, and I think it will be. It's complicated politically, and of course, it's politically a very hot potato. It's not the thing that political parties grasp with enthusiasm because it's so difficult to do. But it will be updated, and it will take account, I think, of the problems of disclosure as opposed to the problems of being a treacherous spy and working for the Russians. I think what would be the main characteristic of the change is the penalties for disclosure will be much higher than they are held to at the moment. I think under the current laws, the highest penalty for disclosure is two years.

Andrew Roberts: That's ridiculous. It should be far, far more than that.

Sir Richard Dearlove: It's ridiculous. I may be slightly wrong on that, but it certainly was the case. There are some famous modern cases of disclosure. The Tomlinson case, if you can recall that.

Andrew Roberts: I remember. I was at Cambridge with Tomlinson. He was in my college, the year above me in fact, so I knew him.

Sir Richard Dearlove: Well, I mean Tomlinson, was guilty of disclosure, was prosecuted and was locked up for two years, but he should have gone to prison for much, much longer than that.

Andrew Roberts: I thought he skipped to France and got away with that.

Sir Richard Dearlove: Bombay, or he did skip to France, yeah. You're actually right. But he had been released on bail, but he was still on... I think it was a shortened sentence, and he did a run into France.

Andrew Roberts: Talking about the future, you have stated that you didn't think that Brexit was threatened by... or at least Britain post-Brexit would be threatened in an intelligence sense, that the security and safety and intelligence service was going to be able to deal with Brexit in its own way, and that it certainly wasn't a reason to vote to remain. Do you think that subsequent events have proved you right over this?

Sir Richard Dearlove: Triply right. I think what people have to understand is that the UK had always been opposed to the commission of accumulating any powers that were related to national security. And if you go back to the idea of the European Constitution, which of course was not adapted, though had references in the original document to certain competencies on the part of the commission for national security issues. At the time, the UK made sure that all these were extracted from the Constitution document, the one that was not agreed at Lisbon. But it's indicative of the attitude that we always had. We were very unenthusiastic at Brussels in anything that touched on defense policy, frankly, and national security policy. And we were largely successful in holding the line. And I think what you have to understand then and now is that the UK is Europe's leading intelligence and security power, and of course, we also are one of Europe's leading defense powers, and I think you just have to see what's happened in Ukraine and the way that we would have been able, if it were, to lead on the support for the Ukrainians. I'm sure that covers not just defense and arming them. It relates also to help with intelligence. And I am sure that we've played... I haven't any details. I'm just speculating we would've played an extremely important role. And I think the fact that we're not constrained by European community membership, by common foreign and defense policy, which the EU tries to promote, has made a huge difference, because we have much more flexibility. Look at the response that we've had amongst those who are keen to support Ukraine. It's put us in the leading and powerful position. When the Brexit debate was hot, I was very critical of Cameron and Osborne on this issue, because I don't think they really understood it, and they certainly didn't have any firsthand experience, and if they had come and asked me and sat down with me, I could've explained to them why they had got this wrong. And I think I can say absolutely clearly and authoritatively now that on this issue there's no question I was right.

Andrew Roberts: Do you think that the ferocity of the Russian attack and the legality of it, obviously, might mean that somewhere in Moscow as we speak there might be somebody who is in the defense or intelligence services of Russia that might he helping us?

Sir Richard Dearlove: Well, let's put it like this. I would imagine amongst the Russian elite, Putin's intervention in Ukraine is highly controversial. Despite the fact that we're not aware of the opposition and the criticism, there will be some very, very disillusioned Russians. For example, we know that one of the senior diplomats in Geneva recently defected because he was totally critical of Putin's policy over Ukraine and the way that the Russians have acted. There will be for sure Russians who will be offering their services to the Americans or to other Western nations because they so fundamentally disagree with Russian policy. I think that's absolutely the case. There were always ideological agents through the Cold War. If you look at Penkovsky, Gordievsky, the ones that we know about, okay, they had personal motivations, but they were also ideologically different. And there will certainly be Russians now who have that attitude, and I hate that Western intelligence is making hay whilst the sun shines. Perhaps not a very good segue, but...

Andrew Roberts: I've got two more questions, which I always ask every one of my guests. But, before I do, I think the name of the lady who wrote that excellent piece on the Zinoviev letter was Gill Bennett.

Sir Richard Dearlove: Gill Bennett. And I really feel upset that I couldn't remember Gill's name. 

Andrew Roberts: No, no, no. Not at all.

Sir Richard Dearlove: I apologize to her if she's listening to this podcast. 

Andrew Roberts: She's a very fine historian.

Sir Richard Dearlove: She just escaped me.

Andrew Roberts: What book are you reading at the moment?

Sir Richard Dearlove: I'm reading Peter Stothard's The Last Assassin, which is described as The Hunt for the Killers of Julius Caesar. Now, I love Peter Stothard's rather unusual books. He writes brilliantly, I think, and I like his style, his rather elliptical style. And he writes very poetically. But it's an extraordinary book because it's both a political thriller, but it's much more profound than that, because it's this clash between... I'm not written in, but it describes a clash between idealism and tyranny. And I had no concept. I'm not a classical historian, but the chaos that followed Caesar's assassination, and the description of the brittleness of power structures where there's no organized succession, and the chaos that followed. And, of course, I think when you read a book like this, and immediately Putin's position in Russia springs to mind, and you wonder what on earth is going on around him, because for sure, there is massive tension around the Kremlin at the moment. Historically, there's never been a coup in Russia, but there have been revolutions. There haven't been coups. But-

Andrew Roberts: Ooh, well, hang on. Well, I suppose the overthrow of Alexander I... Sorry, the overthrow that brought Alexander I where he sort of was involved in the palace coup of his own father could have been called-

Sir Richard Dearlove: I always think the complex history of the removal of czars and their replacements don't really count as coups. 

Andrew Roberts: Oh. Okay. I'll give you that. You're the expert on coups, not me. I agree with you about Peter's book. It's fantastic. It takes you from the Ides of March up to the point where Octavian, later Augustus, kills every last one of the assassins of his great uncle. So, it really is... As you say, it's a thriller, but a proper history book as well. I really enjoyed that book.

Sir Richard Dearlove: It's a brilliant history book. The research... and I think the juxtaposition of the civilization of the Roman Empire and its sheer brutality, I find that... Actually, once again that makes me think of Russia. I'm a great admirer of Russian... I love Russian music. I love Russian literature. I'm not a Russian specialist, but there are aspects of life in Russia, if you've been there and seen it, which are absolutely amazing, but then this stunning brutality that Russia can exercise, even now in current times, and you find that juxtaposition in this book as well.

Andrew Roberts: And my last question is about your historical counterfactual, your what if. What's the one that intrigues you?

Sir Richard Dearlove: Well, I just was honored to unveil a monument at a place called Farm Hall, which is this extraordinary restored Georgian house outside Godmanchester, which is a village near Huntington. And this was one of the houses repositioned in World War II by SOE, and it was used as a training place for agents, some quite famous ones who were parachuted into occupied Europe, and played an important role in the intelligence war. But, more appropriately for this question, it was also the house in which the 10 captured Germany nuclear scientists were incarcerated, I mean, in some luxury, for about seven months at the end of World War II. And the whole house was bugged, and the idea was for the Allies to try to understand how close the Germans had got to creating an atom bomb. And it was the conversation of the juxtaposition of these scientists as they lived together. It's an extraordinary story and of course is the subject of the famous play by Michael Frayn, which is called Copenhagen, or an earlier aspect of this issue, this problem. So, I suppose my counterfactual is suppose Hitler had followed the advice of some of these scientists and created an atom bomb, rather than putting all this effort scientifically into the development of the V-2 rocket. Had he, let's say, in 1944, if things were going badly, had been able to drop an atom bomb on London, which it is not quite as [inaudible] as it sounds, given what we know historically, this would've probably ended World War II rather summarily in Europe. 

Andrew Roberts: Yes. Operation Epsilon it was called, wasn't it? 

Sir Richard Dearlove: It was called Epsilon.

Andrew Roberts: At Farm Hall. And I thought it was fascinating, I remember studying this sometime ago, but when the German scientists... and you had Werner Heisenberg and lots of top ones there, when they were told about Hiroshima, they were all totally surprised and shocked by it. But that's a fascinating what if. What if instead of them being surprised and shocked, they had actually cracked the method of enriching uranium to the point that they would be able to take out London? On that-

Sir Richard Dearlove: Because Hahn, who was amongst them-

Andrew Roberts: Yes, Otto Hahn was there.

Sir Richard Dearlove: Otto Hahn was there, and whilst he was there, he was awarded the Nobel Prize because of his discovery of nuclear fusion in 1939, and that's the basis of the British Public Energy program. So, in some respects, some of them got very close.

Andrew Roberts: Yeah.

Sir Richard Dearlove: So, they weren't sure, or they claimed they weren't sure... I don't think anyone's quite sure... Heisenberg sort of absolves himself historically of the transcripts.

Andrew Roberts: They didn't know they were being bugged. They thought it was impossible to be bugged, didn't they?

Sir Richard Dearlove: Yeah.

Andrew Roberts: They actually talk about whether or not they are being bugged.

Sir Richard Dearlove: They talk about it. That's so true.

Andrew Roberts: And then they agree that it would be impossible to do. 

Sir Richard Dearlove: That's the thing [inaudible].

Andrew Roberts:  Well, thank you. Well, on that apocalyptic note of London being destroyed in the blitz, completely, Sir Richard Dearlove, thank you very much indeed for being my guest on Secrets of Statecraft. 

Sir Richard Dearlove: I had great fun, and I really enjoyed the discussion. I hope lots of people listen to this. Thank you very much.

Andrew Roberts: Thank you. Join me on the next Secrets of Statecraft when our guest will be Ayaan Hirsi Ali, one of the world's strongest voices on women's rights in the Islamic world.

Speaker 3: This podcast is a production of The Hoover Institution, where we advance ideas that define a free society and improve the human condition. For more information about our work or to listen to more of our podcasts or watch our videos, please visit

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