Rory Cormac

Professor Rory Cormac’s expertise lies in secret intelligence and covert operations.

A Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, Rory has written four books on secret intelligence and international security, with a fifth published in 2022. His most recent is Disrupt and Deny: Spies, Special Forces and the Secret Pursuit of British Foreign Policy (Oxford University Press, 2018) and his forthcoming is How to Stage a Coup (Atlantic Books, June 2022) which examines the rise of secret statecraft amongst global powers and how we should respond to it.

Rory’s research has featured in most national newspapers and he regularly appears on radio and television. Alongside Richard Aldrich, he has co-presented history documentaries for Channel 4, most recently The Queen and the Coup (2020). His research has also been adapted into radio documentaries, including BBC Radio 4’s MI6’s Secret Slush Fund (2017).

Rory is an experienced speaker. He regularly engages with both corporate and government audiences and has spoken at 10 Downing Street, the Cabinet Office, the Home Office and, in the US, the Pentagon and State Department. He has also appeared at the Hay, Cheltenham and Edinburgh literary festivals.

Brought up in Plymouth, Rory now lives in Nottingham with his wife and two children.

Links & Credits

Channel 4 - The Queen and The Coup

Rory Cormac co-presents the Channel 4 history documentary


How To Stage A Coup

Rory Cormac

Today’s world is in flux. Competition between the great powers is back on the agenda and governments around the world are turning to secret statecraft and the hidden hand to navigate these uncertain waters. From poisonings to electoral interference, disinformation to cyber sabotage, states increasingly operate in the shadows, while social media has created new avenues for disinformation on a mass scale.

This is covert action: perhaps the most sensitive – and controversial – of all state activity. However, for all its supposed secrecy, it has become surprisingly prominent – and spawned much debate about how to respond. In an enthralling narrative packed with real-world examples, Rory Cormac reveals how such activity is shaping the world and argues that understanding why and how states wield these dark arts has never been more important.

How To Stage A Coup will be published by Atlantic Books in June 2022.

‘A compelling history of the dark arts of statecraft – from assassination and sabotage through to disinformation, election interference and cyberattack. Rory Cormac combines the best true-life spy stories with thoughtful analysis of the perils of covert government operations. So full is it of fascinating and astutely examined examples of these murky practices that you wouldn’t want his book to fall into the wrong hands.’

— Jonathan Rugman, author of The Killing in the Consulate

‘Even as major powers flaunt their military hardware and brazenly trample over borders, their struggles also continue in the shadows. Rory Cormac’s raid into this confusing terrain is daring, incisive and exact, an intellectual
special operation in itself. In particular, it reveals the hard choices and delicate trade-offs practitioners must
consider, between secrecy, control and impact. Much that is written on this subject is overblown and vapid. Cormac’s work, by contrast, is a much-needed correction. Britain needs Cormac.’

— Patrick Porter, author The False Promise of Liberal Order

‘A dazzling journey through the subterranean world of covert action: from assassination, secret wars, cyberattacks and sabotage, to rigging elections, spreading influence and subverting democracy. This major new book is stacked full of fascinating examples from around the world, perceptive analysis and careful warnings. A must read for anyone interested in international politics and secret statecraft.’

— Jamie Gaskarth, author of Secrets and Spies

Disrupt and Deny: Spies, Special Forces, and the Secret Pursuit of British Foreign Policy

Rory Cormac

British leaders use spies and Special Forces to interfere in the affairs of others discreetly and deniably. Since 1945, MI6 has spread misinformation designed to divide and discredit targets from the Middle East to Eastern Europe and Northern Ireland. It has instigated whispering campaigns and planted false evidence on officials working behind the Iron Curtain, tried to foment revolution in Albania, blown up ships to prevent the passage of refugees to Israel, and secretly funnelled aid to insurgents in Afghanistan and dissidents in Poland. MI6 has launched cultural and economic warfare against Iceland and Czechoslovakia. It has tried to instigate coups in Congo, Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and elsewhere. Through bribery and blackmail, Britain has rigged elections as colonies moved to independence. Britain has fought secret wars in Yemen, Indonesia, and Oman ― and discreetly used Special Forces to eliminate enemies from colonial Malaya to Libya during the Arab Spring.

This is covert action: a vital, though controversial, tool of statecraft and perhaps the most sensitive of all government activity. If used wisely, it can play an important role in pursuing national interests in a dangerous world. If used poorly, it can cause political scandal ― or worse.

In Disrupt and Deny, Rory Cormac tells the remarkable true story of Britain’s secret scheming against its enemies, as well as its friends; of intrigue and manoeuvring within the darkest corridors of Whitehall, where officials fought to maintain control of this most sensitive and seductive work; and, above all, of Britain’s attempt to use smoke and mirrors to mask decline. He reveals hitherto secret operations, the slush funds that paid for them, and the battles in Whitehall that shaped them.

The Black Door: Spies, Secret Intelligence and British Prime Ministers

Rory Cormac and Richard Aldrich

The Black Door explores the evolving relationship between successive British Prime Ministers and the intelligence agencies, from Asquith’s Secret Service Bureau to Cameron’s National Security Council.

From Churchill’s code breakers feeding information to the Soviets to Eden’s attempts to assassinate foreign leaders, from Wilson’s paranoia of an MI5-led coup d’état to Thatcher’s covert wars in Central America, Aldrich and Cormac entertain and enlighten as they explain how our government came to rely on intelligence to the extent that it does today.