Rory Cormac

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

A Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, Rory has written five books on secret intelligence and international security. His most recent 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. He co-authored Spying and the Crown with Richard Aldrich (Atlantic Books, 2021).

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

Books

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.

‘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

Spying and the Crown

Richard J. Aldrich and Rory Cormac

Spying and the Crown uncovers for the first time the remarkable relationship between the Royal Family and the intelligence community, from the reign of Queen Victoria to the death of Princess Diana.

In an enthralling narrative, Richard J. Aldrich and Rory Cormac show how the British secret services grew out of persistent attempts to assassinate Victoria and then operated on a private and informal basis, drawing on close personal relationships between senior spies, the aristocracy, and the monarchy. This reached its zenith after the murder of the Romanovs and the Russian revolution when, fearing a similar revolt in Britain, King George V considered using private networks to provide intelligence on the loyalty of the armed forces – and of the broader population.

In 1936, the dramatic abdication of Edward VIII formed a turning point in this relationship. What originally started as family feuding over a romantic liaison with the American divorcee Wallis Simpson, escalated into a national security crisis. Fearing the couple’s Nazi sympathies as well as domestic instability, British spies turned their attention to the King. During the Second World War, his successor, King George VI gradually restored trust between the secret world and House of Windsor. Thereafter, Queen Elizabeth II regularly enacted her constitutional right to advise and warn, raising her eyebrow knowingly at prime ministers and spymasters alike.

Based on original research and new evidence, Spying and the Crown presents the British monarchy in an entirely new light and reveals how far their majesties still call the shots in a hidden world.

This monumental book is really a history of the British secret services, focusing on the fascinating moments when this intersects with royal history… Authoritative and highly readable… As every page of this book attests, the royals have always been involved in secretly directing the affairs not just of this country but of many others.

— Ben Macintyre, The Times

A fascinating history of royal espionage… The book, which stretches back to Elizabeth I and her spymaster Sir Francis Walsingham, has something of interest on pretty much every page.

— Rowland White, Sunday Times

Bizarre and disturbing episodes are revealed in this excellent history of the royal family’s relationship with espionage… Richard Aldrich and Rory Cormac’s fascinating history argues that modern intelligence evolved out of efforts to prevent Queen Victoria being assassinated… Through unbelievably thorough research – all of it fully referenced for grateful future scholars – they have compiled something comprehensive and compelling.

— Guardian

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.