For more than a hundred years, Britain’s signals intelligence agency, GCHQ, has played a central role in the conduct of British statecraft. But the organization has traditionally operated from the shadows, leaving many questions about its internal operations and its impact on policy.
Now, the story of GCHQ can be told with greater clarity: A few years ago, GCHQ opened parts of its archive to John Ferris, a Professor of History at the University of Calgary, and asked him to write an authoritative history of the intelligence agency. The result is Ferris’s monumental new book, Behind the Enigma: The Authorized History of GCHQ, Britain’s Secret Cyber-Intelligence Agency (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2020).
On this episode, I talk with Professor Ferris about the origins of British signals intelligence, its impact on British policy in World War I and World War II, the type of people who have filled the organization’s ranks over time, and how GCHQ is adapting to the “second age” of computerized signals intelligence.