In 2015, WikiLeaks reported that America’s signals intelligence agency, the NSA, had eavesdropped on the phone calls of Germany’s Chancellor, Angela Merkel. The WikiLeaks allegation caused an international public scandal, with various governments expressing outrage. In reality, their outrage was almost certainly pretense. Although it is missing from nearly every major works on diplomacy and statecraft, in fact all major world powers have a long history of intercepting and reading foreign diplomatic communications— un-gentlemanly but often valuable activities. In this seminar, Dr. Walton will draw on a wealth of recently declassified British intelligence records to guide discussion on the role of bugging, telephone tapping, and mail interception on post-war international relations. We will assess the impact of these covert activities on Britain’s end of empire—the largest in world history— assess similarities and differences between government eavesdropping past and present, and uncover policy lessons from intelligence history.
Calder Walton is an Ernest May Fellow in History and Policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School and is general co-editor of the forthcoming Cambridge History of Espionage and Intelligence (3 vols, Cambridge University Press).