Cambridge’s highly-regarded intelligence community is at war over claims the Russian state is trying to influence their activities.
A group of experts with experience at the highest levels of British and US espionage have resigned from a weekly discussion group over fears it has been “compromised” by the Kremlin.
Stefan Halper, a former White House intelligence adviser to Nixon, Ford and Reagan (pictured above, left); Sir Richard Dearlove, the former boss of MI6 (pictured above, right); and espionage historian Peter Martland have all abandoned their positions at the Cambridge Intelligence Seminar.
According to the Financial Times, the trio abandoned the weekly academic briefing on account of what Halper called “unacceptable Russian influence on the group”.
News of the rift broke over the weekend, and recriminations from those who remain close to the grouping have now begun to surface.
Other intelligence figures linked to the seminar, held at the historic Corpus Christi college every Friday, turned on the defectors, calling their concerns unfounded and “absurd”.
The back-and-forth conjures memories of Cambridge’s role as a Cold War recruiting ground for the KGB, which gave rise to the infamous Cambridge Spy Ring.
And it comes amid of resurgent concerns about Russian influence after claims of interference with the US presidential election, and fears they will do the same again in Germany next year.
The seminar at the centre of the claims covers spycraft, both contemporary and dating back hundreds of years.
It is attended by current academics and former leading figures in the intelligence community – though only non-classified material is discussed. Trump adviser Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn has been a recent attendee.
Anonymous sources told the FT that the trio quit because Russia was trying “to covertly steer debate and opinion on high-level sensitive defence and security topics”.
The suggestions caused a backlash from figures including intelligence academic and MI5 historian Professor Christopher Andrew, who called concerns over Russia “absurd”.
Intelligence experts accuse Cambridge forum of Kremlin links https://t.co/MevqlTVoHv
— Maggie Haberman (@maggieNYT) December 17, 2016
Neil Kent, who convenes the seminar, called it “Reds under the bed stuff” and “ludicrous”.
Meanwhile Dr David Gosling, who claims to have passed intelligence to the Russians on behalf of MI6, said Russian involvement was “possible” – but shouldn’t worry anybody.
Speaking to the Daily Telegraph, he said: “It wouldn’t be a bad thing necessarily if there were links. What’s wrong with it? Russians could come here at lecture at the university.”
Featured image via Flickr/Jolanta Fallach