The Spy Scandal: The Historian - Secrets of the trunks entrusted to the man from Corpus Christi

PROFESSOR Christopher Andrew would make a perfect spy himself. The tall, enigmatic Cambridge don is renowned for being the soul of discretion.

Former students recall "riveting" lectures from a man inclined to say: "There are three sides to this problem." His own research is dispersed on a need to know basis, a secretive quality that has made him the guardian of a goldmine of intelligence information.

"He enjoys keeping his own projects under cover. It is a bit of a joke between us. We try and find out what he is doing but he is always discreet," said a fellow academic.

For several years, Professor Andrew, 58, diligently analysed the archives handed over by Vasili Mitrokhin, a Russian defector, without a leak.

Yet he is no stranger to the public eye. His has long been the most authoritative voice on British intelligence, he is a frequent media commentator, an accomplished television presenter and a prolific author.

President Bill Clinton is said to have handed an inscribed copy of Professor Andrew's book on the United States secret service, For the President's Eyes Only, to his head of intelligence, John Deutch.

The involvement of Professor Andrew, a Cambridge don of modern and contemporary history, in the secret dossier that has formed the basis of The Mitrokhin Archive, has caused little surprise to those in the field. Having co-authored four volumes with the high-profile KGB defector Oleg Gordievsky, it was well-charted territory for him.

A fellow intelligence expert said: "He is quite stunning and has formidable timing. He wrote the best book on British intelligence, the best on the KGB and the best on American intelligence. Punctually every five years he brings out another brilliant book.

"His relaxed and disarming persona belies the hard work underneath."

Professor Andrew is a trusted figure in the intelligence establishment, many of whom view him as their unofficial historian. Instead of risking the Mitrokhin archives falling into the hands of a maverick, MI5 could feel quite secure that the professor provided a pair of "safe hands".

Despite brief visiting professorships abroad, Professor Andrew has rarely strayed far from Cambridge. He arrived at Corpus Christi College as an undergraduate in the early Sixties, when he married Jennifer Garratt. The couple have a son and two daughters.

After a history double first and a PhD on French foreign policy before the First World War, he gained a research fellowships at Gonville and Caius College alongside Stephen Hawking.

In 1985, he wrote Secret Service: The Making of the British Intelligence Community and in 1990 he co-wrote the first of the Gordievsky books about the KGB. Shortly afterwards he met Colonel Vasili Mitrokhin with his secret files of KGB operations from 1917.

Motivated by ideals rather than finances, defection had been on Mitrokhin's mind long before he retired in 1984. He had systematically copied thousands of files, buried them in waterproof trunks in a secret location and bided his time.

Just after the end of the Cold War, Mitrokhin approached the CIA and offered to defect but was turned down.MI6 took a different view when he approached their officers in Latvia. In December 1992 they smuggled Mitrokhin, his family, and six large trunks of files out of Russia into Britain.

MI6 handed Mitrokhin and his archive to MI5, who would have carefully debriefed the former KGB man. An analysis of the material found it capable of demonstrating the strengths and weaknesses of Western intelligence and counter intelligence over 60 years.

In the mid 1990s British intelligence decided that their "coup" should be made public and introduced Mitrokhin to Professor Christopher Andrew.

MI5's lack of action over the Mitrokhin archive - not passing a summary to the Conservative Home Secretary - suggests that they did not grasp the impact the material would have.

Professor Andrew did. Yesterday some insiders said that the choice of Andrew was symptomatic of the disregard for freedom of information that still abounds within the secret services. They complained that the archives should have been placed in the public record office for all to see.

Instead they were channelled through one man, a trusted insider who sits on a goldmine of intelligence history.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Cleaner

£15000 - £16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you've got first class custo...

Recruitment Genius: Mobile Applications Developer / Architect - iOS and Android

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to join a medium s...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Account Executive - £40K OTE

£11830 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working in a friendly, sales ta...

Recruitment Genius: Web Designer

£15000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's leading web des...

Day In a Page

John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

Computerised cooking is coming

From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
Football Beyond Borders: Even the most distruptive pupils score at homework club

Education: Football Beyond Borders

Add football to an after-school homework club, and even the naughtiest boys can score
10 best barbecue books

Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power
Ron Dennis exclusive: ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

Ron Dennis shrugs off a poor start to the season in an exclusive interview, and says the glory days will come back
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most