In her own words, how was Svetlana Lokhova, an intelligence historian and fellow at the University of Cambridge, suddenly swept up into the Spygate scandal?
What was the real nature of her relationship with General Michael Flynn, who recently had all charges against him dismissed by the Department of Justice?
And, what has been the personal cost of being targeted, for her, her family, and her career?
In this episode, we’ll sit down with Svetlana Lokhova, a former fellow of the Cambridge Security Initiative jointly chaired by the former head of MI6, Sir Richard Dearlove. She describes herself as an “eye witness” to the Spygate scandal. She is also the author of “The Spy Who Changed History: The Untold Story of How the Soviet Union Stole America’s Top Secrets.”
This is American Thought Leaders 🇺🇸, and I’m Jan Jekielek.
Jan Jekielek: Svetlana Lokhova, very good to have you on American Thought Leaders.
Svetlana Lokhova: Nice to meet you.
Mr. Jekielek: Svetlana, you play a significant role in a difficult chapter of American history. You’ve been accused of being a Russian spy connected with General Flynn. At the same time, we know that you’re a scholar of intelligence. You’ve written the book, “The Spy Who Changed History.” Your book is on the reading lists in Cambridge University and the CIA. Probably there are people out there wondering: Is she a scholar? Is she a spy? There’s a lot of questions in people’s minds. Let’s start with your story. How did this all begin?
Mrs. Lokhova: It all began at Cambridge University. I was a postgraduate researcher, and I was teaching as well at the University of Cambridge. I was writing a book with my mentor of 20 years. We were writing this book, “The Spy Who Changed History,” which is about the 1930s. That’s my research—a very long time ago.
Mr. Jekielek: [Your mentor is] Christopher Andrew.
Mrs. Lokhova: [Yes,] Christopher Andrew. And so I’m at Cambridge University teaching, studying, and writing, and that’s my life. We get a lot of very important visitors coming to Cambridge monthly, and in this particular case, we had somebody [I’d] never heard of before, but of course, somebody who was very important in America. In 2014, General Flynn, who was the head of Obama’s military intelligence, DIA, was visiting Cambridge University, giving a presentation to our students. Afterward, there was a dinner in his honor, and I was one of the selected few senior people within our Cambridge group invited to participate in this very important dinner, because we were meant to impress the DIA with the quality of our Cambridge research.
Mr. Jekielek: So, you ended up at this dinner; it wasn’t a nefarious plan on your part to contact Flynn.
Mrs. Lokhova: Absolutely not. I was invited to the dinner by Christopher Andrew, who again is my professor of 20 years, and by Sir Richard Dearlove, who used to be the head of MI6, the British foreign intelligence service and [who] later became a Master of Pembroke College, Cambridge. One month before Flynn’s visit, we were invited and our names got taken down, everyone who would attend. Those names were sent to the DIA for approval in advance, because of course, you [can’t have] a military intelligence [personel] walk into a room with random strangers, right? Everyone has to be pre-vetted, and obviously the British Security Service would do their own vetting on their side. The dinner took place in the private lodge of Sir Richard Dearlove, former head of MI6. It was his private dinner in honor of General Flynn, and everyone who was invited there was handpicked and vetted. That’s why it’s ridiculous to suggest [that I tried to contact him]. First of all, I didn’t even know who Flynn was, but secondly, I was invited to their dinner and pre-vetted.
Mr. Jekielek: The dinner happens; it was a reasonable occasion [with] nothing particularly of note. That’s what you’ve told me offline. But then later, things started to happen. What happened?
Mrs. Lokhova: The dinner was just another occasion. It was notable because General Flynn is a very important guest—it was a huge honor. We had some interesting conversations, so at the end of the dinner, I showed him some of my research on Joseph Stalin. He was very interested in that. It was part of the group conversation about my research. Then we left the dinner and that was that, and that was in February 2014. Since then, other dinners have happened. We actually had General Flynn’s successor, General [Vincent] Stewart, come to Cambridge, so I was invited to meet him a year later. Other dignitaries came, and I continued being invited to these events. I continued teaching; I continued writing—my normal life. I was pregnant with my first child in December 2016, and I got a call from The Times of London from [a] chief reporter, and they asked me if I’m a Russian spy.
Mr. Jekielek: For the record, do you or anyone close to you have any connection to Russian intelligence?
Mrs. Lokhova: Absolutely not. I see you smiling because it’s such an outrageous suggestion to make about [me].
Mr. Jekielek: What was being said? First of all, who was asking these questions and what was being asked?
Mrs. Lokhova: … What we know today, of course, changes the perspective of what happened, but [first there was a] very strange event in Cambridge in November or December 2016. I wasn’t actually at Cambridge, because I was about to give birth, so I was in London expecting, sorting out [the] hospital and things like that.
But on one Saturday, I opened the front page of London financial newspaper, Financial Times, and Richard Dearlove, the former head of MI6 [and] Master of Pembroke, [was] on the front page. Then I saw the picture of my own professor next to a picture of Stefan Halper, another Cambridge professor, and the article said that Stefan Halper and Richard Dearlove resigned from Cambridge seminar because Russians penetrated it, the Kremlin penetrated it.
It was some kind of really bizarre story, so I immediately called up my professor and said, “What’s all this about?” and he said to me, “It’s a bunch of nonsense,” and that there’s some kind of academic dispute between him and Halper and others to do with teaching and money, some kind of academic thing, and they were somehow spilled to the newspapers, and that he’s going to write to Halper to get this withdrawn, because it’s not true and it’s all going to be sorted out. That’s how it was explained to me.
The next day, I then get a call from The Times chief reporter, who says to me that I’m this “Russian spy” who penetrated Cambridge University. I have no idea what they’re talking about. Frankly, I’m just shocked, but mainly [I] just don’t know what to say. So, I call my lawyer, and my lawyer tells The Times that if they publish, we’re going to sue. U.K. libel laws are pretty tough, so nothing gets published about me. The article about [the] Cambridge Intelligence Seminar being penetrated by this Russian spy comes out, but the article about me being a “Russian spy” doesn’t. So from that perspective, that’s [over].
Then the next thing happened. I have now given birth, so my baby is three weeks old. I got this very strange email from the Wall Street Journal in the U.S. asking me about my relationship with General Flynn. I remember this is the man I met once three years previously; [I] never had a relationship [with him]; [I] never met him ever since. So, I don’t know what that’s about. I then received a panicked call from another person at Cambridge University called Professor Kent. He said that he’s been approached by the Wall Street Journal who told them that I had an affair with General Flynn, that I approached [Flynn] before the Cambridge dinner in 2014; I sat next to him; I left the room with him; and we had an affair—which was absolutely shocking. So again, we go to lawyers, and we issued a statement—my husband issued a statement on my behalf—that I never met General Flynn apart from one time; I didn’t have an affair with him; I never approached him; never sat next to him; it was actually my husband [who] picked me up from the dinner, so it’s all complete lies; and their source is acting maliciously.
Mr. Jekielek: It was a completely different context that you were imagining.
Mrs. Lokhova: That’s right. I thought a fight between some powerful guys at Cambridge somehow spilled out to the newspapers.
The next thing that happened was within 24 hours of the surprise from the Wall Street Journal with accusations that I’m a “Russian spy,” I also got approached by David Ignatius of The Washington Post. Now, I didn’t know then who David Ignatius was, but now of course I know that he’s somebody very, very well known, somebody who is feared, and there’s some association between him and security services [specifically] the CIA. Actually a few weeks previously, he published [a] leaked phone call that caused General Flynn’s job. I didn’t know any of that.
All I knew is, I had this one approach and very quickly, these American publications all know my name. They know my email address, and they all at the same time come to me with this allegation about having an affair with a man I met once three years previously.
How do they know this, right? Who told them this? I don’t understand where all these people are coming from and what’s happening.
So, David Ignatius flew from Washington to England and attempted to meet me. He sent me an email, and my own professor sent me an additional email—we have those emails—which encourages [me] to meet David Ignatius. He said that he’s a close friend of Christopher Andrew, and that he has an inside track on Flynn’s career. I didn’t understand that at the time, but the guy just caused General Flynn to resign. Ignatius is asking me to meet up with him, and both emails suggest that if I were to meet up with David Ignatius and discuss General Flynn, then he would help me with my book which I’m finalizing right now.
I refused because it was a very, very suspicious circumstance, so I sent him the same statement that was sent to the Wall Street Journal. Then I got another approach from the New York Times’ Matthew Rosenberg, who works closely with Adam Goldman. Again, [I was asked about my] relationship with General Flynn. … By this stage, I’m really freaking out because it’s all happening very quickly. This is now the fourth approach, and I again sent them that standard statement. This is Feb. 28 or March 1; they all came to me within 48 hours, all those people suddenly. And I also now know that Luke Harding of The Guardian—The Guardian is a U.K. newspaper—got in touch with my professor, again with the same thing about [a] relationship between me and General Flynn. So, I don’t know where this was coming from.
And then to just make the whole story even worse, [at the] end of February, I found out that two weeks previously, my own professor—the man who’s known me for 20 years—published an article without naming me, but describing me enough so that people know who I am, in Sunday Times. The article is about General Flynn, and it’s a misleading representation of the dinner in 2014.
In that article, he said that General Flynn was attracted to me and was struck by me. He also said that … I showed [General Flynn] an erotic card—I showed him my research, and there was nothing erotic about my research—and that he invited me to go to Moscow with him; again, complete lie. This is my own professor. Without telling me anything about this, he went and published this article. Now of course, we know that all this was coordinated. When I asked him to withdraw that article on the basis that it was a lie, he said he was under pressure to put that in.
Mr. Jekielek: Must have felt like a major betrayal.
Mrs. Lokhova: Well, frankly, I didn’t know what was going on. You sit in your room with your baby, three weeks old; you’re a first-time mom; you’re very, very unwell from childbirth; you don’t know how to cope with your new baby; you also have a book deadline to try and finish; and then all this and these people descend on you, and you don’t know what’s going on. …I was in some kind of haze. My husband was trying to deal with all of that, whereas I was just in some kind of parallel universe.
… I’ve been in Britain for 20 years; I’m a U.K. citizen; I’m a well respected academic. So, how I ended up in the center of what started to look like a really bad scandal—I had no idea.
Then the Wall Street Journal, two weeks later went ahead and published that article that they threatened they were going to publish. They didn’t precisely put [in] the affair thing, because I threatened to sue them. But they put other misleading information such as that I approached General Flynn, and that I sat next to him. None of that is true. [They said] that General Flynn failed to report meeting with me, [which] is not true because it was already pre-reported, that this contact between me and General Flynn forms the pattern of his behavior of meeting Russians and hiding that—again, not true. And that contact [was noticed by] U.S. intelligence. The article was printed by Carol Lee who was a Chief White House Correspondent; it was also printed by a second person, Shane Harris. These were people at the top of that whole Spygate media taking this hit on me. … We didn’t know that at the time.
We just knew that these were fake articles coming out. My husband called the newspapers up; I couldn’t. I was pretty much in tears and frankly, I just didn’t know what to say or what to do. You’re supposed to be dealing with congratulations on your newborn instead of [being] on the phone with reporters in America, in the middle of the night, because of the time zone difference. I remember just holding the baby, walking up and down the room while she was screaming, and my husband’s swearing—he never swore before—at this reporter [and] saying, “Don’t put her name in the paper. Why are you doing this to us?” and the Wall Street Journal guy said to him, “It’s not about her. It’s about General Flynn.”
Mr. Jekielek: Interesting. Wow. It’s very difficult to even know what to say. I’ve been speechless a few times today, but this is something else. There’s been a bit written about you, and I want to give an opportunity for you to speak to some of these things. During your career, you took a bit of a sojourn and worked in finance, and you worked for Troika Dialog, the bank. This company obviously has strong ties to Russia and so forth, and this is being used as evidence that you have ties to Russian intelligence somehow. What do you say to that?
Mrs. Lokhova: After I graduated from university, as all my peers, I took a job in banking because being a historian is very interesting, but unfortunately, it doesn’t pay the bills. So I worked for Citigroup; I worked for Morgan Stanley; I worked for Troika Dialog, which is a U.K. company but with the head office in Russia. My company was a U.K. company, so I was another regular U.K. employee. Later, after I left, that company got taken over by Sberbank. That’s a Russian state bank, but I didn’t work for that company—that was after my time. It’s very clever what they did, those who set up what we now know is this operation, because … they deliberately said that I worked for Sberbank—I never did—and the reason why they need to say that is they want to link me to the Russian state and therefore show that I’m a Russian spy. Not that it makes any sense, but that’s the way they do things.
Mr. Jekielek: But is everyone working for Sberbank a Russian spy?
Mrs. Lokhova: Exactly, of course not. This is the thing—it’s exactly what happened with that dinner, right? The facts are not important. The story was pre-written. So, just to give you one example: I did not sit next to General Flynn. We have photographs [as evidence]. We told the journalists, so-called journalists, we have the photographs, [but] they refused to accept it. They still printed [it]. It’s a small point, but it’s a very significant one. Why would they print that I sat next to him when I didn’t? If they didn’t have an agenda, if the story wasn’t pre-written, why don’t you say, “Actually, she sat opposite him at the table.”
And the same with Sberbank. I didn’t work for Sberbank. I worked for another company which wasn’t a state bank. Not that it matters, because as you say, not everyone who works for a state bank is necessarily a spy; probably not, actually. But even the little, little details [of] the story were pre-written; the narrative was pre-set; the truth did not matter.
The next thing that happened after that Wall Street Journal article came out, it’s followed by [a] Luke Harding article where they said that there was this new evidence that spy chiefs had concern over General Flynn, and that I’m one of the reasons that spy chiefs have concerns about General Flynn, and they specifically said those concerns at the time [when] General Flynn was being appointed as National Security Advisor by Trump. If you go backwards in time, do you remember when I was being approached, there was this Halper article about Cambridge being penetrated by spies, followed by allegations against me that I’m a “Russian spy”?
The timing of that is because they were trying to stop General Flynn from being appointed as National Security Advisor, so they used that fake story in order to try to stop him being hired, but Trump ignored [that] and appointed him. So then they started trying to figure out how to get rid of him, but [as a] result, … my photograph was plastered in all the U.K. newspapers, and then … we had journalists with my photographs knocking on people’s doors, my neighbors and mine, sharing the photographs saying, “Where is the spy?”
So in this fevered atmosphere of this “Russian espionage,” I started receiving death threats, credible death threats. So we had to have police involved, and police don’t just arrive at your home with weapons and stuff just for nothing. It got really serious because … the threats [were] sent to physical addresses, they took them really seriously. The thing is, I was never interviewed by any security services, either the U.K. or U.S., so that clearly wasn’t an issue at all. They didn’t believe it. But they put it into the public domain, which meant that we had to move. We had to flee.
Mr. Jekielek: Let me get this straight. These journalists are coming to you, people going around with your photo asking about you as a “spy”, but you’re saying that the intelligence services aren’t interviewing you?
Mrs. Lokhova: Not a single one of them—not MI5, MI6, CIA, you name it. Nobody asked me a single question, because they know I’m not [a spy]. … I lived in England for 20 years. I’m a U.K. citizen. I’m actually well known to them, because we had not just General Flynn come to Cambridge University, we had both U.K. and U.S. senior intelligence officials and other officials come to Cambridge. They all met me. Everyone knows the one thing I’m not is a spy. That’s why it’s so ridiculous, because it was all played out in the press. But the real results of this weren’t just words. We had to move because I had a young baby, and it was getting very, very aggressive.
Mr. Jekielek: What about your job at Cambridge?
Mrs. Lokhova: Well, that also disappeared, unfortunately, because of the newspaper coverage.
Mr. Jekielek: Svetlana, you only met General Flynn on one occasion, but then you had some email communications with him, right? Was it just you having those communications or was, for example, Christopher Andrew always CC’d on them, because I know he was a part of it? Can you speak to that communication a little bit?
Mrs. Lokhova: Sure. So as I previously mentioned, I was asked by Christopher Andrew and Richard Dearlove to show General Flynn the research project I was working on, which was Joseph Stalin, and I showed a card with Stalin’s handwriting on it.
Mr. Jekielek: This was later called “erotic.”
Mrs. Lokhova: That’s right. General Flynn was very interested in this research, and he asked me to send a copy of the documents to him by email, because I had a scanned copy on my iPad and I said, “Sure, of course.” I was also encouraged, because by that stage, I had his email address. Remember at this point: The DIA was a very important client of Cambridge University. There was a joint venture where the DIA was using Cambridge University and our research as an outpost for intelligence, so to speak. That’s why we had such a great dinner in honor of General Flynn in order to impress him, because they wanted to continue this relationship.
One of the things that was happening [was] we were organizing a joint conference between the DIA and Cambridge, which actually happened the following year, and I was one of the speakers. From that perspective, I was encouraged by my superiors, Christopher Andrew and Richard Dearlove, to continue this email communication with him on work-related issues, and Christopher Andrew and Richard Dearlove were copied on that, or I’d forward the emails afterwards. So [the emails] were to send the document that we just described, then it was just to email about the conference, the details of the conference, and there was one email where Christopher wasn’t copied, and which is very interesting.
In July 2016, I lost my book contract, and I didn’t know why, and we’ll come to that when we talk more about Halper. Christopher Andrew also stopped communicating with me. We used to write the book together, and then he stopped because he was upset with me, because I refused to attend his dinner with Stefan Halper–we’ll come to that in a minute. And so we were no longer writing a book together. I was on my own trying to find a publisher in the U.S. I had a publisher, but now I lost them because of the situation with Halper and Andrew, and so I was looking for a new publisher. I didn’t know many people in America, pretty much nobody, who could verify that my research is good. So I approached two people, and one of them was General Flynn, in America to say, “Oh, would you be able to give me a recommendation to the publisher that you’ve seen my research and it’s of good quality,” and he said, “Yes, sure.”
Mr. Jekielek: Let’s talk about Stephan Halper. When did you meet Halper?
Mrs. Lokhova: I met Halper at Cambridge University, I think in 2012. I don’t remember precisely, but he was always around. We had something called the Cambridge Intelligence Seminar which was a forum for those students of intelligence working on the subject. They would meet every week, something really boring like Friday night [at] 5 p.m., maybe ten of us would meet every week, and the idea was to exchange research.
Mr. Jekielek: Christopher Andrew is the one who pulled you into that, right?
Mrs. Lokhova: That’s right. He was the founder, and I’ve been a member since I was an undergraduate. You go there first to listen to how people talk about their research material, and then later you start speaking. They give you five minutes, and then more, and then you end up with an hour which is just amazing. So it’s something for scholars of intelligence to exchange ideas. In my case, for example, [the research is about the] 1930s, so I worked on archival materials from the Soviet archives. I would typically bring an example of a document, or sometimes I’d give a full presentation to that seminar along with other people. Christopher Andrew was the founder of that seminar, and he had two co-conveners called Stefan Halper and Richard Dearlove.
That meant that pretty much every week, Halper and I would be in the same room. In January 2016, I got an invitation from my professor, and he wanted me to come to dinner with Stefan Halper. Remember, [this is] the same Stefan Halper that was in the same room with me every week for five years [and had] no interest in me. He wants to have dinner with me at the private home of my professor and look at my research, the research he absolutely ignored up until that point, and I refused just because he was such a horrible, obnoxious, rude man.
I refused that dinner and my professor got really, really upset about that, so he started shouting at me. … I have known this guy for 20 years, and I’ve sometimes rejected other dinners just because I don’t have time, and he never minded that. Then suddenly, something which seemingly was unimportant, he had gone absolutely bonkers, and he was shouting and saying, “How could I?” Now I know, he clearly was under a lot of pressure.
… In January 2016, the next thing that happened was my professor broke the contract. We had this very big contract to publish this book together, which is now known as “The Spy Who Changed History.” We were meant to co-author it. We had an amazing contract from U.S. and U.K. publishers, [but] he doesn’t want to do it anymore. He can’t explain why. He was going on about his health and other things, but it was a lot of money, and also a lot of good research, so I couldn’t understand why he would suddenly do that immediately following that dinner.
The next thing that happened was I got told that there’s this rumor circulating about me by Halper in the university, a whisper campaign, and my teaching dried up. I lost the contract, teaching dried up, and I don’t know what’s going on. I just think, “Okay, he’s just this horrible man,” but that’s it. Then, in December that same year, we had this newspaper article [in] which he said that the Russians penetrated Cambridge, and there he’s under his own name. That’s when you know, it’s getting really, really serious because he put his name on it; his photograph is there. It got so bad that they were even thinking about starting an inquiry in the U.K. Parliament at the U.K. version of your … Intelligence Committee in the Senate. We have the same one in the U.K, and people were talking about starting an inquiry into me, the “Russian spy,” as a result of Halper’s article. So it got really, really bad.
Mr. Jekielek: You seem to still hold Christopher Andrew in a little bit of esteem despite all this.
Mrs. Lokhova: … It was the Soviet Union, and it collapsed and formed Russia, [but] 1998 was a very bad time for Russia. I immigrated from Russia to the U.K., and I got a place at Cambridge University. … Imagine you’re from a third world country and you get into Harvard, and you’re 18, and the first person I met there was Christopher Andrew. For me, he was like God, and he mentored me. I actually wasn’t interested in the history of intelligence at all. I was doing modern European history. He was actually teaching me things like the 2nd World War, etc.
Then he said, “Oh, Russian archives just opened [due to] the collapse of Soviet Union, so why don’t you do this course with me on the history of intelligence specializing in Russia, because you’re a Russian speaker.” He was actually the one who brought me into the field of intelligence studies, because he doesn’t speak Russian, and he’s one of the foremost experts in intelligence, and he needed somebody like a research assistant to help him to translate the documents. So that’s how I got brought into the field, and then he helped me with my studies, with my masters [degree], and I was writing a PhD under him. Also we were close friends as families, so we would meet regularly with him and his family. So for me, I still am processing how somebody who I’ve known for 20 years, but also since I was a kid, how could he possibly have done this? I don’t know.
Mr. Jekielek: Svetlana, it seems like your academic career, as a result of all this, is a bit in tatters. I can see you’ve become a bit of a Twitter activist of sorts. I don’t know if that’s the right thing to call it, but you’re certainly seeing things, pointing them out, calling things out. Where do you see your life going from here?
Mrs. Lokhova: Well, remember when all these bad things happened to me, my life was ruined. Nobody in Cambridge wants to have anything to do with me. My publisher didn’t want to deal with me. Nobody wants to deal with this “Russian spy” in the newspapers. I also lost friends, because again, people didn’t want to be associated with somebody who is part of this massive scandal with Trump and Flynn and all of that. I … lost my career [and] lost my friends.
Now, I was trying to get the press to tell my stories, the members of the press, and they refused. Nobody wants to cover it, and so that’s why I joined Twitter. I joined Twitter, you can even look it up, in May 2017 specifically because I have no other way of telling my story, because it has been suppressed, because the media were part [of it] and willing enablers. I joined Twitter, and initially had 1 follower, 2 followers, 5 followers, 10 followers, and now the number is 27,000 and growing, which is not bad for somebody who’s a foreigner, and I’m not a celebrity; I’m not a politician.
What happened is I found other people on social media, and there was this very famous speech that General Flynn gave about [the] digital army, how the world has changed and how there’s an army of digital soldiers who are on social media because, unfortunately, the regular media is no longer trusted, and of course, this is where Epoch Times also plays such an important role. For example, I was reading a lot of the great information you put out as part of my own research. We’re now all in this together where we all have to demand and use our voices to … hold them accountable for what they’ve done to your country, to my family, to other families, and to our way of life. So that’s what my plan now is: to bring accountability. In the meantime, I’m still continuing to write. I’m writing my next book on historical events, but at the same time, these people [need to be] held accountable. I feel that both me and others around me must continue and demand their culpability.
Mr. Jekielek: Svetlana Lokhova, such a pleasure to speak with you.
Mrs. Lokhova: Thank you.
Editor’s Note: After we interviewed Svetlana Lokhova, we reached out to the individuals and organizations that she discussed in the interview. When we couldn’t get independent corroboration of her claims, we excluded some portions where those mentioned disputed what she said. Stefan Halper’s lawyers told us, “Your list of questions to Professor Halper are false and defamatory.” Sean O’Neal and Christopher Andrew did not reply to our questions. The Washington Post offered no comment, and the Wall Street Journal said, “We stand by our reporting.”
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.