Aldrich is a historian specialising in espionage and has recently published a book about GCHQ, but it is the future of espionage that he is interested in right now. We're used to the idea that secret intelligence agencies spy on us, but over the last ten years the big intelligence gatherers have become airlines, banks, internet providers and Tesco -- all of which have more information about us than GCHQ and the NSA put together.
"These organisations are becoming cleverer and cleverer. Cleverer than the CIA; cleverer than the KGB." By studying everything he has bought over the last five years, a company could predict with about 90 percent accuracy how Aldrich will vote in the upcoming European elections -- something he claims he doesn't even know himself. He claims he has about 11 percent of his supposedly secret vote left.
Citizens too though are increasingly becoming intelligence gatherers. By studying the reaction of the blogosphere to the Boston Marathon bombings -- which led to a mob forming outside the house of someone wrongly identified as the bomber from crowdsourced photos posted on Reddit-- we can understand how dangerous this can be. "Espionage is even scarier when it's controlled by you guys," Aldrich tells the audience.
Much of this is driven by technology, and as technology becomes increasingly pervasive, so we will increasingly sacrifice our privacy and the level of control we have over our data. At the same time, corporations and governments will be losing their ability to keep secrets. Ten years ago, to steal the amount of data Edward Snowden took from the NSA, you'd need a photocopier and a mass of shopping bags, Aldrich points out.
Perhaps though, he continues, there are some things that need to stay secret -- computer viruses for example.
For the last 60 years the NSA has focussed on codebreaking and gathering intelligence, but it has also been engaged in cyberwar. It is thought that the NSA deployed the Stuxnet worm in 2009, which it used to attack the Iranian nuclear programme. It managed to do this even though the computers were not connected to the internet, possibly by doing something as simple as dropping a flash drive in the car park. It then got out onto the internet and caused havoc. But, points out Aldrich, it was also created in 2007 or 2008, which in the world of computers "is very old"
"The NSA is building right now even bigger and more powerful computer viruses to do cyberwar." What if, asks Aldrich, the next Edward Snowden works in the part of the agency that works on creating these viruses? It's quite conceivable that something leaked could be used to shut down all the power stations in Europe on the same day. "I can assure you that many of these things are very close," says Aldrich. "These things are going to be with you sooner than you think."