After working for Naval Intelligence during the Second World War, McCormick was a journalist for the foreign desk of the Sunday Times, at one point working with Ian Fleming. In his prolific output as a historian, McCormick was attracted to controversial topics on which verifiable evidence was scarce. He wrote on the Hellfire Club, Jack the Ripper, the Cambridge Apostles and rather extensively about spies. He wrote histories of the Russian, Chinese, Japanese, British, and Israeli secret services, and biographies of Sir Maurice Oldfield and Ian Fleming.
McCormick's reliance on an informal network of oral informants, and his eye for a good story, means that it is often difficult to judge the reliability of his more controversial claims. In 1979 he claimed that Rudolf Peierls had been under investigation as a Soviet agent, and was forced to make an out-of-court settlement when Peierls sued him. (The equally controversial Rupert Allason, who once worked for McCormick, has continued to press this particular claim after Peierls's death.) McCormick also claimed that the early-twentieth-century economist Arthur Pigou had been a Russian agent, and to be in possession of Pigou's journal: no such journal has surfaced since McCormick's death.
An assessment by a number of academics and specialists of what has been termed McCormick's "fraudulent career", which includes evidence supplied by his personal papers, was published as the third volume of a biography of economist Friedrich Hayek.
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