NEW SPEECH: Richard Moore, Chief of MI6
"Adapting to a world affected by the rise of China is the single greatest priority for MI6"
This morning, Richard Moore, or ‘C’, the Chief of the UK Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), made his first public speech since taking up his role in October 2020. In an event hosted by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) in London, he talked about the seismic changes he sees in the world, specifically in the espionage environment. Moore discussed China, Russia and Iran, three of the ‘Big Four’ priorities for the intelligence world.
Critically, he publicly stated that "adapting to a world affected by the rise of China is the single greatest priority for MI6." Moore also discusses Xinjiang, Tibet, Hong Kong and the use of data and debt-traps. Your writer suspects this is a speech that will be referred to many times over the coming years.
Who is Richard Moore?
Born in Tripoli, Libya, and raised for the first years of his life in Russia, Moore has been a staple of the intelligence and diplomatic scene for decades. Most recently, he was Director General for Political Affairs at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office from April 2018 to August 2020. Prior to that, he served as British Ambassador to Turkey from January 2014 to December 2017 (he is fluent in Turkish). Previously he was Director for Europe, Latin America and Globalisation (2010 to 2012) and Director for Programmes and Change (2008 to 2010). Moore has had postings in Vietnam, Turkey (1990 to 1992), Pakistan and Malaysia.
The MI6 Chief has a BA in Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) from Oxford University and, on leaving Oxford, won a Kennedy Scholarship for post-graduate study at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. In 2007, he attended the Stanford Executive Programme.
His Government profile lists his interests as golf, hiking, scuba-diving, Turkish carpets and porcelain, and visiting historical sites. Moore notably made headlines last year by being the first MI6 Chief to have a public Twitter account.
Human Intelligence in the Digital Age
Moore’s speech contained 11 mentions of China, and 10 mentions of ‘Chinese’.
On a changing world and China’s role therein
In my 34 years with MI6 I have seen extraordinary change in the strategic environment: from the Cold War to today’s starkly contested era, in which nation states and non-state actors, such as terrorists and organised criminals, compete across the domains of the virtual and the physical in a world of, at times, bewildering complexity.
There are elements of continuity, Russia, China and Iran, and for instance, have long been three of what I might informally call the ‘big four’ priorities within the intelligence community; the fourth being the threat from international terrorism.
On China’s current governance, intelligence operations, and Xinjiang
We need MI6’s global network of secret human relationships more than we have ever done, in an increasingly contested international landscape.
The tectonic plates are shifting as China’s power, and its willingness to assert it, grows.
A large part of the UK’s security and prosperity is increasingly tied up with China’s actions and policies.
There are many areas where our country needs to engage with Beijing, including trade and investment, cultural links and the transnational challenges of climate change and biodiversity.
But the fact remains that China is an authoritarian state, with different values from ours. This is reflected in the threats we see emanating from the Chinese state, that coexist with these opportunities for cooperation.
The Chinese Intelligence Services are highly capable and continue to conduct large scale espionage operations against the UK and our allies. This includes targeting those working in government, industries, or on research of particular interest to the Chinese state. They also monitor and attempt to exercise undue influence over the Chinese diaspora.
Chinese intelligence officers seek to exploit the open nature of our society, including through the use of social media platforms to facilitate their operations. We are concerned by the Chinese government’s attempt to distort public discourse and political decision making across the globe.
Beijing’s growing military strength and the Party’s desire to resolve the Taiwan issue, by force if necessary, also pose a serious challenge to global stability and peace.
The Chinese Communist Party leadership increasingly favour bold and decisive action justified on national security grounds. The days of Deng Xiaoping’s “hide your strength, bide your time” are long over.
Beijing believes its own propaganda about Western frailties and underestimates Washington’s resolve. The risk of Chinese miscalculation through over-confidence is real.
The Chinese Communist Party brook no dissent. Beijing have eroded Hong Kong’s ‘one country, two systems’ framework, and removed individual rights and freedoms, in the name of national security. Its surveillance state has targeted the Uighur population in Xinjiang, carrying out widespread human rights abuses, including the arbitrary detention of an estimated 1 million Muslims.
Worryingly, these technologies of control and surveillance are increasingly being exported to other governments by China: expanding the web of authoritarian control around the planet.
Adapting to a world affected by the rise of China is the single greatest priority for MI6. We are deepening our understanding of China across the UK intelligence community, and widening the options available to the government in managing the systemic challenges that it poses.
This is not just about being able to understand China and Chinese decision making. We need to be able to operate undetected as a secret intelligence agency everywhere within the worldwide surveillance web.
And we want other countries to be clear-eyed about the debt traps, data exposure and vulnerability to political coercion that arise from dependency on relationships where there is no recourse to an independent judiciary or free press.
On the role of digital spying and data, and working with technology firms
Our intelligence targets have online lives. Our officers need to operate invisibly to our adversaries. And we need to be able to run our agent and technical operations in an environment in which “Made in China” surveillance technology is found around the world.
All of this requires insights from data, the tools to manipulate data and, most important, the talent to turn complex data into human insight. The combination of technological prowess and insights from human intelligence gives the UK a powerful edge. The Integrated Review elevated science and technology as a component of the highest importance to our national security and we need to work to shape international norms in collaboration with allies and partners.
Our adversaries are pouring money and ambition into mastering artificial intelligence, quantum computing and synthetic biology, because they know that mastering these technologies will give them leverage.
An intelligence service needs to be at the vanguard of what is technologically possible.
And today we are founding members of the National Cyber Force - the UK’s unified cyber command - which conducts cyber operations to counter state threats, terrorists, and criminals and to support military deployments.
What is new is that we are now pursuing partnerships with the tech community to help develop world-class technologies to solve our biggest mission problems.
We can not match the scale and resources of the global tech industry, so we shouldn’t try. Instead we should seek their help. Through the National Security Strategic Investment Fund we are opening up our mission problems to those with talent in organisations that wouldn’t normally work with national security. Unlike Q in the Bond movies, we cannot do it all in-house.
I cannot stress enough what a sea-change this is in MI6’s culture, ethos and way of working, since we have traditionally relied primarily on our own capabilities to develop the world class technologies we need to stay secret and deliver against our mission.
Read the entire speech here.
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