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MI6 chief: Help needed from tech sector to counter…


The head of MI6 today warned that China can ‘harvest data all over the world’ and is conducting ‘large scale espionage’ operations against the UK and its allies.

Richard Moore, who is also known by the letters ‘C’ or ‘Q’, said Beijing was becoming increasingly assertive and exploiting developments in artificial intelligence to improve its data gathering capabilities. 

Armed with this information and its growing financial might, China was constructing ‘debt traps and data traps’ to use as ‘leverage’, the spy chief said in a rare series of public appearances. 

In lighter remarks, Mr Moore admitted he has no James Bond-style Aston Martin and his pen emits nothing more exotic than green ink. He said he ‘did some skulking’ in his career but insisted it was a long way from the ‘colourful’ popular image of spy tradecraft.

‘It is fiction, it is not reality but the Bond franchise is a wonderful one. I had such fun watching the most recent film – no spoilers here but it is brilliant, it doffs a cap to all the great James Bond traditions.’ 

Richard Moore, also known as ‘Q’, said Beijing used ‘debt traps and data traps’ to use as ‘leverage’ against countries and individuals

Today, Mr Moore used a radio interview and a speech to set out the need for a ‘sea change’ in the culture of the Secret Intelligence Service, while also revealing: 

  • Understanding China is the ‘single greatest priority’ for MI6 with ‘tectonic plates’ are shifting as its power and willingness to assert itself grows;
  • Beijing is conducting ‘large scale espionage’ operations against the UK and its allies, including targeting government workers and attempting to ‘distort’ political discourse;
  • There is ‘real risk of miscalculation through over confidence’ by China, and any action against Taiwan would be a ‘serious challenge to global stability’; 
  • Assessments of the speed with which Afghanistan would be taken by the Taliban were ‘clearly wrong’ but it was ‘overblown to describe it in terms of intelligence failure’ because not even the Taliban had predicted the fall of Kabul so quickly;
  • There is a ‘chronic problem’ over the situation in Ukraine, and Moscow presented an ‘acute threat’ but it needed to be made clear to the Kremlin that the West was ‘not trying to encircle Russia’;
  • MI6 has to recruit from ‘all sections of society’ through an online process rather than relying on personal recommendations as ‘there are risks that you tap on the shoulder people who look like you’;
  • The UK has a ‘great science and tech sector’ and said free societies in the West had advantages because ‘we do have an ability to get the entrepreneurial animal spirits going in a way that perhaps authoritarian regimes don’t’. 

This morning, Mr Moore highlighted China as one of the countries which had been able to harness the power of technology, coupled with its economic might, to assert itself on the global stage.

Its artificial intelligence capabilities allow Beijing to ‘harvest data from around the world’, he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

‘And it’s also trying to use influence through its economic policies to try and sometimes, I think, get people on the hook.’

China will use its ability to control data and its financial power as ‘leverage’ against targets. 

He said the ‘debt trap’ has allowed China to be given the use of ports – which could be used as naval bases – in countries which are unable to repay loans.

MI6 must partner with tech giants to keep foreign adversaries at bay, says spy chief 

Britain’s intelligence agencies must be prepared to work with tech giants to develop world-class technologies that will keep foreign adversaries at bay, the chief of MI6 will warn.

Richard Moore says the pace of technological advance, from artificial intelligence to quantum computing, means the agencies can no longer simply devise their own solutions to meet the challenges.

In a rare speech to the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, he is expected to say: ‘We cannot hope to replicate the global tech industry, so we must tap into it. 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.’

Mr Moore, who is known as C in Whitehall and is the only publicly identified member of MI6, will say that while technological advances had the potential to deliver huge benefits, it is his job to look at ‘the threat side of the ledger’.

‘MI6 deals with the world as it is, not as we would like it to be,’ he will say according to advance extracts of his speech. And ‘digital attack surface’ criminals, terrorists and state threats that seek to exploit against us is growing exponentially.

‘According to some assessments, we may experience more technological progress in the next 10 years than in the last century, with a disruptive impact equal to the industrial revolution. As a society, we have yet to internalise this stark fact and its potential impact on global geopolitics. But it is a white-hot focus for MI6.’   

He added: ‘The data trap is this: that, if you allow another country to gain access to really critical data about your society, over time that will erode your sovereignty, you no longer have control over that data.

‘That’s something which, I think, in the UK we are very alive to and we’ve taken measures to defend against.’

China ‘does not share our values and often their interests clash with ours’ and Chinese President Xi Jinping is ‘very clear that we are now in a more assertive stage with China’, he said.

Although he was not seeking an ‘adversarial relationship’ with China ‘we need to be very robust in fighting our corner’, he added.

Mr Moore also quipped that as head of MI6 said he has no James Bond-style Aston Martin and his pen emits nothing more exotic than green ink.

He said the Bond films were ‘wonderful’ but stressed ‘it is not reality’.

Despite admitting he ‘did some skulking’ in his career, he insisted it was a long way from the ‘colourful’ popular image of spy tradecraft.

While 007’s boss goes by the name M, Mr Moore follows in the Secret Intelligence Service tradition of being known as C.

He told Radio 4 that many mistakenly think C stands for chief, but ‘it stands for Cumming, as in Mansfield Cumming (the first head of MI6); he was a naval man and he wrote in green ink’.

Presenter Nick Robinson said: ‘And at the moment anybody who gets a document with green ink in that building knows it comes from…’

Mr Moore replied: ‘From me, and the same is true of my typescript on my computer.’

He said there are no gadgets on his car, adding: ‘And I can assure you it is not, sadly, an Aston Martin.’

Mr Moore said the service’s fictional link to Ian Fleming’s Bond had to be celebrated rather than viewed as a burden.

‘It is fiction, it is not reality but the Bond franchise is a wonderful one. I had such fun watching the most recent film – no spoilers here but it is brilliant, it doffs a cap to all the great James Bond traditions.’

He added that ‘we embrace James Bond even though we know it is not true life’.

Robinson asked whether Mr Moore had ever donned a beard or moustache while ‘skulking on the streets as a young agent’, or if that is no longer the world that MI6 inhabits.

Mr Moore said: ‘If that was ever the world we lived in, that’s certainly not the world we live in now.’

He told Robinson: ‘I’m sure I did some skulking, perhaps not quite in the colourful image that you presented.

‘The serious point here is right: if we are faced with those technological threats to our business model, our way of going about doing our job, then we have to stay ahead of that curve.’

That meant the gadgets and cutting-edge equipment used by MI6 could no longer be produced solely by the ‘boffins’ in the ‘Q labs’ – so the Bond character played by Ben Whishaw may soon be calling on tech support from outside contractors.   

He said the threat was particularly potent because developments in artificial intelligence meant it was able to 'harvest data from around the world'. Pictured: A Chinese robot playing chess

He said the threat was particularly potent because developments in artificial intelligence meant it was able to ‘harvest data from around the world’. Pictured: A Chinese robot playing chess

Robinson asked whether Mr Moore had ever donned a beard or moustache while ‘skulking on the streets as a young agent’, or if that is no longer the world that MI6 inhabits.

No Aston Martin for MI6 chief but he’s done ‘some skulking’ 

The head of MI6 said he has no James Bond-style Aston Martin and his pen emits nothing more exotic than green ink.

Richard Moore said the Bond films were ‘wonderful’ but stressed ‘it is not reality’.

The spy chief admitted he ‘did some skulking’ in his career but insisted it was a long way from the ‘colourful’ popular image of spy tradecraft.

While 007’s boss goes by the name M, Mr Moore follows in the Secret Intelligence Service tradition of being known as C.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that many mistakenly think C stands for chief, but ‘it stands for Cumming, as in Mansfield Cumming (the first head of MI6); he was a naval man and he wrote in green ink’.

Presenter Nick Robinson said: ‘And at the moment anybody who gets a document with green ink in that building knows it comes from…’

Mr Moore replied: ‘From me, and the same is true of my typescript on my computer.’

He said there are no gadgets on his car, adding: ‘And I can assure you it is not, sadly, an Aston Martin.’

Mr Moore said the service’s fictional link to Ian Fleming’s Bond had to be celebrated rather than viewed as a burden.

‘It is fiction, it is not reality but the Bond franchise is a wonderful one. I had such fun watching the most recent film – no spoilers here but it is brilliant, it doffs a cap to all the great James Bond traditions.’

He added that ‘we embrace James Bond even though we know it is not true life’. 

Mr Moore said: ‘If that was ever the world we lived in, that’s certainly not the world we live in now.’

He told Robinson: ‘I’m sure I did some skulking, perhaps not quite in the colourful image that you presented.

‘The serious point here is right: if we are faced with those technological threats to our business model, our way of going about doing our job, then we have to stay ahead of that curve.’

That meant the gadgets and cutting-edge equipment used by MI6 could no longer be produced solely by the ‘boffins’ in the ‘Q labs’ – so the Bond character played by Ben Whishaw may soon be calling on tech support from outside contractors.   

Mr Moore also used a speech to the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London to flesh out why MI6 would have to increasingly rely on outside expertise to counter China and Russia. 

‘MI6 deals with the world as it is, not as we would like it to be,’ he said. 

‘And ‘digital attack surface’ criminals, terrorists and state threats that seek to exploit against us is growing exponentially.

‘According to some assessments, we may experience more technological progress in the next 10 years than in the last century, with a disruptive impact equal to the industrial revolution.

‘As a society, we have yet to internalise this stark fact and its potential impact on global geopolitics. But it is a white-hot focus for MI6.’

Mr Moore, who took over as chief in October 2020, also said the organisation has to become as diverse as the society it is drawn from if it is to attract the talent it needs.

‘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,’ he will say.

‘An intelligence service needs to be at the vanguard of what is technologically possible. This is not new.

‘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, and those of MI5 and GCHQ.’

Mr Moore said the pace of technological advances meant MI6 would have to work with the tech sector to keep up. Pictured is the agency's headquarters in Vauxhall

Mr Moore said the pace of technological advances meant MI6 would have to work with the tech sector to keep up. Pictured is the agency’s headquarters in Vauxhall 



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