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MI6 chief speaks

Richard Moore, Chief of the UK Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), has made his first public speech since taking the role in October 2020.

He covers China, Russia, Iran and the threat from international terrorism. On terror he says: “We retain an intense focus on developing new agent relationships and technological capabilities needed to degrade existing terrorist groups, prevent their spread, and identify unknown threats. To do this, MI6 continues to recruit agents in the most dangerous organisations in the world. We benefit from outstanding cooperation with our colleagues in MI5 and GCHQ and from our international partners.

“In the last 20 years, the UK intelligence community as a whole has disrupted dozens of overseas attack plans before they could reach the UK – saving potentially thousands of lives.”

On technology, he says that 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. This is not new: we have always been at the leading edge of innovation, from the chemistry that enabled us to produce secret writing technologies in the early days of the service, to the wireless and secure speech technologies we developed during the Second World War. 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.”

Hence what he describes as a change in MI6’s culture, ethos and way of working; and a paradox, that ‘we must become more open, to stay secret’.

You can see, and read the transcript of the speech, on the MI6 website.


Saj Huq, Director of Innovation at Plexal, the cyber start-up hub in east London, said: “We support the view of MI6’s new head of secret intelligence services Richard Moore that governments need to work more closely with the private sector to tackle cyber threats. As technology becomes increasingly important to every aspect of the economy and society, we’ve reached the intersection between national security and technological innovation. Well-funded malicious actors are targeting vulnerabilities in business networks and critical national infrastructure, and a consolidated response from government experts and industry innovators is urgently needed.

“Cybersecurity has been shrouded in secrecy and mystery but that is changing fast. We’re now in a new paradigm for cyber and there is an understanding that it’s too important to leave to either the public or private sector. Collaboration is what will unlock the potential of emerging technologies such as AI and quantum computing, both of which can help the UK achieve a technological advantage and enable the levels of cybersecurity the country needs to counter sophisticated threats.

“Thankfully, the government and the public sector are already partnering with the private sector to unlock innovation more quickly. Plexal is working with the National Cyber Security Centre to direct startups towards government challenges though the NCSC For Startups initiative and counter threats like ransomware. National security is no longer about tanks crossing borders, it’s about defending the fabric of society and the economy from digital threats to our food supply, transport and power networks. It’s essential that startups, whether they’re a global scale-up or at the research and development phase, are operating with insights, feedback and data from the government and large enterprises so they’re building solutions we need most.”


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