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Need help from the tech sector to counter growing threats

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MI6 chief warned against China’s use of financial power and data to exert influence as he stressed the need for British spies to work with the global tech sector to maintain advanced capabilities .

Richard Moore said Beijing has used “debt and data traps” to get countries and individuals “to hang”.

The growing complexity of the technology used around the world meant that MI6 “boffins” were not able to meet the challenges on their own and that outside help was needed, he added.

MI6 chief Richard Moore said the “boffins” of the service were no longer sufficient to deal with the technological threats encountered (FCDO / PA)

Mr Moore used rare public appearances on Tuesday to expose the need for a “radical change” in the culture of the Secret Service.

The changing nature of the work meant that a James Bond-style Q figure was no longer able to provide all of the technological capabilities required by MI6, he said.

“Given the challenges of how we recruit and manage secret agents, if you look at some of the technologies available to authoritarian regimes around so-called smart cities, technologies, surveillance, etc., then clearly , in order to stay before that, we can’t do all of this internally, ”he told BBC Radio 4’s Today.

“As you say, we can’t do this in our Q labs, the boffins behind the wire type model no longer work for us.”

Mr. Moore said China was one of the countries that had harnessed the power of technology, combined with its economic power, to assert itself on the world stage.

Its artificial intelligence capabilities allow Beijing to “collect data from all over the world,” he said.

“And he’s also trying to use his influence through his economic policies to try and sometimes, I think, to get people to hang on.”

China will use its ability to control data and its financial might as “leverage” against targets. He said the “debt trap” has given China access to ports – which could be used as naval bases – in countries unable to repay loans.

He added: “The data trap is this: if you allow another country to access really critical data about your company, over time it will erode your sovereignty, you will no longer have control over it. those data.

“This is something that I think in the UK we are very aware of and we have taken steps to defend ourselves.”

China “does not share our values ​​and often their interests conflict with ours” and Chinese President Xi Jinping is “very clear that we are now in a more assertive phase with China,” he said.

Although he was not looking for a “confrontational relationship” with China, “we have to be very robust in the fight for our corner,” he added.

In a broad interview, Mr. Moore said:

– Estimates of how quickly Afghanistan would be taken by the Taliban were “clearly wrong”, but it was “too much to describe it in terms of intelligence failure” because even the Taliban had not predicted the fall of Kabul so quickly.

– There is a “chronic problem” concerning the situation in Ukraine, and Moscow presented an “acute threat” but it was necessary to clarify in the Kremlin that the West “was not trying to surround Russia”.

– MI6 had to recruit from “all walks of life” via an online process rather than relying on personal recommendations because “there is a risk that you will tap people like you on the shoulder” .

– UK has a ‘large science and technology sector’ and said free societies in the West have advantages because ‘we have the ability to stimulate animal entrepreneurship in a way that diets authoritarian may not have ”.

Our opponents are putting money and ambition into mastering artificial intelligence, quantum computing and synthetic biology, because they know that mastering these technologies will give them leverage.

Richard moore

Mr Moore, known as C in Whitehall, will use a speech to the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London to explain why outside expertise is needed.

“MI6 treats the world as it is, not as we would like it to be,” he will say according to advanced excerpts from his speech.

“And the criminals, terrorists and state threats seeking to exploit against us are increasing exponentially.

“According to some estimates, we may see more technological advancement in the next 10 years than in the last century, with a disruptive impact equal to the industrial revolution.

“As a society, we still have to internalize this glaring fact and its potential impact on global geopolitics.

“But it’s a hot target for MI6.”

Mr. Moore, who took office as chief in October 2020, will say the organization needs to become as diverse as the company it came from if it is to attract the talent it needs.

“Our adversaries are putting 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 must be at the forefront of what is technologically possible.

“This is nothing new.

“What’s new is that we are now pursuing partnerships with the tech community to help develop world-class technologies to solve our biggest mission challenges, and those of MI5 and GCHQ.”