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03 December 2018 - MI6 'C' Delivers Rare Public Speech at St Andrews University

‘Fourth Generation Espionage’ - Fusing Traditional Human Skills With Innovation

Today, Alex Younger, Chief of MI6, known as ‘C’, addressed students at St Andrews University, as an alumnus of the university. In a rare public address – only his second public speech in his four years as C of the Secret Intelligence Service, he covered a range of subjects, including the need for ‘fourth generation espionage’ in response to the emergence of hybrid threats, and MI6’s role in disrupting of terrorist attacks and countering the threat from nation states. He spoke of the strengthening of security ties in Europe and MI6’s commitment to UK’s law and values. Underpinning the speech was his message to the next generation of recruits he wants to join his organisation.

C described MI6’s mission, and the fundamental need for human intelligence in the era of artificial intelligence. He described the impact of exponential technological change, and the blurring of boundaries traditionally relied upon for our security. He was clear that adversaries are willing to explore ambiguity, and able to take advantage of the blurred line between the cyber and physical worlds, to probe UK institutions and defences in ways that fall short of traditional warfare, but that the UK is well-equipped to counter.

C described how MI6 and intelligence agencies are evolving a fourth generation espionage to meet the threats of the hybrid age:

“The era of the fourth industrial revolution calls for a fourth generation espionage: fusing our traditional human skills with accelerated innovation, new partnerships and a mind-set that mobilises diversity and empowers the young.”

He reflected on the persistent and evolving threat from terrorism to the UK, and outlined the work of MI6 overseas to disrupt terrorist threats lawfully through partnerships. He said that MI6 and partner agencies have disrupted multiple Daesh attack plans originating overseas. This included important contributions to helping European allies prevent terrorist attacks.

He was clear that the UK faces adversaries who regard themselves as being in a state of perpetual confrontation with us. He described how MI6 and the UK responded to the Salisbury attack by operationalising the UK’s values, legal system and alliances to expose the perpetrators and co-ordinate the collective expulsion of Russian diplomats. He described how this approach is aimed to attach a cost to malign behaviour, and he will “urge Russia, or any other state intent on subverting our way of life, not to underestimate our determination and our capabilities, or those of our allies”.

C discussed how MI6 will continue to work with partner agencies to strengthen indispensable security ties in Europe.

In mastering covert action in the data age, attaching costs to malign activity by adversaries and innovating to ensure that technology works to the advantage of MI6, C was unambiguous about MI6’s commitment to UK law and values, and stressed the unshakeable faith he has in the quality, humanity and decency of the men and women who chose to join MI6.

Finally, C delivered a compelling message on the need for diversity in MI6, to ensure operational effectiveness, and encouraged people across the UK, to consider joining MI6:

“I want to speak to young people who have never seen themselves in MI6… it doesn’t matter where you are from. If you want to make a difference, and you think you have what it takes, then the chances are that you do have what it takes, and we hope you will step forward.”