Intelligence agencies in ‘technology arms race’

Alex Younger said his main priority was to keep the service 'in the premier league of intelligence services'The Telegraph – by Con Coughlin and Ben Farmer

Britain’s intelligence services are involved in a “technology arms race” as they attempt to tackle threats posed by the “dark side of globalisation”, the head of MI6 has warned.

Intelligence officers and the agents they run are increasingly being put at risk “byterrorists, malicious actors in cyberspace, and criminals” as they seek to exploit new technology that allows them to see how Britain’s intelligence agencies operate.

Speaking for the first time since becoming head of the Secret Intelligence Service, or MI6 as it more familiarly known, in October last year, Alex Younger said his main priority was to keep the service “in the premier league of intelligence services by developing our capabilities so that they are fully fit for the data age. ”

Mr Younger, who is known as “C” in intelligence circles, said modern technology had been a boon for spy craft, but had also increased the risks to spies and agents. He also spoke of his unease at stepping out of the shadows to take the high profile position of chief of the Secret Intelligence Service.

Mr Younger said technology had “developed to sharpen some very human characteristics of our work”.

Technology such as the internet and big data “can combine to our advantage, allowing us to know more about the people we meet and the places we meet them. Using data appropriately and proportionately offers us a priceless opportunity to be even more deliberate and targeted in what we do, and so to be better at protecting our agents and this country.”

But he also warned that, in the wrong hands, similar methods could be used to undermine the effectiveness of the intelligence agencies. “The bad news is that the same technology in opposition hands, an opposition unconstrained by the consideration of ethics and law, allows them to see what we are doing and to put our people and agents at risk. So we find ourselves in a technology arms race.”

MI6 exists now “to protect this country from the threats that are the dark side of globalisation: those posed by terrorists, malicious actors in cyberspace, and criminals.”

The organisation’s recent successes included the disruption of numerous terrorist attacks overseas, helping to protect the Olympics, and closing down “the biggest nuclear proliferation network in history” which was organised by Dr A.Q. Khan, the Pakistani nuclear scientist.

Mr Younger was speaking after unveiling an English Heritage plaque in Whitehall to honour Sir Mansfield Cumming, the former Royal Navy officer who founded MI6 shortly before the outbreak of World War 1 in 1909.

An eccentric figure who used to take children for rides in his personal tank, it is claimed Sir Mansfield amputated his own leg with a pocket knife after he became trapped following a car crash in 1914 that killed his son.


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