Britain’s secret MI6 spy agency must become more open by partnering with technology firms to compete in a world where digital threats are “growing exponentially”, its chief will say.
Richard Moore, in his first public speech as head of the Secret Intelligence Service, will describe understanding the impact of emerging technologies as a “white-hot focus” for his spies, who must deal with increasingly tech-savvy rivals like China and Russia.
The UK’s adversaries, he will say, are investing heavily in areas like artificial intelligence, quantum computing and synthetic biology.
“They know that mastering these technologies will give them leverage,” he will tell an audience at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) in London on Tuesday.
“An intelligence service needs to be at the vanguard of what is technologically possible,” he will say, according to excerpts of the speech.
This is nothing new, he will say, pointing to how British spies in the early days developed “secret writing” technologies – invisible ink – to smuggle secrets past opponents before moving on to use “secure speech” technologies during World War II.
“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 will say, referring to MI6’s two sister agencies.
“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.”
This will be a “sea-change” for an agency that traditionally relied primarily on its own, internal capabilities to develop the equipment needed to stay secret and effective.
But in today’s world – where technology companies are among the leading developers of kit that has the ability to transform daily life – that has to change.
Mr Moore will say: “We must become more open, to stay secret.”
Turning to the challenge posed by emerging technologies, he will say the digital environment that hostiles states, criminals and terrorists are able to exploit in ways to harm the UK “is growing exponentially”.
He will note that according to some assessments “we may experience more technological progress in the next ten 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 took over as Chief – or “C” – of MI6 in October 2020.