Document:Sir Richard Dearlove at the Cambridge Union

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Document Provenance

A transcript of a speech by Sir Richard Dearlove to a student audience at the Cambridge Union on Tuesday 15 February 2011.

The speech was billed by the Cambridge Union Society as follows:

"How Much Secrecy Does the State Require?" Former Head of MI6, Sir Richard Dearlove was at the heart of British secret intelligence for nearly 40 years. Having served in posts across the world, he was Head of MI6 during the September 11th attacks and the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. Codenamed "C", he is only the second holder of that position to be named publicly. He has subsequently expressed concerns over the growth of the use of surveillance in Britain and was, in 2008, asked to testify against allegations that MI6 were involved in the death of Princess Diana.

Dearlove's appearance was conditional upon it being subject to so-called 'Chatham House Rules' - which meant that filming and recording was forbidden and that the contents of his address were to be treated as confidential to those attending. Nonetheless, the entire event was covertly videoed by Charlie Veitch. Dearlove claimed copyright and Veitch was forced to remove the video from his site but, as is so often the case when pompous pricks become apoplectic, the subject of their apoplexy goes viral. The video is embedded below and has now been viewed by several tens of thousands of people who might otherwise have remained in blissful ignorance of it.

The transcript is imperfect with some soto voce remarks omitted because of inaudibility. It is nevertheless a fairly accurate overall.

WikiSpooks Comments

The most striking overall impressions of Dearlove's presentation are its 'Colonel Blimp'-like quality and its patronising banality. If what he says is to be taken at face value (and coming from a career spook it should go without saying that absolutely NOTHING he says should be so treated) then it also reveals crass ignorance of both the legal issues surrounding the Swedish extradition proceedings against Julian Assange and Assange's voluminous coherent writings about WikiLeaks and his motives in driving the WikiLeaks initiative

Sir Richard Dearlove - How Much Secrecy Does the State Require?

Thank you for the kind introduction

I'm going to talk principally in relation to Wikileaks and I'm happy to answer questions, either on that or more widely on other subjects.

So, the theme is 'How much secrecy does the State need?

The short answer to that question is it needs some, but actually not as much as you think. You may be surprised to hear me say that - but obviously it needs to be significantly expanded.

Now the first thing I really want to mention is the idea of trends which underwrite our understanding of important contemporary events - not so much trends but a language to predict the future - they do maybe help you understand the future better; and I would definately draw parallels at the moment between the wave of unrest that is sweeping through the Middle East in an exciting and rather extraordinary fashion and also the Wikileaks phenomenon. Really, what ties these two events together is the diffusion of power away from States and the empowerment of individuals - and small groups of individuals - by new technology.

There is a seismic shift of power happening in terms of this relationship between the State and individuals. Just 25 years ago, the State had a monopoly on communications - but first of all a warning about WikiLeaks and about Egypt - In my experience, the media loves stories which are essentially about itself and project the importance of the fifth estate. Our perception of Wikileaks and Egypt is largely media driven. The purpose of my talk is to rebalance the equation and give you a slightly different point of view.

What is happening in Cairo is not just the discontent of a rising middle class in the face of a totalitarian government. Bear in mind when we are talking about Egypt, that 44% of the population is illiterate and exists on less than $2 a day. These forces in Egypt are being unlocked by this political change - new technology - it is difficult to predict where this will end up - and I am one of the few people here, if not the olnly one, to have met Mubarak.

Anyway, back to WikiLeaks as that's the issue I want to concentrate on. I want to pose two key questions to you:

  1. How is the public interest actually served by official secrecy?
  2. How is the public interest served by revelatory journalism?

It's very difficult to answer either of these questions with any precision - because they are too broad in their general sense; but they CAN be answered, almost always on a case-by-case basis. There are further issues of principle.

I think most of you would agree that individuals do require a degree of privacy - even if you do have a tendency to give it up voluntarily on the internet - MY ADVICE IS DON'T.

There is no question that technology is altering, ultimately, the relationship between citizen and government; and this is why the WikiLeaks issue is very important - it dramatically highlights the problem. It's quite extraordinary that, if you read about WikiLeaks in our rather tired media, there isn't much consideration of the problem - but these problems DO have urgency and should worry all of you.

What I think is important in this is that the Assange story, as such, is ultimately a distraction. He is a very undignified flag-carrier for a very important issue; And why do I think he is a very undignified flag-carrier? Well, he is completely unable to explain why WikiLeaks is doing what it is doing, and when asked for reasons he always contradicts himself; so he doesn't really know why he is doing it. If you're implying that governments protect themselves with a conspiracy of silence and that we, the citizens, are victims of that conspiracy, it's a little unwise to behave conspiratorially yourself.

If you are charged with wrongdoing in a jurisdiction, universally respected for its fairness and independence, the honourable way to behave is to face up to the situation, especially if you deem yourself innocent. Frankly, it is completely IDIOTIC to suggest that the Swedish Judiciary is being pressurised by sinister forces. If you really think that, you're into conspiracy theories and you have no reall understanding of the way these things work. Assange has tethered himself to a vehicle that is much larger than him; much more important than him - but he's clearly enjoying the notoriety.

And it seems to me that because of this unfortunate juxtaposition, the WikiLeaks phenomenon seems to be no more sophisticated than "Government secrecy bad; full disclosure and absolute transparency good for the citizens - and let us show you how you are being duped" - ie it is disclosure for disclosure's sake. Frankly I find that pretty insulting; and my advice is, you should think carefully if you don't think that.... and I ESPECIALLY dislike someone like Assange implying that he's acting in the public interest. - without any attempt to explain why and how.

I urge you to think hard about the WikiLeaks phenomenon.