Document:Sir Richard Dearlove at the Cambridge Union
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 definitely 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:
- How is the public interest actually served by official secrecy?
- 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 real 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.
At the end of Dearlove's speech, the first question was posed by Silkie Carlo.  She cited a leaked document from 2002 that has come to be known as the Downing Street Memo and which minutes him opining that “the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy” of then US President George W Bush of removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq.
“I find that a terrible betrayal of everything democracy is supposed to stand for and that the intelligence service is supposed to provide,”
she told Dearlove.
She went on to challenge his assertion that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is an “undignified flag-carrier” who has yet to justify his zeal for radical transparency:
“To find out information like that, and that's what public servants are actually doing, and that's how intelligence is being used, I think the most dignified way we can recover from that is to find out that information and move forward from there.”
Dearlove referred to the ongoing Chilcot Inquiry and at first said he wouldn't comment because it was ongoing; but couldn't help adding testily:
“The Downing Street Memo, which you just read, is a misquotation of what I said, and what I said is not in the public record.”