Spies need to be less secretive, says head of GCHQ

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Spies need to be less secretive, the GCHQ chief has said.

Instead of operating in the shadows, the secret service needs to embrace openness, Sir Jeremy Fleming believes.

The director of GCHQ also said the conflict in Ukraine has represented a “sea change” in the release of intelligence to inform public debate.

He said “there is no point,” in collecting intelligence unless security agencies share their knowledge with the public to battle misinformation.

Speaking as guest editor of the BBC’s Radio 4 Today programme, he said that Western intelligence agencies helped counter Moscow’s narrative that Ukraine was threatening its neighbour by releasing details of Russia’s military build-up.

‘Sea change’ seen during Ukraine conflict

“The sea change we have seen during this conflict, getting the intelligence out there and using it to pre-bunk, to try and undermine that sort of narrative, I completely agree with that,” he said.

However, he acknowledged that it had proved more effective in the West than in other parts of the world.

“It is also the case that for much of the world they haven’t completely bought into that side of the argument. Much as we know it to be truthful, there are different and counter-narratives.”

Sir Jeremy, who was also guest-editing the Radio 4 programme, interviewed Avril Haines, the US director of national intelligence.

Ms Haines led the drive to release Western intelligence to the public in the run-up to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, in order to counter the “disinformation” they were spreading about defensive action.

“Keeping the population up-to-date on what we’re seeing and involving them in the conversation in a more significant way is crucial,” said Ms Haines.

‘When it came to Russia we had basically no impact’

“We saw that they were looking to create a pretext for the invasion and we wanted to debunk that and help people understand that this was a false narrative by finding ways to declassify certain information while still trying to protect our sources and methods.”

However, Ms Haines admitted it was difficult to spread Western intelligence in Russia as a result of the strict controls that the Kremlin assert over information flow.

“When it came to Russia we had basically no impact. What we also saw was that we were not that impactful in other countries that had already taken on the narrative the Russians were pushing.

“When you are pushing out information to a population that is already sceptical of you it is much harder to gain traction in those scenarios.

“We recognise that we were able to have an impact on countering disinformation but that there were limits on what we were able to do.”

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