Secrecy vital for Britain’s safety, says MI6 chief

Thursday, October 28, 2010

LONDON - Britain will be at risk if its secrets are compromised, the chief of the country’s Secret Intelligence Service MI6 said Thursday in a veiled attack on the courts, which have demanded evidence from agents during a string of human rights cases.

In the first public speech by a serving MI6 chief, Sir John Sawers said it was essential that MI6’s agents and other intelligence agencies were confident that their secrets were protected otherwise the information channels would dry up, the Daily Telegraph reported on its website.

He received daily reports of terrorist plots “bent on maiming and murdering” people in Britain, he said, describing the process as “draining”.

“Secrecy is not a dirty word,” he said in a speech to the Society of Editors in London. “Secrecy is not there as a cover up. Secrecy plays a crucial part in keeping Britain safe and secure.”

His speech, delivered at the London offices of Thomson Reuters, comes four years after Eliza Manningham-Buller, then-head of the MI5 domestic security service, made the first public appearance by a top intelligence chief.

The existence of MI6 was not officially acknowledged until 1994. In his speech Thursday, Sawers said that he was confident that MI6 officers operated with the “utmost integrity” and described torture as “abhorrent”.

Yet he said that the service also had to operate in the real world, and needed to work with agencies from other countries which were not always “friendly democracies”.

“Suppose we received credible intelligence that might save lives, here or abroad. We have a professional and moral duty to act on it. We will normally want to share it with those who can save those lives,” he said.

“So if the control principle is not respected, the intelligence-sharing dries up. That’s why we have been so concerned about the possible release of intelligence material in recent court cases.”

“Foreign partners need to have certainty that what they tell us will remain secret - not just most of the time but always.

“The United Kingdom would be more vulnerable to the unexpected, the vicious and the extreme,” he said.

Filed under: Terrorism

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