LONDON, July 5 (Reuters) - Britain should not be “squeamish” about using espionage to protect its financial security, especially at times of economic crisis, a former spy chief said on Tuesday.
Richard Dearlove, chief of the Secret Intelligence Service from 1999 to 2004, said in a rare public speech that the Euro zone debt crisis and the possible harm it might do to Britain’s economy could be a subject for espionage, along with other emerging threats such as migration and organised crime.
In a speech exploring changing British intelligence priorities a decade after the Sept. 11 attacks on U.S. targets, he said that while efficient UK central bankers should be able to handle economic turbulence “they might need help from time to time” on matters such as the Euro crisis.
“We should not be squeamish about using all the means at our disposal to protect ourselves in times of crisis,” he said. He added, in answer to questions: “I was thinking of currency issues.”
He noted that part of the mandate of SIS, also known as MI6, was to act in the interests of Britain’s economic wellbeing.
In a speech in October 2010, current SIS chief John Sawers made only a brief reference to economic spying when he said his staff had the task of gathering “long range strategic intelligence to track military and economic power...”
Dearlove said there was probably a role for British intelligence in tackling the illegal trafficking of toxic waste as well as in cyber security, migration and organised crime.
Counter-terrorism remained very important but it was possible al Qaeda was now “past its zenith”.
Russia and China would remain areas of interest for SIS because their decision-making processes “should be more transparent” and insight was needed on how they developed policies.
In China, there was more to understand about the relationship between civilian and military authorities.
While much of this work could be achieved by effective diplomacy, there had been a loss over the years of some of the previously “phenomenal” linguistic and general knowledge in the Foreign Office (Foreign Ministry).
This was “a great shame”. It was not realistic to expect Britain’s intelligence capacity to make up for this loss.
Britain’s coalition government has said it is determined that there would be no strategic shrinkage of Britain’s diplomatic influence overseas.
In May it said it planned to open new diplomatic missions in developing nations in a drive to boost influence in fast-growing emerging economies, while cutting costs in Europe.
Reporting by William Maclean