MI6 chief Richard Moore has warned of China’s “debt traps and data traps” in his first live broadcast interview.
Mr Moore – known as “C” – told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme these traps threatened to erode sovereignty and have prompted defensive measures.
He denied the fall of Afghan capital Kabul was an intelligence failure and signalled closer ties with tech giants.
The decision to speak more openly about his work was important in a modern democracy, the ex-secret agent said.
In a wide-ranging interview ahead of his first major public speech since taking on the role as head of MI6, Mr Moore:
- warned China has the capability to “harvest data from around the world” and uses money to “get people on the hook”
- admitted the assessment of the Taliban’s progress in Afghanistan this summer was “clearly wrong” – but denied Kabul’s fall was an “intelligence failure”
- described a “chronic problem” with Russia and Ukraine – with Russia posing an “acute threat” to the UK
- supported closer links with technology partners and speeding-up the vetting process for new tech-savvy recruits
Speaking about the threat posed by China, Mr Moore described its use of “debt traps and data traps”.
He said Beijing is “trying to use influence through its economic policies to try and sometimes, I think, get people on the hook”.
Explaining the “data trap”, he said: “If you allow another country to gain access to really critical data about your society, over time that will erode your sovereignty, you no longer have control over that data.
“That’s something which, I think, in the UK we are very alive to and we’ve taken measures to defend against.”
Kabul assessment ‘wrong’
The assessment of the speed at which the Taliban would seize control of Kabul as British and American troops withdrew from Afghanistan was “clearly wrong”, Mr Moore admitted.
But he said it was “really overblown to describe it in terms of intelligence failure”. “None of us predicted the speed of the fall of Kabul,” he said.
“Frankly, if we had recruited every member of the Taliban Shura, you know, the leadership group of the Taliban, [if] we recruited every one of them as a secret agent, we still wouldn’t have predicted the fall of Kabul because the Taliban didn’t.”
However, he added that there is no “soft soaping” that the victory of the Taliban had been a “serious reverse” and he is concerned it will be a “morale boost for extremists around the world, and indeed for those sitting in the capitals in Beijing, Tehran, and Moscow”.