I am Sir Richard Dearlove. I was in MI6 for 38 years. I was chief of the service from 1999 to 2004. Before that I was head of operations, and before that I was head of all the admin and personnel. In fact, I completed the building of the new headquarters and the move of the whole service into that. I retired in 2004 and became the Master of Pembroke College, Cambridge, where I was for 11 years. I am now chair of the board of trustees of the University of London and hold a number of other directorships and advisory roles. I still remain pretty heavily involved as a talking head on geopolitics and intelligence issues, and I have founded a small think tank, which is actually an educational charity in Cambridge called the Cambridge Security Initiative. That gives you in essence my colourful past.
Q Thank you very much, Sir Richard, for bringing your expertise to the Committee. The existing powers for intervening in transactions on national security grounds came in when you were chief of MI6. How have security threats evolved since then? Specifically, which security threats do you consider are not covered by existing public interest powers? It would be helpful to hear whether you think the Government have missed specific threats, or types of threat, by relying only on historical powers, and by not bringing in new legislation until now?
Wow. That is a massive question. Bear in mind that a large part of my career related to the cold war. In that period, our main concern was the Soviet Union and the members of the Warsaw Pact. It was characteristic of that period that there were heavy controls, mainly exercised through NATO structures, to prevent strategic material from leaching, as it were, into the economies of the Warsaw pact. I will not go into all the mechanisms. Historically, one does not need to worry about those now, but it was very much an issue that was at the forefront of people’s minds during that period of the cold war. Bear in mind also—I think this is important in looking at the broader context of what you are interested in—that the Soviet Union had hugely sophisticated what’s called S and T operations: science and technology. A whole line of Soviet intelligence of the KGB was devoted to obtaining strategic material that would help the Soviet economy, particularly in the military industrial complex.
This is now in the public domain: in the mid-1980s, there was a major intelligence success, which, interestingly, was conducted by the French, but in which the UK had an important role. We completely dismantled, or learned, exactly what the Soviet Union and its allies were up to on a global basis. We knew before, but we did not know the detail to that extent, and what we learned was pretty shocking. That case has not been greatly publicised, but it was probably one of the most important intelligence cases of the cold war.
With the break-up of the Soviet Union and the disintegration of the Soviet empire, particularly the economic structures that bound the Warsaw pact countries together, in the West our attitudes towards those issues changed very significantly. There was a much more laissez-faire situation and, as countries broke away from the Soviet empire, an enthusiasm to trade with them without the same degree of control.
During that period, you had the emergence of China, which was still very much a regional power but with aspirations to become a global power. To short cut, we have now transferred to China the concerns we had about the Soviet Union and its allies, but the problem with China in some respects is much more serious than the problem with the Soviet Union, although that was bad enough. Charlie Parton, who was talking to you before, is an expert on China specifically. I am not, and my view is maybe more strategic, although I had a lot to do with China when I was head of MI6.
If you look back at the emergence of China as a regional power, from the very start—when Mao was still alive and was then succeeded by Deng Xiaoping—its intelligence community focused on China’s economic growth. It was not particularly interested in what we would see as strategic or political intelligence. There is a famous passage in Kissinger’s book on China in which he is talking to Mao and Mao says to him, “We’re not interested in your politics because we have our own ideological view of the world, and I don’t really care what our intelligence service reports about what’s going on in the west.” What he did not say, but what was quite clear because it became evident subsequently, particularly under Deng Xiaoping, was that the primary purpose of the Chinese intelligence machine outside China was to contribute to the economic rebuilding of China.
We in the West have been, over a longish period of time, pretty naive and had forgotten the fundamental dangers of having a close relationship with China. I am not anti-Chinese or a cold warrior. I understand—and this is the complexity that lies at the heart of this legislation—that our economies in the West are tied to China’s. They are intertwined in a manner that did not exist during the cold war between the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union. Of course there were economic links with the Soviets but essentially the relationship was one of separation. But that is not the case any longer. We are intimately engaged with the Chinese economy. Our enthusiasm––I am using “our” in the broadest sense of the West’s enthusiasm––to trade with China and to have a close relationship and to build that relationship is thoroughly understandable, but in the process we have let down our guard and we have been extremely laissez-faire, as it were, in our attitude towards the commercial threat from China.
I remember very well on one of my visits to the far east, when I was coming out of China through Hong Kong, talking to a British lawyer who had been head of a legal office in Shanghai for a long time. He said, “Richard, you have got to understand one thing about the Chinese attitude to us: they don’t understand win-win. All they understand is ‘We win, you lose.’” However intimate and successful your relations with China may be economically, if you are too successful, you can absolutely guarantee that the Chinese will transfer that success to themselves in their own economic structures, having allowed you to run successfully for a period of time.
What we now know and understand is that the Chinese are highly organised and strategic in their attitude towards the West and towards us. For example, some of the thousands of Chinese students who are being educated in Western universities, particularly in the UK and the United States, are unquestionably organised and targeted in terms of subjects––I am thinking more about graduates, PhDs and post-docs––looking at areas of strategic interest to the Chinese economy, and they are organised by Chinese intelligence.
We need to conduct our relationship with China with much more wisdom and care. The Chinese understand us incredibly well. They have put their leadership through our universities for 20 or 30 years. We in comparison hardly know anything about China because we just do not have that depth of knowledge and experience. You have people such as Charlie Parton and many wonderful Chinese scholars who understand intimately, in particular, the workings of the Chinese state, but they are rare individuals who are now massively in demand in trying to educate people about the problem that we have on our hands.
I am not one who is saying that we have to hold China at arm’s length. It is impossible to do that because they are so intimately involved in our economy, but we have to understand where we restrict their access, where we control their access and where we do not allow them to build strategic positions at our expense and literally take us for a ride. If you go back a little way, we were incredibly naive about this, which accounts for the position we got into with Huawei. It was completely ridiculous that we should even have been considering Huawei to build our 5G. That is probably why you called me. I was heavily involved in lobbying MPs through these various structures. I am delighted that the Government have now taken a grip on this issue.
Q Absolutely. I appreciate the response and I would like details of the Soviet case of the military-industrial complex that was dismantled, which you mentioned. That would be interesting to compare.
You have talked about the relationship between the military-industrial complex, in the case of Russia, and economic development, specifically in the case of China. We have essential industries that are critical to our economy and there has been concern that BEIS is going to be overseeing the security implications. Where we have industries and technologies that are critical for national security, they are also critical for our economic security, so our national and economic security end up being linked. You have talked about some of those links in the case of Russia and China. How can we reflect those links effectively in the Bill? Do we need structures within BEIS, or outside BEIS, to identify and reflect the overlap between economic and national security?
This is a really difficult question. I am expressing the problem, not the solutions. You have to bear in mind that I spent my life as a poacher, not a gamekeeper, so my view of these problems is mirror imaging. I was an offensive intelligence officer, not a defensive one. I spent my life trying to penetrate Chinese intelligence, if you see what I mean.
The problem is much bigger than just national security; that is one of the difficulties. It leaches into the whole future of our economic competition with China. I do not like to talk about it, but some people use the phrase “a new cold war”. I do not subscribe to that. We have to find some other way of talking about this. They are very serious competitors who are beginning to edge along the path of enmity in the way they treat us on some issues—witness Hong Kong at the moment—so you have to have some sort of flexible scrutiny arrangement.
The reason this is so difficult to comprehend is that areas like climate change and energy policy, which are national security issues but not right on the frontline, are so big that, I think, China has a pretty disturbing agenda for us. They will encourage us to follow policies that they think are disadvantageous to our economy.
If you take their statements on things like climate change, which is relevant to what we are talking about, China is going to go on increasing its carbon emissions up until 2030, if we look at the figures and understand its policies. China is going to completely miss out renewables. When it has generated enough wealth and success in its economy, it is going to jump from carbon energy straight to nuclear and hydrogen. It will have the wealth and the means to do that. Renewables for the Chinese are going to be rather peripheral, because they will not generate the energy intensity that the Chinese economy requires. China has a road map in its head that is really rather different from ours and there is no question but that, competitively, our green agenda is going to put us at an even greater disadvantage to China, if you take a 30-year view of that.
There are some very worrying aspects of this. That means that if we are gaily allowing the Chinese to walk off with all sorts of bits of our economy, we are going to pay possibly a pretty high price for that over a long period. We need to take a strategic view of this. China certainly has a strategy, and at the moment we do not really have a strategy. We are beginning to realise that we have to have one, and maybe this Bill is a healthy first step in that direction.
You will need sub-committees of some sort, with flexible thinking and experts to advise on where these problems lie. The difficulty is also that we do not want to ruin our economic relationship completely with China. We still need to partner with it in areas that are advantageous to us and our economy as well.
Q The Bill provides for an annual report to Parliament, Sir Richard. What is your view on balancing transparency and ensuring Government can take national security decisions sensitively? Where does that balance lie in terms of our ability to be as transparent as we can without harming sensitivities around these decisions?
My view would be that the annual report has as much transparency as possible, but you are probably going to require a secret annexe from time to time. It is a bit like the reports of the Intelligence and Security Committee, which I dealt with frequently as chief. They and we were keen that they should publish their reports, but there comes a point where it is not in our national interest that some of this stuff is put in the public domain. I would be pretty clear cut on that.
Q I think this is the first time I have had to stand further away from somebody to speak to them. Thank you for your attendance today. We have heard a lot this morning about the threat from China and a bit about the threat from Russia. There may well be other hostile states out there that have their eyes on us. There are certainly hostile non-state enterprises that have their eyes on us. Is the Bill wide-ranging enough to allow the Government to respond to all those different kinds of threat? Does it allow enough flexibility to respond to the threats that we have not yet discovered, that we do not know about or have not yet been invented?
Obviously, the threat scenarios shift and change. I think I accept that. Clearly, at the moment, what is driving our considerations is mainly China, but you are right. It applies to others—Iran, North Korea—and there may be other states.
A good example in the past, not a current one, is Pakistan. The Pakistani bomb built by A. Q. Khan—the Khan Research Laboratories—was created by sending 600 Pakistani PhD students to do separate bits of research in different universities around the world. That is the origin of our thinking on counter-proliferation, and it is another very clear example of where you have to have control from the security services. Now, I believe, we register PhDs in relation to the nationalities studying in certain areas.
The Bill should be able to accommodate a changing set of scenarios, and you are right to say that non-governmental organisations can become problematic. The proliferation issue, whereby Khan was trying to sell his technology to other countries, happened around the time of my retirement and the disarmament of Libya. That was all based on Pakistani technology, but there was a commercial network run by a family of Swiss engineers called the Tinners. This is an example of how dangerous things can be. The Tinner network had several semi-clandestine factories dotted around the world that were all making different parts for nuclear centrifuges. Okay, that network was eventually dismantled by the UK and the Americans, but the problem of national security goes into some pretty odd areas, and you are right to identify those as not necessarily just being China or, in the past, Russia. There are still aspirations on the part of certain powers to break the non-prefoliation treaty and become nuclear weapons states.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Twigg. Sir Richard, I want to ask some questions about how the Bill and the mechanisms that make it operate cut across certain other parts of Government Departments. That is clearly looking at how we can scrutinise investments coming into the UK, but we also have a department with respect to export control. Broadly speaking, this is quite a similar type of problem. Although it is not necessarily looking at intellectual assets, it certainly looks at the ability of countries that are buying certain things to reverse-engineer, and therefore to try to steal our intellectual property in that way.Q
I am interested in your view on how the department that is proposed to be set up within BEIS to scrutinise this cuts across the Export Control Joint Unit, which is obviously a combination involving four Government Departments. Is that complementing it or contradicting it? Can they cut across each other? How do you see those two departments working together? They ultimately have the same aim, although they come from slightly different objectives.
I cannot give you a detailed answer to that question. From my experience, I would say that on some of these issues the co-ordination of Government Departments is one of the really big challenges, particularly when they ultimately have different objectives. The sophistication of our co-ordination mechanisms in the UK has not been highly developed, so we have run into problems in the past. My suggestion would be that this be given forethought rather than afterthought—that there is some arrangement to avoid those clashes of departmental interest.
Q I would not want to put words in your mouth, but it sounds like you would suggest that this Committee urge the Government to look at the possibility of developing relationships between those two departments, so that they are not contradicting each other.
Yes, because they could be pulling in different directions. You have to have some degree of co-ordination. It is always better if these things are anticipated and something is put in place in advance, rather than scrabbling around to sort it out afterwards. I have seen that happen a lot.
We are back to facing the front now, Sir Richard. Most members of the Committee wish to speak and I want to get everyone in, but I will have to cut them off at 11.25. Keep questions as succinct as possible.
Q I want to pick up on a couple of points. You spoke about energy policy and, as we have seen over the past nine months, some of the risks and threats to our society and economy come from unexpected places. Do you think that the Bill does enough to recognise where those threats may come from and that they may be from a malign power?
I am thinking of the consideration of investments from China in our nuclear power stations and other infrastructure networks. Something as simple as road traffic signals or rail infrastructure might break down if someone decided they wanted that to happen. Do you think the Bill does enough to recognise the unexpected areas of investment that a malign state might want to attack?
Probably not is the answer. The Bill should take account of the complexity of modern technology and the difficulties that we could run into in the future if we allow foreign entities to have a strategic piece of our critical infrastructure. Relationships can change over time and you can cause huge difficulties by throwing a switch and engaging a piece of software that is deeply embedded in something somewhere and causing a huge problem.
I do not want to be too alarmist, but Chinese engagement and involvement in nuclear power is another area of terrific concern and worry. It is not something that we should take at face value. We need to think very carefully about some of these issues. I would much rather have a French company building a nuclear power station than a Chinese company.
No, I was not. The first Huawei contracts were signed by BT in 2003 and, because BT was the primary provider, the relationship between BT and the intelligence community was, let us say, important; I will not go any further than that. BT was a successor to the General Post Office and, essentially, that was how the relationship came about.
At the time, people like myself were deeply concerned and shocked that we were signing deals with a Chinese company that looked to us to have strategic implications. Basically, as chief, I was not consulted. Basically, when I raised some questions, I was largely told, “It is nothing to do with you. These are issues we can control.” The relationship with Huawei took off without real consideration at the time that it would have a bearing on national security. I think that was extremely misplaced. I have written or said somewhere before that those of us who raised objections in 2003 were just disregarded.
Q In the Bill, there are 17 sectors listed where mandatory notifications are required. They include transport and communications, as in some of the points that Mr Western was raising. Should others be added to that?
Also, do you think that although we need to look at the Bill as to what it does, we should also recognise that it does not solve all the problems and threats from hostile states—that the intelligence activity and other things we do to raise the cost of theft of IP need to be seen holistically across the piece, and that the Bill cannot solve all the problems?
The Bill is a step in the right direction. What is important about the Bill is that it raises parliamentary and public awareness of the issue. Everybody takes a big step forward in being sensitised to the problems in the future.
To be honest, I do not have any suggestions right now to add to the list, but I might look at that and see whether there are certain areas. For me, the Bill is almost a symbolic move—one that is long overdue and signals a change in attitude at Westminster and on the part of this and future Governments. It is a very healthy, pleasing and important development.
Q Thank you very much, Sir Richard, for the evidence that you have given us today. The Intelligence and Security Committee defines critical national infrastructure as
“certain ‘critical’ elements of infrastructure, the loss or compromise of which would have a major, detrimental impact on the availability or integrity of essential services, leading to severe economic or social consequences or to loss of life.”
Would the Bill benefit from having that definition of critical national infrastructure embedded in the middle? Linked to that definition, should special measures be taken to raise our guard even higher when it comes to any kind of investment in our critical national infrastructure?
I would certainly see that as advantageous, because it defines a clear area where you start and from which you can make judgments about the involvement of foreign firms being given space or activity in those areas. That is not a bad idea at all, actually.
Thank you, Chair. Thank you, Sir Richard. When and why did we let down our guard to China and where would you restrict its access? You made that comment in your statement, and you have commented already on areas such as nuclear power. Can you add to that to give us a bit more of an idea of other strategic areas where you think we should restrict its access?Q
I think we were over-enthusiastic about becoming a favoured trading partner with China. I am not going to name names, although I think I have done in one or two instances where, let us say, certain Ministers were incredibly enthusiastic and uncritical about building a commercial relationship with China. Part of that was driven politically, in that if we are going to not be a member of the EU, we need alternative relationships. I am not sure I would see it quite like that.
There has been a big emphasis on building a privileged position with China, which has led to people such as myself shouting from the sidelines and being pretty unpopular. For example, the 48 Group Club that the Chinese set up in the UK is extraordinary. They recruited a whole group of leading British business and political figures into that group who were designated cheerleaders for a burgeoning relationship with China. Huawei was an important part of that. The composition—the British membership of the Huawei board—was a very impressive line-up of people who were there to persuade us to drop our guard.
Anyway, I am glad that that is now largely history. A lot of the people who were involved are very keen to jump ship and be disentangled from those involvements. I am sure that, in time, the economic rewards that they were offered to go on to those boards and things were pretty significant. So the Chinese knew how to play us and that is why we got ourselves into this very difficult position on 5G.
Sorry, what was the second part of your question?
Q The second part was: can you say a bit more about where you would restrict their access, because that was one of your key points? You have mentioned nuclear power.
On artificial intelligence, given that the UK is a leader in its own field, there are all sorts of aspects of AI and we would not want to allow the Chinese to buy those companies or take over the technology. There is no question but that the China dream that Xi Jinping has expressed is based on—let me put it like this—authoritarian technological supremacy and having a capability that dominates the global market in those areas. Huawei was definitely a step in that direction.
The critical areas are largely about the speed of technological advance and AI-related companies. We are very sophisticated in those areas, and the Chinese do not have a good record themselves of developing that sector without pinching it from the west—not to put too fine a point on it. The embargo placed on chip manufacturing by the Americans is a serious problem for China, because at the moment they cannot replicate that. I am sure that they will solve the problem themselves in due course. Of course, we have a certain dependence on them for certain things such as rare earth elements, so the quicker we can develop alternative sources, the better.
I am Cornish—I was born and brought up in Cornwall—and I see that one area where you might, using new technology, get rare earth out of the ground is Cornwall. I am devoted to the development of the Cornish economy, and I would love to see us making a real effort to develop Cornwall, for example, as a source of those elements, which is technically possible. It would be more expensive than buying them from China, but would be of huge benefit to our domestic economy. That is a good example of a sensitive area.
Q I will be brief. Thank you for commenting. It is a real privilege to listen to you and take on board everything you said regarding our naïveté and the intertwining of our two economies, nowhere more so than in the North sea, where CNOOC, China’s national oil company, initially through Nexen, a Canadian company—this is going back to something my colleague raised earlier—is now the biggest producer of oil. Allowing what some might describe as a hostile actor to have such control over our energy security is incredible—very naïve.
I was going to ask you a question I put to Mr Parton, although it is probably more relevant to you. How does what the Bill proposes compare with what is being done in other, comparable countries, such as our Five Eyes partners? Does it go as far as the Australians and the Americans, or are we still some way short of where we should be?
No, I think we will catch up. A very good example for us is Australia. They are hyper-dependent economically on their relationship with China, but the current Australian Government had the resolve to take a tough line on strategic issues, and they have suffered as a consequence. But their relationship with China will come back into balance, so the idea that you cannot be hard with the Chinese on these issues because it will prejudice a good trading relationship is rubbish.
The Chinese will probably respect you more if they know you mean business, they want a clear-cut relationship, and they see you have the legal means to impose that domestically, so they cannot just buy a high-tech company and walk off with the intellectual property, thank you very much. In the past, we have been so laissez-faire, it is ridiculous.
Chinese involvement in the oil industry is an interesting example too—I mean, look what they are doing now. They are doing deals with Iran and with Saudi Arabia on carbon fuel, exactly in the way I explained earlier. They are not going to cut their fuel emissions until they are ready to go for a nuclear-hydrogen economy, which they will have the means to do. We are sitting by and watching it happen, in a manner of speaking, and not worrying about the consequences for us.
One of my friends, who is a Chinese scholar, drew my attention—you will enjoy this, I think—to the 36 stratagems from the era of the warring states, which is 481 to 221 BC. I will mention three of the stratagems, because I think they are appropriate to the thinking of this Committee. Kill with a borrowed sword—that is, get what you can. Loot a burning house—bear that in mind in terms of taking advantage of the current pandemic. The third one is hide a knife behind a smile.
It is an honour to serve under you, Mr Twigg. We have focused mainly on China. Thinking about regimes we could put in place to govern all this as we work through the Bill, do you think there could be exemptions—a bit like the US has done for potential allies? Could we have almost a graded system, so we can build relationships quicker and faster with those we want to support, or do you think that would be a bad ideaQ ?
Obviously, if you are involved in global universities, for example, there will be some countries that we want to keep a much better relationship with, and whose students our intelligence services will have to monitor less.
There is definitely a graded difference in, let us say, our burgeoning relationship with India, but India can also raise some strategic security concerns for us. It has not always been entirely friendly, and bear in mind that it has quite a sophisticated weapons programme of its own. However, it would be wrong to treat India in the same way as you treat China; I agree that there is a gradation of treatment.
That brings us to the end of the time allotted for the Committee to ask questions. On behalf of the Committee, I thank our witness very much for his time.
Before we finish, I want to read a message out to Members. I would appreciate it if Members did their best to arrive in the room a few minutes before this afternoon’s sitting starts at 2 pm, to ensure we can be seated in a socially distanced manner so that everybody remains safe.