MI6 Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) Building, London

MI6’s Fourth Generation Espionage for the Age of Hybrid Threats

MI6 Chief Alex Younger (‘C’) on How Spying is Evolving to Meet New Hybrid Security Challenges

MI6, the British Secret Intelligence Service, has a problem. Spying is not what it used to be. Speaking at St Andrews University, the Director of MI6, the man known as ‘C’, Alex Younger, addressed the key challenges facing the service today, according to an MI6 statement.

In a rare public appearance – this is only the second time he has spoken publicly during his four years as head of MI6 – Alex Younger covered the threats we have become familiar with, from Islamic terrorism to new competition with state actors. In particular he highlighted developing what he called “fourth generation espionage” to counter the often hybrid nature of these threats.

“The era of the fourth industrial revolution,” argued Younger, “calls for a fourth generation espionage: fusing our traditional human skills with accelerated innovation, new partnerships and a mind-set that mobilises diversity and empowers the young.” Essentially then, the challenges are technology, co-operation and recruitment.

Fourth Generation Espionage: Technology

According to Younger, exponential technological development is having a serious impact on security. He talked about blurred lines between the physical and cyber domains that created an ambiguity that could be and is being exploited by adversaries. This has opened up a grey area that although outside the traditional definition of warfare can still inflict damage and create instability.

Alex Younger also questioned whether the UK should allow Chinese company Huawei to build its 5G infrastructure, according to ITportal. Australia has already acted to prevent Huawei from being involved in its own 5G development and concerns have been voiced in the USA, Germany, Italy and New Zealand. Huawei was founded by former military engineer Ren Zhengfei.

Fourth Generation Espionage: Co-Operation

The UK, of course, has created instability of its own with Brexit and Younger emphasised the value of partnerships in combating security threats that challenge all western nations. Younger spoke of MI6’s successful operations overseas to disrupt Islamic terrorism and how they hinged on partnerships with fellow security agencies, including helping European allies prevent Islamic terrorist attacks.

Fourth Generation Espionage: Recruitment

With every organ of the British state engaged in the social engineering project it calls “diversity”, diversity in the context of the intelligence service has different ramifications. The increasing threat from Islamic terrorism exposed a chink in MI6’s mail. The sort of people who are drawn to MI6 are unlikely to resemble the sort of people who are drawn to Islamic extremism. Like MI5, MI6 has also being trying to recruit from non-traditional populations, apparently with little success.

MI6 Warning to Russia

Younger also used the opportunity to issue a warning to Russia. Discussing MI6’s role in the Salisbury nerve agent attack against Sergei Skripal, Younger “urge[d] Russia, or any other state intent on subverting our way of life, not to underestimate our determination and our capabilities, or those of our allies”. The warning comes after a recent British Army leak showed that Russian journalists had tried to gain entry to Denison Barracks, headquarters of the 77th Brigade.