Richard Moore, who goes by the traditional codename C, chatted about the legacy of the Bond films – as he warned Chinese intelligence is mounting “large-scale” espionage operations against the UK
The head of MI6 said he has no James Bond-style Aston Martin and his pen emits nothing more exotic than green ink.
Richard Moore, who goes by the traditional codename C, said the Bond films were “wonderful” but stressed “it is not reality”.
In a rare interview, Mr Moore admitted he “did some skulking” in his career but insisted it was a long way from the “colourful” popular image of spy tradecraft.
While 007’s boss goes by the name M, Mr Moore follows in the Secret Intelligence Service tradition of being known as C.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that many mistakenly think C stands for chief, but “it stands for Cumming, as in Mansfield Cumming (the first head of MI6); he was a naval man and he wrote in green ink”.
Presenter Nick Robinson said: “And at the moment anybody who gets a document with green ink in that building knows it comes from…”
Mr Moore replied: “From me, and the same is true of my typescript on my computer.”
He said there are no gadgets on his car, adding: “And I can assure you it is not, sadly, an Aston Martin.”
Mr Moore said the service’s fictional link to Ian Fleming’s Bond had to be celebrated rather than viewed as a burden.
“It is fiction, it is not reality but the Bond franchise is a wonderful one. I had such fun watching the most recent film – no spoilers here but it is brilliant, it doffs a cap to all the great James Bond traditions.”
He added that “we embrace James Bond even though we know it is not true life”.
Mr Robinson asked whether Mr Moore had ever donned a beard or moustache while “skulking on the streets as a young agent”, or if that is no longer the world that MI6 inhabits.
Mr Moore said: “If that was ever the world we lived in, that’s certainly not the world we live in now.”
The MI6 chief today warned Chinese intelligence is mounting “large-scale” espionage operations against the UK and its allies as it attempts to steal technology and distort political decision-making.
In his first public speech since taking up the post last year, Richard Moore said the threat posed by a newly-assertive China was now “the single greatest priority” for his agency.
Speaking at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London he warned a “miscalculation” by an over-confident regime in Beijing over an issue like Taiwan could pose a “serious challenge” to global peace.
In a wide-ranging address, Mr Moore said Russia continued to represent an “acute threat” to the UK while the Taliban victory in Afghanistan had given a “morale boost” to extremists around the globe.
On China, Mr Moore said the activities of their intelligence agencies included targeting individuals working in government or industries they were interested in as well as seeking to monitor and exert “undue influence” on the Chinese diaspora.
“The tectonic plates are shifting as China’s power, and its willingness to assert it, grows,” he said.
“The Chinese intelligence services are highly capable and continue to conduct large-scale espionage operations against the UK and our allies.
“We are concerned by the Chinese government’s attempt to distort public discourse and political decision making across the globe.”
Mr Moore said Beijing’s growing military strength and its desire to achieve its long-standing claim to Taiwan issue, by force if necessary, posed “a serious challenge to global stability and peace”.
“Beijing believes its own propaganda about Western frailties and underestimates Washington’s resolve. The risk of Chinese miscalculation through over-confidence is real,” he said.
He said the “surveillance state” technologies which China had developed to suppress its own people, such as the minority Uighur population, were being made available to other authoritarian regimes.
“Worryingly, these technologies of control and surveillance are increasingly being exported to other governments by China: expanding the web of authoritarian control around the planet,” he said.
“Adapting to a world affected by the rise of China is the single greatest priority for MI6. We need to be able to operate undetected as a secret intelligence agency within the surveillance web worldwide.”
On Russia, Mr Moore said that it was essential for Western countries to stand up to the “full spectrum” of threats from Moscow – from state-sanctioned attacks, such as the Salisbury poisoning” to the use political political proxies to undermine stability in the Balkans.
“No country, in Europe or beyond, should be seduced into thinking that unbalanced concessions to Russia bring better behaviour,” he said
“Moscow should be in no doubt of our allies’ support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, within its internationally-recognised borders including Crimea.”
On Afghanistan, Mr Moore said the priority was to prevent the country being used again as a base for major international terrorist attacks by groups like al Qaida now it was back in control of the Taliban.
“As an intelligence community we will now do this ‘outside in’: working from the outside to identify and disrupt any threats from a resurgent al Qaida,” he said.
“This is an extremely difficult task, and will rely extensively on regional partnerships as well as coordination with our allies.”
At the same time, he said MI6 was “engaging” with the Taliban and testing their willingness to cooperate and to honour their promises not to allow al Qaida to rebuild an external operations capability.