MI6 chief calls for Russians to spy for UK to help end war in Ukraine

Sir Richard Moore called on Russians to ‘join hands with us’, promising their secrets would be safe with MI6.

David Hughes
Wednesday 19 July 2023 10:33 BST
The head of MI6 urged Russians angry at Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine to spy for the UK (Stefan Rousseau/PA)
The head of MI6 urged Russians angry at Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine to spy for the UK (Stefan Rousseau/PA) (PA Wire)

The head of MI6 has urged Russians angry at Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine to spy for the UK.

Sir Richard Moore told them “our door is always open” and “we will work to bring the bloodshed to an end”.

He said that while artificial intelligence (AI) is being used to help target the Kremlin’s war machine, technology will never replace human agents.

In a speech in Prague, Sir Richard said: “There are many Russians today who are silently appalled by the sight of their armed forces pulverising Ukrainian cities, expelling innocent families from their homes and kidnapping thousands of children.

“They are watching in horror as their soldiers ravage a kindred country. They know in their hearts that Putin’s case for attacking a fellow Slavic nation is fraudulent, a miasma of lies and fantasy.”

He said “many Russians are wrestling with the same dilemmas and the same tugs of conscience” as their predecessors did in 1968 when Soviet tanks crushed the Prague spring uprisings.

“I invite them to do what others have already done this past 18 months and join hands with us. Our door is always open,” Sir Richard said.

“We will handle their offers of help with the discretion and professionalism for which my service is famed. Their secrets will always be safe with us.

“And together we will work to bring the bloodshed to an end.”

He said Mr Putin is “clearly under pressure”, as demonstrated by the recent revolt by Yevgeny Prigozhin’s Wagner mercenaries.

Asked how far Mr Putin is prepared to go, given his references to nuclear weapons, Sir Richard said: “He really didn’t fight back against Prigozhin, he cut a deal to save his skin, using the good offices of the leader of Belarus.

“Even I can’t see inside Putin’s head, but … the only people who have been talking about escalation and nuclear weapons are Putin and a handful of henchmen around him.

“That is irresponsible, it’s reckless and it is designed to try and weaken our resolve in supporting Ukraine and it will not work.”

Sir Richard said AI is being used to disrupt the supply of weapons to Russia but machines will not replace human spies.

“As AI trawls the ocean of open source, there will be ever greater value in landing, with a well-cast fly, the secrets that lie beyond the reach of its net,” he said.

Human agents “are never just passive collectors of information” and “sometimes they can influence decisions inside a government or terrorist group”.

But he said technology is moving “with startling speed”.

“My teams are now using AI to augment, but not replace, their own judgement about how people might act in various situations,” he said.

“They’re combining their skills with AI and bulk data to identify and disrupt the flow of weapons to Russia for use against Ukraine.”

But Sir Richard said AI may also be used by hostile states “in damaging, reckless and unethical ways”.

With Rishi Sunak’s drive for the UK to play a lead role in AI regulation, Sir Richard offered an olive branch to China over the technology.

“I remain hopeful that our common humanity and our shared interest in understanding the power of AI may yet lead to agreement on global co-ordination, on which our Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is leading the way,” he said.

“China’s draft AI regulations emphasise the importance of veracity, accuracy, objectivity and diversity. I can only say we agree. Let’s make those fine words a reality, not a slogan.”

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