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Event Summaries
July 20, 2016

Event Summary ‘The Black Door: The evolving relationship between Britain’s secret services and the Prime Minister’

by
Henry Jackson Society

TIME: 12:00-13:00, Wednesday 20th July 2016

VENUE: Committee Room 6, House of Commons, Houses of Parliament, London, SW1A 0AA

SPEAKER: Professor Richard Aldrich, Author, The Black Door, and Professor of International Security, the Department of Politics and International Studies, University of Warwick

For a full transcript of this event click here

On the 20th July, by kind invitation of Lord Butler, Professor Richard Aldrich, author of The Black Door and Professor of International Security, the Department of Politics and International Studies, University of Warwick, gave a lecture on the challenges that intelligence presents for Downing Street over the next twenty years.

Professor Aldrich began his lecture by explaining how the changing nature of intelligence posed the greatest challenge to our relationship with intelligence services. Intelligence gathering is often no longer as secret, a great deal of intelligence is now collected by large corporations (rather than being monopolised by governments), and there has been a breakdown of the distinction between domestic and international intelligence gathering as a result of globalisation. The result, Professor Aldrich contended, was that we are living in an increasingly complex intelligence ‘eco-system’ where we are all now as much consumers of intelligence as we are producers.

The first reason for this change is recent developments in technology. Professor Aldrich outlined how such technologies had not only made the gathering of intelligence easier but also provided the methods of assessing such ‘big data’ too accurately determine our behaviours, even down to predicting our likely voting habits. As much of this data was now being collected by large corporations, using new technologies now represented a trade-off between the convenience that such organisations offered through advances in medical or communications technologies and the threat to privacy that comes about from the information these technologies collect.

The second reason for this change was the new oversight of intelligence and intelligence agencies that these technologies allowed individuals and civil society to carry out. This erosion of secrecy was most evident in the ability of Edward Snowden and others to easily distribute vast quantities of government documents using readily available technologies. However, the growth of civil society’s intelligence gathering tools also represented a challenge to governments’ ability to discreetly gather intelligence, as intelligence agencies found themselves competing with individuals and even social media platforms such as Twitter.

Professor Aldrich concluded that this new environment of increased transparency and intelligence gathering tools had encouraged some governments to ‘fight back’ and attempt to shape the public perception of intelligence. The United States, for instance, had allowed senior intelligence officials to publish their memoirs; whilst books on relatively recent intelligence activities are now readily available for public consumption. Ultimately, future developments of intelligence were likely to be complex, a fact demonstrated by the broad range of interesting questions that followed from the floor and related to topics on data mining, the relationship of democracy and intelligence, non-state actors and intelligence, Iran and non-proliferation, Snowden, and the recent assessment of intelligence gathering in the Chilcot Report.