Since I last blogged (senior spooks briefing against Brexit), none other than Richard Dearlove, another former head of MI6, has surfaced on the BBC, espousing his own views on the European referendum. Dearlove gave a brief lecture during the broadcaster’s World On The Move Day, “a special day exploring how the movement of people is changing the world”.
In Dearlove’s speech he repeated arguments he had earlier made in article for Prospect magazine this March: that the UK’s national security would not be jeopardized by leaving the EU. In fact, “there would be some gains if we left”, including the chance to dump the European Convention on Human Rights (an argument later echoed by the Home Secretary, although of course the ECHR is not an EU institution) and the ability to restrict inward immigration from the EU – because Dearlove, whatever his protestations to the contrary, directly and explicitly conflates immigration and terrorism.
As I blogged earlier, this view is not shared by David Omand (ex-GCHQ), John Sawers (ex-SIS), Jonathan Evans (ex-MI5), the European Union, NATO, President Obama, David Cameron, and a few others. Dearlove is a lone voice. He’s under absolutely no compulsion to stick his head above the parapet like this. Why is he doing it? Who is making him?
I don’t know, and neither does any other commentator, including those who speculate that it must have something to do with the Chilcot Inquiry. The publication of the Chilcot Inquiry has been delayed until after the EU referendum, something Dearlove knew before the rest of us. His public comments about Brexit would appear to have begun around the time he knew the referundum would be happening first. So what?
Dearlove is member of the Henry Jackson Society. I can tell you one thing from this, apart from the obvious: Richard Dearlove is not an intellectual. He is not a thinking man. Throw away any prejudice or presumption you might have about the sort of person who you think rises to the top of MI6 and replace it with the sort of prejudice you have about the sort of person who rises to the top of, say, the Environment Agency, or a local authority, or a chancellorship in a redbrick or former poly. I wonder about the extent of his self-awareness.
Close-reading a Dearlove speech is frustrating. Nevertheless, here is my run-down on Dearlove’s recent Brexit speech for the BBC:
0:37 Dearlove disavows that intelligence agencies form government policy
“Intelligence and security services are simply contributors to a strong policy-making,” he says, fluffing the line. This is an echo of his assertions at the Chilcot Inquiry, assertions that are palpably untrue, especially and particularly in the case of Iraq. Note also that he speaks of intelligence agencies generally. He doesn’t specify an agency or a country.
0:53 Continued justification for Middle East regime change
“History tells us that human tides are irresistable unless the gravitational pull that causes them is removed.” He then goes on to shoehorn in an awkward and clichéd Edward Gibbon reference about how the Roman Empire collapsed because it couldn’t manage the free movement of Europe’s tribes. Is this for the yanks? UK spooks love the America-as-Rome analogy, it makes them Ancient Greeks
3:18 The UK provides the EU’s counter-terrorism intel
The UK is the EU’s only member state whose intelligence agencies have a counter-terrorism capability, Dearlove argues, tacking on the usual riders about the tremendous global reputation of British intelligence-gathering. Neither of those points are true, they are sales puffs. But what is he selling, and to whom?
3:00 Bi-lateral intel-sharing arrangements with the UK
Dearlove signed up Hungary to one such arrangement after the end of the Cold War. The inference appears clear to me: the UK can act as a disributing centre of EU intelligence inside or outside the EU. I am beginning to think this is essentially an American-facing presentation about protecting the “special relationship” from any referendum fallout.
5:26 Dearlove actually refers to the UK as the US but corrects himself halfway through.
Freudian slip #1 (yes, this speech is about the special relationship)
5:50 “Intelligence and security liaison is highly pragmatic and outside the military sphere is not subject to formal treaty agreements.”
This is a key line. It stresses the idea that as well as being secret, undemocratic and unaccountable, intelligence liaison is essentially about perception: what you think you might get and who you think might supply it. Hence all these sales puffs. Hence all the crackpot realism and bullshit. These things are the lifeblood of intelligence as per Dearlove’s model. It also suggests the possiblity that there may be key negotiations underway right now, between the UK and the EU, using the UK’s impending EU referendum as leverage. If so, these negotiations have already been presented to the US as added value by their junior British partners.
6:12 Dearlove describes mass immigration as mass co-ordination but then corrects himself.
Freudian slip #2 (European mass co-ordination are what these negotiations are about)
6:30 The EU may have run its course. Our choice is going to be strategic.
“If Europe cannot act together to persuade a majority of its citizens that it can gain control of its migratory crisis then the EU will find itself at the mercy of a populist uprising which is already stirring. The stakes are very high and the UK referendum is the first roll of the dice in a bigger geopolitical game.”
The irresponsible puffs of a perception-centred former spymaster. Apparently a lot of the old Kremlinologists were prone to this kind of melodrama. It’s sales talk.
In short, I don’t think this has that much to do with Dearlove wanting to protect his reputation from the looming Chilcot Report. Chilcot won’t alienate Dearlove from his American sponsors, they expect him to get slated and they value him all the more for taking the hit. I think this is just Atlanticism, which, of course, is why we went to war in Iraq in the first place. The Henry Jackson Society, the Hudson Union Society (co-founded by Louise Mensch) and whatever other unsubtle proxies exist for concentrated neoconservative power are happy to have him.
I understand there was a panel Q and A afterwards in which Dearlove stated that “to offer visa-free access to 75 million Turks to stem the flow of migrants across the Aegean seems perverse, like storing gasoline next to the fire.”
Gasoline is not, of course, a British word. Immigration and counter-terrorism would present far smaller problems had we not helped destroy the sovereign nations of Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen, conflicts which are all conpsicuously absent from his speech. Dearlove bears a key responsibility for the problems he is taking money to advise us on, offering solutions you can rest assured will be either impossible or counter-productive. Thus the cycle of perception-led intelligence perpuates. When will it end? When the dollars stop.