Alexander Younger, Chief of the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), delivered a speech earlier today in the Buchanan Lecture Theatre.
Mr Younger has been Chief of the SIS, more commonly referred to as MI6, since November 2014 having previously been involved in counter-terrorism for the 2012 London Olympics.
The talk had been advertised in the weekly all-student email but Mr Younger’s identity had remained secret for security purposes.
In this rare public speech by the head of MI6 whilst in office, Mr Younger began by speaking about the time his time as an undergraduate in St Andrews, where he obtained an Honours degree in Economics.
Mr Younger said, “The – how shall I put it – lack of distraction in this corner of Fife lends itself to deeper human relationships than are typical of University life.
“St Andrews taught me to think in an open-minded way about the world. It taught me the value of the human curiosity and curiosity about humans that has propelled my career, and the career of the surprisingly large number of St Andrews graduates in the ranks of SIS.
Beyond that, Mr Younger predominantly focused on the issues of Russia and the ‘hybrid threats’ currently posing the greatest threat to British security.
Prioritising Article Five of the North Atlantic Treaty, Mr Younger criticised Russian actions in Salisbury earlier this year and said that British policy sought to show Russia that “whatever benefits it thinks it is accruing from this activity, they aren’t worth the risk”.
He added, “I should emphasise that event as the Russian state seeks to destabilise us, we do not seek to destabilise Russia. We do not seek an escalation. If we see a change in Russian behaviour, we will respond positively.
“We will continue to defend the rule of law and the international rules-based system robustly”.
These challenges, Mr Younger acknowledged, are also faced by Britain’s allies and that the future of security will be defined by solidarity and which states can cooperate most.
Mr Younger further went into the changes occurring within SIS at the moment, highlighting the increasing importance placed upon the human-technology nexus.
He cited the importance of data for developing the work that his team do, but also the risks it poses to national security if in the wrong hands. This increasing complexity produces a dilemma for MI6, one Mr Younger believes should be counterbalanced through wider recruitment.
“We are determined to attract people from the widest range of backgrounds to join SIS. This will enable us to bring the widest range of approaches to bear on solving complex problems and so make our missions even more effective”.
Following his speech, Mr Younger had a brief conversation with Principal Professor Sally Mapstone about his time in St Andrews and increasing diversity within MI6, before taking a number of questions from students, staff and national media outlets.
Topics included Russian actions in Salisbury, the murder of Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the recent imprisonment of British academic Matthew Hedges, increasing private influences in the security sector and China’s desire to dominate the tech industries by the mid-point of this century.