Time was when the public utterances of Britain’s spy chiefs were limited, if not non-existent. No speeches and no press briefings was the distinct order of the day. D-notices, yes.
But these are different times. Back then of course we hadn’t discovered the “transparency” word. Now it’s all about “transparency” and every spymaster worth their salt has to give a speech when they start their job at the very least.
Britain’s new MI5 spymaster, Andrew Parker, has done just that. Following in the very short tradition established by his immediate predecessors he’s given a speech at the Royal United Services Institute. A very classical place to give a speech if you’re a spymaster. Not too far from Thames House and not far from the very clubbable haunts of St. James’s.
We’ll have to see if he becomes more of a public speaker than the previous spymaster incumbent.
None of us joined MI5 to make public speeches. But I too believe strongly that the public is owed an explanation of the threats the country faces and what we are doing about them.
Absolutely, sir. The public pays your wages.
Mr Parker’s speech was neither exciting nor desperately illuminating. That’s to be expected. It’s certainly been seized upon by the media because it tackled the recent Edward Snowden Prism whistle blowing affair and the relationship with the Guardian newspaper. No surprise there. It was to be expected.
This spymaster speech took on two themes that he explained clearly in his introduction. An introduction that set out the scope and structure of his speech.
The speech displayed an unexpected fondness for words:
Rejecting the political process in Northern Ireland, these ragged remnants of a bygone age are in a cul-de-sac of pointless violence and crime with little community support.
More than a hint of alliteration to keep his audience attentive.
His speech was certainly aimed at his own team in Thames House…a morale booster, perhaps. Their support will be essential for his tenure.
But it was also a speech that signaled a preparedness to weigh in on the side of deeper and more meaningful data interrogation. That will be a long-running battle.
Bizarrely there was no mention of the threats of organised crime or people trafficking in his speech. Solved? More probably, too secret to mention. Which is probably a good point to leave well alone.
The Principal Trainer at training business Time to Market. Based in Oxford, I run presentation and public speaking training courses, coaching sessions and seminars throughout the UK. Andrew Ivey on Google+
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