Sir Richard Dearlove - Newsnight December 2017

In a rare television interview, former Chief of the Secret Intelligence Service Sir Richard Dearlove shares his views on topics such as Brexit, President Trump and Iraq.



Sir Richard Billing Dearlove KCMG OBE (born 23 January 1945) was head of the British Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), known as "C", from 1999 until 6 May 2004.  He currently serves as Chair of Board of Trustees of University of London. He previously served as Master of Pembroke College at University of Cambridge from 2004 to 2015.

He joined MI6 in 1966 and was posted to Nairobi in 1968. In 1984, he was appointed an OBE. After being posted to Prague, Paris and Geneva, he became head of Washington station in 1991, director of personnel and administration in 1993 and director of operations in 1994. Dearlove became Chief in 1999. In 2001, he was appointed a KCMG.


Sir Richard's tenure as the head of MI6 saw many events for the Service:

  • 2000 – MI6 Headquarters at Vauxhall Cross is attacked by an RPG-22 Netto one-shot, disposable, anti-tank rocket launcher.

  • 2001 – Service criticised for failing to establish and warn that Al-Qaeda was planning anything on the scale of the 11 September attacks.

  • The "War on Terror", the US invasion of Afghanistan and the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

  • Tension with the Government over the evidence for war on Iraq. It has been suggested that many within the intelligence community were uneasy that their qualified judgements on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction were presented as hard facts in various dossiers (e.g. September Dossier & The Dodgy Dossier AKA Iraq Dossier). In July 2002, Dearlove privately told ministers that in the US "intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy".


Sir Dearlove was elected Master of Pembroke College, Cambridge, on 1 August 2004. He accepted an invitation to become the Chairman of Trustees of the Cambridge Union Society in 2006. As Master of Pembroke, Dearlove was ex officio chairman of the board of Trustees of Pembroke House, a community centre in Walworth, London, via the college's patronage of the advowson of St Christopher's, Walworth (CofE). He is to this day the President of Pembroke College Boat Club.

In February 2008, Dearlove gave evidence at the inquest of Princess Diana's death, responding to Harrods owner Mohamed al-Fayed who said that MI6 had murdered Diana.


Sir Richard is a signatory of the neo-Conservative Henry Jackson Society principles. He is also a "senior advisor" to the Monitor Group – a consultancy and private equity firm which has been implicated in undertaking PR work for Libya and Muammar Gaddafi. In April 2013, it was announced that Dearlove joined the advisory board of Ergo, an intelligence and advisory firm.

On 15 February 2011, Dearlove gave a talk at the Cambridge Union Society, taking as his theme the question of how much secrecy the UK needs: "The short answer to that question is that it needs some but actually not as much as you think." He said he "would definitely draw a parallel at the moment between the wave of political unrest which is sweeping through the Middle East, in a very excited and rather extraordinary fashion, and also the Wikileaks phenomenon", but added later, in connection with the way technological advances was altering the norms of civic and private life, commenting on WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, that "the Assange story, as such, is ultimately a distraction. He's a very undignified flag-carrier, in my opinion, for a very important issue."

In 2012, Dearlove took a sabbatical from Cambridge University to write an account of events leading up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq from his perspective at MI6, including coverage of the production of the so-called "dodgy dossier". Publishing such an account would be unprecedented for a former Chief of the Secret Intelligence Service. He may release this now that the Chilcot Inquiry findings have been published in 2016.

On 7 July 2014, in a lecture at the Royal United Services Institute, Dearlove argued that the government and media had exaggerated the Islamist terrorism threat to the UK, giving extremists publicity counter-productive to UK interests.

In 2015, Dearlove retired as Master of Pembroke College.[19] He is non-executive chairman of Crossword Cybersecurity plc.

On 8 June 2017, Dearlove intervened on the day of the 2017 UK general election in The Daily Telegraph saying "how profoundly dangerous it would be for the nation if Jeremy Corbyn becomes Prime Minister

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A week or two ago we wrote an article "Conspiracies & Ripples" which focused primarily on conspiracy theories and kicked off with the rather obvious statement that a conspiracy theory is simply a theory without the facts i.e. just a theory.  Within that we highlighted that ‘flavour of the month’ theorist’s delight, the origins of the Coronavirus and its links to Wuhan.  This echoed our views published in February which, as many did, ponder the chances of this remote coincidence maybe actually being true.  Since then there have been swathes of articles on the topic citing all sort of sources and from numerous ‘renowned’ scientists.  We have also recently had the opinions offered by those whose opinions really count, that this virus originating from the labs in Wuhan may not actually be so far-fetched after all.

We do tend to agree, or at least we did.  That was then and this is now and in the world of Politics things move quickly and one does have to look at the reality of the situation.  If there is enough fog between you and your destination, then sometimes the route you take can change, leaving you all sorts of options.  If the objective was originally to circumnavigate through uncertain waters to establish who, what, why and when the virus came about – then that is now lost in the fog.  It is arbitrary.  Now we have something that is far more concrete and tangible to use to our advantage – we have uncertainty.  We now have enough debate and conspiracy to render the findings of the scientists open to interpretation.  And that… is a diplomat’s dream come true.   This particular carcass will feed many and although the WHO will go in, on the ground, and no doubt find yet more uncertainty…it really is irrelevant.  You will certainly not find individual government’s chomping at the bit to send their representatives into Wuhan anytime soon, and even if they did, why?  Wuhan is not some sleepy suburb in leafy Northamptonshire… it is in China.  Whatever was there has long gone, if indeed it was ever even there.  So perhaps it would be wise to assume that at least for the next few decades this is a conspiracy that will never find out those salient facts. 

Now, listening to the scientists, there is an overwhelming urge to say, “shush now”.  Step back ladies and gentlemen and look at the bigger picture at play.  Nobody is actually interested whether or not the virus started in Wuhan, intentionally or not.  As long as it is open to debate, it is far more valuable.  The scientists have debated at length and argued, but there is still no unequivocal proof either way that satisfies all parties…and why could that be?  Scientific fact is not open to debate or questioning, that is a given.  However, to say Science is correct, is not true.  That is because Science has Scientists, and Scientists are human beings who in turn are fallible and motivated by many many other factors.  In China for example, one might say that scientific fact is exactly what they want it to be.  Indeed, who is to say it ends in China.


So why is uncertainty such a blessing in this case?  It provides an additional bargaining chip and a weapon in the armoury for all Governments to now use against the Chinese.  Maybe on the other side of the fence their own initial conspiracy theory that a foreign Government (the US) planted the virus in their midst, is being written about in their own press.  Or maybe not. The fact is it is a safe bet to assume that no body will ever know.  There will be no compensations or admissions of guilt in this case sadly…however the capillaceous network that is politics, diplomacy and economic negotiations will be the real beneficiaries.


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