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MI6 Wants You to Know its Secrets

Ok, not really.  However, the usually unseen chief of Britain's foreign spy agency, MI6, is on a PR campaign of late, making a rare appearance before journalists this week espousing the merits of secrecy and denying that the Brits get any info from torture. 

While one appearance doesn't normally qualify as a media blitz, it just might for the notoriously secretive agency -- also known as the Secret Intelligence Service. Until recently the identity of MI6 bosses was a closely guarded secret, they were only refereed to as "C." In fact, London didn't even acknowledge the existence of the organization until 1994.

From today's New York Times:

Sir John Sawers, whose organization is widely known as MI6, devoted much of his 30-minute address to the central role of secrecy in maintaining security and to what he called Britain’s abhorrence of torture to extract secret information.

“Secrecy is not a dirty word,” he said. “Secrecy is not there as a cover-up. Secrecy plays a crucial part in keeping Britain safe and secure.”

“If our operations and methods become public, they won’t work,” he said.

His appearance reinforced a trend among Britain’s spy bosses to shed the traditional cloak of their trade. Sir John’s appearance followed a first public speech by Iain Lobban, the director of Britain’s electronic eavesdropping agency, and several appearances by Jonathan Evans, the director general of MI5, which is responsible for domestic security in contrast to MI6’s focus on overseas operations.

The spy chief went on to explain why he chose to make a public plea for tolerance of MI6's need for secrecy. (Let me guess, because it's a spy agency?)
“Why now, might you ask?” Sir John said of his decision to go public. The answer, he said, was that despite its prominence in the news, the debate about MI6 was not well-informed and “in today’s open society, no government institution is given the benefit of the doubt all the time.”
While the article doesn't mention it, I've got to wonder if this has anything to do with Wikileaks' massive release of classifed docs from the Iraq war last week?

-- John Reed

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