Ukraine marks ‘sea change’ in use of secret intelligence says spy chief

The conflict in Ukraine has represented a “sea change” in the release of secret intelligence to inform public debate, the head of the GCHQ spy agency has said.

Sir Jeremy Fleming said the release of details by western intelligence agencies of the Russian military build-up in the run up to the invasion had helped counter Moscow’s narrative that Ukraine was threatening its neighbour.

However, speaking on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme, he acknowledged that it had proved more effective in the West than in other parts of the world.

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“There is no point in collecting it (secret intelligence) unless you use it,” he said.

“The sea change we have seen during this conflict, getting the intelligence out there and using it to pre-bunk, to try and undermine that sort of narrative, I completely agree with that.

“But it is also the case that for much of the world they haven’t completely bought into that side of the argument. Much as we know it to be truthful, there are different and counter-narratives.”

Sir Jeremy, who was guest-editing the programme, also spoke to the US director of national intelligence Avril Haines, who led the drive to release western agencies’ secret intelligence.

“We obviously tried to counter the disinformation the Russians were putting out,” she said.

“We saw that they were looking to create a pretext for the invasion and we wanted to debunk that and help people understand that this was a false narrative by finding ways to declassify certain information while still trying to protect our sources and methods.

“We were able to have an impact on the conversation about this and yet at the same time it is also clear as we look back at the situation our impact was far greater in the West than it was in other places in the world.

“When it came to Russia we had basically no impact. What we also saw was that we were not that impactful in other countries that had already taken on the narrative the Russians were pushing.

“When you are pushing out information to a population that is already sceptical of you it is much harder to gain traction in those scenarios.

“We recognise that we were able to have impact on countering disinformation but that there were limits on what we were able to do.”

Sir Jeremy also expressed his anger about the damage caused by the US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, who leaked extensive details of intelligence gathering activities of the US National Security Agency and GCHQ before fleeing to Moscow.

“The way in which Snowden’s revelations played out cost this nation and many other nations a lot of blood and money and wasted effort.

“I deeply regret all of that and I really hope Snowden finds his time in court to explain that,” he said.