The head of MI6 has urged Russians angry at Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine to spy for the UK.
Sir Richard Moore told them “our door is always open” and “we will work to bring the bloodshed to an end”.
He said that while artificial intelligence (AI) is being used to help target the Kremlin’s war machine, technology will never replace human agents.
It comes as a survey by the British Foreign Policy Group (BFPG) found Brits were strongly supportive of Ukraine, with 53 per cent of respondents believing the UK should provide assistance for as long as it takes and 59 per cent backing an increase to defence spending.
In a speech in Prague, Sir Richard said: “There are many Russians today who are silently appalled by the sight of their armed forces pulverising Ukrainian cities, expelling innocent families from their homes and kidnapping thousands of children.
“They are watching in horror as their soldiers ravage a kindred country. They know in their hearts that Putin’s case for attacking a fellow Slavic nation is fraudulent, a miasma of lies and fantasy.”
‘Join hands with us’
He said “many Russians are wrestling with the same dilemmas and the same tugs of conscience” as their predecessors did in 1968 when Soviet tanks crushed the Prague spring uprisings.
“I invite them to do what others have already done this past 18 months and join hands with us. Our door is always open,” Sir Richard said.
“We will handle their offers of help with the discretion and professionalism for which my service is famed. Their secrets will always be safe with us.
“And together we will work to bring the bloodshed to an end.”
He said Putin is “clearly under pressure”, as demonstrated by the recent revolt by Yevgeny Prigozhin’s Wagner mercenaries.
Asked how far Putin is prepared to go, given his references to nuclear weapons, Sir Richard said: “He really didn’t fight back against Prigozhin, he cut a deal to save his skin, using the good offices of the leader of Belarus.
AI ‘startling speed’
“Even I can’t see inside Putin’s head, but … the only people who have been talking about escalation and nuclear weapons are Putin and a handful of henchmen around him.
“That is irresponsible, it’s reckless and it is designed to try and weaken our resolve in supporting Ukraine and it will not work.”
Sir Richard said AI is being used to disrupt the supply of weapons to Russia but machines will not replace human spies.
“As AI trawls the ocean of open source, there will be ever greater value in landing, with a well-cast fly, the secrets that lie beyond the reach of its net,” he said.
Human agents “are never just passive collectors of information” and “sometimes they can influence decisions inside a government or terrorist group”.
But he said technology is moving “with startling speed”.
“My teams are now using AI to augment, but not replace, their own judgement about how people might act in various situations,” he said.
“They’re combining their skills with AI and bulk data to identify and disrupt the flow of weapons to Russia for use against Ukraine.”
But Sir Richard said AI may also be used by hostile states “in damaging, reckless and unethical ways”.
With Rishi Sunak’s drive for the UK to play a lead role in AI regulation, Sir Richard offered an olive branch to China over the technology.
“I remain hopeful that our common humanity and our shared interest in understanding the power of AI may yet lead to agreement on global co-ordination, on which our prime minister is leading the way,” he said.
“China’s draft AI regulations emphasise the importance of veracity, accuracy, objectivity and diversity. I can only say we agree. Let’s make those fine words a reality, not a slogan.”
By David Hughes, PA Political Editor