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Ex-UK spy boss says WikiLeaks sparked Egyptian revolution

Dearlove gets schooled on radical transparency

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The former head of Britain's Secret Intelligence Service has credited WikiLeaks and other secret-spilling sites with sparking the revolutions sweeping the Middle East.

At what was supposed to be an off-the-record appearance last month at the Cambridge Union Society, Former MI6 Chief Richard Dearlove said that the technology WikiLeaks harnesses is fundamentally strengthening the hand of the individual as he goes up against powerful organizations.

“I would definitely draw parallels at the moment between the wave of political unrest which is sweeping through the Middle East in a very exciting and rather extraordinary fashion and also the WikiLeaks phenomenon,” Dearlove said. “Really, what ties these two events together, and of course a number of other events, is the diffusion of power, away from the states and the empowerment of individuals, and small groups of individuals, by technology.”

The former spy didn't know just how prophetic his words would be: much of the talk was captured on video, including an exchange with a critic. She cited a leaked document from 2002 that has come to be known as the Downing Street Memo, which appeared to show him as saying that “the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy” of then US President George W Bush of removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq.

“I find that a terrible betrayal of everything democracy is supposed to stand for and that the intelligence service is supposed to provide,” the unidentified woman told Dearlove. She went on to challenge his assertion that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is an “undignified flag-carrier” who has yet to justify his zeal for radical transparency.

“To find out information like that, and that's what public servants are actually doing, and that's how intelligence is being used, I think the most dignified way we can recover from that is to find out that information and move forward from there,” she continued.

Dearlove first said he wouldn't comment, but couldn't help adding: “The Downing Street Memo, which you just read, is a misquotation of what I said, and what I said is not in the public record.”

Elsewhere in the 20-minute video, Dearlove said: “I think it would be generally accepted that most organizations large and small also require moments in their existence for the benefit of their members of confidentiality. However, there's absolutely no question that technology is significantly shifting these domains and altering the relationship quite fundamentally between the citizen and government.”

Following the exchange with the critic, Dearlove quickly took a question from what what is assumed to be a more sympathetic audience member. But the leaked comments and conversation are now a permanent part of the internet record. Ah, the irony. ®

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