Last week, Baroness Eliza Manningham-Buller gave the annual Romanes Lecture on ‘The Profession of Intelligence’ in the Sheldonian Theatre.
Baroness Manningham-Buller was the Director General of MI5 from 2002 to 2007, having had a career in the MI5 for over 30 years.
She is now Chair of the Wellcome Trust and has been a crossbench peer at the House of Lords since 2008. She read English at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford before joining the Security Service.
The talk was about the nature of intelligence, its value and limitations, and how it is practised. In discussing the role of people working in intelligence, she focused on team- work and diversity. She emphasised intelligence officers should have a variety of experiences and be “comfortable with ambiguity.” She also said discussion between depart- ments and countries is important – it is a “shared endeavour between colleagues.” As well as explaining the nature of the profession of intelligence, she discussed its relation to current affairs.
Anne Deighton, Emeritus Professor of European Interna- tional Politics, noted in a tweet how Manningham-Buller commented on the government’s delay in releasing a report on Russian covert actions and alleged electoral interference compiled by the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee.
“Eliza Manningham-Buller appeared to make a reference to this untoward delay in releasing the report. So what does it say that frightens the govt?”
Deighton told Cherwell: “I thought it was apt, and respectful of her audience that she flagged this issue up, which is about access to information on an important strategic matter which a cross party committee of MPs had spent time compiling. It must make every citizen very curious to know what the report says about the activities of the Russians in our political system.”
No. 10 has since refused to release the 50-page report until after the general election on 12th December, leading to speculation that the government is hiding the extent of Russian interference.
Manningham-Buller’s previous lectures have attracted attention due to her clear opinions on how political decisions impact the UK’s security. In a speech in 2016 at Chatham House, an international affairs think tank, she criticised the choice to leave the European Union because of danger to the country’s security. The Guardian reported how she criticised claims that the UK would be safer outside the EU as “nonsensical and spurious” she suggested that “to leave would present real risks to our security and safety”.
Previous years’ Romanes Lectures have also garnered attention because of prominent figures’ perspectives on current affairs. Hillary Clinton said in the 2017 lecture ‘Making the Case for Democracy’ that young people were “let down by Brexit” and asked whether more should have been done “to turn the tide”. Other Romanes lecturers have included Gordon Brown in 2009 and 2006, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, in 2004, and Tony Blair in 1999. The first Romanes lecture wasgiven in 1892 by William Gladstone and has since been the public lecture of the University. A distinguished public figure from the arts, science, or literature is invited by the Vice-Chancellor each year.