Angelina Jolie chats to the outgoing head of MI6 Sir Alex Younger in a new interview for Time.
Jolie, an actress, filmmaker, and humanitarian, speaks to Younger, who left his position in September, about everything spy-related, the current situation in the U.S., and much more.
The former Secret Intelligence Service officer says when asked if he grew up wanting to be a spy, “I don’t think I harboured a burning ambition to work in the secret world. The opportunity came to me, and if I’m honest, I prevaricated, because I understood some of the things it would involve and the moral and personal responsibilities.
“It is an unusual way of life, even if it gets normalized after 30 years. There is a risk of isolation, but because our work is secret, those of us who do it develop tight bonds,” he adds of whether it’s been lonely living a secret life, insisting he’d never be asked to “conceal what we do from our partners.”
Jolie then brings up the fact that some people might not think the world of espionage has anything to do with the greater good.
Younger replies, “Not all intelligence services are the same. We seek to defend the values of our liberal democracy, and we understand that if we undermine those values we haven’t achieved anything. I reject the idea of a moral equivalence between us and our opponents. I don’t want to sound hubristic.
“We are not an NGO. But the satisfying fact is that protecting our country’s and our allies’ interests often puts us up against the geopolitical bullies of the world—the terrorists or the war criminals or the nuclear proliferators. We make life harder for people like that.”
Jolie asks, “How much were you conscious of the people who don’t have a voice but are on the receiving end of insecurity, like refugees?”
Younger responds, “We are paid to be dispassionate, but we are human beings, and we’re selected for our capacity to be able to empathize. It is impossible not to be profoundly influenced by the circumstances of the people we talk to and touched by the suffering that we encounter.”
Jolie also questions Younger on why he’s speaking out about his life as a spy now. He tells the actress: “Those of us who live in liberal democracies are at risk of underestimating how much agency we’ve got, how much power we’ve got to deal with the problems we face. I want to send a message that our fate is in our hands. We should have confidence in the things that make us strong: our institutions, our alliances and our capacity to innovate.”
He adds of what “we do as citizens to better inform ourselves” right now with the lack of trust in information we receive, “Maybe I’m just a natural skeptic or just a trained intelligence officer, but what gives me a really bad feeling is when I’m reading an article and I start violently agreeing and feeling good about the fact that this person thinks the same as me. That’s incredibly comforting, but the first thing you should do in those circumstances is go and find an article espousing exactly the opposite point of view.”
“I think there’s something about disciplining yourself into finding both sides of the argument, and avoiding the echo chamber. I think we should be training ourselves, training our kids. It should be part of our daily lives.”