4th June 2023 – (Singapore) Major intelligence agencies from around the world convened in Singapore over the weekend for a secret meeting on the fringes of the Shangri-La Dialogue security summit. The meeting, which has been held discreetly for several years, was attended by senior officials from about two dozen countries, including the US, China and India. The Singapore government organises these meetings, which have not been previously reported, at a separate venue alongside the security summit.
Sources with knowledge of the discussions stated that the meeting is an important fixture on the international shadow agenda, promoting a deeper understanding of intentions and bottom lines between countries. There is an unspoken code among intelligence services that they can talk when more formal and open diplomacy is harder – this is a very important factor during times of tension, and the Singapore event helps promote that.
Although few details were available on the specific discussions in Singapore, sources stated that Russia’s war in Ukraine and transnational crime figured in the talks on Friday. No Russian representative was present, and Ukraine’s deputy defence minister, Volodymr V Havrylov, did not attend the intelligence meeting. The tone at the meeting was reportedly collaborative and cooperative, and not confrontational.
At the main security dialogue, more than 600 delegates from 49 countries held three days of plenary sessions, as well as closed-door bilateral and multilateral meetings at the sprawling Shangri-La Hotel. Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese gave the keynote address while US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, Chinese Defence Minister Li Shangfu and counterparts from Britain, Japan, Canada, Indonesia and South Korea also spoke.
Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines represented the US at the meeting, and the Five Eyes network, which includes the US, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, operate to gather and share a broad range of intelligence. The intelligence officials from these countries meet frequently, but larger meetings of the intelligence community are rarer, and almost never publicised.
The spokesperson for the Singapore Ministry of Defence said that while attending the Shangri-La Dialogue, “participants including senior officials from intelligence agencies also take the opportunity to meet their counterparts”. “The Singapore Ministry of Defence may facilitate some of these bilateral or multilateral meetings,” the spokesperson said. “Participants have found such meetings held on the sidelines of the (dialogue) beneficial.”
All five sources who discussed the meetings declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the matter. The US Embassy in Singapore said it had no information on the meeting, and the Chinese and Indian governments did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
US officials said on Friday that CIA Director William Burns visited China last month for talks with Chinese counterparts as the Biden administration seeks to boost communications with Beijing. At a discussion on cybersecurity in the main meeting, Haines said in response to a question from a Chinese military officer that cooperation between countries was essential. “It is absolutely critical, even when there is distrust, and even when you are facing in effect adversaries, that you still try to work through and cooperate on issues of mutual interest and also try to manage the potential for escalation,” she said.