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Dame Stella Rimington reflects on Trump, MI5 and Warwick's intelligence research

  • Dame Stella RimingtonPrime Minister, there is a lorry bomb coming in

Following a distinguished career in British intelligence, culminating in 1992 with her appointment as the first female Director General of MI5, and now as a best-selling novelist Dame Stella Rimington has been awarded an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Warwick in recognition of her service and the university's leading role in the study of intelligence agencies.

Reflecting on the award Dame Stella said that the ceremony made her “feel part of the younger generation and sharing, just for a moment, in the beginning of something as they leave here and start their careers”.

Receiving her Honorary Doctorate the afternoon of Donald Trump’s inauguration as the 45th President of the United States, Dame Stella spoke of what it is like to brief a world leader on terrorist threats and, joking that it “depends on the prime minister, quite frankly!”

“John Major was, I think, the perfect prime minister because I used to have to go and say ‘Prime Minister, there is an IRA lorry bomb coming in. We know that it’s coming in, we don’t know when it’s coming in, where it’s coming in or what the target is but I thought you should know’. He was perfect because he just used to close his eyes, lean back in his chair and say ‘Oh well, Stella. Do your best’.

  • Listen to the full interview:

“That was perfect because we did our best and very often those bombs never went off, because we managed to get sufficient intelligence in a timely way to stop it. So what you don’t want is in a prime minister, if seems to me, if you’re the head of an intelligence service is someone who is going to panic. You want somebody with a good enough background knowledge of the situation and what’s going on and confidence in the intelligence services and the police, and the people who have to deal with the situation on the ground because the worse thing is to have someone who is going to rush around and start panicking.

“The situation with Donald Trump, I think, is anybody’s guess what’s going to happen. We’ve heard all the things he said about he doesn’t think much of his intelligence services and didn’t want a briefing and all those things but it seems to me he’s put someone quite sensible actually in charge of the CIA, so one can only infer from that he does think it’s important and that he has chosen somebody who he think will be good at holding the position of being in charge”.

Discussing the importance of studying the political and technical aspects of the intelligence agencies and cyber security, two of Warwick’s leading research areas, Dame Stella argued:

“I think it is vitally important actually, the whole history of my career in the intelligence agencies has been of moving out of the shadows. When I joined nobody really knew anything about British intelligence, certainly didn’t know who they were and what they did, and nobody knew how they joined. In fact, joining was by tapping people on the shoulder and it was all a mystery.

“The situation has enormously improved with greater openness and an effort to make sure that people understand what the intelligence services do to protect them and broadly how they do it, and that they are not some weird covert part of government that no one can possibly talk about. They’re there to serve the people and I think studying these organisations, as you do at this university, is great and is one reasons why I was so pleased to get this honorary degree because of this specialisation in the study of intelligence and the political aspects”.

25 January 2017


Tom Frew, Senior Press and Media Relations Manager – University of Warwick:

a dot t dot frew at warwick dot ac dot uk