On June 2, 2023, senior officials from more than a dozen of the world’s topmost intelligence chiefs held a secret meeting on the fringes of Singapore’s Shangri-La Dialogue security meeting, five people told Reuters.
Given the matter’s sensitivity, all five sources declined to be identified.
They said that the Singapore government organises such meetings, which have been held discreetly at a separate venue alongside the security summit for several years. The meetings have not been previously reported.
According to an Indian Source, the head of the overseas wing of the Research and Analysis Wing, Samant Goel, also represented and attended the meeting.
The US was represented by the Director of National Intelligence, Avril Haines, the head of her intelligence agency (CIA). China was also present there despite the tensions between the two superpowers.
“The meeting is an important fixture on the international shadow agenda”, said one of the persons who had knowledge of the discussions, “Given the range of countries involved, it is not a festival of tradecraft, but rather the way of promoting a deeper understanding of the bottom lines and intentions. There is an unspoken code among intelligence services that they can talk about when more formal and open diplomacy is harder- it is a crucial factor during tensions. The Singapore Event helps promote that.”
A spokesperson for the Singapore Defence Ministry 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 Defence Ministry may facilitate some of these bilateral meetings or multilateral meetings held on the sides of the Shangri-La Dialogue beneficial.”
The US Embassy in Singapore said it had no information regarding the secret meeting. The Chinese, as well as the Indian government, did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The United States, Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand operate what is known as the Five Eyes Network to gather and share a broad range of intelligence, and their intelligence officials meet frequently.
The larger meetings of the intelligence community are rarer and almost never publicised. Although fewer details were available on the specific discussions in Singapore, Russia’s war on Ukraine, and the transnational crime figured talks on June 1, 2023, the persons with the knowledge of discussions added.
On May 31, 2023, the intelligence officials held an informal gathering. There was no representative of Russia in the meeting, one of the sources said. The Ukrainian Deputy Defence Minister, Volodymyr V. Havrylov, was at the Shangri-La Dialogue but did not attend the intelligence meeting.
Another source said that the tone of the meeting was collaborative, cooperative but not confrontational. At the main security dialogue, more than 600 delegates from forty-nine countries held three plenary sessions during closed-door bilateral and multilateral meetings at the sprawling Shangri-La Hotel.
The Australian Prime Minister Antony Albanese gave the keynote address and while the US Secretary of Defense, Llyod Austin and China’s defence minister Li Shangfu and counterparts from Britain. The delegates of Japan, South Korea, Canada and Indonesia also spoke
Haines was among the official US delegates to the Shangri-La Dialogue. At a discussion on cyber security in the main meeting, she said in response to a question from a Chinese military officer that cooperation between the 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 related to mutual interests and also try to manage the potential for the escalation,” she said.
On June 1, 2023, US officials said that CIA Director William Burns visited China in May 2023 for talks with the Chinese counterparts as the Biden Administration seeks to boost communications with Beijing