But this time, the China-friendly consensus of a year ago has retreated and Dearlove’s views are almost mainstream, emerging as they have to the backdrop of President Biden ordering a US intelligence review into the virus’s origin, both British intelligence and even the WHO now saying that the lab leak theory is ‘feasible’ – and Facebook having sniffed the wind and graciously lifting its ban on the airing of the lab leak theory.
Dearlove is predictably scathing about the WHO’s report earlier this year on the origins of the virus, noting that its 413 pages touch on the lab leak theory on only three of those pages. Even though WHO chief Tedros said after the report that this possible explanation needed further investigation, Dearlove is clear that the route to an explanation of the virus’s origin won’t be via that organisation.
Media coverage of the latest Dearlove interview has missed his comments on two subjects where the views of Britain’s once most senior spy should command particular interest.
Firstly, he said that his ‘informed’ assumption was that the US had new intelligence material which prompted Biden’s direction of a review. He then speculated several times that it might conclude that the ‘balance of probability’ lay with the lab leak theory. Dearlove notes that the Chinese will have destroyed compromising physical evidence and got rid of individuals who could undermine their version of events. In this context, his separate comments a few days before the interview probably provide an indicator of the likely focus of Western intelligence efforts for the Biden report: Dearlove said the British security services ‘may need to “incentivise” Chinese defectors to get to the truth’.
Secondly, Dearlove, who studied communist systems for much of his professional life, predicted the pandemic leading to ‘very dire’ consequences for Xi Jinping’s regime. While it looks monolithic and strong, he suggested that concerted calls for reparations could trigger an internal crisis which might bring down the current leadership. The regime was always rife with rival leadership factions, he explained and, with China’s reputation and foreign relationships seriously damaged, serious internal tensions would become evident ‘in coming months’. Given the regime’s appalling mismanagement of the crisis, he concluded, this would be the case even if the lab leak explanation didn’t gain international acceptance.
Dearlove stood for the first year of the pandemic as a lonely dissident against the West’s intelligence, scientific and media consensus, which seems now to have been too eager to get China off the hook. With that consensus now in disarray, the former spymaster’s consistent perspective looks more persuasive than the shifting sands of Xi Jinping’s useful idiots.
Mark Higgie, Australia’s representative to the UK’s Joint Intelligence Committee 2006-09, is the Spectator Australia’s Europe correspondent. He Tweets at @markhiggie1