LONDON (Reuters) - Britain's top domestic spymaster cautioned the population on Wednesday to treat the threat of spying from Russia and China as vigilantly as terrorism, warning that foreign agents were seeking to steal technology, sow discord and attack infrastructure.
Following are the key threats as seen by Security Service (MI5) Director General Ken McCallum:
RUSSIA, CHINA, IRAN
- Their agents are ready to kill on British soil, and kidnap or lure dissidents back home.
- They carry out cyberattacks.
- Their spies steal research and undermine companies.
- Their spies seek malign influence by targetting ordinary British citizens and spread misinformation.
- 1911 Official Secrets Act needs to be updated: "It is not currently illegal to be in a key position of influence in the UK and be secretly in the pay of a foreign state."
- The internet: "If you wanted me to pick the one theatre that shapes the UK terrorist threat more than any other, I would actually pick the internet."
- Extreme Islamist - still MI5's biggest job is tackling it. Very substantial resources are focused on Syria.
"Please do not anyone imagine Syria is somehow sorted or has gone away as a potential source of terrorist threat to our country."
Re-emerging threats in Somalia.
Afghanistan: "As NATO and U.S. forces now withdraw, terrorists will seek to take advantage of opportunities - including propaganda opportunities - to rebuild."
- Northern Ireland: in March and April there was the worst public disorder for several years.
"I can't say current strains are all about the Protocol - they're not. And neither can I say current strains have nothing to do with the Protocol - that wouldn't be true either."
"Many of the powerful aspirations of the Belfast Agreement remain unfulfilled; and the legacy of the past still casts a long shadow."
- Far right: about 1/5 of counter-terrorist investigations. High prevalence of teenagers - some as young as 13.
ENCRYPTION - TECH COMPANIES
WhatsApp CEO Will Cathcart says security agencies want Orwellian access. MI5 says that is not correct.
"End-to-end encryption done in the way Facebook is currently proposing, will hand a gift to terrorists M15 has to find and tackle - and a gift to child abusers."
"The public needs the tech companies to find solutions which both maintain users' privacy and support everyone's safety. That means lawful access, on an exceptional warranted basis."
(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge; editing by Michael Holden)