London, Oct 14 (PTI) Britain's security service MI5 chief on Wednesday said the UK had been successful in foiling 27 'late-stage' terrorist plots directed at the country since 2017, eight of which involved right-wing terrorism which continues to be growing threat.
Ken McCallum, the Director General of MI5 – which stands for Military Intelligence Section 5, is one of the UK’s senior-most spies and in his first public address since taking charge of the post he also warned that the country was battling a “nasty mix” foreign state-backed hostilities and terrorism in the 2020s.
He singled out countries like Russia and China as the source of foreign threats to democracy, growing in “severity and complexity”.
'MI5's largest mission remains countering terrorism… Islamist extremist terrorism, which by volume remains our largest threat… and now right wing terrorism,” said McCallum.
'This threat is not, today, on the same scale as Islamist extremist terrorism. But it is growing: of the 27 late-stage terrorist attack plots in Great Britain disrupted by MI5 and CT [counter-terrorism] Policing since 2017, eight have been right wing extremist,” he said.
Alongside the counter-terrorism work, MI5 was fighting hostile activity by other states, which he said was much more than just about spies and stealing state secrets.
'One of the toughest challenges facing MI5 and indeed government is that the differing national security challenges presented by Russian, Chinese, Iranian and other actors are growing in severity and in complexity – while terrorist threats persist at scale,” he said.
'On China, we need expansive teamwork – a broad conversation across government and crucially beyond, to reach wise judgements around how the UK interacts with China on both opportunities and risks. The UK wants to cooperate with China on the big global issues like climate change, while at the same time being robust in confronting covert hostile activity when we come across it,” he said.
In an indirect reference to Russia, McCallum warned that the range of hostile activity involved spreading online disinformation, hack-and-leak, attempted covert influencing of political figures.
'There are delicate lines to tread here. Responsibility for regulating UK elections rightly lies elsewhere; in a liberal democracy none of us want MI5 to be the arbiters of political fairness. But neither do we want hidden foreign influence in our politics,” he said.
The spy chief, who hails from Scotland, took charge at MI5 in April at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak, something he referred to in his speech as crucial work his team has been involved in.
'We’ve sought where we can to help on Covid itself – advising on the safe construction of [makeshift] Nightingale Hospitals; repurposing research originally done on toxic chemicals to help understand how Covid in droplets might disperse in certain environments; offering our skills in data analytics and modelling; simply allowing medically-qualified MI5 officers to step away from their duties here and directly support our NHS. And, crucially, on the vaccine, we've been working to protect the integrity of UK research,” he said.
The mathematician by training and civil servant by profession said the pandemic had given MI5 a particularly intense phase of the kind of race to adapt it is always engaged in. PTI AK ZH ZH