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MI5 head on ‘disguised approaches from foreign spies’

On professional networking sites the Security Service has seen over 10,000 disguised approaches from foreign spies to regular people around the UK, seeking to manipulate them, MI5 Director General Ken McCallum said in an annual threat update, filmed at MI5 headquarters at Thames House, central London.

He said: “To speak directly: if you are working in a high-tech business; or engaged in cutting-edge scientific research; or exporting into certain markets, you will be of interest – more interest than you might think – to foreign spies. You don’t have to be scared; but be switched on. The ‘Think Before You Link’ campaign really means what it says. As a nation, we need – and we want – to trade and to collaborate internationally; but to do so on a level playing field, we need to have our eyes open.”

This echoes what was said by the UK official Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure (CPNI), in the June print edition of Professional Security magazine.

Earlier, he described terrorism as ‘still the national security threat of greatest concern to the public’. He pointed to the threat from ‘Extreme Right Wing Terrorism’, ‘for which MI5 took on lead responsibility just over a year ago. This now comprises a substantial minority slice of the risk we’re managing by one in five of our counter-terrorist investigations in Great Britain are Extreme Right Wing. Of the 29 late-stage attack plots disrupted over the last four years, fully ten have been Extreme Right Wing. We are progressively finding more indicators of potential threat.

Going into more detail, and pointing to recent cases, he stressed such extremists may be teenaged, and using online ‘echo chambers’ for their hate. An ‘obsessive interest in weaponry’, he added, was ‘presenting difficult risk management choices even when it’s not clear whether the weaponry is directly linked to extremist intent’.

And as for misinformation, that he defined as ‘the spreading, wittingly or otherwise, of inaccurate or distorted information’, he said that as long as ‘it’s cheap and easy for hostile actors to try to access UK data; or to cultivate initially-unwitting individuals here; or to spread false, divisive information – they are bound to keep doing so’.

He concluded: “The variety of what we face is huge: from sophisticated nation states, drawing on the entire apparatus of government to undermine our security; through to misguided teenagers, espousing a warped and racist ideology, bent on killing those different to them. MI5’s task is to find, prioritise, and tackle them all. We must always keep a sense of proportion; none of these threats is capable of destroying life as we know it in the UK. But they can kill; they can ruin lives; they can corrode the fabric of our society, and limit the life chances of the rising generation.”

For the speech in full visit the MI5 website.

McCallum recently alongside the Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick, accompanied the Home Secretary Priti Patel and the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan on a visit to the first completed section of the new Counter Terrorism Operations Centre (CTOC) on Met Police property in west London.


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