Nov. 16 (UPI) — British MI5 Director General Ken McCallum delivered a sober annual threat assessment in London Wednesday, underscoring a broad variety of national security threats from Russia’s Ukraine invasion to China’s growing power, Iranian instability and transnational terrorism.
McCallum said in a speech that the British intelligence service MI5 is making “the biggest shifts in a generation” in dealing with complex threats posed by nation-states.
“The West is in a contest in which our security, values and democratic institutions are at stake,” McCallum said in the speech. “To be clear: at stake because of the actions of authoritarian regimes, not because of the people living under those regimes.”
McCallum said Russian President Vladimir Putin is not winning in Ukraine and not winning strategically in his efforts to weaken the NATO alliance.
He said while much remains uncertain, a concerted effort to expel Russian spies throughout Europe has “struck the most significant strategic blow against the Russian Intelligence Services in recent European history.”
He said more than 100 Russian diplomatic visas were blocked to keep Russian spies out of Britain since the 2018 Salisbury Novichok poisoning assassination attempt on Russian double agent Sergei Skirpal and his daughter.
McCallum said the Chinese Communist Party poses “the most game-changing strategic challenge to the UK.”
The MI5 director general said China is making efforts to gain influence in foreign governments.
“We see the Chinese authorities playing the long game in cultivating contacts to manipulate opinion in China’s favor — seeking to co-opt and influence not just prominent Parliamentarians from across the political landscape, but people much earlier in their careers in public life, gradually building a debt of obligation,” McCallum said.
In July, both the U.S. FBI and British domestic intelligence warned business leaders about threats the Chinese Communist Party poses. They called on business leaders to help “protect western economies, institutions and democratic values.”
Iran, McCallum said, poses a direct threat to Britain.
“At its sharpest this includes ambitions to kidnap or even kill British or U.K.-based individuals perceived as enemies of the regime. We have seen at least 10 such potential threats since January alone,” McCallum said.
While rising state threats are a huge challenge, McCallum said, terrorist plots are still the first thing the British public expects MI5 to handle. He said the terrorism threat is compounded by the complex mix of extremist ideology with personal grievance and mental health.
He said Islamist terrorism remains the biggest problem for Britain, consisting of about 75% of MI5’s caseload.
Extreme right-wing terrorism makes up the remaining 25% of MI5 antiterrorism work, according to McCallum.
“The Extreme Right Wing landscape has continued to evolve away from structured, real-world groups such as National Action, to a diffuse online threat. From the comfort of their bedrooms, individuals are easily able to access right-wing extremist spaces, network with each other and move towards a radical mindset,” McCallum said.