14 July 2021

Public must be alert to state threats, MI5 chief to warn

14 July 2021

The director general of MI5 is to urge the public to be as alert to state threats as they are to terrorism.

In a speech from the security service’s Thames House headquarters in London on Wednesday, Ken McCallum will warn of the “less visible threats that have the potential to affect us all”.

Challenging the assumption that the impact of hostile activity is felt only by government, institutions or certain individuals, he is expected to say the “consequences range from frustration and inconvenience, through loss of livelihood, potentially up to loss of life”, adding: “We must, over time, build the same public awareness and resilience to state threats that we have done over the years on terrorism.”

He is set to explain why the British public is not immune to the tentacles of hostile activity and will call out the pervasive risks from espionage, disruptive cyber-attacks, misinformation and interference.

The HQ of MI5 in London (Anthony Devlin/PA) (PA Wire)

Mr McCallum will confirm: “We have seen over 10,000 disguised approaches from foreign spies to regular people in the UK, seeking to manipulate them.

“UK victims of state espionage range way wider than just government.

“We see the UK’s brilliant universities and researchers having their discoveries stolen or copied; we see businesses hollowed out by the loss of advantage they’ve worked painstakingly to build.

“Given half a chance, hostile actors will short-circuit years of patient British research or investment.

“This is happening at scale.

“And it affects us all.

“UK jobs, UK public services, UK futures.”

According to an extract released of his speech, Mr McCallum is expected to say to those working in a high-tech business, cutting-edge scientific research or those exporting to certain markets that “you will be of more interest – more interest than you might think – to foreign spies”, but will add: “You don’t have to be scared; but be switched on.”

In his annual address, the second since he took over the role in April last year, Mr McCallum will also look at the current terrorism threat, including that in Northern Ireland.

He is anticipated to refer to the withdrawal of UK forces from Afghanistan, comment on the scale of the threat from extreme right-wing terrorism and emphasise the challenge posed to public safety by plans from social media companies to provide end-to-end encryption for more messaging services.

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