Ken McCallum of MI5 on Iran terror threat to Britons
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Ken McCallum, MI5’s director general, said Tehran’s “aggressive intelligence services” conduct operations on British soil. He revealed the intelligence agency is “making the biggest shifts in a generation” amid threats from Russia, China and Iran and warned that “we are facing adversaries who have massive scale and are not squeamish about the tactics they deploy”.
In a wide-ranging assessment of the threats facing Britain, Mr McCallum also disclosed that eight terror attacks by both Islamist and right-wing extremists have been thwarted in the past 12 months.
He said right-wing extremists are increasingly trying to “acquire weapons”, particularly firearms, “well in advance of any specific targeting intent developing”.
Western allies – by expelling over 400 Russian spies from Europe after the Kremlin ordered the invasion of Ukraine – have “struck the most significant strategic blow against the Russian Intelligence Services in recent European history”.
And MI5 has blocked diplomatic visas for 100 suspected Kremlin spies as Moscow attempts to rebuild its espionage networks.
On China, Mr McCallum said Beijing is using “all the means at their disposal to monitor – and where they deem necessary intimidate – the Chinese diaspora£.
The MI5 Director General’s warning over Iran follows the disclosure last week that two Anglo-Iranian journalists based in the UK had been targeted for assassination.
He said Iran was the “state actor which most frequently crosses into terrorism”.
Speaking in detail on the threat faced from Iran for the first time, Britain’s most senior intelligence officer warned: “Iran projects threat to the UK directly through its aggressive intelligence services.
“At its sharpest, this includes ambitions to kidnap or even kill British or UK-based individuals perceived as enemies of the regime.
“We have seen at least ten such potential threats since January.
“We work at pace with domestic and international partners to disrupt this completely unacceptable activity.”
Mr McCallum warned Britain will have to tackle Russian aggression for years to come.
He said the organisation has blocked diplomatic visas for 100 Russians amid fears they are Kremlin spies.
Hundreds of Russian officials have been expelled from countries around the world – including 600 from Europe “over 400 of whom we judge are spies”.
Mr McCallum said: “This has struck the most strategic blow against the Russian Intelligence Services in recent European history.
“This year’s expulsions follow the template set by the UK-led international response to Salisbury in 2018.
“Alongside the wave of expulsions, the other part of that template is staying the course and preventing Russian intelligence restocking.
“In the UK’s case, since our removal of 23 Russian spies posing as diplomats, we have refused on national security grounds over 100 Russian diplomatic visa applications.”
Mr McCallum said Russia’s claim that Britain was responsible for the attack on the NordStream pipelines in September this year is “silly”, but warned, “the serious point is that the UK must be ready for Russian aggression for years to come”.
“Some of that will be covert aggression, for MI5 to tackle and defeat. But much of it, as currently with energy levers, will be overt.”
On China, Mr McCallum warned that Beijing is “playing the long game in cultivating contacts”.
He added: “The Chinese authorities use all the means at their disposal to monitor – and where they deem necessary intimidate – the Chinese diaspora.
“This takes place all over the world, from coercing and forcibly repatriating Chinese nationals to harassment and assault.
“We can expect it to increase further as President Xi consolidates power on an indefinite basis.”
Turning to terrorism, the MI5 chief said eight “potentially deadly” terror plots were disrupted in the last year, a mixture of Islamist and rightwing terrorism, although none was related to the funeral of the Queen in September.
The intelligence chief warned of a “further growth in attempts to acquire weapons – firearms in particular, whether illegally obtained, homemade or 3D-printed”.
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Extreme rightwing terrorists – some of whom are as young as 13 – operated in “a confused soup of hate”, McCallum said, fueled in part by a “growing number of rightwing extremist influencers”
MI5 warned far-right extremists are evolving away from structured groups like National Action to a “diffuse online threat”.
He said there are “growing numbers of right-wing extremist influencers, operating globally, fuelling grievances and amplifying conspiracy theories”.
Mr McCallum said around three-quarters of the agency’s cases relate to Islamist terrorism.
But the threat from international terror groups such as Al-Qaeda has fallen slightly.
He said: “Years of pressure by the military and organisations like mine against Al-Qaeda and Islamic State means neither wields a centralised operational structure comparable to their respective heydays.
“Pressure has forced both Al-Qaeda and Islamic State to adapt, as each has done before. They are expanding into unstable regions and failing states through affiliated groups.
“This provides them with strength in depth, as decentralised movements more than hierarchical organisations.”
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