UK authorities have uncovered at least 10 “potential threats” from Iran this year to “kidnap or even kill British or UK-based individuals perceived as enemies of the regime”, says MI5 spy chief Ken McCallum.
Britain faces major security threats from the trio of Russia, China and Iran, which all use coercion, intimidation and violence to pursue their interests, the UK’s domestic intelligence spy chief has said.
Ken McCallum, director-general of MI5, on Wednesday added to mounting warnings from British authorities about Russia’s aggression and China’s growing assertiveness.
He also singled out Iran as a mounting concern, saying UK authorities have uncovered at least 10 “potential threats” this year to “kidnap or even kill British or UK-based individuals perceived as enemies of the regime.”
He said Iran’s intelligence services “are prepared to take reckless action” against opponents, both on Western soil and by luring people to Iran.
Last week, the UK government summoned Tehran’s top diplomat in London for a dressing-down, accusing Iran of threatening journalists working in Britain. UK-based Farsi-language satellite news channel Iran International said British police had warned two of its journalists about “an imminent, credible and significant risk to their lives and those of their families.”
In a speech outlining the major threats to the UK from both hostile states and terror groups, McCallum said there is a risk Russia, China and Iran could help one another, “amplifying their strengths.”
'UK must be ready'
He said Russia’s espionage capabilities had been dealt a “significant strategic blow” since the invasion of Ukraine from the expulsion of 400 spies working under diplomatic cover at Russian missions in Europe, including 23 in the UK.
But, he said, British spies are still facing a “Russian covert toolkit” that includes assassination attempts, “cyberattacks, disinformation, espionage” and interfering with democracy.
“The UK must be ready for Russian aggression for years to come,” he said.
McCallum cast China as an even longer-term problem, saying “the activities of the Chinese Communist Party pose the most game-changing strategic challenge to the UK.”
Using a sports analogy, McCallum said “Russia thinks nothing of throwing an elbow in the face and routinely cheats to get its way.”
“The Chinese authorities present a different order of challenge,” he said. “They’re trying to rewrite the rulebook, to buy the league, to recruit our coaching staff to work for them.”
McCallum accused Beijing of monitoring, intimidating, coercing and “forcibly repatriating Chinese nationals to harassment and assault,”
He also said Chinese authorities were playing a long game in trying to influence British politics by “seeking to co-opt and influence not just prominent parliamentarians across the political landscape, but people much earlier in their careers in public life, gradually building a debt of obligation.”
He said such activities were likely to grow as Chinese President Xi Jinping “consolidates power on an indefinite basis.”
At a Group of 20 summit in Indonesia this week, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said China posed “a systemic challenge to our values and interests and it represents the biggest state-based threat to our economic security.”