MI5 chief Andrew Parker warned of the continued threat of attacks on Britain from Russia and the IS militant group in a rare speech outside the country on Monday.
Speaking publicly for the first time since the attempted murder of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury in March, Parker said in Berlin that the incident was a “deliberate and targeted malign activity” that risks Russia becoming a “more isolated pariah” in the international community.
Parker accused Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government of being “in flagrant breach of international rules” and said it’s guilty of pursuing “aggressive and pernicious actions by its military and intelligence services.”
He also condemned what he calls the unprecedented level of Russia’s disinformation following the attack, with the need “to shine a light through the fog of lies, half-truths and obfuscation that pours out of their propaganda machine.”
The attack on former double agent Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia, 33, sparked a massive chemical alert, with their Salisbury house still inaccessible. The investigation is ongoing and Russia has repeatedly denied responsibility.
The head of the UK’s domestic intelligence agency also emphasized the inter-dependence of Europe’s security community in the face of multiple threats, and praised the multinational Counter-Terrorism Group, which is comprised up of 30 European agencies all sharing information in real time.
Parker argued that despite its heavy losses and retreat in Syria and Iraq, the IS still presents a threat to Western democracies and “still aspires to direct devastating and more complex attacks.”
Research released in October 2017 by global security analysts at The Soufan Center estimated that at least 425 British Islamic State members have so far returned to the UK — the largest such cohort in Europe. Parker revealed 12 plots have been foiled by British authorities in just over a year, bringing the total number of disrupted attacks since 2013 to 25.
The timing of Parker’s speech, seeking to place the UK at the center of Europe’s security apparatus, is helpful for PM Theresa May as she enters one of her most difficult weeks yet in balancing negotiations over Britain’s future relationship with Europe against a fractious cabinet. Ahead of a meeting, her senior colleagues are split over the best way to tackle the nation’s future customs partnership with Europe, and the implications for security on the border between Northern Ireland and its southern neighbour.