This week’s main security and defence news has been the warning over the threat posed by terrorism and Russia to the UK from the head of MI5. The Guardian reports that Russia poses an increasing threat to the stability of the UK and is using all the sophisticated tools at its disposal to achieve its aims, according to the Director General of MI5 has said. In the first newspaper interview given by an incumbent MI5 chief in the service’s 107-year history, Andrew Parker said that at a time when much of the focus was on Islamic extremism, covert action from other countries was a growing danger.
Mr Parker said Russia still had plenty of intelligence officers on the ground in the UK, but what was different now from the days of the Cold War was the advent of cyberwarfare. Russian targets include military secrets, industrial projects, economic information and government and foreign policy. The spy chief also:
· Said that 12 jihadi terror plots had been foiled by the security services in the past three years.
· Identified the size of the homegrown problem: there are about 3,000 “violent Islamic extremists in the UK, mostly British”.
· Said that budget increases would see MI5 expand from 4,000 to 5,000 officers over the next five years.
· Said his aim was to equalise the gender balance in MI5 and recruit many more operatives from ethnic minority backgrounds.
Mr Parker said the Islamic extremist threat was also enduring and generational. He broke it down into three segments: a large homegrown problem of potentially violent extremists in the UK – most of them British – about 3,000 in number; members of Daesh (Islamic State) in the conflict zones of Syria and Iraq trying to incite terror plots against the UK; and Daesh trying to spread its “toxic ideology” and promote terrorism online.
The unusual level of openness being show by MI5 is paradoxically a result of the threat level faced. With a high need for public understanding of the resources and level of intrusion required to secure the UK – together with a requirement to attract additional recruits through raising the organisation’s profile – it can be expected that MI5 will continue to increase its engage with the media.
New cyber warfare strategy launched
The Guardian reports that the Government has launched a new cyber-warfare strategy. Announcing the scheme, Chancellor Philip Hammond MP said that the UK must strike back at hostile states in cyberspace and be capable of mounting sophisticated cyber-attacks of its own in place of military strikes. Mr Hammond said that unless the UK could match the cyber-attack abilities of foreign rogue states, the alternatives would only be to ignore digital attacks on Britain’s infrastructure or use military force. Launching the Government’s £1.9bn national cybersecurity strategy, Mr Hammond said the UK had to develop “fully functioning cyber-attack capability”. He added: “If we do not have the ability to respond in cyberspace to an attack that takes down our power networks, leaving us in darkness, or hits our air traffic control system, grounding our planes, we would be left with the impossible choice of turning the other cheek and ignoring the devastating consequences or resorting to a military response.”
Speaking before the launch, the Cabinet Office minister Ben Gummer MP said cyber warfare was “no longer the stuff of spy thrillers and action movies … Our adversaries are varied – organised criminal groups, ‘hacktivists’, untrained teenagers and foreign states”. The funds will focus on defences for critical infrastructure such as energy and transport.
Police forces 'overwhelmed' by digital evidence, watchdog finds
The BBC reports that some police forces in England and Wales risk being “overwhelmed” by the volume of digital evidence being collected, the police watchdog has warned. Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary said many forces had a “significant gap” in digital skills. It said there were sometimes “unacceptable delays” in basic tasks like getting data off a mobile phone.
Mike Cunningham, who led the review, said every officer and member of staff needed to understand how to extract evidence from phones and CCTV as the nature of crime changed. Digital crime required a different type of forensic capability to traditional offences where police looked for evidence such as DNA or fingerprints, he said. “We are not saying that they will not have the capability anywhere in the force to extract that information. What we are saying is that they are being overwhelmed. There is evidence that there is far too much of this evidence coming in for forces to meet that demand.”
Given continuing pay constraints, it is likely that the Home Office police will find it challenging to recruit suitably qualified candidates.
Questions on nuclear weapons transport answered in the House of Commons
SNP MP Margaret Ferrier has asked three written questions in the House of Commons, asking the Defence Secretary:
· What recent assessment he has made of the reliability of the vehicles involved in the transportation of nuclear warheads; and if he will make a statement.
· How much his Department has spent on the transportation of nuclear warheads between RNAD Coulport and AWE Burghfield in each of the last three years.
· What recent assessment he has made of the security of convoys transporting nuclear warheads by road.
Responding collectively to the questions, Defence Minister Harriett Baldwin said that all vehicles involved in the transportation of nuclear warheads are subject to a rigorous maintenance and inspection regime, and that inspections are made prior to each use, as well as six monthly safety and annual mandatory inspections. She added that the costs of the transportation of nuclear warheads between RNAD Coulport and AWE Burghfield are not held centrally and could be provided only at disproportionate cost, and that the security of the nuclear warhead convoy was assessed by MoD Security Advisors in September 2016 as overall 'satisfactory', demonstrating that 'performance meets the required policy standard'.
Police fear gun links between UK crime gangs and terrorists
The BBC reports that half of the terror plots prevented in the UK over the last two years involved extremists trying to buy guns, senior police officers have said. National Crime Agency (NCA) chief Lynne Owens said criminals “think nothing about who they sell firearms to”. UK security services have warned of the growing risk of a marauding gun attack, similar to those in Paris and Mumbai. A major campaign is being launched to try to clamp down on the supply of illegal firearms. The NCA said the appeal was aimed at anyone who might see guns smuggled through smaller ports of entry to the UK.
Of the estimated 6,000 organised criminal groups in the UK, 750 have access to guns, or are trying to get them. In July, police intercepted six shotguns and a Heckler and Koch firearm, which were about to be acquired by criminals. In August 2015, 31 assault rifles and submachine guns were intercepted as they were being unloaded from a small boat in the River Medway, in Kent. It was the biggest ever seizure of illicit firearms in the UK.
Consultation on new phase of the Leveson Inquiry launched
PR Week reports that the Department for Culture, Media & Sport and the Home Office has this week launched a public consultation on moving forward with the next stage of the Leveson Inquiry. The new phase of the inquiry would, if it went ahead, addresses two separate but related issues relating to press freedom and practices. The first is whether to implement section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 – a measure that would make members of a recognised press self-regulation scheme exempt from paying their opponents' legal costs, even if they lost a court case.
On the second part – the police's relationship with media – the consultation notes that the Leveson Inquiry was set up in 2011. Part one examined the culture, practices and ethics of the press – and a report on the matter was published in 2012 following a series of high-profile evidence sessions. The consultation asks whether continuing the inquiry would be “proportionate and in the public interest”, or whether it would not be necessary, given that “the police service in England and Wales has undergone significant reform since the Leveson Inquiry, particularly in its relationship with the media”.
In the summer, the College of Policing – the body setting professional standards for police officers and staff – concluded a consultation into how, why and when police forces should speak to media. A report is due to be published in the new year. The college had already updated some of its media relations best practice guidelines in the wake of Leveson, in 2013.
The public consultation does not impact on staff associations such as the Federation and how they communicate with journalists. The Federation is continuing to brief senior journalists on issues including the demands on MDP resources and officers’ pensions.
SAS being ‘left out’ of high-risk missions due to war crimes charge fears
The Sunday Express reports that British Special Forces are becoming so concerned of prosecution that US counterparts have had to ditch them on missions to hunt Islamic State terrorists. The news emerges as the SAS and SBS face increasing pressure from senior military leaders, intent on reining in the “out of control” regiment. Last week it emerged that several officers who worked with 22 SAS now face investigation over actions in Iraq. Now, serving members of the elite unit have revealed that US Delta Force units became so frustrated with SAS reticence that they abandoned their British counterparts on at least two missions to find and capture ISIS commanders.
The reports come as the elite regiment, and its cousin the SBS, are under increased pressure to make operations more transparent. As part of an Army-wide review of operational procedures legal advisors have called for more clarity on the rules of engagement that are often approved for SAS missions without, they claim, clear justification.
Serviceman killed in firearm incident RAF Tain weapons range
The Daily Telegraph reports that a soldier, Lance Corporal Joe Spencer, 24, from Hampshire of the 3rd Battalion The Rifles, based at Dreghorn Barracks in Edinburgh, was been shot dead at an RAF weapons range whilst taking part in a night-time training exercise involving around 20 servicemen. Emergency services were called to RAF Tain, north of Inverness, at around 6pm on Tuesday and a cordon was set up around the base following the incident. Police Scotland, which is leading the investigation, would not say if the death was being treated as accidental and around 30 officers are involved in the inquiry at the base on the Dornoch Firth.
Defence Minister Mark Lancaster said: “It is with deep sadness that I can confirm that Lance Corporal Joe Spencer from 3rd Battalion The Rifles died at RAF Tain on Tuesday. My thoughts are with Joe's family, friends and colleagues at this terrible time.”
£1.1bn in British Army investment announced
Forces TV reports that more than £1.1 billion will be invested in new British Army accommodation and facilities, Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon has announced. Speaking before MPs, he said “We’re committed to delivering a better defence estate; ensuring our Armed Forces are properly supported and provided for. With our defence budget secure and rising to 2020 will [sic] can now properly invest in our soldiers, their families and communities.”
The MoD says there will be significant investment into Salisbury Plain Training Area and into new 'Single Living Accommodation' (SLA) in Aldershot, with more than 2,600 bed spaces created as well as new technical, office, catering, retail and leisure facilities. The new infrastructure will support forces returning from Germany under the Army Basing Programme, which is scheduled for completion by 2020. It's hoped this will mean all British Army units based in Germany can return to the UK by then, resulting in savings of up to £240 million per year by 2022/23.
British Army tank upgrade programme could go abroad
The Daily Telegraph reports that a huge contract to modernise the British Army’s main battle tanks could see much of the work go abroad. The MoD is updating up to 227 Challenger 2 tanks with the digital capabilities needed to be an effective part of Britain’s military might, as well as extend their service lives.
The Daily Telegraph understands military chiefs have now whittled down the bids to just two, who will each be asked to build a prototype vehicle as part of a final assessment phase. One of the groups is a consortium headed by BAE Systems and General Dynamics UK. Also involved are QinetiQ, Leonardo, Moog and Safran. The other joint venture is led by Germany’s Rheinmetall, which is working with Supacat, Thales UK and BMT. Should the Rheinmetall bid ultimately be selected, it will be another in a series of major defence projects to have gone abroad.