The head of MI5 must warn that the activities of China, Russia and other hostile states could have as great an impact on the public as terrorism, marking a significant shift in emphasis from the UK’s national spy agency.
In giving his annual threat update on Wednesday, Ken McCallum is expected to say that the British public will have to “create the same public awareness and resistance to state threats that we have done over the years on terrorism.”
But while the threat from Russia, as evidenced by the poisoning of the Skripals in Salisbury, is familiar to the British public, the spy chief will argue that threats that normally come from China are not.
McCallum will say that universities and researchers run the risk of “their discoveries being stolen or copied” if they are not vigilant and that companies could be “drained by the loss of the advantage they have worked so hard to build.”
“Given the slightest opportunity, hostile actors will disrupt years of patient British research or investment. This is happening on a large scale. And it affects us all – UK jobs, UK utilities, UK futures, ”McCallum will say.
Threats from hostile states have risen up the security agenda as the threat of Islamist terrorism has receded significantly since the death of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and the organization’s final territorial defeat in 2019.
Just over a decade ago, in 2008/9, MI5 spent only 3% of its effort targeting hostile state activity, although it has changed significantly since then, according to the intelligence and security committee of the parliament as both Russia and China have become dramatically more assertive.
In early spring, MI5 warned that 10,000 British had been attacked in the last five years on LinkedIn by people disguised as fake profiles. Such attempts to steal intellectual property often come from China, although McCallum is careful not to name the country directly in his pre-published comments for diplomatic reasons.
A common approach is to use an account that appears to belong to a young woman, often with an English name and an East Asian last name, posing as a recruiter, seeking to extract information from researchers or experts under the guise of offer a job. .
“To speak directly: if you are working in a high-tech business; or is engaged in cutting-edge scientific research; or exporting to certain markets, it will be of interest, more than you might think, to foreign spies. You don’t have to be afraid; but turn it on, “the spy chief will say.
MI5 has been criticized for not focusing enough on China in the past and Boris Johnson, the prime minister, remains very cautious about being too outspoken due to the economic advantages of working with Beijing.
The recent Integrated Review of UK defense and foreign policy concluded that China “presents challenges” because it is “an authoritarian state, with different values than ours”, although some of the conservative supporters want the country to define itself more clearly. like an enemy state. .
However, it also emerged that the UK quietly expelled three Chinese spies last year, who said they were posing as journalists and when McCallum was appointed, he promised to sharpen the agency’s focus on Beijing.