MI5’s new Director General, Andrew Parker, has given a speech at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) on the continuing threat of terrorism and how the Security Service and its sister agencies are adapting to respond. Mr. Parker has worked in the Security Service for over 30 years.
Andrew Parker discussed international terrorism at length; “Let’s start with the plain facts: from 11 September 2001 to the end of March this year 330 people were convicted of terrorism-related offences in Britain. At the end of that period 121 were in prison, nearly three-quarters of whom were British. In the first few months of this year there were four major trials related to terrorist plots. These included plans for a 7/7-style attack with rucksack bombs, two plots to kill soldiers, and a failed attempt to attack an EDL march using an array of lethal weapons. There were guilty pleas in each case. 24 terrorists were convicted and sentenced to more than 260 years in jail.”
“Speaking on the most direct and immediate threat to the UK Andrew Parker said: “Al Qaida and its affiliates in South Asia and the Arabian Peninsula present the most direct and immediate threats to the UK. For the future, there is good reason to be concerned about Syria. A growing proportion of our casework now has some link to Syria, mostly concerning individuals from the UK who have travelled to fight there or who aspire to do so. Al Nusrah and other extremist Sunni groups there aligned with Al Qaida aspire to attack Western countries.
“The ability of Al Qaida to launch the centrally directed large scale attacks of the last decade has been degraded, though not removed. We have seen the threat shift more to increasing numbers of smaller-scale attacks and a growing proportion of groups and individuals taking it upon themselves to commit acts of terrorism. It remains the case that there are several thousand Islamist extremists here who see the British people as a legitimate target. Overall, I do not believe the terrorist threat is worse now than before. But it is more diffuse. More complicated, More unpredictable.”
He also spoke on how leaks such as the Edward Snowden affair decreased the competitive advantage of the UK’s security apparatus: “What we know about the terrorists, and the detail of the capabilities we use against them together represent our margin of advantage. That margin gives us the prospect of being able to detect their plots and stop them. But that margin is under attack. Reporting from GCHQ is vital to the safety of this country and its citizens. GCHQ intelligence has played a vital role in stopping many of the terrorist plots that MI5 and the police have tackled in the past decade. We are facing an international threat and GCHQ provides many of the intelligence leads upon which we rely. It makes a vital contribution to most of our high priority investigations. It causes enormous damage to make public the reach and limits of GCHQ techniques. Such information hands the advantage to the terrorists. It is the gift they need to evade us and strike at will. Unfashionable as it might seem, that is why we must keep secrets secret, and why not doing so causes such harm.”
Andrew Parker highlighted the enduring and diversifying threat from Al Qaida and its imitators. He also noted the work of MI5, GCHQ, the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) and the police in countering the threat of terrorism and emphasised the extent to which the Security Service is accountable. In concluding his speech, he commented on a number of challenges that MI5 will face in the future, including rapid changes in technology and the growth of new electronic means of communications.
Read the full transcript of Andrew Parker’s Speech here.