Britain remains under a terror threat level of “severe” – which means an attack is likely – but security agencies foiled as many 12 terror plots in the past three years, the MI5 chief said on Tuesday in the first media interview in the intelligence agency’s history.
Andrew Parker, chief of Britain’s domestic intelligence service, told The Guardian the agency had to change with time, and generating greater understanding is vital to securing public consent for its work. He is the 17th MI5 chief since 1909, most of whom have remained unknown.
On the 12 thwarted attacks, Parker, 54, said: “That sort of tempo of terrorist plot and attempts is concerning and it’s enduring. Attacks in this country are higher than I have experienced in the rest of my career – and I’ve been working at MI5 for 33 years.
“The reality is that because of the investment in services like mine, the UK has got good defences. My expectation is that we will find and stop most attempts at terrorism in this country.”
He, however, added: “There will be terrorist attacks in this country. The threat level is severe and that means likely.”
Seeking to recruit more officers from the Asian and Afro-Caribbean minorities, Parker said: “We need to be able to do surveillance of terrorists. We have to approach, cultivate and recruit people to be agents to work for us. That does not work so well if everybody looks like me.”
Parker identified the Islamic State and the continuing threat in Northern Ireland as challenges in international terrorism, but also singled out Russia for allegedly being aggressive and posing a threat to the stability of the United Kingdom.
“Currently, the flavour of it is Daesh, or Isil (Islamic State), and we still have the al-Qaida brand. This is something we have to understand: it’s here to stay. It is an enduring threat and it’s at least a generational challenge for us to deal with,” he said.
“It (Russia) is using its whole range of state organs and powers to push its foreign policy abroad in increasingly aggressive ways – involving propaganda, espionage, subversion and cyber-attacks. Russia is at work across Europe and in the UK today. It is MI5’s job to get in the way of that.”
Parker said Russia still has plenty of intelligence officers on the ground in the UK, but what is different now from the days of the Cold War is the advent of cyberwarfare.
Russian targets include military secrets, industrial projects, economic information and government and foreign policy, he said.