The UK’s Intelligence and Security Committee has released its delayed Annual Report which assess the work of the UK’s intelligence agencies and the threat facing the UK following a year of terrorist attacks across Europe.
The report said “the current scale of threat facing the UK and its interests from Islamist terror groups is unprecedented”.
“This threat is predominantly driven by the activities of Daesh (ISIL) in Syria and Iraq, which seeks to maintain the group’s image and narrative of success in the face of military losses,” it added.
Commenting on the conclusions, the committee chairman Dominic Grieve MP highlighted the risk of returning fighters from Islamic State.
“We note that the dispersal of foreign fighters from Syria and Iraq raises serious questions as to when and where they will resurface, and with what intent,” he said.
“There will also be a serious challenge to reintegrate children who have grown up in the so-called ‘caliphate’, educated and inculcated by Daesh.”
The report also had a warning that Northern Ireland remained a persistent threat because of a small number of dissident Republican groups.
MI5 told the committee that Northern Ireland represented the “most concentrated area of terrorist activity probably anywhere in Europe” and terrorist activity is disrupted on a weekly basis.
In 2015/16, MI5 allocated 64% of its overall resources to international counter-terrorism work. MI6 and GCHQ allocated around a third and a quarter respectively.
The intelligence agencies assessed Russia to be an intelligence priority. Defence Intelligence said it had increased its focus on Moscow’s activities because “the risk appetite is quite different and they (Russia) are quite prepared to use the world as a range, [saying] ‘we will give it a go and see what happens’.”
MI6 revealed it had absolute evidence that Russia was behind the downing of Malaysian Airline flight MH17 over the Ukraine.
Despite Russia’s attempts to persuade the world it had no responsibility for the tragedy, MI6 described it as “an outright falsehood: we know beyond any reasonable doubt that the Russian military supplied and subsequently recovered the missile launcher”.
However, MI6 said it did maintain a limited channel of communication with Moscow for intelligence co-operation which the committee approved of.
The report also assessed the threat from China – “a great deal of China’s intelligence aims against the UK are for economic motives, in addition to attempting to acquire classified governments and military material”.
GCHQ said that the Chinese “weren’t bothered for a while about being attributed in generic terms by the US and others as major cyber stealers of information” but said that is beginning to change “a bit”.
Iranian motives against the UK are “more obscure than those of Russia and China”. GCHQ put Iranian activity down to an attempted “show of strength”.
MI6 and GCHQ described North Korea as “reckless and unpredictable”. They said: “It is prepared to use its capabilities without any concern for attribution”.
The report includes a large section on the cyber threat to the UK and warns that Russia is becoming more dangerous.
It said: “The threat ranges from individual criminals, to organised crime groups and terrorist organisations, to state actors such as Russia, China and Iran.
“We know that this last group are highly capable of carrying out advanced cyber-attacks but their use of these methods has historically been restricted by the diplomatic and geopolitical consequences if the activity was uncovered.
“Recent Russian cyber activity appears to indicate that this may no longer be the case.”