- Gordon Corera
- Security Editor – BBC News
British intelligence announced that it had detected 10 possible threats from Iran during the current year, noting that they include kidnappings and killings targeting Britons or residents of Britain.
Ken McCallum, head of the Home Intelligence Service (MI5), revealed the schemes in the annual Threats to Britain report.
McCallum stressed the need for Britain to be “ready to confront Russian aggression in the coming years.” But he noted that Moscow suffered a strategic setback after the mass expulsion of its spies around the world in the wake of its invasion of Ukraine.
And he warned that the biggest shift monitored by British intelligence is the threats from other countries “that are not ashamed of the tactics they use.”
He pointed out that Iran poses a “direct threat to the British interior through its aggressive intelligence elements,” suggesting that these elements aspire to kidnap and even kill Britons or residents in Britain that the Iranian authorities consider their enemies.
“We’ve seen at least 10 of these potential threats since last January alone,” he said.
Reports indicated that an Iranian journalist in London had been warned by the police that his life might be in danger.
McCallum added that the “MI5” is working with local and international partners to stop this unacceptable activity.
He stressed that he could not disclose more details about the possible plots, but indicated that Iran relied in its work on its spies, and sometimes on other people working on their behalf to use a set of tactics, and sometimes it carried out its operations in Western countries or by luring people. Back to Iran.
He stated that Tehran’s willingness to carry out “reckless” actions was noted in Europe in the past few years.
McCallum said Iran provided support to Russia by supplying it with drones that “caused misery” in Ukraine.
He warned that “the Russian invasion of Ukraine raises questions related to national security, which some thought were in the history books.”
He suggested that Moscow would continue to use a mix of covert threats – such as spies and cyberattacks – and overt means such as energy price pressure and disinformation to target the UK, saying: “They will continue to attack us.”
But McCallum sounded optimistic about countries’ ability to make the job much harder for Russian spies.
He added that 600 Russian officials have been expelled from all over the world since the Russian invasion of Ukraine last February, suggesting that 400 of these are believed to have been involved in espionage for Russia.
He pointed out that this step “dealt the biggest strategic blow to the Russian intelligence services in contemporary European history.”
McCallum also warned that China poses “a significant and continuing challenge, using every means possible to monitor, and sometimes intimidate, those it perceives as opponents.”
“The intimidation and harassment of citizens in the United Kingdom or those who have chosen it as their home are practices that cannot be tolerated,” he stressed.
Last January, the agency issued an unusual warning against interference in the country’s affairs through Chinese attempts to influence British politics.
McCallum said Chinese intelligence services continue their efforts to influence public life, including recruiting potential agents early in their careers in the public sphere. For example, they target members of local councils in the hope that some of them will become members of parliament in the future.
He also noted that terrorism remains one of the threats facing the UK, but stressed that it has become a less serious threat than it has been in the past few years.
Since 2017, British authorities have thwarted 37 plots involving high-profile attacks.
And those plots were a mixture of operations planned by Islamists and others adopted by terrorists from the extreme right.
McCallum said there was an increase in the number of hard-right influencers working to spread conspiracy theories internationally.
He stressed that the agency is still monitoring terrorist groups trying to reorganize their ranks, in addition to what he called “the malicious problem that lies in terrorists who operate alone, which makes discovering and arresting them difficult.”
He also spoke of concerns about the popularity of firearms, including home-made weapons and those made using 3D printers.