October 14, 2020
The new head of MI5 has warned that the threat of far-right terrorism in the UK will be “with us for some years to come” as more young people have been linking up online with American extremists in the Donald Trump era.
MI5 Chief Warns Of Growing Far-Right Terror Threat And Praises Black Lives Matter Impact
In his first major briefing since being appointed director general earlier this year, Ken McCallum said that there was “quite a lot” of “meaningful international connectivity” between white nationalist extremists in Britain with those overseas in America and parts of Europe.
McCallum also vowed to make the Security Service more diverse and revealed that the Black Lives Matter movement had shone a light on “outright racist” conduct within the agency as well as “inadvertent” bias against staff from minority ethnic communities.
In a wide-ranging session with reporters, McCallum – the youngest director general in MI5′s history – alsorevealed terrorists are searching for different targets because of empty streets caused by coronavirustalked of how “whenever my phone rings late in the evening, my stomach lurches” in case it is a terror attackbacked longer jail time for convicted extremists and tighter licensing outside prisonsaid there was “thin evidence” of any Russian interference in the Brexit votewarned that Islamist terrorism was the “largest” threat, along with attempted assassinations, and cyber attacks from Russia, China and Iran*growing use of Artificial intelligence to detect terrorist plotsMcCallum said that right-wing terrorism was a “sadly rising threat” to the UK, pointing out that it made up eight out of of the 27 late-stage terrorist attack plots disrupted by MI5 and police since 2017. MI5 took over full responsibility for right-wing terrorism from the police earlier this year.
“We see quite a lot of growth of these threats, including in particular, quite a few young people being attracted to this ideology, which does tend to suggest that this threat will be with us for some years to come,” he said.
The MI5 chief stressed that at present there was no “global” organised structure for far-right terrorism as with Al-Qaeda or Daesh, and that much of the risk came from individuals “often acting in comparative isolation”.
But he warned the agency was alive to it becoming “more structured and coherent” and said that the rise of right-wing plots was a common threat across many Western countries.
White nationalists have been on the rise during the Trump era and McCallum said the FBI were “having to deal with substantial amounts of risk” in recent years, while in Germany it was now bigger than the Islamist terror threat.
UK extremists were not in contact with American counterparts in a “structured, organised way... but they are in contact because a lot of this poison is being spread online”, he said.
“People draw inspiration and share links and use online fora and apps to chat – at least as they hope – in secure circumstances. And we see connections therefore to the US, but also to other parts of Europe. And so we will continue to see this evolve in the years to come... lots of online, lots of young people involved and quite a lot of bitty but meaningful international connectivity.”
When asked about the drivers for young people becoming attracted to far-right extremism, McCallum told HuffPost UK that they were “sadly attracted to seeming certainty that [extremists] seek to provide”. 
For young extremist followers of both far-right and Islamist groups, it was about “social processes to do with individuals’ own needs and self-view rather than it being a pure ideological moment”.
The MI5 director general also said that he wanted to better reflect “today’s wonderfully diverse UK” to attract talent from all racial backgrounds.Black Lives MatterWhen asked about the Black Lives Matter movement that swept the UK following the murder of George Floyd in the US, he said MI5 had been made more “effective” as a result of the questions it threw up.
“The Black Lives Matter moment did have an effect inside MI5 like any other modern employer,” he said, pointing out that when he joined in the 1990s there wasn’t a single senior Black officer in the agency.
It had had “some really deep and searching conversations with our own people, including people being very brave and opening up about instances that they have suffered”.
“Either inside, not many cases but in some cases, in years gone by, outright racist behaviours within the organisation. Or much more commonly, inadvertent behaviours that excluded without necessarily intending to, but have an effect nonetheless,” he said.“It’s been a powerful conversation. And, you know, as a leader of an organisation when you know that you’re not where you need to be, it’s helpful actually to have real frankness, and honesty from some of our most capable people coming up through the ranks and expressing frustration, particularly when they look outwards and don’t see what they should see.
“They don’t see a full representation of our amazingly diverse country. We are improving. We’re not there yet and I want our own people to continue holding us to account on that. Because this really matters on two levels: it is the right thing to do; and it makes us better at a Job that we all care about passionately.”
The spy chief added that he wanted “to spread our net as widely as possible, including crucially to people who haven’t ever thought of applying here”, like himself in his 20s.
“Think about the sheer range of what we need here: tenacious investigators and analysts; shrewd behavioural scientists, working with creative data scientists and software engineers; compelling undercover roleplayers; through to specialists who are awesome at undetectably BREAKING into cars in the dead of night (with a lawful warrant authorisation).”
He said that MI5 would be using Facebook and Twitter to help recruit a younger and more diverse workforce.
“You should expect to see, for example, increased used of Social Media platforms as we seek to reach a different and younger and more diverse audience.”CovidMcCallum also talked about the impact of the Covid pandemic on the agency’s work, particularly in tracking targets on the streets.
“The big shifts in everyone’s lives – reduced travel, more online, and the rest – mean shifts in how our adversaries are operating.
“Fewer crowds mean terrorists look at different targets; online living means more opportunities for cyber hackers; and so on.
“Equally, 2020 has demanded shifts in how MI5 itself has to operate; you wouldn’t expect me to get into detail, but common sense will tell you that covert surveillance is not straightforward on near-empty streets.”
He said the virus had led to more working from home in some cases, stressed there was a “high occupancy” of its HQ with social distancing, but also that much of its work took place “in the real world”.
“Quite a bit of MI5 activity has always taken place on the streets in the real world. We spend our days and nights planting microphones in particular attics, doing surveillance on the streets, meeting human sources out and about in the real world, the kinds of things I spent my 20s doing largely in Northern Ireland.”
Crucially, the agency had repurposed research originally done on toxic chemicals to help understand how Covid in droplets might disperse and in allowing medically-qualified MI5 officers to step away from their duties to directly support the NHS.
McCallum, in his 40s, became the youngest head of MI5 when he took over from Sir Andrew Parker at the end of April, just as the Coronavirus pandemic was sweeping the country.
He also spoke of his personal response to incidents. “Terrorist attacks are always, without exception, sickening. Whenever my phone rings late in the evening, my stomach lurches in case it is one of those awful moments,” he said.Russia and China and BrexitThe security chief also said that while Russia was currently causing most disruption, China was now the long term security threat to the UK. “You might think in terms of the Russian intelligence services providing bursts of bad weather, while China is changing the climate,” he said.
McCallum defended MI5 from accusations from the Intelligence and Security Committee that it had not done enough to lead in tackling Russian interference with the UK’s democracy or the Brexit referendum
He said “we did not see, any of us” any evidence of hack-and-leak activity during the EU referendum, and “nothing of great significance” emerged from investigations into claims of covert attempts to influence key political figures.
On social media troll farms and online influence, he added there was a “thin evidence base that some of that appears to have taken place around the EU referendum..but it does not appear to be on anything like the same scale to what happened in some other situations we could all name [the US elections]”.
“We did respond to the leads that came our way. We don’t investigate on hunches, we have to pursue real leads, to real activity. We did do that, in some particular cases and those did not lead to any uncovering of any discoveries, which radically change our understanding of what happened in 2016.”Jail sentencesMcCallum also backed the idea of terrorists spending more of their sentences in prison and tighter licensing once released.
“We need to have a safety net that is able to protect if they continue to possess intent, and they will continue to possess capability following their release. And so, terrorist prisoners, serving substantial portions of the sentences has to be a good thing from my point of view in reducing the aggregate amount of risk we face on UK streets.
“It is also the case that license conditions, after release, have a role to play, and helping again to continue to manage the risk across the long run.”Artificial IntelligenceMcCallum, who has a background in high level mathematics, revealed that artificial intelligence was increasingly useful to MI5, particularly in sifting through translations of documents in other languages and CCTV footage.
“You really don’t want to be a human operator, watching endless hours of a door not opening, you want to comment on the moment when the door does indeed open, and you know, a machine is quite good at doing that for you,” he said.
AI was also now crucial to helping investigators quickly search through multiple laptops and phones for specific data held by terror suspects.
 “When you’ve got a massive mountain to search through it doesn’t half help if you’ve got an automated machine learning ability to pluck out images of guns or Islamic State flags or whatever it might be,” he said.
“I think there is massive applicability to our line of business. Clearly, we exist and have for a long time had to make careful judgments and same predictions about likely human behaviour.
“Many, many other organisations including some very large well funded corporations are now in the business of making predictions about human behaviour. We are not interested in predictions of everyone’s behaviour, we are interested in understanding but likely behaviours of a small minority. So it’s a different function. But some of the same methodologies can apply.”Related... Who Are The Proud Boys? A Brit's Guide To The Far-Right Group Trump Refuses To Condemn Trump Refuses To Condemn White Supremacists — Tells Proud Boys To 'Stand By' Far-Right Men Have Been Storming Homeless Hotels To Harass Asylum Seekers
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