MI5 Boss Explains Threat

Russian spies, child recruits to Islamic terror groups - as many as 2,000 people in the UK who pose a threat to national security - and a major programme to decentralise the work of the Security Service to new facilities such as the multi-million pound Northern Ireland headquarters are just some of the things that the new head of MI5 has said occupies his staff.

Jonathan Evans, boss of the not-as-secret-as-it-used-to-be MI5 said today there had been a rise of 400 new individuals who have been added to the list of direct threats to national security since November 2006.

The MI5 director-general said children as young as 15 were being recruited for terrorist-related activity by al-Qaeda.

Resources that could be devoted to counter-terrorism were instead being used to protect the UK against spying by Russia, China and others, he added.

There had been "no decrease" in the number of Russian covert intelligence officers operating in the UK since the end of the Cold War, Mr Evans said in a speech in Manchester.

"A number of countries continue to devote considerable time and energy trying to steal our sensitive technology on civilian and military projects, and trying to obtain political and economic intelligence at our expense."

It was "a matter of some disappointment", he said, that this ongoing threat continued to take up significant amounts of equipment, money and staff.

Mr Evans, who took over as director general of MI5 in April from Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller, said the organisation will do its utmost to hold back the physical threat of attacks, but alone, this is merely containment

Speaking at the Society of Editors' annual conference, he said the number of individuals in the UK causing concern had risen in part due to better intelligence gathering in "extremist communities".

"But it is also because there remains a steady flow of new recruits to the extremist cause."

In order to gather recruits, Mr Evans said, extremists were methodically and intentionally targeting vulnerable young people and children.

The UK had to do more protect these young people, he added.

Mr Evans said attacks on the UK were "not simply random plots by disparate and fragmented groups", but part of a "deliberate campaign" by al-Qaeda.

In the past 12 months, MI5 had found links between an increasing range of countries and terror plots in the UK, he said.

In Iraq, Algeria and parts of East Africa, especially Somalia, he said, the "al-Qaeda brand" had expanded and now posed a threat to the UK.

Mr Evans said he did not think the level of terror threat against the UK had "reached its peak".

"We will do our utmost to hold back the physical threat of attacks, but alone, this is merely containment.

"Long-term resolution requires identifying and addressing the root causes of the problem."

He said it was "inevitable" there would be individuals who came to police or security service attention, but were still able to go on to carry out acts of terrorism.

"Every decision by the security service to investigate someone entails a decision not to investigate someone else. Knowing of somebody is not the same as knowing all about somebody."

Mr Evans also announced that MI5's new Northern Ireland headquarters would soon be formally opened and said that by 2011, a quarter of the service's staff would be based outside London.


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