UK ‘top target’ for Russian spying, says parliamentary panel
London: The UK is one of Russia’s top Western intelligence targets, an influential UK parliamentary panel has concluded in a report released on Tuesday.
The House of Commons Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC), which has oversight over the country’s intelligence services, concluded in a long-awaited report on feared Russian influence in British affairs that “immediate action” is needed to assist the country’s intelligence services tackle the “very capable adversary” in the form of Russia.
“It appears that Russia considers the UK one of its top Western intelligence targets… This is likely to be related to the UK’s close relationship with the US, and the fact that the UK is seen as central to the Western anti-Russian lobby,” notes the 50-page report.
“The way forward lies with taking action with our allies; a continuing international consensus is needed against Russian aggressive action. The West is strongest when it acts collectively and that is the way in which we can best attach a cost to [Russian President] Putin’s actions,” it adds.
Described as a major inquiry, spanning a number of evidence sessions with a broad range of witnesses over the course of eight months in addition to a substantial volume of written evidence, the report also expresses concern over the failure of the British government to conduct a proper assessment of Russia’s interference in the lead up to the 2016 referendum in favour of Brexit.
“We have not been provided with any post-referendum assessment of Russian attempts at interference,” notes the cross-party committee report, in a sharp rebuke.
“Even if the conclusion of any such assessment were that there was minimal interference, this would nonetheless represent a helpful reassurance to the public that the UK’s democratic processes had remained relatively safe,” it adds.
The committee pointed to open source studies which reflected a “preponderance of pro-Brexit or anti-EU stories” on Russian media and the use of “bots” and “trolls”, as evidence of Russian attempts to influence the process and expressed concern that the British intelligence services did not conduct a thorough analysis of it.
“We repeat that this attitude is illogical; this is about the protection of the process and mechanism from hostile state interference, which should fall to our intelligence and security agencies,” it notes.
The Opposition Labour Party accused the Conservative Party government of underestimating the Russian threat and of holding back the publication of the report, which was reportedly ready in October last year.
“The report is very clear that the government has underestimated the response required to Russia and it is imperative we learn the lessons from the mistakes that have been made,” said Lisa Nandy, Labour’s shadow foreign secretary.
“It is extraordinary that the Prime Minister [Boris Johnson] took the political decision last October ahead of the General Election to block the publication of this important report that systematically goes through the threat Russia poses to the UK’s national security,” she said.