This month, the new head of MI6 disclosed that the scale of the terrorism threat to the United Kingdom is “unprecedented.”
According to Alex Younger, UK intelligence and security services have disrupted twelve terrorist plots since June 2013, adding that many of the threats came from ungoverned spaces in the Middle East – namely Iraq and Syria. He further warned that “hybrid warfare,” which included cyber attacks and subverting democracy, was becoming an “increasingly dangerous phenomenon,” noting, “the risks at stake are profound and represent a fundamental threat to our sovereignty…They should be a concern to all those who share democratic values.”
In his first public speech since taking up the post of “C,” Mr Younger warned of the impact of Russia’s alliance with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in casting all opponents of President Assad as terrorists. He disclosed, “I believe the Russian conduct in Syria – allied with that of Assad’s discredited regime – will, if they do not change course, provide a tragic example of the perils of forfeiting legitimacy.” He went on to say that “in defining as a terrorist anyone who opposes a brutal regime they alienate precisely that group that has to be onside if the extremists are to be defeated,” adding “we cannot be safe from the threats that emanate from that land unless the civil war is brought to an end.”
Speaking to journalists at MI6 headquarters in London, Mr Younger disclosed that the so-called Islamic State (IS) group had exploited the situation in Syria to fortify its stronghold in the region and to wage a war on the West, adding that IS had a “highly organized external attack planning structure” that was plotting attacks against the UK and its allies “without ever having to leave Syria.”
In describing the risks that MI6 agents face in the field, Mr Younger disclosed that “encountering terrorism, some of our agents operate in the most dangerous and hostile environments on earth,” adding, “they know that the result of being identified as an MI6 agent could be their death. But they do what they do because they believe in protecting their country – and religion – from the evil that Daesh (IS) and other terrorist organizations present.”
Since August 2014 the threat level for international terrorism in the UK has been severe, effectively meaning that an attack is highly likely. There are five threat levels – low, moderate, substantial, severe and critical – which are set up by the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre.