Defence & security focus: ‘I'm proud of how MI5 responded to the Salisbury attack – but it hasn't distracted us from other threats,’ says spy chief
As the UK faces increasingly complex global threats, our defence and security organisations must work more collaboratively than ever. Here, CSW hears from MI5 director general Andrew Parker
What has been the biggest challenge facing your organisation in the past 12 months?
The reckless use of a nerve agent in Salisbury last year – the first use of a chemical weapon on European soil since the Second World War – appalled us all, but I’m extremely proud of the role MI5 played in the unprecedented response from government and international allies.
Deciding where to prioritise investigations and allocate resource will always be a challenge for intelligence agencies, but one we are well used to. The Salisbury attack didn’t distract us from continuing to bear down on the threat posed by all forms of terrorism, and the covert efforts of foreign states to damage the UK.
We have also faced the challenge of responding to technological advances, including the prevalence of encrypted devices, which are increasingly used by our subjects of interest to conceal their nefarious activities.
How is your organisation adapting to reflect Britain’s changing place in the world?
We rely on our many partnerships both at home and overseas. In terms of EU exit and MI5, I have been clear to my counterparts that we are leaving the EU, and not Europe. Our European intelligence cooperation is very strong, and in today’s uncertain world we need that shared strength more than ever. Confronting security threats can only be solved in partnership, and we have worked hard to invest in close security partnerships across Europe. MI5 has actively invested more in that work over the past year or two because of growing security threats. I’m confident that MI5 is in an excellent position to combat threats to the UK’s national security.
What opportunities or innovations are you excited about in the coming years that will help improve public outcomes?
MI5 has been committed to innovation throughout its history; it’s one of our four key values. To succeed, MI5 must adapt continuously to shifting threats in a changing world and to fast-paced technological advances. MI5, SIS, and GCHQ are committed to developing even further our integrated effort in all spheres. That tri-agency approach coupled with advances in data and analytics present our most significant opportunity for impact on the national security threats the country faces.
To detect threats earlier – and faster – we are collaborating with more partners in both the public and private sectors to gain better insights from data. The new Investigatory Powers Act gives us a clear and accountable framework for this work. As with all public sector organisations, we need to continue to ensure value for money in everything we do, which encourages us to think creatively about new ways of working to get the most from our resources.
What do you think your role will look like in 20 years’ time?
The country has needed an MI5 throughout the last 110 years. That seems unlikely to change in the coming decades, though I’d hesitate to predict how threats will change. I am sure whoever is holding that baton in 20 years’ time will share the pride I feel in leading an organisation of great people that contributes to the safety of everyone in the UK.
How do you unwind at the end of a long day?
Though I’m never quite off-duty, I’m quite good at leaving work at work. I’m blessed with loving family and friends who keep me grounded.