Publication of the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament's Annual Report 2019-2021 - techUK Summary

The Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) has published a report covering the work of the Committee between July 2019 to July 2021. techUK has summarised the key elements of the report which focus on the ISC’s role in carrying out oversight of the UK’s Intelligence Community (UKIC) whilst ensuring the public can have confidence that the nation’s world-class Intelligence Agencies continue to operate effectively.  

Overview & Summary

Russia:

  • The report questions whether the government has become too complacent with regards to Russia. The report claims that Russia poses an all-encompassing security threat and given the UK’s firm stance against Russian aggression and the UK-led international response to the 2018 Salisbury attack, the UK is one of Russia’s top Western intelligence targets.
     
  • The report notes that the ISC did welcomes the Government’s increasingly assertive approach to identifying, and appropriating blame to the perpetrators of Russian cyber attacks and considers that the UK should encourage other countries to adopt a similar approach of ‘naming and shaming’, whilst working towards an international doctrine on the use of Offensive Cyber capabilities.  
     
  • The report also considers Russia’s promotion of disinformation and attempts at political influence overseas – whether using social media, hacking and leaking operations or its state-owned traditional media; the widespread allegations that Russia sought to influence voters in the 2016 EU Referendum; and more broadly the extent of Russian influence in the UK.

Norther Ireland-Related Terrorism (NIRT):

  • The report makes clear that the main Dissident Republican (DR) groups are resilient and retain both the intent and capability to cause serious damage by recruiting significant numbers of new young members.
     
  • The ISC welcomes the government’s efforts to apply the lessons drawn from counter-terrorism work across the UK to Northern Ireland, noting that it is essential that non-national security departments with better links into the community can provide positive interventions if they spot early-state involvement in terrorist groups.
     
  • Despite the report raising concerns that pursuing criminal justice outcomes remains challenging – with systemic delays and lenient sentencing – the ISC praised the efforts of MI5 and the Police Service of Northern Ireland, but cautioned that the threat requires sustained pressure and resources.

GCHQ accommodation procurement:

  • Following the announcement of the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) in March 2016, as part of the GCHQ, the ISC analysed the procurement process and concluded that the selection criteria used for the NCSC’s accommodation was faulty from the outset. Locations outside of London were never considered, and greater emphasis was placed on finding high-quality accommodation without any case being made for why that was necessary. The report found that GCHQ’s selection of Nova South as the location for the NCSC was made despite warnings that it would neither be ready on time, nor had received approval from the Government Property Unit and was approved at double the cost of typical government accommodation in London.

The report included a summary of three statements by the ISC, which were:  

  1. 5G suppliers
  2. Detention and Rendition
  3. Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill.
     

Current Threat Assessment

The report states that the threat to the UK and its interests overseas comes from several different sources, including international and Northern Ireland-related terrorism, hostile state activity, cyber threats and nuclear proliferation. The report outlines a summary of the current threat assessment up to July 2021.

International Terrorist Threat:

  • The report claims that despite fluctuations of the UK National Threat Level within the reporting period – raised to SEVERE on 3 November 2020 reflecting the risk of attacks in France and Austria having an effect on UK-based extremists; and lowered to SUBSTANTIAL on 8 February 2021 – the current UK National Threat Level means an attack in the UK is likely.
     
  • The UK continues to face a high level of terrorist threat which is increasingly diverse in its ideological influences, potential attack methodologies and targets chosen by extremists.
     
  • The primary terrorist threat to the UK continues to be from Islamist terrorism as Daesh has continued to operate as a clandestine terrorist organisation despite the death of its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in October 2019. Al-Qaeda also continues to embed itself in local conflicts, particularly in Africa which provides a platform for further terrorist activity by the group.

NIRT:

  • The report states that the threat level in Northern Ireland from DR groups remains unchanged since 2009, at SEVERE, meaning an attack is highly likely.
     
  • The trajectory of the threat is now broadly stable after several years of gradual decline meaning that the direct threat such groups pose to national security is reduced.

Hostile State Activity:

  • The Report states that attempts by foreign intelligence services to conduct espionage to obtain UK government and defence sector secrets continue.
     
  • A continuing threat of state-sponsored assassinations, attacks and abductions of those perceived as dissidents also exists.
     
  • The recently passed National Security and Investment Act gives the UK greater powers to investigate and intervene in foreign direct investment that could threaten UK national security.

Cyber Threats:

  • The COVID-19 pandemic fast-tracked a societal shift already under way towards greater reliance on online services for working, shopping and socialising.
     
  • A serious risk comes from hostile state actors who have identified these shifts as an opportunity for cyber-attacks, evidenced in attempts by foreign states to undermine public faith in COVID-19 vaccines.
     
  • The report therefore outlines that a particular focus for the UKIC has been on protecting the medical and pharmaceutical sectors from espionage against their work to counter COVID-19.
     
  • This year, the NCSC reported a threefold increase in ransomware incidents with government, companies and individuals being targeted in a more aggressive manner, which subsequently led to the announcement of the formation of the National Cyber Force (NCF) in November.

Proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD):

  • The report states that countering the proliferation of WMD continues to be a cross-government policy. The UKIC and government departments work both domestically and internationally to prevent the acquisition and supply of equipment and material of potential use to WMD programmes.
     

The full report, including details of expenditure, administration and policy can be viewed here.

The Prime Minister’s response to the Annual Report can be viewed here.

Raya Tsolova

Programme Manager, National Security, techUK

Raya Tsolova is the Programme Manager for National Security at techUK. 

Raya is responsible for all National Security related activities across techUK, specifically in the established programmes of Defence, Cyber Security and Justice & Emergency Services. Raya will leverage relationships with existing stakeholders across the three programmes, and will build new relationships between techUK and key stakeholders who are of interest to member companies. 

Prior to joining techUK, Raya worked in Business Development for an expert network firm within the institutional investment space. Before this Raya spent a year in industry working for a tech start-up in London as part of their Growth team which included the formation and development of a 'Let's Talk Tech' podcast and involvement in London Tech Week. 

Raya has a degree in Politics and International Relations (Bsc Hons) from the University of Bath where she focused primarily on national security and counter-terrorism policies, centreing research on female-led terrorism and specific approaches to justice there. 

Outside of work, Raya's interests include baking, spin classes and true-crime Netflix shows! 

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