Russia is engaging in a covert campaign of subversion, propaganda and cyber attacks against its adversaries in the West, warned the United Kingdom’s top spy-catcher Tuesday.
The head of the U.K.’s domestic security service does not often go public to address a threat; in fact, it’s the first time in agency’s 107 year history. Andrew Parker, director general of Military Intelligence, Section 5 (MI5) felt the Russian threat was provocative enough to warrant an interview with The Guardian.
“It is using its whole range of state organs and powers to push its foreign policy abroad in increasingly aggressive ways – involving propaganda, espionage, subversion and cyber-attacks,” Parker told The Guardian. “Russia is at work across Europe and in the U.K. today. It is MI5’s job to get in the way of that.”
Not much changed in the U.K.-Russian spy game after the fall of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s. Russia has a significant intelligence presence in the country, according to Parker, only this time, it has cyber-warfare as an added weapon. Moscow targets everything from military assets to economic information, Parker said.
MI5 history is shrouded in mystery that continues to this day. Unlike its sister organization MI6, the intelligence agency of James Bond fame, MI5 is responsible for counter-intelligence, or catching spies. Its role is certainly not as glamorous as foreign intelligence collection, but it is crucial to the security of not only the U.K., but also the United States. MI5 is part of a special intelligence partnership known as the “Five Eyes,” which is comprised of the intelligence agencies of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the U.K. and the U.S. The partnership allows easy sharing of crucial intelligence between all members.
Parker’s decision to speak to The Guardian is strange, given the outlet’s publication of former NSA contractor Edward Snowden’s leaks, but the move is also intentional.
“We recognize that in a changing world we have to change too,” said Parker. “We have a responsibility to talk about our work and explain it.”
That said, Parker is still critical of Snowden’s irresponsible actions. He pointed out that the leaks gave adversaries a dangerous amount of knowledge which could be used against the U.S. and U.K.
“I spoke out at the time about the damage that was done to the work of British and allied intelligence agencies, about having so much about how we operate revealed to our adversaries. Secrecy is not something we need for its own sake,” said Parker.
The security chief pointed to Russia’s increasing aggression in the Ukraine and Syria as prime examples of the growing threat faced by the U.K.
“Russia increasingly seems to define itself by opposition to the west and seems to act accordingly,” said Parker. “You can see that on the ground with Russia’s activities in Ukraine and Syria. But there is high-volume activity out of sight with the cyber threat. Russia has been a covert threat for decades. What’s different these days is that there are more and more methods available.”
Russia’s cyber-warfare activities are carried out through its proxy hacker collectives, known as Fancy Bear and Cozy Bear. Various cyber security firms believe these groups are responsible for the hacks against the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign chair John Podesta, among others.
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