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MI5 boss warns of ‘regular people’ being targeted by foreign spies

THE director general of MI5 has urged the public to be as alert to hostile state threats as they are to terrorism.

In his annual address on Wednesday, Ken McCallum warned of the “less graphic” threats that have the “potential to affect us all” from state, or state-backed organisations in Russia, China and Iran.

Challenging the assumption that the impact of hostile activity is felt only by government, institutions or certain individuals, he said the “consequences range from frustration and inconvenience, through loss of earnings, potentially up to loss of life”, adding: “We must, over time, build the same public awareness and resilience to state threats that we have done over the years on terrorism.”

After calling out the pervasive risks from espionage, disruptive cyber-attacks, misinformation and interference, he confirmed: “We’ve seen over 10,000 disguised approaches from foreign spies to regular people up and down the UK, seeking to manipulate them.

“UK victims of state espionage range way wider than just government.

“We see the UK’s brilliant universities and researchers having their discoveries stolen or copied; we see businesses hollowed out by the loss of advantage they’ve worked painstakingly to build.

“Given half a chance, hostile actors will short-circuit years of patient British research or investment.

“This is happening at scale – and it affects us all. UK jobs, UK public services, UK futures.”

Mr McCallum warned those working in a high-tech business, cutting-edge research or those exporting to certain markets that “you will be of more interest – more interest than you might think – to foreign spies”, but will add: “You don’t have to be scared; but be switched on.”

He confirmed that since the 2018 Novichok poisoning in Salisbury, which claimed the life of Dawn Sturgess and left several others seriously injured after the attempted killing of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal, other suspected plots had been foiled.

He told reporters: “We have encountered, since Salisbury, other activity which we have sought to get in amongst and disrupt, which might, if left undisrupted, potentially have resulted in some form of attack attempt.”

Agents do not always know what they may have stopped, as they often take early action as a preventative measure if it is feared a plot is developing, Mr McCallum added.