20 foreign agencies spying on Britain; UK forced to spread intelligence resources thin

According to a UK government security document dated January 19, Great Britain is currently under the surveillance of spies from 20 foreign intelligence agencies. The report singles out Russia and China as having the most active espionage operations in the country, but NATO allies like France and Germany are also listed among those trying to get their hands on confidential UK information.

Other countries whose spies are allegedly involved in covert ops in the UK include Iran, Syria, North Korea and Serbia, security sources said.

The aforementioned document goes on to refer to Britain a “high priority espionage target,” which seems an accurate description if Russia does indeed have as many secret operatives in London as they did during the height of the Cold War.

The spies are allegedly attempting to pilfer secrets from a number of industries in which the UK claims a head start, secrets that could save the spying nations appreciable time and money in carrying out cutting-edge military and economic development. The information they pick up could set some of these countries years ahead.

The document, obtained and shared with the public by the Sunday Telegraph, was put together by Army intelligence officers at Whitehall and disseminated to all government departments. It cautions government officials not to forget about seemingly less threatening espionage in the face of bigger boys like Al Qaeda. It is clear on this front: “Whilst our primary threat would seem to come from International Terrorism, it is important that we do not lose sight of another omnipresent threat. Espionage against UK interests continues to come from many quarters.

“In the past, espionage activity was typically directed towards obtaining political and military intelligence. In today’s high-tech world, the intelligence requirements of a number of countries now include new communications technologies, IT, genetics, aviation, lasers, optics, electronics and many other fields. Intelligence services, therefore, are targeting commercial enterprises far more than in the past.

“The UK is a high priority espionage target and a number of countries are actively seeking UK information and material to advance their own, military, technological, political and economic programs.”

According to another UK government source: “Russian agents will target anybody who they believe could be useful to them. They have been at it for centuries and they are simply not going to stop because the Cold War has ended.”

Officials in Britain’s intelligence community find that the ongoing and pervasive activity of Russian spies requires so much of their attention that it distracts from operations against groups like Al Qaeda and terrorism at large.

Director General Jonathan Evans of MI5 (the UK’s security service) gave a speech in November 2007 that touched upon this issue, which continues to frustrate senior intelligence officials:

“Despite the Cold War ending nearly two decades ago, my service is still expending resources to defend the UK against unreconstructed attempts by Russia, China and others, to spy on us. A number of countries continue to devote considerable time and energy trying to steal our sensitive technology on civilian and military projects, and trying to obtain political and economic intelligence at our expense. They do not only use traditional methods to collect intelligence but increasingly deploy sophisticated technical attacks, using the internet to penetrate computer networks.

“It is a matter of some disappointment to me that I still have to devote significant amounts of equipment, money and staff to countering this threat. They are resources which I would far rather devote to countering the threat from international terrorism – a threat to the whole international community, not just the UK.”

Obviously the security document’s contents are not news to everyone. It appears that the UK is very tuned into the foreign covert operations gracing the British Isles.

Patrick Mercer, the chairman of the House of Commons counter-terrorist subcommittee, commented: “This serves as a timely reminder that our counter-intelligence assets must not be solely concentrated on countries with a traditional track record of espionage against us.”

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