The head of MI5 has warned of a growing threat to the UK from an “increasingly aggressive” Russia, including propaganda, spying and cyber attacks.
In an unprecedented interview, the Security Service’s director general Andrew Parker said Russia had been a “covert threat” for decades but there were now more methods available for its agents to use.
Mr Parker said his service was working to disrupt the activities of Moscow’s spies who were “at work across Europe and in the UK”.
He told the Guardian that at a time when much of the focus was on Islamic extremism, covert action from other countries was a growing danger, with Russia the biggest concern.
“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” he said.
“Russia is at work across Europe and in the UK today. It is MI5’s job to get in the way of that.”
Mr Parker said Vladimir Putin’s Russia “increasingly seems to define itself by opposition to the west and seems to act accordingly”.
The spy chief said: “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.”
His comments came as the Government prepared to unveil a new cyber-security strategy aimed at protecting the UK from online threats.
Mr Parker also warned about the threat posed by home-grown terrorists. He said there were about 3,000 “violent Islamic extremists in the UK, mostly British”.
The MI5 chief said his agency would expand from 4,000 to 5,000 officers over the next five years and dismissed suggestions that Brexit would hamper co-operation with European counterparts. The spy agency revealed 12 plots had been foiled in the UK since June 2013.