M15 chief says agency's work is more important during coronavirus

MI5’s work is even more vital to nation during coronavirus crisis says outgoing chief as he admits spy agency could lose out to NHS for taxpayer cash in future

  • Sir Andrew Parker, 58, says the agency is under threat from funding cuts
  • He says the coronavirus crisis could force the government into ‘tough decisions’ 
  • The veteran Director General will be replaced by Ken McCallum this month 
  • Learn more about how to help people impacted by COVID

M15 could have its funding could be cut in favour of more money being given to pandemic planning despite the agency’s work being more important than ever. 

The agency’s outgoing Director General Sir Andrew Parker said the coronavirus crisis could force ministers to ‘adjust the dials’ on public spending. 

The 58-year-old insisted that MI5 was able to continue its work during the lockdown, adding that potential threats to the country were also subject to the restrictions.

The death toll from coronavirus dwarfs that from terrorist attacks since 2001 and he acknowledged that could lead to a shift in the Government’s thinking in future.

M15’s outgoing Director General Sir Andrew Parker says the government may reduce the amount of funding given to intelligence agencies in favour of more being given to the NHS

‘I don’t envy elected politicians who have to make those priority decisions about where you place the relative priorities – and therefore taxpayers’ money – between different sorts of risk, between the possibility of a pandemic versus these national security threats versus road safety,’ Sir Andrew told the BBC.

‘Those are really tough decisions.

‘There is no doubt at all that having lived through the worst pandemic in a century, the Government is bound to think differently about how to configure against that risk and adjust the dials accordingly across public spending, I’m sure.

‘But all of those decisions are yet to be taken.’

Sir Andrew said MI5’s work was vital now to prevent terror attacks or other incidents which would add to the burden on the emergency services.

Sir Andrew says MI5 is more important than ever during the coronavirus pandemic, helping to deal with the crisis by releasing their own medical staff back into the NHS

‘At this time – maybe even more than normally – it is vital that the nation’s national security machinery is working so that the national emergency we are in now isn’t further complicated or compounded by other events,’ he said.

‘You’ll understand if I don’t go into exactly the ways in which we are working – what shape we are in. 

‘But MI5 is at work in a whole variety of ways flexibly operating to do our job.

‘Like many organisations around the country, MI5 is contributing to the effort to deal with the crisis on a few other fronts as well.

‘We have released back into the NHS qualified medical staff that we have.’

Ken McCallum will become the youngest ever Director General of M15 this month, but his official age remains a state secret

MI5 had also given security advice on the design and construction of the Nightingale field hospitals.

Sir Andrew said there was a ‘different shape’ to the threats faced by MI5 during the lockdown.

He said: ‘Some of the people that we are most concerned about as potential sources of threat in this country are, of course, themselves under the lockdown arrangements and so movements are restricted.

‘That makes a difference to behaviour but it does not eradicate the threat. There is plenty of work that we are doing to stay on top of things.’

Sir Andrew, who retires this month having been in charge of MI5 since 2013, will be replaced by service veteran Ken McCallum.

MI5 gave security advice on the design and construction of the Nightingale field hospitals, including the Manchester Central hospital (above)

The outgoing security chief said one of the main changes since he first joined the service in 1983 had been the shift in the diversity of the people it employs, particularly the ending of a ban on recruiting gay people.

‘I can’t remember, other than specialist linguists we employed, seeing many non-white faces around the organisation back then,’ he said.

‘In particular, the one that sits sharply in contrast today is that if you were gay back then, you could not be employed here.

‘That was for some historical reason from years, decades, before about vulnerability to blackmail that were completely outdated.’

‘That must have caused all sorts of hurt to people and that has to be a matter of regret and shame for all of us.’

The number of coronavirus death reduced to 450 today, the lowest since April 6 and just more than half of the amount of people who died two days ago

Sir Andrew’s replacement Ken McCallum will be the youngest ever director general when he takes over the top job at MI5 next month.

He has spent almost a quarter of a century working for the security service and is understood to be well-liked by colleagues, approachable, trusted and incisive.

In 2018, Mr McCallum took charge of the agency’s response to the attempted assassination of former Russian agent Sergei Skripal in a nerve agent attack in Salisbury. 

He will take over the job this month when Sir Andrew retires. 

Source: Read Full Article