Foreign spies working in the UK now face prosecution and deportation under the new laws passed to protect the nation from “hostile countries” such as China or Russia.
Boris Johnson will use the Queen’s speech on May 11 to announce a rule directed against “hostile states”, which plans to carry out a register of all individuals working in the United Kingdom on behalf of foreign governments. Failure to do so will be a crime.
The British Government will also update the “archaic” Official Secrets Act so that it can be used against those who seek to boycott British interests from abroad, including hackers working for so-called “hostile states”. Johnson is determined to press ahead with these measures amid growing concern over Russian and Chinese activities..
Relations deteriorated further this Sunday when Dominic Raab, the foreign minister, said that the United Kingdom offered its “full support” to the Czech government after police announced that they were looking for two men whose passports matched the names of suspects in the 2018 Novichok attack in Salisbury, England.
The British Executive issued a statement after the Government of the Czech Republic expelled 18 employees of the Russian embassy in Prague, accused of being agents of the Russian intelligence services GRU and SVR involved in two explosions in ammunition depots in the city from Vrbetice, in northern Moravia. The explosions occurred in October and December 2014, with the first one killing two people.
The Police of that country published this Sunday photos of two individuals wanted for “serious crimes”, Anatoly Chepig Y Alexander Mishkin, who could be agents of the Russian military intelligence GRU, suspected of the failed assassination attempt on the former Russian spy Sergei Skripal in Salisbury (UK) in 2018.
“The United Kingdom fully supports our Czech allies, who have exposed how far the Russian intelligence services go in their attempts to undertake dangerous and malicious operations in Europe,” the Foreign Minister said in the aforementioned note.
As Raab remarked, “This shows a pattern of behavior on the part of Moscow, after the attack committed with Novichok in (the English town of) Salisbury. My thoughts are with the relatives of the victims in Vrbetice. “
The British minister assured that this country is “determined as always to bring those responsible for the attack in Salisbury to justice” and considered that Russia “must desist from these actions, which violate the most basic international norms.”
The passports with which the two men sought entered the country were documents with fictitious identities issued by the GRU, which were also later used in Great Britain.
Russia and cyber attacks
Last week the United Kingdom and the United States (USA) publicly condemned Russia’s “evil” activities after concluding that there was a “high probability” that it was behind the biggest cyber attacks in Western history.
Raab has accused Moscow of trying to undermine Western democracies and Andre Kelin, Russian ambassador in London, pointed out this Sunday to the BBC that he has not met with the foreign secretary for over a year.
As explained by the British newspaper The Times, the idea of conducting a registration of foreign agents is based on a US system, where individuals working on behalf of foreign governments, officials and political parties are required to register with the US Department of Justice and to report regularly on their activities.
The registration scheme extends to anyone who represents the interests of a foreign state, including lobbyists, consultants and all those who carry out public relations tasks.
Intelligence agencies advocate an equivalent record in the UK and they warn that under current legislation foreign spies can, de facto, act with impunity unless they are caught buying official secrets.
Russian activity in Europe
A former MI6 chief estimates that only 10% of the aggressive intelligence actions carried out by Russia in all of Europe are known.
Sir John Sawers, who headed the British Intelligence Service between 2009 and 2014, pointed out this Monday to BBC Radio 4 that “we shouldn’t be surprised by the activity of Russian intelligence in Europe and I think the Czechs have rebuilt this issue quite well.”
“Everything bears the mark of an operation carried out by Russian intelligence and I think the Czechs have the two people who tried to assassinate Sergei Skripal in Salisbury, I think they got caught. ”Sawers says many more operations have taken place but have not come to light.
“We see the spread of aggressive Russian intelligence activities across Europe, but we probably only know 10% of what they are doing. There must be a large number of intelligence operations that we are not aware of,” he stressed. .
Lord Parker of Minsmere, former head of MI5, told the Commons Intelligence and Security committee: “Today it is not a crime to be a secret agent of Russian intelligence in the UK (just that, to be a secret agent, to pursue a report), unless you acquire harmful secrets and give them to your masters. “
British ministers also want to renew the Official Secrets Act, which has parts dating back to 1911, so it can be used against people carrying out cyberattacks against the UK from abroad. Currently, the Act allows action in this regard only against British citizens who are abroad, but not against foreigners who act against the United Kingdom beyond its borders.
Now Boris Johnson wants to put a stop to this “legal vacuum”. The swords against Russia and China are at the top.