Skip to main content

Director general of MI5 Andrew Parker delivers a speech in central London, on the security threat facing Britain, on Oct. 17, 2017.

REUTERS

Britain's domestic intelligence chief warned during a rare public speech Tuesday that the terrorist threat the country faces has accelerated at an alarming pace and is worse now than at any time in his 34-year career.

MI5 Director General Andrew Parker said his agency, also known as the Security Service, is constantly expanding and upgrading its capability, but cannot realistically prevent all attacks targeting civilians.

"In 2017, with all that has happened and much that has not, it is clear that we are contending with an intense U.K. terrorist threat from Islamist extremists," Parker told journalists in London. "That threat is multi-dimensional, evolving rapidly, and operating at a scale and pace we've not seen before."

Story continues below advertisement

He noted a "dramatic upshift" in the threat this year, with successful attacks in London and Manchester that killed 36 people combined.

"Twenty attacks in the U.K. have been foiled over the past four years," Parker said. "Many more will have been prevented by the early interventions we and the police make. There have been a record number of terrorism-related arrests: 379 in the year to June."

He said continental Europe has faced a similar surge, particularly in France, Belgium, Germany and Spain.

"The scale at which we are operating is greater than ever before," he said.

Parker said MI5 has more than 500 live investigations involving roughly 3,000 people known to be involved in extremist activities.

In addition, he said, more than 20,000 individuals have been scrutinized in the past for possible terror ties and there are undoubtedly "violent extremists" who have thus far not been detected by the Security Service.

The risk is further heightened by the possible return to Britain of citizens who joined the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq, Parker said.

Story continues below advertisement

He said MI5 is well-equipped to cope with the deepening threat, with its ranks set to grow from 4,000 to 5,000 over the next few years.

Parker cautioned, however, that it is impossible to stop every attack.

"Attacks will occur sometimes because this is a free society, a liberal democracy, and we do not monitor everybody all the time," he said. "Nor would we want to live in a country that was like that."

The director called on technology companies to work with the government on preventing their social media platforms from being used by extremists for communications that cannot be monitored.

When asked if Facebook and Google were doing enough on this front, Parker declined to discuss specific companies.

He praised advancements in communications technology, but said an "unintended side effect" has been to make it easier for extremists to avoid legal monitoring by using apps, including many that provide encryption, to avoid detection. He said companies should to more to prevent this abuse of their communications systems.

Story continues below advertisement

"For the companies there must be an ethical responsibility," Parker said. "The way to move forward is in partnerships together.

Security camera video released by Edmonton police show the moment an officer was struck by a car when a crowd control barrier was rammed, and then appears to show the the driver stabbing the officer.
Report an error
Comments

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

If your comment doesn't appear immediately it has been sent to a member of our moderation team for review

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.