The head of the British intelligence agency MI6, Alex Younger, has said cyber-attacks, propaganda and subversion from hostile states pose a “fundamental threat” to European democracies, including the UK. In a rare speech by an MI6 chief while in office, Younger did not specifically name Russia but left no doubt that this was the target of his remarks. Russia has been accused of interfering in the US presidential election and there are concerns it could do the same in French and German elections next year. He did mention Russia in relation to Syria, portraying Russian military support for the country’s president, Bashar al-Assad, in the takeover of Aleppo and elsewhere as potentially creating a long-term problem that could increase radicalisation. “In Aleppo, Russia and the Syrian regime seek to make a desert and call it peace. The human tragedy is heartbreaking,” Younger said.
Russia has moved ever closer to centre stage for the US and UK intelligence agencies over the last year. During the US election campaign Donald Trump said he would seek to engage in some sort of discourse with Vladimir Putin, the Russian president.
Younger delivered the speech at the headquarters of the Secret Intelligence Service, the official name for MI6, at Vauxhall Cross in central London. It was the first time an MI6 chief has made a speech at the HQ, a move aimed at trying to show the secret organisation is making an effort to be a bit more transparent.
He described the internet as having turned the work of the intelligence services on its head and said it represented “an existential threat” as well as an opportunity.