The United Kingdom is one of the most advanced countries in security studies and cyber security in the world and suffers fewer cyber-attacks as compared to the United States. Companies and organisations in the UK are also constantly updating their systems. But the arrest of a Russian spy at the British embassy in Germany appears to have created a serious problem. This can be examined in several ways, such as the weakness of the United Kingdom in implementing security measures after Brexit, and has Boris Johnson’s government considered security measures only to increase budgets?
The UK Security System
The UK Security system is not overseen by a specific organisation, and government and government-affiliated organisations are responsible for their own internal, external and cyberspace security. Since 2001, the UK has implemented security strategies and structural reforms which have expanded the scope of the security framework in the UK.
For example, MI5 operates under the statutory authority of the Home Secretary, but it is not part of the Home Office. The head of MI5 is the Director General (DG) and the post is currently filled by Ken McCallum. He is supported by the Deputy Director General (DDG), Director General Capability (DGC), Director General Strategy (DGS) and Director General Corporate Services (DGCS). The Deputy and Assistant Directors General share responsibility for MI5’s activities and resources, which are organised across ten branches. The legal branch, which supports all parts of MI5’s work, reports directly to the Director General. The Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre (JTAC) and Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure (CPNI) are also accountable to the Director General, although both are self-standing organisations staffed by multiple government departments.
But it has had the most experience in the field of cyber security. Cyber security in the UK is managed by the Sabiri National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC). Launched in October 2016, the NCSC is headquartered in London and has brought together expertise from CESG (the information assurance arm of GCHQ), the Centre for Cyber Assessment, CERT-UK, and the Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure (CPNI).
The NCSC provides a single point of contact for SMEs, larger organisations, government agencies, the general public and government departments; they also collaborate with other law enforcement, defence, intelligence, security agencies and international partners.
Johnson’s Actions on British Security
The first year of Boris Johnson’s premiership has been dominated by Brexit and then Covid-19. Nevertheless, this chaotic schedule has not held him back from implementing a big shake-up in the UK national security and foreign policy. Many policy experts have long argued that the UK needs greater coordination in how it approaches national security and foreign policy; and under the auspices of the ‘Fusion Doctrine’ initiated by Sedwill, which is an attempt to fuse capabilities to deliver ‘strategy-led design of (national security) policy’, the Conservative government has been moving around the pieces of the UK’s national security infrastructure over the last few years.
The prime minister has ramped up this process in recent weeks. He replaced Sir Mark Sedwill as National Security Adviser (NSA) with political appointee David Frost, merged the Department for International Development (DfID) into the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), and encouraged Sir Simon McDonald to step down early as Permanent Under-Secretary at the FCDO. Through these changes, and the upcoming Integrated Review, there is a risk that this government could end up centralising foreign policy once again to the confines of a small cadre of unaccountable advisers loyal to the prime minister.
The political instability at this point in time, due to the lack of a parliamentary majority, battles over Brexit, and rising ministerial leaks, was part and parcel of a breakdown of trust which coincided with the devaluation of the NSC under May. Some sources indicated that May really valued the NSC, but even if it was a consequence of circumstance and external pressure, Theresa May oversaw a notable decline in the NSC.
The biggest announced change to the NSC is the appointment of David Frost as NSA. A former diplomat, Scotch Whisky Association CEO, and SpAD to Boris Johnson, David Frost is well-respected. Yet there has been widespread concern about his appointment to the role of NSA, due to both the lack of relevant security experience and the lack of accountability following the decision to make his appointment a political one, breaking from previous tradition. Frost will also hold the role of chief Brexit negotiator when he starts as NSA which is a concern for some, even though the overlap with the two roles is currently expected to be of short duration. Also Boris Johnson in March 2021 emphasised to boost cyber-attack capacity and made a plan to be considered in parliament.
Germany and the Influence of the Russian Spy at the British Embassy
The arrest is the latest in a spate of detentions as German authorities move against Russian agents. Germany’s domestic intelligence service has grown increasingly concerned that Moscow is stepping up its efforts to win over Western collaborators to gain information about the country’s economic, political and strategic positions, as well as those of the European Union. Much of the focus has been on the threat of cyberespionage after hackers linked to Russia were suspected of breaching the German government’s main data network and the country’s parliament. But experts in Germany say that Moscow is again employing old-fashioned human contact to gather intelligence.
Given its prominent role as Europe’s largest economy, Germany has become an interesting target for espionage by agents from Russia, as well as China, Turkey and Iran, the authorities say. Thomas Haldenwang, who heads Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, told parliament last year that the level of espionage had reached, if not exceeded, the levels during the Cold War, when a divided Germany was at the forefront of a geopolitical divide between the US-led democratic West and the Soviet-controlled communist East.
Germany’s longstanding relationship with Russia has been shaped by deep cultural and economic ties going back centuries, and by devastating wartime battles that have left relations wavering from increased cooperation to bitter recriminations. The poisoning of Aleksei A Navalny, the Russian opposition leader whom President Vladimir V Putin of Russia allowed to be flown to Berlin for treatment, only to jail him upon his return to Russia months later, reflected the complexity of the ties.
The British cyber system is highly advanced in terms of studies and is ranked first in the world. It is constantly being updated, while a Russian spy was arrested at the British embassy in Germany. Following Brexit, the United Kingdom has left its security concerns with the European Union unfinished, and some countries are seeking to recognise Britain’s actions. Also, some public programmes in the UK seem to be lagging behind, but the best opportunity is for Boris Johnson to take action in the pandemic without widespread protests; yet security measures have been ignored and made the UK vulnerable.