The United Kingdom is one of the most advanced countries in the field of security studies and cyber security in the world and has fewer cyber-attacks compared to the United States. Organisations in the UK are also constantly updating themselves. 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: the weakness of the United Kingdom in preventing security measures after Brexit, the action of the European Union, including Germany in cooperation with Russia against the United Kingdom, and incoherence in the British security system.
Security in the UK is not overseen by a specific organisation; it is leveled, and government and government-affiliated organisations are responsible for internal, external and cyber security. Since 2001, the UK has implemented security strategy and structural reforms that have expanded the scope of the security establishment in the UK.
As an 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), currently Ken McCallum. He is supported by the Deputy Director General (DDG), Director General Capabilities (DGC), Director General Strategy (DGS) and Director General Corporate Services (DGCS).The Deputy and Assistant Directors General share responsibility for MI5’s capabilities and functions, 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 the UK is most experienced in the field of cyber security. Cyber Security is managed by the Sabiri National Security Centre (NCSC) in the UK. Launched in October 2016, the NCSC has headquarters in London and brought together expertise from CESG (The information assurance arm of GCHQ), the Centre for Cyber Assessment, CERT-UK, and the Centre for Protection of National Infrastructure.
The NCSC provides a single point of contact for SMEs, larger organisations, government agencies, the general public and departments. They also work collaboratively with other law enforcement, defence, UK intelligence and 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. Although, this chaotic schedule has not held him back from a big shake-up in the UK national security and foreign policy. Many policy experts have long argued that the UK has been in need of greater co-ordination in how it approaches national security and foreign policy; and under the auspices of the Sedwill-driven ‘Fusion Doctrine’, an attempt to fuse capabilities to deliver a ‘strategy-led design policy (national security)’, the Conservative government has been moving around the pieces of the 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 in this period of 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 Johnson in March 2021 emphasised 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 Navalny, the Russian opposition leader whom President Vladimir Putin of Russia allowed to be flown to Berlin for treatment, only to jail him on his return to Russia months later, reflected the complexity of the ties.
The British cyber system is highly advanced in terms of studies, ranks first in the world and is constantly being updated. In the meantime, a Russian spy has been arrested at the British Embassy in Germany. Following Brexit, the United Kingdom has left its security concerns with the European Union unfinished, but some countries are seeking to recognise Britain’s actions. Also, some public programmes in the UK seem to be lagging behind, but this is the best opportunity for Boris Johnson to take action during the pandemic without widespread protests. Yet, security measures have been ignored, making the UK vulnerable.