South Holland and the Deepings MP Sir John Hayes: 'Freedom in rooted in order and order can only be maintained by a strong independent nation state'
In July I was honoured to join one of Parliament’s most significant bodies- the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC).
The ISC overseas and scrutinises those whose task it is to keep us safe, including the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), the Security Service (MI5) and Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ).
In addition, those working in defence intelligence in the Cabinet Office and Ministry of Defence, alongside the Home Office’s Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism (OSCT), are all accountable to the cross-party Committee. As members of the ISC are routinely given access to highly classified material members are subject to the Official Secrets Act.
The committee of nine Parliamentarians, appointed by the Houses of Parliament having been nominated by the Prime Minister, is able to set its own agenda – collecting evidence from Government ministers, heads of the intelligence agencies, senior officials and academics.
Since its establishment in 1994, the committee has conducted enquiries and published reports on subjects ranging from drone strikes in Syria to foreign involvement in critical national infrastructure; Iraqi weapons of mass destruction to security service work against organised crime, as well as issuing an annual report to Parliament.
As Security Minister, responsible for counter terrorism and serious organised crime, I learned a great deal about the threats faced by the United Kingdom in a rapidly changing world; threats which are posed by many kinds of people from across the globe.
Last week’s ‘unequivocal’ confirmation by German authorities that Russian opposition politician, Alexei Navalny was poisoned with a Novichok nerve agent is the latest attempt by President Putin’s regime to murder opponents with impunity.
Though the darkest days of the Cold War are behind us, the scale and nature of continued Russian espionage illustrates why we must remain vigilant to the threat posed by an emboldened, nationalist Russia intent on expansion. The recently published ISC report, concluded that: “the security threat posed by Russia is difficult for the West to manage as, in our view, and that of many others, it appears fundamentally nihilistic.” The report made a series of recommendations about what we need to do in response, centred around “a broad international coalition that is willing to act quickly and decisively against Russian aggression.”
The biggest change to the challenges we face is in the means used by malevolent states, organisations and individuals. In essence; global communications allow those with malign intent to communicate instantly, maintain secrecy and proselytise their cause, so radicalising vulnerable people. Given that securing our interests depends upon anticipating and predicting what might happen next, as terrorism metamorphosises, becoming less predictable, it, in turn, becomes increasingly hard to counter. Terrorists are now more adaptable and flexible, with many of Britain’s enemies enjoying highly developed cyber capabilities which can deliver a range of malicious impacts across every sector of society.
In defending the free world against the perpetual attempts of hostile state actors to destabilise our nation by undermining all that delivers wellbeing, our collaboration with allies is vital. As many of the challenges encountered in scrutinising the intelligence community are universal, opportunities to learn from – and share best practice – with international counterparts are invaluable. Cooperation between the ‘five eyes’ nations -The United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and New Zealand - facilitates the sharing of crucial data on states and organisations which pose a threat to those countries and their peoples. This hugely successful alliance has allowed us to thwart numerous planned acts of terror.
The COVID-19 pandemic and its consequences should serve as an urgent wakeup call; encouraging reappraisals not just of how we govern, but also of how we protect our democratic institutions.
Just as the First World War brought an unexpected end to the first wave of globalisation, this pandemic will surely end the second. The future belongs to those countries that adapt quickly to this new reality. So, our Government must now act fast to shift its focus towards building resilience and preparedness for the shock of abnormal events.
Freedom is rooted in order and order can only be maintained by a strong, independent nation state well-equipped to defend its interests at home and abroad. To which end, security is a basic necessity for each and every one of us – enabling the protection of our shared values and the quality of life they spawn.