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UK has “badly underestimated” Russian interference, says ISC report

3 min read
21 July 2020 | UK NEWS

The UK has “badly underestimated” Russia’s menace, according to the parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC). They also say that Russian influence is “the new normal”.

The report analyses the threats posed by the Russian Government and the responses necessary to counter these attacks. The report states that the reasons for Russia’s actions are “relatively limited”.

“It wishes to be seen as a resurgent ‘great power’ – in particular, dominating the countries of the former USSR – and to ensure that the privileged position of its leadership clique is not damaged.”

Among the threats identified by the ISC were the Russian use of cyber-attacks and the spread of disinformation. Also mentioned was the use of oligarchs to further the goals of the Russian Government by integrating them into society and creating industries around them.  The report says on this issue:

“The extent to which Russian expatriates are using their access to UK businesses and politicians to exert influence in the UK is ***: it is widely recognised that Russian intelligence and business are completely intertwined.”

(“***” denotes information that has been censored from the publicly-available version of the report for reasons of national security. There are a great many such occurrences throughout the text.)

The Intelligence and Security Committee places much of the blame regarding the failure to counteract Russian efforts on the successive governments that did not recognise the threat. The report says that the first credible reports of interference targeted the Scottish referendum in 2014, but the UK Government only began to acknowledge the threat after the US and French presidential elections in 2016 and 2017 respectively.

On the safety of UK General Elections, the report said:

We have been informed that the mechanics of the UK’s voting system are deemed largely sound: the use of a highly dispersed paper-based voting and counting system makes any significant interference difficult, and we  understand that GCHQ has undertaken a great deal of work to help ensure that the online voter registration system is safe.”

On the issue of Russian interference in the EU referendum in 2016, the report said:

“The actual impact of any such attempts on the result itself – by which I mean did the disinformation change how people voted – would be difficult – if not impossible – to prove.”

The Russian Foreign Minister has called the findings of the report “Russophobia”, while a Kremlin spokesman has said that Russia does not meddle in other countries’ elections.

The Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, tweeted: “We’ve been clear that Russia must desist from its attacks on the UK and our allies. We will be resolute in defending our country, our democracy and our values from such Hostile State.”

The Shadow Foreign Secretary, Lisa Nandy, said in response to the report: “The Government has underestimated the response required to Russia and it is imperative we learn the lessons from the mistakes that have been made.”

The report was completed prior to the 2019 General Election, and the Government has been criticised for failing to publish it until now for political reasons. However, the BBC reported yesterday that this was in fact “because it relied on a decision by the Intelligence and Security Committee, which was not reformed until last week”.

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