The UK’s intelligence services are facing an “intense” challenge from terrorism, the head of MI5 has warned.
In his first substantial remarks since Britain was hit by a flurry of attacks this year, Mr Parker detailed the “acute and enduring” challenge posed by Islamist terrorism: “We’ve seen a dramatic up-shift in threat this year”.
He said there was currently “more terrorist activity coming at us, more quickly” and that it can also be “harder to detect”. And that the shift is being driven by the “murderous strategy” of Daesh (also known as Islamic State) and online propaganda, and warned that the threat is “more diverse than I’ve ever known”.
“Plots developed here in the UK but plots directed from overseas as well,” he said. “Plots online. Complex scheming and also crude stabbings. Lengthy planning but also spontaneous attacks.
Speaking in London, Mr Parker said the tempo of counter-terrorism operations was the highest he had seen in his 34-year career at MI5.
MI5 is running 500 live operations involving 3,000 individuals involved in extremist activity in some way, he said.
Twenty attacks had been foiled in the last four years, including seven in the last seven months, he said – all related to what he called Islamist extremism.
Parker cautioned, however, that it is impossible to stop every attack.
“Attacks will occur sometimes because this is a free society, a liberal democracy, and we do not monitor everybody all the time,” he said. “Nor would we want to live in a country that was like that.”
The director called on technology companies to work with the government on preventing their social media platforms from being used by extremists for communications that cannot be monitored.