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DG article in The Times - 17 November 2022

Published date: 17 Nov 2022

Ken McCallum

MI5 Director General Ken McCallum speaking at Thames House on November 16, 2022

The following article by MI5 Director General Ken McCallum was published in The Times on November 17 2022 following his annual threat update.

Terrorism remains a substantial threat to the UK

MI5 necessarily operates behind the scenes, so it may come as a surprise to see me writing here. Being effective against covert threats means protecting the details of our work, keeping our tools — and how we use them — secret. We maintain our advantage against our adversaries by not showing them what we know.

However, it is also the case that to protect national security we have to tell people about the threats we are countering and why it matters to them. This is why I have continued the tradition of giving an annual public account of the often hidden threats facing our country and what MI5 is doing about them. This is no vanity project. In lots of areas, we need the public’s direct support. Speaking to the public we serve is also part of our accountability, alongside the robust independent oversight to which we are subject.

Terrorism remains a substantial threat. Telling the public about this threat means that when we ask something of them — whether that is simply to remain vigilant, or for some businesses to invest in defences against terrorist attacks — they know why it matters. As I explained in my annual update, the breadth of the threats in 2022 is striking. Earlier this year Christopher Wray, director of the FBI, and I explained why the activities of the Chinese Communist Party pose the most game-changing strategic challenge to the West. Since then we have seen yet more concerning activity in the UK, including the harassment and intimidation of those perceived to be challenging the Chinese state’s interests.

Meanwhile, Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine has shown the importance of investing in UK resilience and hardening our defences against both overt and covert Russian action.

We need to be clear-eyed about the threat that states increasingly pose. When MI5 makes a case for vital new powers — such as those in the National Security Bill, which is passing through parliament — we must of course justify their necessity. But make no mistake: the West is in a contest with determined adversaries.

Speeches are not our only venture into the public sphere. MI5’s Instagram account, now 18 months old, is where we share what we can about the reality of working for MI5. This is crucial if we are to attract the best candidates. Many people still assume that to get a job with us means waiting for a tap on the shoulder. I want to bust this enduring myth. We’ve been recruiting openly for 25 years. MI5 needs a host of different skills and expertise from all backgrounds. People assume that you need to have gone to certain universities to work here, when the reality is there are lots of jobs you can apply to do straight from school. People assume they can’t have a work-life balance, when the reality is that we can’t take sensitive work home, so we often have clearer boundaries than many organisations.

We are also expanding the partners we work with and the partnerships we talk about. As well as our operational partners in the UK and around the world, this year we announced, for example, our close relationship with the Alan Turing Institute, letting us make the most of artificial intelligence and data science as we look at how best to combat the threats of the future. By being open about the partnership we’ll be able to be more upfront about some of the cutting-edge research we’re involved with.

Before I head back into the shadows, I’d like to use this rare opportunity to pay tribute to the people working tirelessly in my organisation. They are responding to the threats we face now and readying MI5 for those we will need to contend with in the future. They’re a precious national asset. I am deeply proud of them.

Ken McCallum is director-general of MI5


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