Ken McCallum said that the pan-European threat from the far right was increasing with “bitty, but meaningful international connectivity.”
He added that was not the case for the four years before 2017, and that “quite a few young people [are] attracted to this ideology, which does tend to suggest this threat will be with us for some years to come.”
Yet he added that the far right, while showing signs of international links, was not yet “a kind of coherent global movement,” like al Qaeda or ISIS “where you have a sort of unifying purpose and single organization that pools things together.”
Individuals, “often acting in comparative isolation,” were often fueled by “social processes, to do with individual’s own needs and self view,” McCallum said, and the far-right ideology was often “tacked on after someone has moved in that direction.”
“These stories are not terribly coherent either,” he said. “If you look either at right-wing extremism or Islamist extremism, it’s not a coherent ideology that really stands up to much scrutiny. People are nonetheless, sadly, attracted to the seeming certainty that they seek to provide.”
The MI5 chief, who lists hiking and being an active father as his interests, said the growing threat was replicated in Europe and the United States. “Essentially all the services with which we partner closely have some version of this.”
He also said their skills were being used to protect Britain’s top medical laboratories, after UK officials accused Russia in July of trying to access the country’s vaccine research servers. “Crucially, on the vaccine, we’ve been working to protect the integrity of UK research,” he said.
After 24 years in the service, McCallum heads MI5 at a time when it is under criticism for failing to prevent the 2017 Manchester bombing of an Ariana Grande concert, and scrutiny over its assessment of Russian meddling in British elections.
He admitted that “no matter how much ingenuity and hard work we bring in,” MI5 cannot prevent every terror attack. “And if I’m honest, when my own phone rings late in the evening, my stomach lurches in case it is one of those awful moments.”