UK: New MI5 Director Appointed at time of acute crisis

The MI5 HQ at Thames House where multiple crisis have sapped the service's morale

RT/Moscow: The British Security Service (MI5) is set for a new director general as the country struggles to cope with the coronavirus pandemic.

Ken McCallum, who is of Scottish descent, is replacing Andrew Parker as the head of MI5 at the end of April.

The appointment of McCallum as the security service’s 18th director general coincides with a period of unprecedented disquiet and anxiety within MI5.

The crisis within MI5 prompted the Queen to undertake her first publicized visit to the organization last month in the hope of boosting the service’s sagging morale.

The attempted assassination of Russian double agent, Sergei Skripal, in Salisbury in March 2018 is widely regarded as one of MI5’s biggest failures in recent decades.

British government marks Skripal anniversary but refuses to release Russia report
British government marks Skripal anniversary but refuses to release Russia report
The British establishment marked the second anniversary of the alleged attack on Russian double agent, Sergei Skripal, against the backdrop of mounting concern over its refusal to publish a report on alleged Russian influence on the UK political system.
In addition, the security service’s inability to stop recent terror attacks in London has raised profound questions about the organization’s efficacy in the face of intensifying national security threats.

Distinctive profile

According to MI5’s official statement, McCallum – who is in his late 40s and thus the youngest director general to date – has almost 25 years experience across the “full spectrum” of national security and intelligence work.

These include experience in Northern Ireland (where MI5 colluded with Loyalist terrorists to murder Irish Republicans); countering so-called “Islamist extremist terrorism”; and cyber security.

There are two features of McCallum’s career profile which stand out and could be the key to how the service believes it can break out of its current crisis.

Starting in 2012 McCallum was seconded to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (now referred to as Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy) where he was able to gain vital private sector experience on digital issues.

Ken McCallum in 2012 when he briefly served outside MI5
Even after his return to MI5 (probably in 2014), McCallum was simultaneously appointed to the role of non-executive director on the board of the Nuclear Decomissioning Authority, thus gaining even more private sector experience and connections.

In addition to his relatively strong private sector links, McCallum’s profile is distinctive in so far as he has worked closely with both MI6 and GCHQ.

Starting in 2015, McCallum was appointed to the role of Director General Strategy (a new position in MI5), where he worked with the directors and senior officers of MI6 and GCHQ on a broad range of legislative, operational and strategic issues.

The right fix?

Faced with internal factionalism, collapsing morale and loss of public confidence, it would appear that MI5 bosses – and their allies in the Home Office – view McCallum as having the right set of skills and experience to navigate the service out of a deep crisis.

To that end, McCallum promises to be the most collegiate and media-friendly director general to date, relying more and more on public relations to rebuild both the service’s internal morale and its image amongst the general public.

Skillful PR notwithstanding, it is not yet clear if the new director general has both the leadership skills and personal authority to get to grips with the service’s operational and political challenges.

On political challenges, McCallum’s top priority will be to apply pressure on his political bosses to take a harder line against Russian influence on both British politics and finance.

Hitherto, the government has resisted releasing a parliamentary report into Russian influence in public life, reportedly for fear of exposing deep links between the ruling Tory party and Russian oligarchs.

Release of Canadian report on foreign meddling puts pressure on UK government to follow suit
Release of Canadian report on foreign meddling puts pressure on UK government to follow suit
The publication of a Canadian parliamentary report into foreign meddling in the country
If the government changes its mind on this issue it will be a sign that McCallum has begun to succeed where his predecessor abjectly failed.

The Queen has publicly visited the headquarters of the Security Service, MI5, for the first time during her 66-year reign.

This highly unusual function comes on the heels of successive setbacks for MI5, including repeated terror attacks on the streets of London and a highly public row with the political establishment, notably Home Secretary Priti Patel.

Boris Johnson leaps to Priti Patel's defence in her conflict with MI5

Boris Johnson leaps to Priti Patel’s defence in her conflict with MI5

Boris Johnson has apparently decided to defend his controversial Home Secretary, Priti Patel, as reports of her tense relationship with MI5 chiefs continue to mount.

MI5 is also under increasing pressure to arrest the momentum of the Scottish independence movement.

How MI5 and GCHQ are trying to subvert the Scottish independence movement

Whilst Boris Johnson steadfastly refuses to grant permission for a Scottish independence referendum, behind the scenes the British security services are quietly busy plotting against the independence movement.

Visiting the MI5 HQ at Thames House in London, the Queen, 93, praised the Security Service for carrying out “vital work” at “home and abroad” to keep “people safe”.

This unusually effusive praise of the UK’s intelligence services by the Queen comes at a time of acute stress within MI5 and growing signs of a collapse in morale and cohesion.

Besides recent setbacks, in the past decade MI5 has come under growing criticism for not even fully protecting its own assets let alone ordinary members of the public.

The alleged poisoning of Russian double agent (and MI6 asset), Sergei Skripal (who was attacked in Salisbury in March 2018), is widely regarded as MI5’s biggest failure since the successful assassination in London of another Russian double agent, Alexander Litvinenko, in November 2006.

In an effort to cover up its own operational failings – and possible internal divisions – MI5 attributed the attempted assassination of Skripal to the Russian foreign military intelligence service, the GRU.

The Queen will be hoping her visit to Thames House will motivate MI5 to contain the threat emanating from the UK’s centrifugal forces, notably the quest for Scottish independence and potential political unrest in the north of Ireland.

Although this is the Queen’s first official and public visit to MI5 HQ, the monarch is believed to make unpublicized visits to MI5 at least once a year.


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  1. In the upcoming battle for “who makes the ongoing flu vaccine the fastest” there will be much needed MI5 effort to overshadow the non western science. The Scottish 2nd referendum will fall back into another distant plan, once the public heated comparison is made between economy-virus shattered EU and prospect of growing market of UK Commonwealth. Skripal affair was not an MI5 failure, it got the sanctions going, didn’t it?

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