UK's MI5 'needs more funds to tackle right-wing terror threat'

Far-right threat is rising and concerns are being raised over 'risky' approach UK military is taking

A report has said that the UK's security services need more funds to tackle right-wing extremism. Getty Images
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Britain's security service MI5 needs more funds to tackle the rising threat posed by right-wing extremists, an intelligence report has said.

It comes as concerns have been raised that extreme right-wing groups are pursuing British military personnel as potential recruits.

Britain's parliamentary intelligence committee has revealed that, in one month, a fifth of MI5's terrorism investigations involved far-right extremists, but the agency has not been given extra funds to deal with the rise in work.

"That casework can only be undertaken at the expense of other MI5 work," the committee said.

"This situation is untenable. While MI5, rightly, allocates its resources on what it assesses to be the highest priority work based on its expert knowledge of the threat, we are concerned that MI5 has been expected simply to absorb this new responsibility.

"MI5 must be given additional funding to enable it to conduct these cases without other areas of work suffering as a consequence."

The committee has also raised concerns that the armed forces are taking a "risky" approach to extremists by providing no clear direction over whether military personnel can become members.

The Intelligence and Security Committee said current policies do not set limits on the types of organisations personnel can join, despite the sensitive nature of the jobs carried out by service members.

It has also criticised the UK police’s vetting procedures after incidents of officers being members of far-right groups.

“Extreme right-wing terrorists often display an interest in military culture, weaponry and the armed forces or law enforcement organisations ― the director-general for MI5 noted that ‘many of these people are absolutely fixated with weaponry’," the committee said.

“This leads both to individuals seeking to join the military, and groups seeking to recruit within the military.

“The fact that the armed forces do not provide clear direction to service personnel regarding membership of any organisation ― let alone an extremist one ― would appear to be something of an anomaly.

“It could be argued that this is a somewhat risky approach, given the sensitive roles of many service personnel.”

In April last year figures uncovered by the Guardian newspaper showed that at least 16 service personnel had been referred to the government's terrorism prevention programme in a two and a half year period, the majority of which were over far-right beliefs.

“Ministry of Defence policies do not explicitly state which organisations a service person may be a member of, nor do they place limits on the nature of organisations that a service person may join," defence intelligence officials told the committee.

“However, any extremist ideology is completely at odds with the values of our armed forces and the Ministry of Defence works closely with police and security partners to ensure that any activity or membership of concern is thoroughly investigated.”

The report raises concerns that there is also a "lack of thorough" background checks being carried out by the police.

In April last year, Metropolitan Police officer Ben Hannam was jailed for more than four years for membership of the far-right group National Action.

He had been working as a probationary officer for nearly two years before he was found on a leaked database of users of extreme right-wing forum Iron March and arrested.

“There appears to be an issue around the current vetting processes for candidates applying to join the police — the lack of thorough background checks is a matter of concern," the committee found.

“As the internet and the wider online sphere is the key driver of the extreme right-wing terrorism threat, it follows that online activity must be closely scrutinised when the police are assessing whether an individual is suitable to join its ranks.”

It also gave a warning that there was no process in place to monitor extremists who had travelled overseas and returned to the UK having developed connections with other far-right groups and potentially become more radicalised.

Mark Jones, a former member of National Action, travelled to Ukraine in 2017 to meet members of right-wing militia Azov Battalion, and had also been messaging a member of Lithuanian far-right group Skydas.

He was jailed for five and a half years in June 2020.

Another member of the group was Finnish-born British soldier and Afghanistan veteran Mikko Vehvilainen.

Among its 21 conclusions and recommendations, the committee said MI5 and counter-terror police should be “alert” to the potential for links between the far right and mixed martial arts.

It highlighted that several instructors in other countries were “previously found to have been involved in National Action”.

It has also called on politicians to scrutinise how and why people are referred to the anti-terror programme Prevent amid a “continuing rise in the number of referrals for concerns around extreme right-wing activity”.

It said the Home Office believes the extreme right-wing threat “is likely to increase over the next five years, with economic decline caused by Covid-19 being a likely driver of increased threat”.

Updated: July 14, 2022, 12:58 PM