UK taking election interference threats "very seriously"

AFP , Sunday 21 Jan 2024

The UK is taking threats of foreign interference elections expected later this year "very seriously", the defence minister said Sunday, after a warning from a counter-terrorism official.

UK Defense minister
File photo: Britain s Defence Secretary Grant Shapps delivers a speech on defending the UK and its allies, at Lancaster House, in London. AFP


"Obviously, that's something that we take very seriously," Shapps told the Sky News channel.

Counter-terrorism bodies and other institutions would "be looking very carefully at that", he said.

UK counter-terrorism chief Matt Jukes said Friday that the espionage threat from foreign states -- such as China, Russia and Iran -- is greater now than it has been "since the days of the cold war".

He said the police had set up a new unit to counter the threats of interference ahead of the election, which is expected to be called later this year.

The unit would use powers granted by the National Security Act passed in July to make it harder for countries to spy and interfere in the political process, he said.

"We are talking about parts of the state apparatus of Iran, China and Russia," Jukes said.

A report by US software company Microsoft in November last year said Russia, Iran and China were likely to engage in sophisticated influence and interference efforts ahead of the 2024 US presidential election and in other pivotal elections worldwide.

All three countries were expected to seek to shape geopolitical outcomes in their favour amid major ongoing or potential regional conflicts, the report said.

Interference efforts were likely to take place on different online platforms than those targeted in elections in 2016 and 2020.

The counter-terrorism chief also warned that conflict in the Middle East had led to a surge in Islamist activity and that the United Kingdom was facing "a radicalisation moment".

He said there had been a 25 percent increase in information flowing through police systems about terrorism and violent extremism, "a significant increase" on "usual levels".

"We always see spikes after terrorist incidents but what we've seen since October 7 has been a spike which is higher and more sustained than ever before," Jukes said in comments to local media.

"I would describe the speed and the scale of the impact of those global events as extraordinary."

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