Good morning. I’m delighted to be with you here today. I’ve worked
with my close colleague and friend Dr Hans-Georg Maaßen for
many years. BfV are a vital partner for MI5 at the heart of a
sophisticated European intelligence network. And Germany is of
course at the heart of Europe. It therefore feels right that I’m here in
Berlin as the place to give the first public speech outside the UK by
a serving Director-General of MI5. Thank you, Hans-Georg, for the

Today I want to offer my reflections on the shared hybrid threats
that European nations face from hostile activity by states but also
from international terrorism. I also want to talk about how a joinedup
European security response is critical to tackling these threats,
and I want to give a flavour of what this response looks like today –
I believe the phrase in German is ‘Zusammenarbeit’. Delivering
success together where delivering it alone is simply not possible.

The threat

Hostile activity by states

So, first, the current threat landscape. We are living in a period
where Europe faces sustained hostile activity from certain states.
Let me be clear, by this I don’t just mean spies spying on spies;
spies following each other round at the dead of night. I mean
deliberate and targeted malign activity intended to undermine our
free, open and democratic societies; to destabilise the international
rules-based system that underpins our stability, security and

Chief protagonist among these hostile actors is the Russian
Government. Notice I don’t say Russia. The United Kingdom has
the utmost admiration and respect for the people of Russia; for their
proud culture and long history. I myself studied the Russian
language at school. We have no desire to escalate tensions, or to
go back to the tense and dangerous times that Europe lived
through during the Cold War – Berlin more than most cities knows
what that felt like.

One of the Kremlin’s central and entirely admirable aims is to build
Russian greatness on the world stage. There are ways open for it
to do so as part of the rules-based order. But its repeated choices
have been to pursue that aim through aggressive and pernicious
actions by its military and intelligence services. Instead of becoming
a respected great nation it risks becoming a more isolated pariah.
We want cordial relations with the Russian government and for it to
live up to its international obligations, taking its place on the world
stage in the rules-based order. We look forward to that day. But our
respect for Russia’s people and desire for a productive relationship
cannot and must not stop us from calling out and pushing back on
the Kremlin’s flagrant breaches of international rules.

Leaders across Europe and the world have taken a stand. They
have sent a strong message that the first use of a nerve agent in
Europe since the Second World War, and supporting and protecting
the Syrian regime’s horrific use of chemical weapons to kill and
maim civilians, is simply not acceptable.

The Russian government’s invasion of Crimea – taking territory
from another sovereign European country by force – is not
acceptable. Seeking to interfere with legitimate democratic
elections in the US and in France is not acceptable. Attempting to
mount a coup against the elected government of Montenegro is not
acceptable. And neither is unleashing cyber-attacks against our
countries and institutions, as they have done against the Bundestag
here in Berlin.

Our adversaries have proven to be early adopters of technology –
particularly internet technologies: those extraordinary and exciting
advances that increasingly power our economies and our lives.
Age-old attempts at covert influence and propaganda have been
supercharged in online disinformation, which can be churned out at
massive scale and little cost. The aim is to sow doubt by flat denials
of the truth, to dilute truth with falsehood, divert attention to fake
stories, and do all they can to divide alliances. Bare-faced lying
seems to be the default mode, coupled with ridicule of critics.
The Russian state’s now well-practised doctrine of blending media
manipulation, social media disinformation and distortion with new
and old forms of espionage, high levels of cyber attacks, military
force and criminal thuggery is what is meant these days by the
label ‘hybrid threats’.

We saw this approach again in Salisbury. The reckless attempted
assassination of Sergey Skripal using a highly lethal nerve agent
put numerous lives at risk. It was only through near-miraculous
medical intervention that his and his daughter’s lives were saved
and wider preventive action taken.

The attack was swiftly followed by a cynical and distasteful
information campaign to sow confusion and doubt. The Russian
state’s media outlets and representatives have propagated at least
30 different so-called explanations in their efforts to mislead the
world and their own people. One media survey found that two-thirds
of social media output at the peak of the Salisbury story came from
Russian government-controlled accounts. Whatever nonsense they
conjure up, the case is clear.

Similarly, after the sickening attack on the people of Douma the
Russian state machine pumped out a torrent of lies aimed at
undermining international consensus and well established systems
to protect innocent civilians from chemical weapons.

Our democracies, our societies and our bonds of partnership are
strong. But we must not be complacent about the longer-term
potential impact of this activity – whether by those in Russia, Iran or
beyond – on the international rules-based order that supports our
security and prosperity. We are all used to living in free societies
with democratic governments that operate on a strong foundation of
openness, integrity and accountability within a system of law with
strong checks and balances. That is the context for MI5 too. But all
of that is entirely alien territory to our adversaries.


In parallel to this state-level hostile activity, Europe faces an
intense, unrelenting and multidimensional international terrorist
threat. Daesh continues to pose the most acute threat, but Al
Qaeda and other Islamist terrorist groups haven’t gone away. With
the police we are also actively monitoring the trajectory of extreme
right-wing terrorism. As we see instances of it rearing its ugly head
our response is equally firm.

The sickening impact, shock and disgust of terrorism has been felt
right across Europe. Just two days ago Paris saw another brutal
attack. Since 2016 there have been 45 attacks across 7 countries:
the UK, Germany, France, Belgium, Spain, Sweden and Finland.
This of course includes the despicable attack on 19 December
2016 right here in Berlin, in which 12 people lost their lives. It also
includes the disgusting attacks the British public suffered last year.

Next week marks one year since the barbaric attack on the
Manchester Arena. 22 people lost their lives, leaving many more
with life-changing physical and psychological injuries. These
people, many who were young children, were simply enjoying an
evening out at a concert with their families and friends.

The 13 people killed in two attacks in London last year were just
going about their everyday lives. They were from the UK, Spain,
France, the United States, Australia, Canada and Romania. Many
of those indiscriminately killed and injured were citizens of our
flourishing and diverse European democracies.

We remember those who lost their lives in these senseless attacks
across Europe. I know that MI5 and our European partners feel the
impact personally as well as professionally: it re-doubles our shared
determination to defeat this menace, and the threat it poses to our

This unprecedented tempo of attack planning shows no signs of
abating. In the UK alone, since the Westminster attack in March
2017, with the police we have thwarted a further 12 Islamist terror
plots – 12 occasions where we have good reason to believe a
terrorist attack would otherwise have taken place. That brings the
total number of disrupted attacks in the UK since 2013 to 25.
This upshift in threat is driven by Daesh’s murderous ideology.
Whilst Daesh has now lost its false Caliphate in its strongholds in
Syria and Iraq, tackling the group as a movement will require
sustained international focus for years to come. As I speak today,
they are seeking to regroup and the threat will persist.

I describe the terrorist threat as three dimensional because plots
germinate at home, abroad and online. Terrorism operates across
those three spaces. Online Daesh pumps out its vile propaganda
and practical instruction. Daesh’s twisted ideology continues to
influence vulnerable and violent individuals across Europe and
beyond to use crude but deadly methods to kill: from stabbings to
vehicle attacks; from bullets to bombs; from hard to soft targets. In
Syria and other spaces of low or no governance Daesh still aspires
to generate and direct devastating and more complex attacks.
Terrorism is not new. But, amplified and accelerated by the reach
and tempo of technological change, it is now more global, more
multi-dimensional and of a different order of pace and intensity than
Hans-Georg and I have seen in our long careers.


I’ve so far painted a rather bleak picture. Maybe that’s an
occupational hazard for people in the jobs that Hans-Georg and I

The threat landscape I have described is shared across the nations
of Europe, and that is how we address it. The picture is dynamic
and can be dazzlingly complex: all the time shifting form and flitting
across borders; straddling the cyber and real worlds; part in light,
and part inhabiting the murky corners of the internet.
Our talented police and intelligence colleagues across Europe who
combat the scourges of child sexual exploitation, serious and
organised crime and modern slavery are working against a similar

It may therefore come as a surprise to you when I say that I’m
confident about our ability to tackle these new shapes of threat. I’m
confident because of the commitment, talent and skill of the people
working against these threats. I’m confident because of the strength
and resilience of our democratic systems. And the resilience of our
societies and the support of the public. I’m also confident because
of the robust framework of law, oversight, transparency and
accountability that UK Agencies work within and the values we
share with European partners.

But I’m particularly confident because I firmly believe in the power
of partnerships. By thickening existing partnerships, developing
new ones and working in new and different ways we can find and
stop the vast majority of those seeking to do us harm.
Partnerships are at the heart of our work. In the UK, MI5 is very
closely partnered with SIS, GCHQ, the police, and the military
across all our work.

We are working ever more closely and innovatively with both
central government and local agencies, whether calling out hostile
propaganda by malign states or supporting individuals at risk of
being radicalised to the point of violence.

Our partnerships with industry and academia are developing in truly
exciting ways, as we together build capabilities and solve
intelligence challenges at the vanguard of science and technology.
Our relationships with social media companies and
communications service providers remain as critical as ever. We
are committed to working with them as they look to fulfil their ethical
responsibility to prevent terrorist, hostile state and criminal
exploitation of internet carried services: shining a light on terrorists
and paedophiles; taking down bomb making instructions; warning
the authorities about attempts to acquire explosives precursors.
This matters and there is much more to do.

And, thinking of those we depend on, I want also to pay tribute to
the extraordinary, brave and skilled help we are given by members
of the public who work with us as agents – human sources – to
whom we owe so much of our success in protecting society and I
thank them for their commitment and courage.

Today, standing in Berlin, reflecting on the acute shared security
threats we face, it is of course our vital European partnerships that
are at the front of my mind. For many years we and partner
services like the BfV have worked to develop and invest in strong
intelligence and security partnerships across Europe: bilaterally,
multilaterally and with EU institutions. In today’s uncertain world, we
all need that shared strength more than ever. As Prime Minister
Theresa May said in Florence: these are challenges to our shared
European interests and values that we can only solve in
partnership. Our democracy, prosperity and security all depend on
collaboration to address such threats.


I believe there has been too little public explanation of the depth
and quality of intelligence and security cooperation within Europe.
That is understandable because so much of it is necessarily secret.
But there is much we can say. I’ve heard our European
partnerships characterised dismissively in terms of ‘simple’
intelligence sharing: swapping a document here, a phone number
or email address there, and passing a tip-off where necessary. But
this totally misrepresents the advanced arrangements, systems and
structures that European security services have together built, and
that we need to continue to build on to keep pace with shifting
threats and technologies.

European intelligence cooperation today is simply unrecognisable
to what it looked like even five years ago – the vast majority of my
intelligence officers will spend huge chunks of their careers working
collaboratively with European colleagues. I’d like to tell you more
about what this collaboration actually looks like.

Bilateral cooperation means building on our shared values and
respect for the law, so that together we make the best use of each
other’s knowledge, skills and capabilities to keep our countries
safe. I can say confidently that this has prevented loss of life in

It means that we align our strategic interests and concentrate effort
on the most pressing risks and challenges. It means my senior
team engaged in substantial work programmes with our European
counterparts. On data. On capabilities. On policy and compliance.

It means welcoming some European colleagues to MI5’s
intelligence officer training programme and sharing our methods
and practices, and MI5 learning from exchanges with our European
colleagues. It means working together jointly on investigations and
collection operations to deliver results and disruptions. Indeed, we
have another session here in Germany soon. Together we will be
building on recent joint work on running and protecting the human
sources who risk their lives to protect us. And we will be continuing
to learn from each other’s methodology on spotting so-called ‘lone

These partnerships also mean being there for each other when
times are tough. I was overwhelmed by the generous support that
poured in from my European colleagues following the terrorist
attacks in the UK last year. And it wasn’t just sentiment: BfV, and
others, made a material contribution to supporting our investigation
into the Manchester attack. In the same vein, I have willingly sent
MI5 officers to other European cities to support our friends following
terrorist attacks.

Our multilateral operational collaboration is also increasingly critical
to operational success, particularly through the Counter Terrorism
Group, or CTG, which is made up of 30 European domestic
security services. This is the largest multinational CT intelligence
enterprise in the world, with thousands of exchanges on advanced
secure networks every week.

This multilateral cooperation doesn’t look like frosty gatherings of
strangers reading out national positions at each other. It looks like
intelligence officers from 30 countries permanently co-located
together as a joint operational platform. It looks like real-time
intelligence sharing and agreeing joint tactics to combine each
country’s resources to best effect.

It looks like professionals from all across Europe who know and
trust each other working together and sharing data on shared
systems about terrorist fighters dispersing from Syria. It looks like
developing new ways to run and de-conflict human intelligence
operations together. It looks like attacks thwarted and terrorists
arrested who could not otherwise have been found in time by any
one nation alone.

This highly developed national security collaboration largely takes
place outside EU structures, and doesn’t depend on membership.
So, at the primary level, Brexit makes no difference to the strength
of those partnerships. But that is not the whole story. National level
and multilateral security work between European nations draws
strength from a range of important EU systems and arrangements.

Exchanging data through EU law enforcement databases, and
Passenger Name Records on the travel of terrorist subjects across
Europe provides vital intelligence. Practical cooperation to
efficiently arrest and surrender terrorists and criminals using the
European Arrest Warrant enables the swift delivery of justice. And
our exchanges with EUROPOL and other EU bodies, where the UK
is a major contributor, make us all safer.

The UK is of course leaving the EU and our relationship with the
EU must change as a result, but as our government has said many
times, we are not leaving Europe. In the Prime Minister’s speech in
Munich she signalled the government’s intent to sustain this
mutually beneficial cooperation and develop a UK-EU treaty on
internal security, building on our unique history of partnership.

MI5 – and my SIS and GCHQ colleagues – are absolutely and
necessarily committed to continuing to develop our contribution to
collective security. That is what the threats require. We must not
risk the loss of mutual capability or weakening of collective effort
across Europe. I don’t do politics, but it is of course political
agreements, laws and treaties that permit or constrain what we can
do together as agencies protecting our nations and Europe. So it’s
as a security practitioner that I hope for a comprehensive and
enduring agreement that tackles obstacles and allows the
professionals to get on with the job together. We owe that to all our
citizens across Europe.


I started out today by describing the shifting threat landscape and
the impact of technology: an intense and diverse terrorist threat
with plots that can come at us more quickly and which can be
harder to detect; cyber threats that defy geography; and how the
Russian state and others seek to undermine the international rulesbased
order that underpins our security.

Powerful partnerships are critical to facing down these threats and
to keeping us all safe. I hope that I’ve given you a flavour of what
these partnerships look like today, but also why we need to keep
building and strengthening them. I’ve said that I’m optimistic about
the future. And that is true. But I don’t underestimate the challenge.
It requires sustained collective investment of effort, grit and political

But it is only through partnerships that we succeed. It’s by working
with partners in Europe and beyond that we find the intelligence
fragments we each need to get ahead of terrorist attacks. And it’s
by working together that we deal with attacks by the Russian
government and other states, and shine a light through the fog of
lies, half-truths and obfuscation that pours out of their propaganda

So, if I may, I’d like to thank not just my good friend and colleague
Hans-Georg, but all of my European counterparts – the French,
Dutch, Scandinavian, Baltic, western, southern, central and eastern
European services – too many to name – and all the myriad of
partners we work with across Europe to keep all of our citizens
safe, I say thank you to you all.

If my 35 years in intelligence work has taught me anything, it is to
be extremely cautious in making predictions about the future. But I
can say with absolute certainty that as old security threats evolve
and new ones emerge, we remain unwaveringly and absolutely
committed to working together with European partners to protect
our collective security in these dangerous times.

The security challenges are stark. We will tackle them together.

Thank you.