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Intelligence watchdog criticises ‘lack of thorough background checks’ to prevent terrorists from entering Armed Forces or law enforcement

By Danielle Sheridan, Defence Editor

Telegraph Online – 13 December 2022

Right-wing extremists are seeking to infiltrate the military because of their interest in weapons, the Government’s intelligence watchdog has warned. In its annual report, the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) warned that it was “often” the case that such extreme Right-wing terrorists (ERWT)

“display an interest in military culture, weaponry and the Armed Forces or law enforcement organisations”.

It added:

“Individuals often seek to join the military, and groups seek to recruit within the military.”

However, the committee, which is made up of senior MPs and peers, said it was a “risky approach” that the Armed Forces

“do not provide clear direction to service personnel regarding the membership of any organisation, let alone an extremist one”.

They said this was something of “an anomaly”, given “the sensitive roles of many service personnel”.

The ISC also warned that there was a similar risk from the insider threat in relation to the police. It said that this was brought into sharp focus in April 2021 when Benjamin Hannam, a 22-year-old rookie Metropolitan Police officer, was convicted for belonging to National Action, a banned neo-Nazi terror group. They said:

“This case highlighted issues around the current vetting processes for candidates applying to join the police – the lack of thorough background checks is a particular concern.”

It found that the number of ERWT investigations, disruptions and Prevent referrals have all increased steadily since 2017. The report added that of the 25 attacks prevented by the Intelligence Community and Counter Terrorism Policing between March 2017 and January 2020, eight – just under 30 per cent of the total – were motivated by an ERWT ideology.

The committee also took issue with Britain’s intelligence agencies for failing to submit information on time. As a result, it said its work has been “severely hampered” over the past year due to failures on the part of agencies – including MI5, MI6 and GCHQ – to meet deadlines for responding to its inquiries.

“This is a very serious issue, as it prevents the committee from effectively performing its statutory oversight role,”

it said.

“If the ISC’s oversight is being frustrated, then the ISC cannot provide any assurance to the public or Parliament that the intelligence agencies are acting appropriately, and therefore that they merit the licence to operate that Parliament has given them through their statutory powers. Despite numerous complaints, the situation has not improved and, if anything, has got worse.”

The committee added that since its completion, they had been reassured that the agency heads recognised the need to address the situation.


However, the committee also expressed concern that it had not been given oversight of a number of new intelligence organisations within Government, despite past assurances by ministers that its remit would be extended to cover any new bodies.

They include

  • the intelligence policy department in the Foreign Office;
  • the transport security, resilience and response group in the Department for Transport;
  • the joint biosecurity unit in the Department for Health and Social Care;
  • the investment security unit in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy;
  • the telecoms security and resilience team, the office of communications and
  • the counter disinformation unit in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

Dr Julian Lewis, the committee chairman, said they were “deeply disappointed and concerned” at the Government’s failure to update their remit.

“The only avenue for effective parliamentary oversight of security and intelligence matters is the ISC,”

he said.