The Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament described the circumstances surrounding the referendum for Scottish independence as “the first post-Soviet interference in a Western democratic election”.
The report published this morning, which also expressed concern that the Government appeared not to be seeking to investigate Russian interference in the Brexit referendum, states:
“There has been credible open source commentary suggesting that Russia undertook
influence campaigns in relation to the Scottish independence referendum in 2014. However, at the time ***. It appears that *** what some commentators have described as potentially the first post-Soviet Russian interference in a Western democratic process. We note that – almost five years on – ***.
It was only when Russia completed a ‘hack and leak’ operation against the
Democratic National Committee in the US – with the stolen emails being made public a
month after the EU referendum – that it appears that the Government belatedly realised the level of threat which Russia could pose in this area, given that the risk thresholds in the Kremlin had clearly shifted, describing the US ‘hack and leak’ as a “game changer”, and admitting that “prior to what we saw in the States, [Russian interference] wasn’t generally understood as a big threat to [electoral] processes.”
- Russian influence in the UK is the new normal. Successive
Governments have welcomed the oligarchs and their money with open
arms, providing them with a means of recycling illicit finance through
the London ‘laundromat’, and connections at the highest levels with
access to UK companies and political figures.
- This has led to a growth industry of ‘enablers’ including lawyers,
accountants, and estate agents who are – wittingly or unwittingly – de
facto agents of the Russian state.
- It clearly demonstrates the inherent tension between the Government’s
prosperity agenda and the need to protect national security. While we
cannot now shut the stable door, greater powers and transparency are
- UK is clearly a target for Russian disinformation. While the mechanics
of our paper-based voting system are largely sound, we cannot be
complacent about a hostile state taking deliberate action with the aim of
influencing our democratic processes.
- Yet the defence of those democratic processes has appeared
something of a ‘hot potato’, with no one organisation considering itself
to be in the lead, or apparently willing to conduct an assessment of
such interference. This must change.
- Social media companies must take action and remove covert hostile
state material: Government must ‘name and shame’ those who fail to
- We need other countries to step up with the UK and attach a cost to
Putin’s actions. Salisbury must not be allowed to become the high water
mark in international unity over the Russia threat.
- A number of issues addressed in this published version of the Russia
Report are covered in more depth in the Classified Annex. We are not
able to discuss these aspects on the grounds of national security.
The Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament (ISC) is the committee of Parliament with statutory responsibility for oversight of the UK Intelligence Community. In its own words, Under the Justice and Security Act 2013 and the accompanying Memorandum of Understanding, the ISC oversees the policies, expenditure, administration and operations of MI5, MI6, GCHQ, Defence Intelligence, the Joint Intelligence Organisation, the National Security Secretariat (NSS) and the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism.
The Committee sets its own agenda and work programme, taking evidence from Ministers, the Heads of the intelligence and security Agencies, senior officials, experts, and academics as it considers necessary.