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China Is Biggest Long-Term Threat to Britain, Says UK Spy Chief

The head of Britain’s domestic spy agency outlined Wednesday a cauldron of threats the country is facing, including from Islamist militancy to rising right-wing extremism, but he emphasized the biggest long-term challenge is presented by China.
Russia currently poses the biggest state-based threat to Britain, but China will become more dangerous in the future, Ken McCallum told reporters in London in his first public remarks as the new head of MI5. He said Russia was delivering “bursts of bad weather,” while Beijing is “changing the climate.”
The 45-year-old Glasgow-born spy chief said he’s planning to expand his agency’s operations to counter clandestine Chinese activities. He warned that Beijing has been seeking to steal the intellectual property of British businesses, including pharmaceutical companies, and universities.
“The UK wants to cooperate with China on the big global issues like climate change, while at the same time being robust in confronting covert hostile activity when we come across it,” he said.

Ken McCallum, head of MI5, Britain's domestic intelligence agency, is photographed in London, Oct. 14, 2020. (UK Government/Handout via Reuters)
Ken McCallum, head of MI5, Britain's domestic intelligence agency, is photographed in London, Oct. 14, 2020. (UK Government/Handout via Reuters)

McCallum accused hostile states like China and Russia, of no longer just being focused on the traditional espionage activity of stealing government secrets, but also of targeting Britain’s economy and infrastructure, and seeking to undermine its democracy.
He highlighted in his briefing to reporters worrying foreign intelligence activity around Britain’s research and development of vaccines for the coronavirus, saying his agency was trying to block efforts to steal or sabotage vaccine research data. “Clearly, the global prize of having a first useable vaccine against this deadly virus is a large one,’ he said.
“I guess there are two bits we are on the lookout for: attempts either to steal unique intellectual property that’s been generated in that research or potentially to fiddle with the data,” he said. “And then the second risk we’ve got to be alive to is the possibility that the research is still high integrity and sound, but that somebody tries to sow doubt about its integrity,” he added.
Three months ago, Britain’s National Cyber Security Center said Russian-sponsored hackers had been trying to steal vaccine research from universities and pharmaceutical firms.
“In the 2020s, one of the toughest challenges facing MI5 and indeed government is that the differing national security challenges presented by Russian, Chinese, Iranian and other actors are growing in severity and in complexity — while terrorist threats persist at scale,” he said.
“We also do see interference in politics: the influencing of conversations around the European Union for example. We not long ago disrupted a piece of Chinese espionage activity that looked as if it was aimed against the European Union,” he added.

FILE - A scientist works on a vaccine against the coronavirus at a facility in Oxford, Britain, June 24, 2020. British intelligence officials are putting research facilities high on the list of potential Chinese targets.
FILE – A scientist works on a vaccine against the coronavirus at a facility in Oxford, Britain, June 24, 2020. British intelligence officials are putting such facilities high on the list of potential Chinese targets.

McCallum, who was an undercover agent for 24 years for the agency before taking the top job at MI5, is calling for a register to be set up of foreign agents that would require lobbyists, trade advisers, lawyers and others paid by foreign powers to list their activities. Such registers currently exist in the U.S. and Australia. That would help to fight underhand “interference and influence, which is distinct from the espionage risk,” he said.
In a report published last July, the cross-party intelligence and security committee of the British parliament report warned “Russian influence in the UK is the new normal.” The committee criticized British “enablers and fixers,” including members of Britain’s House of Lords, who have facilitated the flow of Russian money into Britain over the past decade and enriched themselves while turning London into a “laundromat” for Russian cash.
“The arrival of Russian money resulted in a growth industry of enablers – individuals and organizations who manage and lobby for the Russian elite in the UK. Lawyers, accountants, estate agents and PR professionals have played a role, wittingly or unwittingly, in the extension of Russian influence which is often linked to promoting the nefarious interests of the Russian State,” the committee members said in their report.
The British government is currently drafting a new National Security and Investment Bill that would allow business deals and takeovers involving defense and critical infrastructure businesses to be blocked by authorities, if they fear there’s a risk to key British assets.
Turning to terrorism, McCallum said there was a growing threat from right-wing extremism. Since 2017, MI5 had disrupted 27 planned terrorist attacks, eight of them being organized by far-right extremists. “This threat is not, today, on the same scale as Islamist extremist terrorism. But it is growing,” he warned.

Cars and buses are seen stationary on London Bridge in London, Sunday, Dec. 1, 2019, as police forensic work is completed…
FILE – Cars and buses are seen stationary on London Bridge in London, Britain, Dec. 1, 2019, as police forensic work is completed following a terror attack involving a man, wearing a fake suicide vest, going on a knife rampage.

He said the coronavirus pandemic had made it more difficult to maintain physical surveillance on suspected terrorists, noting that with fewer pedestrians on the streets, “watchers” were easier to spot by the people they are tailing. But one benefit of the pandemic, he added, is there are fewer events and fewer crowded places for assailants to target.
McCallum, the youngest ever MI5 director general, took over in April. He said he gets deeply concerned when he gets a late-night phone call, fearing it could be to tell him of a terrorist attack.
“When attacks do take place, the human realities are awful. I often say to new joiners at MI5 that the hardest thing about working here is that no matter how much hard work and ingenuity we bring, it isn’t possible for us to stop every attack. Terrorist attacks are always, without exception, sickening. Whenever my phone rings late in the evening, my stomach lurches in case it is one of those awful moments.”

Original Article from Isaan.Live

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Thai Parliament Opens Special Session Over Protest Tensions

Thailand’s Parliament began a special session Monday that was called to address tensions as pro-democracy protests draw students and other demonstrators into the streets almost daily demanding the prime minister's resignation.

As Speaker of the House Chuan Leekpai began the session, only 450 of the total of 731 members of both houses had signed in for the meeting.

The demonstrations by student-led groups in the Bangkok and other cities have three main demands: that Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha step down, the constitution be amended to make it more democratic and reforms be made to the monarchy to make it more accountable.

Public criticism of the monarchy is unprecedented in a country where the royal institution has been considered sacrosanct, and royalists have denounced the protesters for raising the issue.

“The only way to a lasting solution for all sides that is fair for those on the streets as well as for the many millions who choose not to go on the streets is to discuss and resolve these differences through the parliamentary process,” Prayuth said last week.

Opposition leader from Pheu Thai Party, Sompong Amornwat delivers a speech during a special session at the parliament in…
Opposition leader from Pheu Thai Party, Sompong Amornwat delivers a speech during a special session at the parliament in Bangkok, Thailand, Oct. 26, 2020.

The non-voting session of Parliament is expected to last two days.

The protesters have little confidence in the parliamentary path, declaring the government’s efforts insincere.

They noted the points of discussion submitted by Prayuth’s government for debate dealt not with the protesters' concerns but were thinly disguised criticisms of the protests themselves.

They concern instead the risk of the coronavirus spreading at rallies, the alleged interference with a royal motorcade by a small crowd earlier this month, and illegal gatherings and the destruction of images of the royal family.

The protesters allege Prayuth, who led a coup in 2014 as the army chief, was returned to power unfairly in last year’s election because laws had been changed to favor a pro-military party. The protesters also say the constitution, written and enacted under military rule, is undemocratic.

Parliament in September was scheduled to vote on six proposed constitutional amendments but instead set up a committee to further consider such proposals, and then recessed.

Constitutional changes require a joint vote of the House and the Senate, but the proposals lack support in the Senate, whose members are not elected and are generally very conservative and hostile to the protesters.

Instead of confronting lawmakers and counter-protesters on Monday, the pro-democracy protest organizers have called for an afternoon march to the German Embassy, apparently to bring attention to the time King Maha Vajiralongkorn spends in Germany.

Germany's foreign minister, questioned in Parliament by a member of the Green Party, recently expressed concern over any political activities the king might be conducting on the country's soil.

Protesters’ criticism of the royal institution has roiled conservative Thais. Self-proclaimed “defenders of the monarchy” mobilized last week online and in rallies in several cities, in many cases led by local civil servants.

A small group of royalist demonstrators were outside Parliament on Monday morning, saying they were there to let lawmakers know of their opposition to any changes in the status of the monarchy.

Original Article from Isaan.Live

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Typhoon Displaces Thousands, Floods Villages in Philippines

A fast-moving typhoon forced thousands of villagers to flee to safety in provinces south of the Philippine capital Monday, flooding rural villages and ripping off roofs, officials said.

There were no immediate reports of casualties from Typhoon Molave, but authorities reported at least one person was missing and seven others were rescued after their yacht sank off Batangas province south of Manila.

The typhoon has sustained winds of 125 kilometers (77 miles) per hour and gusts of up to 180 kph (112 miles) per hour and was blowing westward at 25 kph (15 mph). Molave is expected to start blowing out of the country into the South China Sea on Monday, government forecasters said.

At least 25,000 villagers were displaced with about 20,000 taking shelter in schools and government buildings which were turned into evacuation centers, according to the Office of Civil Defense.

“Villagers are now asking to be rescued because of the sudden wind which blew away roofs,” Humerlito Dolor, governor of Oriental Mindoro province, told DZMM radio.

Dolor said pounding rains overnight swamped farming villages in his province then fierce winds toppled trees and power posts early on Monday, knocking off power. Authorities were clearing roads of fallen trees and debris in some towns after the typhoon passed, he said.

More than 1,800 cargo truck drivers, workers and passengers were stranded in ports after the coast guard barred ships and ferry boats from venturing into rough seas.

About 20 typhoons and storms annually batter the Philippines, and the Southeast Asian archipelago is seismically active, with earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, making it one of the world’s most disaster-prone countries.

Original Article from Isaan.Live

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Australian Anguish at Passenger Strip Searches in Qatar

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation reports Australia has formally complained about what it is calling the "offensive and grossly inappropriate" treatment of passengers at Doha airport in Qatar. The report says thirteen Australian women were taken off a flight to Sydney after a newborn baby was found in an airport bathroom and the travelers were forced to have invasive internal examinations.

Airport authorities say when a premature baby was discovered in a bathroom at the Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar, on October 2, all female passengers onboard a flight preparing to fly to Sydney were taken off the aircraft. The group included 13 Australian women.

They were taken to two ambulances waiting outside the airport and subjected to strip searches. Some of the women have told local media they were terrified and were not told why the examinations were being carried out.

The Australian Federal Police have been informed, although it is unclear what powers investigators might have over an incident that occurred in the Middle East.

Australian foreign minister Marise Payne says Australia has formally complained to Qatar.

“We also understand the matter has been reported to the Australian Federal Police. This is a grossly, grossly disturbing, offensive, concerning set of events. It is not something I have ever heard of occurring in my life in any context. We have made our views very clear to the Qatari authorities on this matter,” Payne said.

Media reports have said the Australian women could take legal action against authorities in Qatar.

Australian Labor opposition leader Anthony Albanese says their treatment has been unbelievable.

“Reports of this treatment are really disturbing. The idea that women could be subject to these very intrusive searches is in my view an absolute disgrace," Albanese said.

In a statement, airport officials in Doha said the baby was “safe” and being cared for in Qatar.

They added that medical staff had expressed concern to them “about the health and welfare of a mother who had just given birth and requested she be located prior to departing.”

Australian authorities have said they are expecting a report on the incident from the Qatari Government later this week.

Original Article from Isaan.Live

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