New law will give undercover spies legal protection to commit crimes

Licence to kill? New law will give undercover spies legal protection to commit crimes – as Met chief warns children as young as 13 are plotting terror attacks

  • MI5 can authorise agents to carry out ‘necessary and proportionate’ offences
  • Last year, the policy was ruled as lawful under the Security Service Act 
  • UK’s head of counter-terrorism Neil Basu told MPs about threat country faces

New laws will give undercover spies legal protection to commit crimes as the UK’s head of counter-terrorism warned children as young as 13 are plotting attacks.  

Under new laws expected to be unveiled this week, organisations such as MI5 will be able to authorise agents to carry out ‘necessary and proportionate’ offences.

According to The Telegraph it follows a long battle over the Security Service guidelines and how legal it is to allow agents to break the law. 

UK’s head of counter-terrorism policing Neil Basu (pictured) warned teenagers as young as 13 are starting to talk about committing terror attacks

Last year, the policy was ruled as lawful under the Security Service Act, but members at the Investigatory Powers Tribunal were split on the decision.

The Government now want to make sure the Security Service has the protection it needs for undercover missions.  

The law is expected to create a legal framework to authorise crime by agents, including those from the MI5, working on covert missions. 

It will not limit the types of crimes an operative can commit, but it is not known how far the protection will cover.  

This comes as the UK’s head of counter-terrorism policing warned teenagers as young as 13 are starting to talk about committing terror attacks.  

Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu was telling MPs about the terror threat the country faces.

This was particularly describing a ‘dramatic’ rise in the number of right-wing cases he said when speaking to the Commons Home Affairs Committee on Wednesday.

Mr Basu said: ‘What I am seeing, particularly in the right-wing terrorism space – and this is anecdotal so it is not academic – but is an increase in lots of young people being attracted to this.

‘We are seeing people as young as 13 starting to talk about committing terrorist attacks.’ 

He said social media has been a strong influence, particularly during the coronavirus lockdown when there was ‘no other form of distraction or protective factor’. 

Mr Basu said counter-terror police and MI5 had more than 800 terror investigations under way. 

He predicted a 30% rise in the threat since 2017 is ‘still there’ and ‘sustained at that very high level’.   

Most terrorists are 30 or younger and male, he said, but added: ‘What has been disturbing is the number that are becoming much younger.

‘It’s still small, if I showed you the figures you would go ‘well that’s not much’. But the worrying thing is the trajectory is downwards in age terms.’

Mr Basu told the committee the casework for right-wing terrorism had risen from 6% in 2016 to 10%, while the majority continues to be Islamist.

Last year he characterised it as the fastest growing terror threat.

The law is expected to create a legal framework to authorise crime by agents, including those from the MI5, working on covert missions

Police and security services have started to look more at the right-wing threat, he said, adding: ‘A near doubling of that threat since 2016 does worry me.’

In June, 19% of the 243 terrorist prisoners in Great Britain were categorised as holding far right-wing ideologies, a rise of four percentage points in a year, according to Home Office figures.

The proportion of prisoners holding right-wing ideologies has risen ‘steadily’ over the last three years, up from 33 to a record of 45 in the latest year, after just six were recorded in 2013. 

He expressed his concerns about the rise in extremism generally.

Mr Basu said: ‘My biggest concern at the moment is where extremism affects malleable, vulnerable people, of all kinds, age groups and societal backgrounds.

‘The amplification of extremism and its ability to incite a vulnerable section of the population towards terrorism is probably my greatest single fear.’

He said Covid-19 had ‘amplified the problem’.

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