Russia report: Six key findings from Intelligence and Security Committee

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Vladimir Putin's Russia should have been seen as a threat instead of a partner from 2006, the report states. Credit: AP

The long-awaited Russia report was published this morning and has made claims over Brexit, the Scottish Independence Referendum and social media.

Here are six key findings from the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) report.

Russian influence in UK is "the new normal" with oligarchs welcomed with open arms Russia’s “elite” and those close to President Vladimir Putin – aided by the UK’s 1994 investor visa scheme – have put money into so many different sectors, particularly in London, that any Government measures against them would be “damage limitation”, said a section in the ISC report. “What is now clear is that it (the investor policy) was in fact counter-productive, in that it offered ideal mechanisms by which illicit finance could be recycled through what has been referred to as the London ‘laundromat’,” said the committee. “The money was also invested in extending patronage and building influence across a wide sphere of the British establishment – PR firms, charities, political interests, academia and cultural institutions were all willing beneficiaries of Russian money, contributing to a ‘reputation laundering’ process.

“In brief, Russian influence in the UK is ‘the new normal’, and there are a lot of Russians with very close links to Putin who are well integrated into the UK business and social scene, and accepted because of their wealth. “This level of integration – in ‘Londongrad’ in particular – means that any measures now being taken by the Government are not preventative but rather constitute damage limitation.”

Russia considers the UK one of its top Western intelligence targets

SNP MP Stewart Hosie, a member of the Intelligence and Security Committee, said the UK was “one of Russia’s top western intelligence targets”.

“It weaponises information,” he told reporters.

“Russia’s intelligence services are disproportionately large and powerful and they can act with little constraint,” he said.

Did the UK fail to take the threat from Russia seriously enough?

Mr Hosie added: “Russia poses an all-encompassing security threat which is fuelled by paranoia about the West and a desire to be seen as a resurgent great power.

“It carries out malicious cyber activity in order to assert itself aggressively, for example by attempting to interfere in other countries’ elections.”

The report adds: "Witnesses have suggested that we would sit just behind the US and NATO in any priority list.

"This is likely to be related to the UK’s close relationship with the US, and the fact that the UK is seen as central to the Western anti-Russian lobby."

'Credible' evidence that Russia tried to influence Scottish independence referendum

The Scottish Independence Referendum may have been targeted by Russia. Credit: PA

The ISC said: “There has been credible open source commentary suggesting that Russia undertook influence campaigns in relation to the Scottish independence referendum in 2014.”

In censored comments that follow, it notes: “It appears that (redacted) what some commentators have described as potentially the first post-Soviet Russian interference in a Western democratic process.”

More now needs to be done by security services and the intelligence community to assure the public that elections and the democratic process are safe, said the ISC.

“Whilst the issues at stake in the EU referendum campaign are less clear-cut, it is nonetheless the committee’s view that the UK intelligence community should produce an analogous assessment of potential Russian interference in the EU referendum and that an unclassified summary of it be published,” the committee stated.

“Even if the conclusion of any such assessment were that there was minimal interference, this would nonetheless represent a helpful reassurance to the public that the UK’s democratic processes had remained relatively safe.”

'Impossible' to assess allegations Russia sought to influence Brexit

The ISC said it did not seek to assess the “impact” of Russia’s bids to influence the 2016 Brexit vote.

The report said: “There have been widespread public allegations that Russia sought to influence the 2016 referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU.

“The impact of any such attempts would be difficult – if not impossible – to assess, and we have not sought to do so.

“However, it is important to establish whether a hostile state took deliberate action with the aim of influencing a UK democratic process, irrespective of whether it was successful or not.”

The report added, with parts redacted: "Open source studies have pointed to the preponderance of pro-Brexit or anti-EU stories on RT and Sputnik, and the use of ‘bots’ and ‘trolls’, as evidence of Russian attempts to influence the process.

"We have sought to establish whether there is secret intelligence which supported or built on these studies.

"In response to our request for written evidence at the outset of the Inquiry, MI5 initially provided just six lines of text."

The brevity was "indicative of the extreme caution amongst the intelligence and security agencies" at the thought they might have any role in relation to the UK’s democratic processes, and particularly one as contentious as the EU referendum, the report added.

"We repeat that this attitude is illogical; this is about the protection of the process and mechanism from hostile state interference, which should fall to our intelligence and security Agencies. "

Government “took its eye off the ball” and failed to respond to Moscow threat

The 2006 murder of Alexander Litvinenko demonstrated that Russia under President Putin had moved from potential partner to established threat, the report states.

It adds: "If we consider the Russian threat to have been clearly indicated in 2006 with the murder of Alexander Litvinenko, and then take events such as the annexation of Crimea in 2014 as firmly underlining Russian intent on the global stage, the question is whether the Intelligence Community should – and could – have reacted more quickly and increased operational effort on Russia.

"On figures alone, it could be said that they took their eye off the ball; nevertheless, the Heads of MI5, SIS, GCHQ and Defence Intelligence all sought to defend against this suggestion."

Social media companies must take action and remove 'covert hostile state material'

Social media companies were criticised in the 50-page document for failing to tackle the spread of disinformation.

“We note that – as with so many other issues currently – it is the social media companies which hold the key and yet are failing to play their part,” said the ISC.

“The Government must now seek to establish a protocol with the social media companies to ensure that they take covert hostile state use of their platforms seriously, and have clear timescales within which they commit to removing such material.

“Government should ‘name and shame’ those which fail to act.”

"This matter is, in our view, urgent and we expect the Government to report on progress in this area as soon as possible," the report adds.