United Kingdom

Priti Patel 'wants to increase counter-espionage powers' of 'Britain's FBI'

Priti Patel is considering increasing the powers of the 'Britain's FBI' in a bid to tackle the growing threat of Russian and Chinese spies operating in Britain.

Tens of thousands of spies and undercover assets from hostile states are said to be operating in the UK at any given time.

The Home Secretary is now wants to give the National Crime Agency greater powers to deal with covert operatives.

Home Secretary Priti Patel is considering giving the National Crime Agency greater powers to deal with foreign spies in Britain. The Home Office insists no formal decision has been made, but one source said anything that improves efficiency would be 'welcomed'

Relations with Russia have soured since the 2018 Salisbury Novichok poisoning, while there is ongoing strife with China over the Covid-19 pandemic and fallout from the 5G Huawei row.

The Home Office has insisted that no formal decision has been made, but a senior source within the Government told The Sun: 'Anything that can make the system more efficient is welcomed by the Home Secretary.'

It's not clear how a change would work alongside MI5, but there are hopes it would improve policing of spies in Britain. 

Since it was created in 2013, the NCA has been responsible for uncovering large scale, international criminal operations including drug and people smuggling. 

Foreign policy expert Dr Alan Mendoza said: 'Chinese and Russian spies have been operating in the UK for years, yet our current confused approach to policing has failed to see a single operative successfully prosecuted.'

Dr Mendoza heads up the Henry Jackson Society, a think tank which is focused on supporting democracy against threats from China and Russia.

He added: 'Handing them control of counter-intelligence policing shows that the Government is beginning to understand the scale of interference from China and Russia.'

The proposal comes as the House of Lords prepares for a second reading of the Covert Human Intelligence Sources Bill 

MPs have raised concerns over the Bill, which aims to protect undercover operatives from prosecution if they are forced to break the law on operations.

The Bill also seeks to define circumstances in which operatives can commit crime, replacing various pieces of overlapping legislation.

It will cover 13 law enforcement and government agencies, including the police, the National Crime Agency, the armed forces and the prison service.

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