Parliament's intelligence committee considering Russia investigation

The intelligence and security committee has finally reformed after the general election

Parliament

Parliament's Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) announced it's considering launching an investigation into Russian activity against the UK.

The MP Dominic Grieve, who is chairman of the committee, said: "Whilst any necessary Inquiry into this year's attacks must take priority [terrorist attacks in the UK], we will also be considering issues around Russian activity against the UK which require investigation, and will separately be considering the operation of the UK's central intelligence machinery.

"It has taken an exceptionally long time after the General Election for the ISC to be reconstituted - the effective and robust oversight of the intelligence community, entrusted to us, is too important to have been left in a vacuum for so many months. We will therefore also be considering steps to strengthen the ability of the Committee to do its work."

The ISC met for the first time yesterday in parliament and will also examine the terrorist attacks the UK has witnessed in recent months.

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The committee has nine members; seven of whom are from the House of Commons and two members from the House of Lords. Labour MP's are Caroline Flint, David Hanson and Kevan Jones. Dominic Grieve, Richard Benyon and Keith Simpson are representing the Conservatives. The last MP is Ian Blackford who is from the SNP.

The two members from the other chamber are The Marquess of Lothian and Lord Janvrin.

The committee sets its own agenda and work programme and will take evidence from government ministers, heads of the intelligence agencies, officials from the intelligence community and any other witnesses they need.

The ISC has oversight of the UK intelligence committee including MI5, MI6 and GCHQ. It also examines the work of the Joint Intelligence Organisation and the National Security Secretariat in the Cabinet Office; Defence Intelligence in the Ministry of Defence; and the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism in the Home Office.

Last week Labour MP Mary Creagh asked Theresa May (see below) whether the committee would form to "look urgently into the Kremlin's attempts to undermine our democracy?" May said it would form imminently.

The Electoral Commission announced at the start of November that it was exploring where the funding for political adverts on Twitter and Facebook came from during the 2017 general election and 2016 EU referendum and whether changes needed to be made to regulate it.

16/11/2017: Intelligence committee reformed amid questions over Russia's Brexit meddling

Theresa May has said she is looking to set up parliament's intelligence and security committee (ISC) after facing questions asking if Russia interfered in UK politics.

Labour's Mary Creagh shared reports during prime minister's questions of Russia setting up fake Twitter accounts which posted thousands of messages to try and influence the referendum.

Creagh asked: "Will she [May] now not stop dragging her feet and set up the intelligence and security committee to look urgently into the Kremlin's attempts to undermine our democracy?"

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The prime minister replied that the committee would form imminently, although she highlighted that when she talked about Russia interfering in elections on Monday "the examples I gave of Russian interference were not in the United Kingdom".

The draft committee was put forward by the government on Wednesday night and Dominic Grieve is expected to be reappointed as its chair, according to The Guardian. Other members include Labour's Kevan Jones, Caroline Flint and David Hanson as well as the SNP's Ian Blackford. They should be joined by the Conservative's Keith Simpson and Richard Benyon.

An agenda has not yet been set, however, and a spokesperson for the ISC told IT Pro: "The Committee will decide its own work programme once it has been appointed." 

Clive Longbottom, an analyst at Quocirca, told IT Pro the government has left it too late to do anything. He said: "It is now not in the government's interest to find that there was anything significant in how Russian interests interfered in the referendum. If they somehow found that it was significant, it would call the result into major confusion - and with the way that the populace is completely split over the subject, any move to say that the referendum needs to be reviewed could result in unrest in the streets."

Longbottom thinks the investigation will take a long time to carry out and the results will be along the lines that Russia did try to interfere but the overall impact on the referendum will be deemed to be insignificant.

"Don't expect 'insignificant' to be defined - even a shift of 1% in votes would make the Remain vote the bigger vote on the day, so the government will attempt to downplay it as much as possible," he said.

"It then comes down to the future - how will not only the government, but all political parties plus social media sites deal with such meddling? I don't see any easy way forward on this - it has proven to be spectacularly successful in destabilising the West, and the more evidence that comes forward, the more those who have apparently been duped get defensive and dig in."

The Electoral Commission announced at the start of November it was exploring where the funding for political ads on Twitter and Facebook came from during the 2017 general election and 2016 EU referendum and whether changes need to be made in law to regulate it.

The US Senate is also investigating the impact of Russian social media posts during the 2016 election. Facebook said that 126 million US citizens may have seen Russia-backed Facebook posts over the past two years, while Twitter found 2,572 accounts linked to Russian operatives.

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