4 March: The BBC Security Correspondent Gordon Corera has published an article on the BBC News website evaluating the fallout from the attempted assassination of Sergei Skripal in March 2018. Corera points out that 23 Russian spies were expelled from the UK and that the Security Service was forced to carry out a long overdue assessment of the security for other defectors. The attack on Skripal was not just an attack on someone who Putin sees as a traitor from the past, but also as a warning to those thinking of working for British intelligence today: “Don’t do it! We can reach you wherever you are!”
But Corera, doesn’t make a crucial point: the fact the Skripal attack was carried out at all shows that SIS has not recruited a source within the inner circle of the Russian intelligence services where such attacks are planned. That is exactly the sort of thing they are supposed to be doing. It is another indication that SIS is failing.
It might be argued that perhaps Skripal was sacrificed to protect a key SIS source in Moscow. After all, in the Second World War, certain convoys were sacrificed to protect the ULTRA intercepts. But intelligence professionals will tell you that this is not how it works. You never sacrifice an agent, you might change the odds, but you do not simply give up. In the case of the Skripal assassination attempt, the operation was so badly planned and so incompetently executed that it would have been quite possible to have the assassins caught in the act without it seeming a surprise that they were detected. Their cover story was laughable and their movements so obvious that an online citizen’s website was able to cover their movements in detail (see the Bellingcat site for more). The suggestion that SIS is better than it seems to be is simply not supported by the evidence.