Magnetic targets

Ken McCallum, Director General of MI5 (UK Security Service), has highlighted the fact that universities are prime targets for enemy intelligence services. He was giving a lecture at the University of Glasgow in June. The reason he chose Glasgow for the speech is because he studied mathematics there in his student days. He said that Russia, China and Iran in particular were attempting to steal research from British universities with “dispiriting regularity”. He said that that advanced materials, quantum computing, AI and biotech were prime targets. MI5 has been monitoring what he called “subtle” attacks such as conference invitations, research partnerships, offers of funding or other collaborations – but the results only ever go one way. With universities strapped for cash, the economic power of China and, to some extent, the oligarchs of Russia, has placed their targets in a vulnerable position. He advised that in future, as well as research considerations, students and staff must also give weight to security considerations because UK universities are what he called “magnetic targets” for foreign spies.

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