The crackdown, suggested in the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) report which claims the government “has looked away” from Russia, will include a “register of foreign agents.”
Sky News understands that the Prime Minister, who has held security talks with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Downing Street, is investigating whether additional powers are needed to deal with threats to the UK.
The United States has a Foreign Agent Registration Act, which requires people working for foreign governments, officials, or political parties to register with the Department of Justice and file reports on their activities.
And sources at Number 10 told Sky News the government is considering whether a spy bill first proposed by Theresa May after the Salisbury poisonings in March 2018 should include these additional powers.
It is understood that the prime minister and his senior colleagues believe that a registry would allow the security services to monitor agents of hostile states such as Russia or China much more closely.
The government will likely be under pressure on the plans when Labor Party shadow secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds asks Home Secretary Priti Patel an urgent question on the Russia report and during Prime Minister’s Questions.
Although the government rejected the ISC report and claimed that there was no need to open a formal investigation into Russia, the report contains a suggestion that a US-style registry could prevent spies from being released. conceal their activities.
“One specific issue that a new espionage law could resolve is that of individuals acting on behalf of a foreign power and seeking to mask that link,” the report recommends.
“The United States, in 1938, introduced the United States Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), which requires anyone other than accredited diplomats – including American and non-American citizens – to represent the interests of foreign powers. in a “political or quasi-political capacity” to register with the Ministry of Justice, to disclose their relations with the foreign government and information on related activities and finances.
“Additionally, US law requires agents, other than diplomats, engaged in non-political activities under the control of foreign governments or foreign officials to notify the Attorney General (FARA registration serves as a required notification).
“Anyone who should have registered but failed to do so can be prosecuted and, in the case of non-US citizens, deported. The UK does not have legislation equivalent to FARA – which would clearly be helpful in countering Russian influence in the UK. ”
The UK government is now likely to move forward with new anti-espionage legislation aimed at making Britain a “harder environment for adversaries”. Those who do not register may be jailed or deported.
The US law was originally introduced just before World War II to deal with foreign agents disseminating fascist propaganda. It was revived by Robert Mueller during his investigation as the United States’ special adviser on Russia’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election and has since been used to indict public figures who violated its conditions.
The Prime Minister’s decision to follow the lead of the United States – and that of Australia, which has a similar law – comes as the intelligence community increasingly fears that Britain’s anti-terrorism laws are outdated.
The Russia report also includes evidence from former MI5 chief Sir Andrew Parker, who told the ISC that foreign agents were, in fact, able to operate with impunity in Britain due to outdated security laws.
He warned that under current legislation, foreign spies could only be prosecuted if they were caught acquiring official secrets.
“Today it is by no means an offense to be a secret agent of the Russian intelligence services in the UK – just to be in secret contact, to pursue a case – unless you acquire damaging secrets and give them to your masters, ”he told the committee.
He said the Official Secrets Act, parts of which date back to World War I, had become “dusty and largely ineffective”, adding: “We have something left that makes it very difficult to deal with some of the situations we are dealing with. let’s talk. on today in the economic sphere, cyber, things that could be more related to influence. ”
The ISC report said successive governments have welcomed Russian oligarchs and Russian money to Britain “with open arms”, making Russian influence in the UK a “new normal”.