British spies are attempting to defend COVID-19 vaccine work against hostile powers that are trying to steal or sabotage research data in the race for the global price of a sting that could offer immunity, the head of MI5 said Wednesday.
Oxford University’s vaccine candidate licensed to AstraZeneca is in late-stage trials, while a vaccine candidate developed by Imperial College London is in early clinical trials.
“The global price for a first usable vaccine against this deadly virus is clearly high. We would therefore expect a number of other parties around the world to be very interested in this research,” said General Director of Security (MI5) Ken McCallum Reporters.
McCallum said in his first major remarks since his appointment as the new head of MI5 in March, when the UK was under national lockdown, that there were a number of threats to vaccine development work.
“I think there are two things we are looking for: try to either steal unique intellectual property that was generated in this research, or possibly play around with the data,” he said.
“And then the second risk we have to be alive with is the possibility that the research is still of high integrity and soundness, but that someone is trying to cast doubt on its integrity.”
The UK’s National Cyber Security Center (NCSC) announced in July that state-sponsored hackers were attempting to steal COVID-19 vaccine and treatment research from academic and pharmaceutical institutions around the world.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 150 potential vaccines are being developed and tested worldwide to help stop the COVID-19 pandemic. 42 of these were conducted in human studies.
A cauldron full of threats
McCallum, a career spy who studied math in Glasgow before spending more than two decades at MI5, said the UK is facing a cauldron of threats ranging from growing far-right terrorism to Chinese industrial espionage.
“The right-wing terrorist threat is not on the same scale as the Islamist extremist threat – but it is growing,” he said.
Of 27 late-stage plans disrupted in the UK, eight were hatched by right-wing extremists, he said, adding that MI5 is also grappling with increasingly strict government-sponsored espionage.
“The various threats from Russian, Chinese, Iranian and other actors are increasing in severity and complexity.”
China has tried to hack commercially sensitive data and intellectual property and meddle in politics, he said. Great Britain had disrupted the Chinese plan of espionage against the European Union. He gave no further details.
McCallum defended MI5 for its role in investigating possible Russian interference in the 2016 Brexit referendum, saying little was found of great concern.
However, he gave a rare glimpse into what it means to be a spy chief: “Terrorist attacks are invariably sick. Whenever my phone rings late in the evening, my stomach lurches if it is one of those terrible moments.”
(This story was not edited by GossipMantri staff and is automatically generated from a syndicated feed.)