Anger as British spies working from home 'leaves them vulnerable to being hacked' by UK's enemies

15 September 2023, 07:24

There are fears over Britain's spies working from home
There are fears over Britain's spies working from home. Picture: Alamy

By Will Taylor

British spies are working from home despite fears it could lead them open to being hacked by Britain's enemies.

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Ministers are allowing intelligence workers to do their jobs remotely because the government is struggling to recruit for roles based only in the office.

As fears grow about China's attempts to recruit informants, Parliament's intelligence and security committee - which scrutinises MI6 and MI5 - warned Beijing had managed to penetrate every sector of Britain's economy.

They also claimed in their report, published in July, that working from home could be hampering how effective the UK's spies are.

Staff who dial in remotely do not have "continual access to classified systems", the MPs said, adding: "The 'new normal' for some organisations means deadlines have been missed or responses have been sanitised to enable them to be sent from home."

Read more: Working From Home fuels long term sickness says minister as record 2.5million people signed off work

Some of Britain's spies are WFH
Some of Britain's spies are WFH. Picture: Alamy

Ministers responded by saying: "The intelligence community learned many important lessons about the benefits of hybrid working during the pandemic, and will continue to provide opportunities for staff to work from a wider range of locations where it is still possible for them to fulfil their roles.

"Much of the work involved with running such complex organisations can be done in a variety of ways, and providing flexibility allows relevant organisations to recruit and support a wide variety of staff and build a fully diverse and inclusive set of organisations."

MI5 allows agent handlers to work from home so long as they are available at least four days a week.

But senior Tory MPs have voiced concerns about whether working from home could compromise British security, the Telegraph reported.

Working from home has become an issue for MPs overseeing Britain's spies
Working from home has become an issue for MPs overseeing Britain's spies. Picture: Alamy

Sir Iain Duncan Smith, a hawk on China, said: "In brutal terms, you could say productivity has fallen significantly. Can they work from other locations? Yes. Can they work effectively from them, or as effectively? No. The government response is complacent."

Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg, who used to be minister for government efficiency and led a back-to-the-office drive during his time in Boris Johnson's government, said: "The spooks have become spectres. The modern spy may eschew the James Bond image, but at least he did some work."

The impact of intelligence work has become all the more important after a series of revelations about China's espionage in the UK.

It has been accused of trying to "headhunt" from the Armed Forces and security services while a parliamentary researcher has been arrested on suspicion of spying for Beijing - an accusation he denies.