The BBC has offended the Chinese government because its primetime show Spooks (Mi5 in North America) has depicted Chinese intelligence agents in an unflattering light, reported here and here in the last few days. The plot saw MI5 trying to prevent an ‘ethnic weapon’ falling into Chinese hands, with much chasing around London and a few sinister and, perhaps, stereotypically Chinese baddies (judge for yourself in the Guardian screenshot here).
As somebody who has written about Spooks and the war on terror (Chapter 7 of this), only to meet gentle mockery from my students, colleagues and indeed co-author, I can only say thank you to the Chinese government for suggesting Spooks is significant; that representations of international politics make a difference to international politics; enough of a difference to kick up a diplomatic rumpus.
But how much do the threats represented in Spooks match the priorities and intelligence of British defence and security agencies? One way to find out is to look at the threats listed in Britain’s latest National Security Strategy, just out, and see what happens in the next series of Spooks in 2011. That’s right, its time to tick off the threats as they appear, and you can play along at home or on BBC i-player. Here are threats, ranked into three tiers:
National Security Strategy: Priority Risks
Tier One: The National Security Council considered the following groups of risks to be those of highest priority for UK national security looking ahead, taking account of both likelihood and impact.
• International terrorism affecting the UK or its interests, including a chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear attack by terrorists; and/or a significant increase in the levels of terrorism relating to Northern Ireland.
• Hostile attacks upon UK cyber space by other states and large scale cyber crime. • A major accident or natural hazard which requires a national response, such as severe coastal flooding affecting three or more regions of the UK, or an influenza pandemic.
• An international military crisis between states, drawing in the UK, and its allies as well as other states and non-state actors.
Tier Two: The National Security Council considered the following groups of risks to be the next highest priority looking ahead, taking account of both likelihood and impact. (For example, a CBRN attack on the UK by a state was judged to be low likelihood, but high impact.)
• An attack on the UK or its Oversees Territories by another state or proxy using chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear (CBRN) weapons.
• Risk of major instability, insurgency or civil war overseas which creates an environment that terrorists can exploit to threaten the UK.
• A significant increase in the level of organised crime affecting the UK.
• Severe disruption to information received, transmitted or collected by satellites, possibly as the result of a deliberate attack by another state.
Tier Three: The National Security Council considered the following groups of risks to be the next highest priority after taking account of both likelihood and impact.
• A large scale conventional military attack on the UK by another state (not involving the use of CBRN weapons) resulting in fatalities and damage to infrastructure within the UK.
• A significant increase in the level of terrorists, organised criminals, illegal immigrants and illicit goods trying to cross the UK border to enter the UK.
• Disruption to oil or gas supplies to the UK, or price instability, as a result of war, accident, major political upheaval or deliberate manipulation of supply by producers.
• A major release of radioactive material from a civil nuclear site within the UK which affects one or more regions.
• A conventional attack by a state on another NATO or EU member to which the UK would have to respond.
• An attack on a UK overseas territory as the result of a sovereignty dispute or a wider regional conflict.
• Short to medium term disruption to international supplies of resources (e.g. food, minerals) essential to the UK. (HM Government, 2010: 27)