'Astonishing' Cyber Espionage Threat from Foreign Governments: British Spy Chief

UK, US working together to counter Chinese cyber espionage.

ByABC News
June 25, 2012, 3:16 PM

June 25, 2012 — -- In a rare public speech, the head of Britain's domestic spy service said Monday that the West now faces an "astonishing" cyber espionage threat on an "industrial scale" from specific nation states.

"The extent of what is going on is astonishing," said Jonathan Evans, director general of MI5, "with industrial-scale processes involving many thousands of people lying behind both state-sponsored cyber espionage and organized cyber crime."

Though Evans did not name any countries, ABC News has separately learned from sources that the U.K., the U.S. and several European allies have a robust discussion underway on how to counter cyber espionage by perhaps the most significant state operator -- China.

Evans' speech on potential security threats to the West, delivered to English financial executives, came just one month before the 2012 Summer Olympics begin in London.

"The Games present an attractive target for our enemies and they will be at the centre of the world's attention in a month or so," said Evans. "No doubt some terrorist networks have thought about whether they could pull off an attack."

While Osama Bin Laden may be dead, he said, "in back rooms and cars on the streets of this country there is no shortage of individuals talking about wanting to mount terror attacks here."

The U.K. has had 43 terror plots or incidents since 2001, authorities said, numbers that are similar to those in the U.S. All since 2005 have been thwarted and several had also been aimed at the U.S., including the recent "printer bomb plot."

Evans said preparation for the Olympics had gone well, and that the Olympics, even if an "attractive" target, would not be an "easy target."

"There is no such thing as guaranteed security," he said. "But I think that we shall see a successful and memorable Games this summer in London."

However, said Evans, "as the government said after the Brighton bombing in 1984 [an IRA attack that narrowly missed British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher], the terrorist only has to get lucky once."

Though U.K. retains the pound as its national currency, Evans singled out the likely rise of political extremism as a result of the "Euro" crisis as a potential threat to the financial community in The City of London -- a mile-square independent jurisdiction within London.

He also pointed out three past national security risks to the financial sector-- all from the U.S. -- the World Trade Center attack in 2001, the almost forgotten bombing of the same towers in 1993, and the anarchist bomb attack on J.P. Morgan's bank in 1920.

"If I may be allowed a Rumsfeld moment," he said, "there are of course the uncertainties we can be certain about -- like terrorism, cyber security challenges and hostile intelligence activities by states. But there are also things we remain uncertain about." During a 2002 press conference, then U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld made a famous distinction between "known knowns," "known unknowns," and "unknown unknowns."

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