The former head of MI5 has joined calls for a parliamentary report into alleged Russian interference in the UK democratic process to be published before the General Election.
Downing Street has been accused of holding back the report by the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) after indicating it would not be cleared for release until Parliament returns after the general election.
However, Lord Evans of Weardale, who was MI5 director general until 2013, said if ministers were not prepared to release it, they should explain why.
“In principle, I think it should be released,” he told BBC Radio 4. “Part of the reason for having an Intelligence and Security Committee is that issues of public concern can be properly considered and the public can be informed through the publication of the reports once they have gone through the security process.
“If the Government have a reason why this should not be published before the election, then I think they should make it very clear what that reason is.”
The report, by Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee, was finalised in March and referred to No 10 on 17 October.
It examines Russian activity, including allegations of espionage, subversion and interference in elections – and includes evidence from UK intelligence services such as GCHQ, MI5 and MI6 concerning covert Russian attempts to influence the outcome of the 2016 EU referendum and 2017 general election.
On Monday the Prime Minister’s official spokesman insisted:“There are processes reports such as this have to go through before publication. The committee is well-informed of these.”
“Whopping untruths” from Number 10
Yet reports are emerging that security and intelligence service officials say they are in the dark over why the report has not been published.
Former Attorney General Dominic Grieve, who chairs the Intelligence and Security Committee accused Number 10 of “whopping untruths” this weekend and confirmed that the report had actually been cleared by intelligence agencies and the Cabinet Office “by early October.”
On Tuesday he told Parliament that the Government’s reasons for holding back the findings were “plainly bogus.”
“On the 17 October the report was sent to the Prime Minister for final confirmation,” he said. “It is a longstanding agreement that the Prime Minister will endeavour to respond within ten days.”
And he added: “My secretariat tell me that it is unprecedented that we should have had no response at all explaining why any further delay is required in this case.”
The ISC oversees the work of the agencies – MI5, MI6 and GCHQ – and in the course of its work has access to highly sensitive intelligence material.
Dominic Grieve has expressed concern that the report – which is reported to have looked into whether Russian interference affected the result of the 2016 EU referendum and election the year after – contained information “germane” to voters in the forthcoming election.
Whistleblower’s concerns on Dominic Cummings Russia connections
Questions have also raised by Labour about the level of access Boris Johnson’s senior adviser Dominic Cummings has to intelligence information.
The shadow foreign secretary, Emily Thornberry, has written to the government with questions about Dominic Cummings’s connections to Russia and security clearances after a high-level whistleblower came forward with concerns about the former Vote Leave chief, now a senior Boris Johnson adviser.
In a letter to the Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, seen by the Sunday Times and The Guardian newspapers, Thornberry says shadow ministers have been approached with “serious concerns by an official-level whistleblower” but adds: “We make no claim to know the veracity of their claims.”
“I would assume that – given the seniority of his position and the influence it gives him over decision-making at the top of government – that he was subject to the highest level of developed vetting and that – as a result – he is able to study ‘top secret’ intelligence material and attend meetings on the UK’s military and security operations overseas,” she has written.
Her letter refers to Dominic Cummings connections in Oxford University academia and three years’ work in Russia, and his relationships with political and intelligence figures there.
Emily Thornberry also expresses concerns about his involvement in Conservative Friends of Russia – a group which the ISC report examined in its report on Russian influence on British politics, along with Russian political donations.
Russian political donations and Conservative Friends of Russia
Whether the report finds proof of Russian interference in the EU Referendum or British elections or not, there may be embarrassment for Boris Johnson, Dominic Cummings and other prominent Conservatives and Vote Leave figures over Conservative Friends of Russia which involved functions they attended.
In 2014, Lubov Chernukhin, wife of the former Russian deputy finance minister, infamously paid £160,000 to play tennis with Boris Johnson and David Cameron.
Conservative Friends of Russia embarrassingly fell apart when Russian diplomat Sergey Nalobin – who once described Boris Johnson as “our good friend” in a photo that emerged of the pair together – was asked to leave the country amid spying allegations.
Sergey Nalobin lost his permission to stay in the UK after the inquiry into the poisoning of Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko concluded Russian Vladimir Putin had probably ordered the killing.
Nalobin has been described as a known Russian spy with Russian secret service connections, including his father a top-ranking member of the FSB – the successor to the KGB, and invited members of the Conservative Friends of Russia on expenses paid trips to Moscow and St Petersburg. The Guardian reports he now lives in a Moscow block dubbed “FSB House” as it houses many Kremlin apparatchiks.
Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary was also pictured with Joseph Misfud, the academic named by the FBI as central to their investigation of alleged Trump – Russian collusion. – This after his spokesman denied he recalled meeting Misfud who is alleged to have offered Russian dirt on Hillary Clinton to the Trump campaign during the US election.
One of the major financial backers of the Brexit campaign, Arron Banks, is also said to have held meetings with the Russian Ambassador on three occasions, in the run up to the EU referendum vote.
Additionally he flew out to Moscow to look at potential business plans in Russia.
Dominic Raab denies Number 10 “Kremlin Mole”
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab on Wednesday denied 10 Downing Street is in the grip of a “Kremlin mole”, as MPs demanded a report into alleged Russian interference of the UK democratic process be published.
Answering MPs’ Urgent Question, he defended senior adviser Cummings and the lack of publication of the Russian report in Parliament. Raab insisted: “This report was only submitted on 17th October so it has been handled in the correct way.”
Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry countered: “I have to say I’m surprised he could say it with a straight face… Does Mr Cummings have unredacted access to top secret intelligence and unrestricted access to top secret meetings relating to Nato, Russia, Ukraine and Syria, yes or no?”
Raab replied: “As she knows, the Government and ministers do not comment on security clearance.
“But I think that the insinuation in her letter that Number 10 is somehow in the grip of a Kremlin mole is frankly ridiculous even by the standards of the ‘loony left’.“
Government accused of “suppressing the truth” about Russia Brexit and Tory leadership links
During the urgent question, Emily Thornberry also asked if the Government was making an “attempt to suppress the truth”, adding: “I fear it is because they realise that this report will lead to other questions about the links between Russia and Brexit and with the current leadership of the Tory party, which risks derailing their election campaign.”
The exchanges came in the Commons as the Government failed to confirm the Prime Minister has read the ISC report and also suggested Brexit is behind the delay.
Speaking in the Commons, shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry asked: “What on earth do they have to hide?”
Labour’s Emily Thornberry, with the Shadow Foreign Secretary condemning what she called an “utterly unjustifiable, unprecedented and clearly politically motivated” delay to the report.
She added: “This is not at the request of the intelligence agencies. There are no foreign powers we have to consult….
“This is nothing less than an attempt to suppress the truth from the public and from Parliament and it is an affront to our democracy.”