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New MI5 chief named as spy who led Skripal poisoning response

A spy who led the response to the poisoning of Russian double agent Sergei Skripal in Salisbury has been named as the new head of MI5.

Ken McCallum, who is currently deputy director of the UK’s domestic intelligence agency, will be its youngest ever director general when he takes over from Sir Andrew Parker at the end of April.

A career spy in his 40s, Mr McCallum has worked at MI5 for 25 years, rising through the ranks as he worked on large projects, from Northern Ireland to countering Islamist militants.

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 17: Director General of MI5 Andrew Parker delivers a speech on the security threat facing Britain on October 17, 2017 in London, England. (Photo by Stefan Rousseau - WPA Pool/Getty Images)
Image: Sir Andrew Parker will step down as director general of MI5 in April

He led MI5’s response to the Salisbury poisonings in 2018, when Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were poisoned with Soviet-developed nerve agent novichok.

In a statement, Mr McCallum, who grew up in Glasgow, said: “Our people – with our partners – strive to keep the country safe, and they always want to go the extra mile.

“Having devoted my working life to that team effort, it is a huge privilege now to be asked to lead it.”

MI5 said one of Mr McCallum’s top priorities is enabling the agency to seize the ever-growing opportunities provided by technology, including machine learning.

More from Mi5

“Ken McCallum’s expertise and leadership will be crucial to ensuring that the Security Service remains agile and creative in the face of new and emerging threats to our security,” said Cabinet secretary Mark Sedwill.

Mr McCullum, who has a mathematics degree from Glasgow University, has helped deepen MI5’s partnerships with Britain’s MI6 foreign spy service and the GCHQ eavesdropping agency.

Sergei and Yulia Skripal were attacked with novichok and found slumped on a bench in Salisbury in March
Image: Sergei and Yulia Skripal were attacked with novichok and found slumped on a bench in Salisbury in March 2018

A keen mountain hiker, he also worked on secondment with the business ministry on digital issues and was a non-executive director of the Nuclear Decomissioning Authority.

Mr McCallum is currently shadowing Sir Andrew, who has led MI5 since 2013 and has stayed on longer than the usual stint to ensure a stable transition during Brexit, which took place on 31 January.

Sergei and Yulia Skripal were attacked with novichok and found slumped on a bench in Salisbury in March
Image: Sergei and Yulia Skripal were attacked with novichok and found slumped on a bench in Salisbury in March 2018

Sir Andrew has had to contend with several deadly militant attacks in the UK, including the 2017 Manchester Arena bombing and attacks on Westminster and London Bridge that year.

An enquiry said both MI5 and counter-terrorism police had missed chances to prevent the Manchester attack which was carried out by Salman Abedi, who was known to the authorities but not under active investigation.

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