Britain will launch a counter-propaganda war against the Russians and terrorists in an overhaul of security capabilities announced by Theresa May on Tuesday night.
The Prime Minister has instructed the intelligence services to use social media to disrupt misinformation as she promised to use “every capability at our disposal” to defeat the new threat facing the country.
As well as increased Russian aggression, sources warned that the Islamist terror threat was likely to rise in the next two years as Mrs May announced a new effort to ensure every government agency and department makes national security a priority, rather than just the police and security services.
The plan, called the “Fusion Doctrine”, is intended to tackle the evolving threats posed by states such as Russia and North Korea, as well as terrorist groups including Isil which use cyber warfare and “fake news” as well as bombs to attack their enemies.
On Monday, security experts warned that the Kremlin had pumped out more than 20 different stories so far to explain the attack on Sergei Skripal, the former spy, in Salisbury to “confuse the picture and confuse the charge sheet”.
They said Britain’s soft-power capabilities and ability to counter propaganda online would form part of the new front line.
Meanwhile, the head of the RAF said Britain would soon be forced to defend itself in space, following claims that Russia could attempt to sabotage undersea cables that carry power from Europe. Sir Stephen Hillier, Chief of the Air Staff, said the UK relied on space “more than ever” for national security. He added that countries such as Russia were “disregarding” the rules and “exploiting environments in whatever way they feel they can to their advantage”.
Security sources said that the threat from nations such as Russia and North Korea could no longer be tackled by a “traditional” response. The country must also counter propaganda on social media, including “suffocating” hashtags on Twitter to prevent groups such as Isil from getting their message out.
Sources also said the plan included an enhanced role for the BBC World Service to promote British values abroad, ensuring Ofcom shuts down media organisations that fail to hit high British standards and funding units to counter fake news. In a foreword to the National Security Capability Review, the Prime Minister said: “Over the past year in the UK we have witnessed appalling terrorist attacks in London and Manchester. But also a brazen and reckless act of aggression on the streets of Salisbury: attempted murder using an illegal chemical weapon, amounting to an unlawful use of force against the UK.
“Crucially what all of these incidents have made clear is that our national security is conditional on not only the police and security services who work so hard to keep us safe at home, or on the brave men and women of our Armed Forces working tirelessly around the world – but on our ability to mobilise most effectively the full range of our capabilities in concert to respond to the challenges we face.”
A senior Whitehall official said: “It’s sometimes easy to think of national security being the delivery of hard-edged direct delivery of capabilities, but actually in the modern era, particularly with social media, in the era of cyber space, those other capabilities, communications, some of the soft power, these are important tools.”