July 21 (UPI) — A long-awaited British intelligence report released Tuesday concludes that the Russian government attempted to interfere with votes on Scottish independence and leaving the European Union, but the government did little to address the threats.
Members of Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee concluded in the 55-page report that although evidence clearly showed that Russia sought to disrupt and influence the 2014 vote on Scottish independence and the referendum to leave the European Union two years later, the government and its intelligence agencies neglected election security — like a “hot potato” — and did little to investigate.
“The U.K. is clearly a target for Russia’s disinformation campaigns and political influence operations and must therefore equip itself to counter such efforts,” the report states, adding that intelligence services “do not view themselves as holding primary responsibility” to protect Britain’s democratic processes from hostile foreign interference.
Instead, the report said the issue of defending Britain’s elections “has appeared to be something of a ‘hot potato’, with no one organization recognizing itself as having an overall lead.”
The committee said intelligence services did not take the threats seriously until Russian hackers were caught stealing documents from the U.S. Democratic National Committee in 2016 and meddling in the presidential election, in an effort to elect then Republican nominee Donald Trump.
The report calls the U.S. electoral interference a “game-changer” and said the British government “belatedly realized the level of threat which Russia could pose” to democratic processes.
The long-delayed report was completed last October, but Prime Minister Boris Johnson refused to release it before the general election two months later, citing security issues.
Intelligence and Security Committee member Kevan Jones on Tuesday criticized Johnson for not signing off on the report sooner, and member Stuart Hosie added that the report doesn’t show the extent of Russia’s interference in the Brexit campaign.
No one in the British government wanted to touch the issue with a “10-foot pole” because “they did not want to know” the extent of the meddling, Hosie told reporters.
Last week, British cybersecurity experts said Russian hackers have also recently attempted to steal critical data on potential COVID-19 vaccines in the United States, Britain and Canada.