British spy agencies under pressure from Olympics

Posted at 07/13/2012 3:10 AM

LONDON - Britain's spy agencies have been placed under "unprecedented pressure" by preparations for the London Olympics, leaving the country at risk from other threats, a parliamentary committee said Thursday.

In a report, the Intelligence and Security Committee praised the agencies for reprioritising their work to counter potential threats to the games from Al-Qaeda, Irish republican dissidents and "hostile states".

The committee oversees the work of MI5, Britain's domestic intelligence agency, the foreign spy agency MI6, and the electronic eavesdropping agency GCHQ.

The report said the Olympics had placed the spy services under "unprecedented pressure over the past year and we wish to highlight the exceptional effort made by the staff of all three agencies during this time."

But the committee members said in their report that they remain "concerned at the risk that is being taken in some areas and the vulnerability of the UK at this critical period."

The extra work for the Olympics had meant all three agencies, particularly MI5, having to freeze holidays, non-essential staff moves and increase hours for staff.

"All these increase capacity to deal with the greater flows of intelligence, but they have been described to us as 'having quite a significant impact' and being 'very difficult for some people'," the report said.

Arranging childcare over the British summer period was a particular difficulty for the spies, the committee said.

The report also highlighted a slow response to the events of the Arab Spring in 2011, saying it posed a "real challenge" to the intelligence community.

"There does remain a question as to whether, once events began to unfold, the agencies should have anticipated the possibility that the unrest would spread quickly across the region," it said.