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Former Armed Forces personnel training foreign militaries could be prosecuted under National Security Act

Former UK Armed Forces personnel who train foreign militaries around the world can be prosecuted under new offences within the National Security Act.

It comes after the Ministry of Defence issued a security alert last year, revealing that a number of former Royal Air Force, Royal Navy and Army pilots had been training the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force, having being contracted through a private South African company and attracted by high salaries.

Specifically, the new Act includes the section 1 offence of ‘obtaining or disclosing protected information’ and defines ‘information’ to include tactics, techniques and procedures.

This means that pilots risk being prosecuted for sharing such sensitive information with foreign powers. Once the powers come into force, the Ministry of Defence can pass relevant information to police forces, who can investigate offences under the Act.

Defence Secretary Grant Shapps said:

Anyone found to be acting against the UK’s interests by training our competitors’ militaries can now expect to be pursued and brought to justice.

The government has acted decisively following the identification of this threat, and has made rapid changes to legislation to help shut it down.

Since the security alert, the Ministry of Defence believes that publicity the practice received has been successful in encouraging these pilots to reconsider their activity, and in discouraging other personnel from taking part.

At the time of the alert, the MOD recognised that further measures were needed in order to disrupt the activity. One such critical measure was including this activity within the National Security Act, to allow criminal charges to be pressed.

As well as legislating against the activity, the UK has also been working closely with our allies, some of whom are also seeing similar activity with their former military personnel, to help highlight and tackle this internationally.

Security Minister Tom Tugendhat said:

We face growing threats from foreign states.

In recent years we’ve seen attempts to harm our people, damage our economy and undermine our democracy. We’ve also seen attempts from countries such as China to solicit national secrets from former Armed Forces personnel.

This new Act provides our world class law enforcement and intelligence agencies with new and updated tools to tackle security challenges such as these – and hold those responsible to account.

The National Security Act became law in July this year and has brought together new measures to modernise counter-espionage laws and address evolving threats to our national security.

With this new legislation, the UK is now a harder target for those states who seek to conduct hostile acts against the UK, which include espionage, foreign interference (including in our political system), sabotage, and acts that endanger life, such as assassination. It provides law enforcement and intelligence agencies with new and updated tools to deter, detect and disrupt modern-day state threats.

The recently published Defence Command Paper 2023 and the Integrated Review Refresh 2023 sets out the UK’s approach to China as an enduring and epoch-defining challenge to British interests through its increasingly assertive and coercive behaviour. The documents say how the government will respond by increasing protections to national security, deepen cooperation with partners and increase engagement with China.

Military personnel who have any concerns or are aware of suspicious activity are encouraged to call the MoD confidential crime line.

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