Putin and Xi could be targeting ministers

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Fears of Chinese and Russian spies are targeting ministers has led to a tightening of Westminster security and vetting according to the i. Those employed to work alongside ministers will be vetted for connections to “hostile state actors” such as China and Russia as the Government seeks to beef up its defence against espionage.

The changes will apply to civil servants and contractors and will mean that for the first time the threat from hostile state actors will be taken into account alongside the risk of terrorism.

Those working alongside the Prime Minister and ministers will need to pass these vetting checks before they can access top officials or view secret documents.

It comes after it was revealed that former Prime Miniate Liz Truss’s phone had been hacked by Russian spies.

Although the changes are not the result of the hacking of Ms Truss’s phone they underline the seriousness of the threat that the Government believes hostile state actors pose.

They do reflect fears that Chinese and Russian spies could directly target ministers.

There are currently five levels of vetting for people working in Government or at sensitive sites.

These include a baseline check, accreditation check, counter-terrorist check, security check and developed vetting.

Developed vetting is the most in-depth procedure and allows people to gain access to top secret documents or deal with matters of national security.

The counter-terrorist check gives individuals clearance to work with ministers who are at “particular risk from terrorist attack”.

They are also able to gain access to “information or material assessed to be of value to terrorists”.

This level of clearance gives people access to certain military or civil sites which might be assessed to be at risk from a terror attack.

On Monday, the counter terrorist check was extended to include people working with public figures who are also at risk from “hostile state actors”.

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Known as Level 1B it also includes those who deal with material that might be valuable to these hostile states and allow them to visit sites unescorted that are at risk from such threats.

Conservative MP, Bob Seely, a member of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee praised the move.

He said: “It’s a move in the right direction.

“It should have happened years ago but I am delighted that this Government is now taking action.”

A Cabinet Office spokesperson said the new scheme was part of a “modernisation” programme.

“The new vetting Level 1B clearance is part of the wider Cabinet Office vetting modernisation programme of work, which makes greater use of automation and data checks to deliver national security vetting.

“The new level builds upon the existing CTC clearance to enable appropriate checks on employees; ensuring the Government, and its staff, remain protected.”

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