UK Home Secretary Priti Patel has publicly confirmed the existence of a previously unheard of unit of spooks known as the Joint State Threats Assessment Team (JSTAT).
The unit, operating with a level of independence from MI5 from inside of its headquarters, is said to consist of crack intelligence specialists providing the government with advice on potential threats by hostile state actors including foreign spies, assassins, and scheming hackers seeking to disrupt UK elections or carry out cyberattacks.
JSTAT is said to have been created back in 2017 under Prime Minister Theresa May’s government, with its powers including advising Number 10 on potential additional powers that may be needed if a threat arises, including an assessment of relevant UK legislation on providing the government with additional powers.
The JSTAT team is subordinated to a board of governors of senior intelligence officials and officials from other government agencies, as well as the MI5’s director general Andrew Parker, who is said to have ultimate authority over the organization.
In a statement Tuesday, Patel said that as the UK continues to “face very real and serious” threats “from states who seek to undermine and destabilize this country to pursue their own agendas,” JSTAT “has enhanced our capabilities and understanding of the state-based threats we face,” helping to protect the UK and its interests, both at home and abroad.
The home secretary did not specify which state threats the unit was looking out for.
According to Patel, the decision to reveal the unit’s existence was based on the effort to “maximize its utility to the national security community, enabling greater engagement with stakeholders, industry and academics. It will also allow for broader communication of the threats to government departments and agencies, as well as partners across the private and charitable sectors, ensuring they have access to information to better protect themselves.”
MI5 is a major element of the UK’s intelligence services, which also include the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), the country’s foreign intelligence service, as well as Defence Intelligence (DI) and the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ).
Last month, UK media reported that Patel had asked for a probe into officials’ “hostile briefings” in her department amid allegations that MI5’s intelligence chiefs do not trust her because she allegedly “doesn’t grasp the subtleties of intelligence.”