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For over 100 years, the agents of MI5 have defended Britain against enemy subversion. Their work has remained shrouded in secrecy—until now. This first-ever authorized account reveals the British Security Service as never before: its inner workings, its clandestine operations, its failures and its triumphs.
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A Q&A with Christopher Andrew
Question: Where does "MI5" come from?
Christopher Andrew: MI5 originally stood for "Military Intelligence [Department] 5." The Secret Service Bureau (SSB) was formed in 1909 to counter the danger to Britain from German espionage, and the division of the SSB responsible for counter-espionage within the British Isles became Department 5, or "MI5." MI5 was renamed the Security Service in 1931, but is still commonly known as MI5 today.
Question: Where is MI5 based?
Christopher Andrew: MI5's staff, headed by Director General Jonathan Evans, is largely based in their headquarters at Thames House in London. They also have eight regional offices around Great Britain plus a Northern Ireland headquarters. The Service is organized into seven branches, each with specific areas of responsibility, which work to counter a range of threats including terrorism, espionage and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
Question: What happened to MI1-MI4?
Christopher Andrew: There were a number of departments within the Directorate of Military Intelligence (MI1 through MI19) which dealt with a range of issues. For example, MI1 was responsible for code-breaking, and MI2 handled Russian and Scandinavian intelligence. The responsibilities of these departments were either discontinued or absorbed into The War Office, MI5 and MI6 and, later, the Government Communications Headquarters.
Question:What is the difference between MI5 and MI6?
The Security Service (MI5) is the UK’s security intelligence agency, responsible for protecting the UK, its citizens and interests, at home and overseas, against the major threats to national security. The Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) is primarily responsible for gathering intelligence outside the UK in support of the government's security, defence, foreign and economic policies.
Question: How realistic is the depiction of MI5 in the television series Spooks (MI-5 here in the United States)?
Christopher Andrew: The BBC's Spooks is a slickly-produced and entertaining drama, but, like other works of spy fiction, it glamorizes the world of intelligence. The nature of MI5's work can be stimulating and highly rewarding (as the show's strapline declares, it is not "9 to 5"), but the program does not portray the full range of their activities, nor the routine, but vitally important, aspects of their operations which would not make such exciting viewing. Particularly unrealistic is the way in which the characters in Spooks regularly act outside the law in pursuit of their investigations!
(Photo © Michael Jones)About the Author:
Christopher Andrew is Britain’s leading historian of intelligence, professor of modern and contemporary history and chair of the faculty of history at Cambridge University. He is also chair of the British Intelligence Study Group, coeditor of Intelligence and National Security, former visiting professor at Harvard, Toronto, and the Australian National University, and a regular presenter of BBC Radio and TV documentaries. His thirteen previous books include The Mitrokhin Archive, volumes 1 and 2, and a number of groundbreaking studies on the use and abuse of secret intelligence in modern history.
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