Learn more about MI5

Jump to: navigation, search
Image:MI5 logo.png
MI5 Logo. Motto translates as "Defend the Realm"—a reflection of the David Maxwell-Fyfe's directive for the Service to Defend the Realm

The Security Service, commonly known as MI5, is the United Kingdom counter-intelligence and security agency and is part of the intelligence machinery alongside the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS or MI6), Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) and the Defence Intelligence Staff (DIS). All come under the direction of the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC). The service has a statutory basis in the Security Service Act 1989 and the UK Intelligence Services Act of 1994. Its remit includes the protection of British parliamentary democracy and economic interests, fighting serious crime, militant separatism, terrorism and espionage within the UK. While mainly concerned with internal security it does have an overseas role in support of the mission.

The service has had a national headquarters at Thames House on Millbank in London since 1995, drawing together personnel from a number of locations into a single HQ facility. Thames House is shared with the Northern Ireland Office and is also home to the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre, a subordinate organisation to the Security Service.

Within the civil service community the service is colloquially known as Box 500 (after its official wartime address of PO Box 500 and its current address — PO Box 3255, London SW1P 1AE)<ref>Timothy Gerraty, The Irish War</ref> or simply Five[citation needed].


[edit] Command, control and organisation

The Security Service comes under the authority of the Home Secretary within the Cabinet of the United Kingdom.<ref name='SSAct'>Security Service Act of 1989</ref>

The service is headed by a Director General of the British Civil Service who is directly supported by an internal security organisation, secretariat, legal advisory branch and information services branch. The Deputy DG is responsible for the operational activity of the service, being responsible for four branches; international counter-terrorism, National Security Advice Centre (counter proliferation and counter espionage), Irish and domestic counter-terrorism and technical and surveillance operations.

The service is subject to the direction of the Joint Intelligence Committee <ref name='ISAct'>UK Intelligence Services Act of 1994</ref>for intelligence operational priorities and liaises with the SIS, GCHQ, DIS and a number of other bodies within the British government and industrial base. The service is overseen by the Intelligence and Security Committee of Members of Parliament directly appointed by the Prime Minister. Judicial oversight is also vested in the Interception of Communications Commissioner and the Intelligence Services Commissioner.

Operations of the service are required to be proportionate and compliant with British legislation including Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, Data Protection Act and various other items of legislation. The service is not subject to the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

The current Director General is Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller, since 2002.

[edit] History

Image:Mi5 2.gif
Another, pre-1955 MI5 Logo

[edit] Early years

The Security Service is derived from the Secret Service Bureau, founded in 1909 in a national climate of pre-war paranoia and possibly influenced by invasion literature[citation needed], to control secret intelligence operations in the UK and overseas, particularly concentrating on the activities of the Imperial German government as a joint initiative of the Admiralty and the War Office. The Bureau was split into naval and army sections which, over time, specialised in foreign target espionage and internal counter-espionage activities respectively. This specialisation was a result of the Admiralty intelligence requirements related to the maritime strength of the Imperial German Navy. This specialisation was formalised prior to 1914 and the opening of World War I with the two sections undergoing a number of administrative changes and the home section becoming Directorate of Military Intelligence Section 5 (MI5), the name by which it is frequently known in popular culture today.

The founding head of the Army section was Captain Vernon Kell of the South Staffordshire Regiment, who remained in that role until the early part of the Second World War. Its role was originally quite restricted; existing purely to ensure national security through counter-espionage. With a small staff and working in conjunction with the Special Branch of the Metropolitan Police the service was responsible for overall direction and the identification of foreign agents, whilst Special Branch provided the manpower for the investigation of their affairs, arrest and interrogation.

Founded in a climate of hysteria over an alleged huge German spy network of German spies the service was successful, against admittedly weak opposition, prior to the war. The service identified a total of 22 agents, 21 of whom were interned at the start of the war following a period of covert surveillance. This strategy was adopted based on the assessment that agents apprehended would likely be replaced, their identities unknown to the service. Predicated on the ability of the service to quickly apprehend the suspects success was assured by providing Kell twelve hours' notice of the outbreak of war. The arrests deprived Germany completely of reliable intelligence from within Britain.

[edit] Inter-war period

After this auspicious start, the history of MI5 becomes darker. It was consistently successful throughout the rest of the 1910s and the 1920s in its core counter-espionage role. Germany continued to attempt to infiltrate Britain throughout the war, but using a method that depended on strict control of entry and exit to the country and, crucially, large-scale inspection of mail, MI5 was easily able to identify all the agents that were dispatched. In post-war years attention turned to attempts by the Soviet Union and the Comintern to surreptitiously support revolutionary activities within Britain, and MI5's expertise combined with the early incompetence of the Soviets meant the bureau was successful once more in correctly identifying and closely monitoring these activities.

However, in the meantime MI5's role had been substantially enlarged. Due to the spy hysteria, MI5 was formed with far more resources than it actually needed to track down German spies. As is common within governmental bureaucracies, this meant it expanded its role in order to use its spare resources. MI5 acquired many additional responsibilities during the war. Most significantly, its strict counter-espionage role was considerably blurred. It became a much more political role, involving the surveillance not merely of foreign agents but of pacifist and anti-conscription organisations, and organised labour. This was justified on the basis of the common (but mistaken) belief that foreign influence was at the root of these organisations. Thus by the end of the war MI5 was a fully-fledged secret police (although it never had the powers of arrest), in addition to being a counter-espionage agency.

This expansion of its role has continued, after a brief post-war power struggle with the head of the Special Branch, Sir Basil Thompson. MI5 also managed to acquire responsibility for security operations not only in Great Britain but throughout the British Empire, and with the decline in the Empire the Security Officers based in the British High Commissions returned to London and joined the Service, which gave it a significant role in Ireland. MI5 now has a role similar to that of the United States' FBI, if not as extensive, which includes crime-prevention activities as well as political surveillance and counter-espionage. This expansion had happened almost entirely without supervision; MI5 had no responsibility to Parliament, and was often able to act with considerable independence even from the Cabinet and Prime Minister. Since 1994, MI5 activities have been subject to scrutiny by Parliament's Intelligence and Security Committee.

MI5's Irish operations during the Anglo-Irish War were an unmitigated disaster. Its operation was penetrated by the Irish Republican Army, and even before Michael Collins ordered a ruthless purge of MI5's Irish agents—almost all of whom were assassinated—it was unable to provide useful intelligence on the Irish republican movement during the Home Rule and independence controversies. {See Cairo Gang}.

MI5's decline in counter-espionage efficiency began in the 1930s. It was to some extent a victim of its own success; it was unable to break the ways of thinking it had evolved in the 1910s and 1920s. In particular, it was entirely unable to adjust to the new methods of the NKVD, the Russian secret intelligence organisation (later KGB). It continued to think in terms of agents who would attempt to gather information simply through observation or bribery, or to agitate within labour organisations or the armed services, while posing as ordinary citizens.

The NKVD, however, had evolved more sophisticated methods; it began to recruit agents from within the Establishment, most notably from Cambridge University, who were seen as a long-term investment. They succeeded in gaining positions within the Government (and, in Kim Philby's case, within British intelligence itself), from where they were much more easily able to provide the NKVD with sensitive information. The most successful of these agents—Harold 'Kim' Philby, Donald Maclean, Guy Burgess, Anthony Blunt and John Cairncross—went undetected until after the Second World War, and were known as the Cambridge Five.

[edit] Second World War

Image:Thames House - Millbank Entrance - London.jpg
Thames House's Millbank entrance, Westminster, London.

MI5 experienced further failure during the Second World War. It was chronically unprepared, both organisationally and in terms of resources, for the outbreak of war, and utterly unequal to the task which it was assigned—the large-scale internment of enemy aliens in an attempt to uncover enemy agents. The operation was badly mishandled and contributed to the near-collapse of the agency by 1940.

One of the earliest actions of Winston Churchill on coming to power in early 1940 was to sack the agency's long-term head, Vernon Kell. He was replaced initially by the ineffective Brigadier A.W.A. Harker, as Acting Director General. Harker in turn was quickly replaced by David Petrie, an SIS man, with Harker as his deputy. With the ending of the Battle of Britain and the abandonment of invasion plans (correctly reported by both SIS and the Bletchley Park ULTRA project), the spy scare eased, and the internment policy was gradually reversed. This eased pressure on MI5, and allowed it to concentrate on its major wartime success, the so-called "double-cross" system.

This was a system based on an internal memo drafted by an MI5 officer in 1936, which criticised the long-standing policy of arresting and sending to trial all enemy agents discovered by MI5. Several had offered to defect to Britain when captured; before 1939, such requests were invariably turned down. The memo advocated attempting to "turn" captured agents wherever possible, and use them to mislead enemy intelligence agencies. This suggestion was turned into a massive and well-tuned system of deception during the Second World War.

Beginning with the capture of an agent named Owens, codenamed SNOW, MI5 began to offer enemy agents the chance to avoid prosecution (and thus the possibility of the death penalty) if they would work as British double-agents. Agents who agreed to this were supervised by MI5 in transmitting bogus "intelligence" back to the German secret service, the Abwehr. This necessitated a large-scale organisational effort, since the information had to appear valuable but in actual fact be misleading. A high-level committee, the Wireless Board, was formed to provide this information. The day-to-day operation was delegated to a subcommittee, the Twenty Committee (so called because the Roman numerals for twenty, XX, form a double cross).

The system was extraordinarily successful. A postwar analysis of German intelligence records found that of the 115 or so agents targeted against Britain during the war, all but one (who committed suicide) had been successfully identified and caught, with several "turned" to become double agents. The system played a major part in the massive campaign of deception which preceded the D-Day landings, designed to give the Germans a false impression of the location and timings of the landings (see Operation Mincemeat).

[edit] Post-war

The Prime Minister's personal responsibility for the Service was delegated to the Home Secretary Maxwell-Fife in 1952, with a directive issued by the Home Secretary setting out the role and objectives of the Director-General.[citation needed] The service was subsequently placed on a statutory basis in 1989 with the introduction of the Security Service Act. This was the first government acknowledgment of the existence of the service.[citation needed] The current Director-General is Eliza Manningham-Buller.

The post-war period was a difficult time for the Service with a significant change in the threat as the Cold war began, being challenged by an extremely active KGB[citation needed] and increasing incidence of Irish separatism[citation needed] and international terrorism.[citation needed] Whilst little has yet been released regarding the successes of the service there have been a number of intelligence failures which have created embarrassment for both the service and the government.[citation needed]

In 1983 when one of its officers, Michael Bettaney, was caught trying to sell information to the KGB. He was subsequently convicted of espionage.[citation needed]

The Service was instrumental in breaking up a large Soviet spy ring at the start of the 1970s, with 105 Soviet embassy staff known or suspected to be involved in intelligence activities being expelled from the country in 1971.[citation needed]

Controversy arose when it was alleged that the service was monitoring trade unions and left-wing politicians[citation needed]; Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson was convinced that personnel were conspiring against him,[citation needed] and as Home Secretary the Labour MP Jack Straw discovered the existence of his own file dating from his days as a student radical.[citation needed] Former Security Service officer Peter Wright claimed that up to 30 members of the Service had plotted to undermine Wilson<ref>Spycatcher Peter Wright</ref> however after investigation it was concluded that no such plot had ever existed.[citation needed] Wright subsequently retracted his claims interview with BBC1's Panorama programme in 1988,[citation needed] acknowledging that his account had been unreliable.

One of the most significant and far reaching failures was an inability to conclusively detect and apprehend the "Cambridge Five" spy ring which had formed in the inter-war years and achieved great success in penetrating the government, and the intelligence agencies themselves.[citation needed] Related to this failure were suggestions of a high-level penetration within the service, Peter Wright and others believing that evidence suggested the former Director-General himself, Roger Hollis. The Trend inquiry of 1974 cleared Hollis of that accusation, later corroborated by the former KGB officer Oleg Gordievsky.

[edit] The Security Service's role in counter-terrorism

Thames House, London. Headquarters of the Security Service

The end of the Cold War resulted in a change in emphasis for the operations of the service, assuming responsibility for the investigation of all Irish republican activity on the mainland and increasing the effort countering other forms of terrorism.

The service is attributed with successes infiltrating the Provisional IRA (PIRA), with operations in conjunction with Special Branch from various police forces leading to 21 convictions for terrorism-related offences between 1992 and 1999.[citation needed] It has been suggested that this success was a significant contributor to the Northern Ireland peace process[citation needed], however this is disputed citing the success of the "Internal Security Unit" in detecting and murdering a number of informants.[citation needed]

Whilst the security forces in the province provide support in the countering of both republican and Loyalist paramilitary groups since the early 1970s, Republican sources have often accused these forces of collusion with Loyalists.[citation needed]

The Security service will take responsibility for all security intelligence work in Northern Ireland from 2007 from the Police Service of Northern Ireland.[citation needed] Both Nuala O'Loan, the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland, and Al Hutchinson, the Oversight Commissioner of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, have expressed reservations.[citation needed]

With the emergence of other terrorist threats in the United Kingdom the service has increased its resource commitment to the detection and prevention of these activities.[citation needed] Numerous raids against suspected militants, and the internment of key suspects in HM Prison Belmarsh in London, have been credited to Security Service intelligence.[citation needed] It has been reported that Security Service officers have been involved in interrogation of British citizens interned at the United States' Guantanamo Bay facility in Cuba.[citation needed]

[edit] Serious Crime

In 1996, legislation formalised the extension of the Security Service's statutory remit to include supporting the law enforcement agencies in their work against serious crime.[citation needed] The legislation aroused some controversy seen by civil libertarians as a potential evolution into a quasi-"secret police" function.[citation needed] Tasking was reactive, acting at the request of law enforcement bodies.[citation needed] This role has subsequently been passed to the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA).

[edit] Surveillance

In July 2006, Norman Baker MP accused the British Government of "hoarding information about people who pose no danger to this country", after it emerged that MI5 holds secret files on 272,000 individuals - equivalent to one in 160 adults <ref>MI5 has secret dossiers on one in 160 adultsThe Mail on Sunday, 9 July, 2006.</ref>. It was later revealed that a "traffic light" system operates<ref>Parliamentary Answer Revealing Traffic Light Coding of MI5 FilesHansard, 25 February, 1998.</ref> <ref>Traffic Light Coding of MI5 FilesHansard, 5 June, 2006.</ref>:

  • Green – active – about 10% of files
  • Orange – inquires prohibited, further information may be added – about 46% of files
  • Red – inquires prohibited, substantial information may not be added – about 44% of files

[edit] Directors-General of the Security Service

[edit] Historical names of the Security Service

Although commonly referred to as "MI5", this was the Service's official name for only thirteen years (1916-29).

  • October 1909: Founded as the "Home Section of the Secret Service Bureau".
  • April 1914: Became a subsection of the War Office "Directorate of Military Operations, section 5" (MO5) - MO5(g).
  • September 1916: Became "Military Intelligence section 5" - MI5.
  • 1929: Renamed the "Defence Security Service".
  • 1931: Renamed the "Security Service".

[edit] See also

[edit] References


[edit] External links

Image:Flag of the United Kingdom.svg United Kingdom Intelligence Agencies edit Image:Flag of the United Kingdom.svg
Current - Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) | Security Service (MI5) | Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) | Defence Intelligence Staff (DIS) | Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) | Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC)
Defunct Agencies - MI1 | MI2 | MI3 | MI4 | MI7 | MI8 | MI9 | MI10 | MI11 | MI12 | MI14 | MI15 | MI16 | MI17 | MI19
de:Security Service

fr:MI5 it:MI5 he:MI5 lt:MI5 nl:MI5 ja:イギリス情報局保安部 no:MI5 pl:Security Service sl:MI5 sr:МИ5 fi:MI5 sv:MI5 vi:MI5 tr:MI5 zh:軍情五處


Personal tools
what is world wizzy?
  • World Wizzy is a static snapshot taken of Wikipedia in early 2007. It cannot be edited and is online for historic & educational purposes only.