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New MI6 recruits – Top Guns or Top Geeks?


Brendan Wilde

Military Intelligence, Section 6, or MI6 as it is more commonly known, has traditionally been cloaked in total secrecy but this important government agency, charged with gathering the UKs foreign intelligence, has recently started to lift some of its veils. Firstly, it now makes no secret of the location of its new head office in London on the south bank of the Thames at Vauxhall Cross. It has even allowed it to be bombed in the new James Bond film, Skyfall.

The latest move to raise its public persona is a recruitment advertising campaign using display ads in the Sunday Times. A century ago when Britain first established a formal secret service, suitable personnel were usually recruited on the basis of them being sound fellows mainly with a military or diplomatic background. With the advent of long distance wireless communications and coded signals, top mathematicians and other scientific boffins were secretly headhunted and invited to work for the service.

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With the advent of the Cold War after World War 2, films based on spy stories like John Le Carres Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy and Len Deightons Ipcress File instilled an impression that the secret services were largely based in spartan offices posing as legitimate commercial businesses and were inhabited by super-intelligent, slightly dysfunctional oddballs who resembled badly dressed international chess masters endeavouring to outwit their Russian counterparts.

Of course, anyone working for MI6 could never disclose the fact to anyone else and they certainly couldnt talk about their activities to unauthorised personnel. This still remains the case today.

What appears to be precipitating change is the digital revolution and the need for the service to harness the talents of the XBox generation who have grown up with social networking sites, global internet connections and interactive gaming. The upper echelons at MI6 seem to recognise that they are not necessarily going to find such people amongst the ranks of ex public schoolboys with first class degrees at Oxbridge. Nor are they likely to be experienced military officers like Commander James Bond.

It is clear that so much vital intelligence is now circulating in cyberspace and the security services need to be able to identify it and interpret it. What they are now effectively admitting is that anyone can help them regardless of race, background and academic achievement. Put bluntly, they are now on the lookout for top geeks and social media wizards. 007, eat your heart out!

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