Spying on Newsbeat
Dinner jackets, gold Rolex Oyster Perpetual day/dates, a Walther PPK and a few exploding cigarette cases. Actually, not one of these was on show the night Newsbeat went to have dinner with the staff of MI6 at their ultra-secret headquarters by the Thames in London. Well, not that ultra-secret, actually - you'll have seen it on Bond films and the odd piece-to-camera behind a reporter on News 24.
A reporter from Newsbeat has become the first journalist ever to record an "on the record" broadcast interview inside MI6 headquarters in London. Andy West's movements inside Vauxhall Cross were strictly controlled so he was prevented from seeing anything that could be sensitive to any active operations, or compromise the identity of staff or agents. However, he interviewed two MI6 officers and the head of MI6 recruitment, in their work place. It's part of a week-long series of special reports on the British Secret Intelligence Service starting today on Radio 1.
"Mark" (of course, not his real name) the head of MI6 recruitment, speaking to a broadcast microphone for the first time, revealed the need to recruit a wider spectrum of officers from different ethnic backgrounds. He said that SIS's decision just over a year ago to try "open" recruitment - as opposed to a surreptitious tap on the shoulder of potential recruits while they're still at Oxbridge - has yielded great benefits. He also said the service has sometimes suffered because of the James Bond association.
“To be honest I think sometimes we're hindered by it - because I think it gives people a false impression of what working for the organisation is actually like, so it does tend to turn up quite a lot of thrill seekers and fantasists and we're really not interested in them".
He also said the notion of a "Licence to Kill" is not real. He stressed how important it is to recruit from a wider spectrum including British Muslims - but not just them: “We need people to deploy into a range of situations around the world and people who have a different ethnicity can often go places and do things and meet people that those from a white background can’t… There are some places that white males can't go".
Newsbeat also interviewed a serving MI6 operational officer, the role people outside the service would think of as "special agent" or "spy". "Yasmin", who's in her late 20s and from the Midlands, is a Muslim.
"My job is to identify, target and recruit people from abroad who will provide us with secret intelligence - for a particular part of the world - I can’t tell you which one"
She revealed the areas of interest which MI 6 officers look at. "They include things like counter terrorism, the international drugs trade, the wider nuclear threat; it can also include promoting British economic interests abroad, so just making sure Britain isn’t being ripped off."
She described working with informants abroad or what MI6 refer to as "agents".
"It's something that runs through every day of my job - their lives and their safety is my responsibility... We will do everything in our power to make sure our agents are safe."
When asked if she got the job because she's a Muslim, "No I don't think I was. The area of the world I work in, it would make no difference whether I was a Muslim or not."
Responding to the accusation that there may be some elements of the British Muslim community who feel the Establishment or government is out to get them, and they may even view "Yasmin" as a traitor to their cause she said, "I would challenge that view very strongly... The way I feel is my duty to God is totally compatible with my duty to my country... I feel very, very strongly that if you are able to do something to make a difference you should make that difference."
And what about dinner? Not very Ian Fleming at all - in a windowless room protected by an alarmed steel door - sandwiches and soft drinks. It's so not like the movies and not even a bottle of Bollinger '37 in sight.