Intelligence is in government operations, evaluated information
concerning such things as the strength, activities, and probable courses
of action of other nations who are usually, but not necessarily,
opponents. In a world of sovereign nations, information is a prime
element of national power, and intelligence is the vital and often
pivotal foundation for national decisions.
National intelligence organizations
In a world in revolutionary ferment, the authentic intelligence officer
occupies the centre of great debates over national security policy. At
issue in most of the debates are questions of power, probability, and
time. A prime task of the modem professional intelligence officer,
military or civilian, is to try to answer questions for the policymaker
about power and about behaviour probabilities, within a time scale. For
a chief of state trying to decide a question about nuclear armaments,
for example, an ideal intelligence system would provide precise
knowledge of a potential enemy’s power, the probability of that enemy’s
behaviour or reaction in given contingencies, and a time schedule for
the most likely sequence of events.
These are basic problems for all intelligence services. Information as
to how these services address their problems is highly uneven. More is
generally known about the U.S. system than any other, a good deal about
that of the old Soviet Union, and comparatively less about other
systems. Intelligence systems follow three general models: the U.S.,
which was followed by former West Germany, Japan, South Korea, and other
nations that came under U.S. influence after World War II; the old
Soviet, which was imitated in large measure by most communist-governed
nations; and the British, on which were patterned the systems of most
nations with true parliamentary governments.
The United Kingdom
British intelligence was organized along modem lines as early as the
days of Queen Elizabeth I, and the long British experience has
influenced the structure of most other systems. Unlike those of the
United States and the old Soviet Union, British intelligence agencies
have preserved through most of their history a high degree of secrecy
concerning their organization and operations. Even so, Britain has
suffered from large number of native spies within the intelligence
The two principal British intelligence agencies are the Secret
Intelligence Service (SIS; also known by its wartime designation, MI-6)
and the Security Service (commonly called MI-5). The labels derive from
the fact that the Secret Intelligence Service was once “section six” of
military intelligence and the Security Service, “section five.”
MI-6 is the formally Secret Intelligence Service, British government
agency responsible for the collection, analysis, and appropriate
dissemination of foreign intelligence. MI-6 is responsible for the
conduct of espionage activities outside British territory.
The Intelligence Services Act 1994 defines the role of MI6 as “a) to
obtain and provide information relating to the actions or intentions of
persons outside the British Islands; and
b) to perform other tasks relating to the actions or intentions of such
persons…[in relation to]
the interests of national security, with particular reference to defence
and foreign policies…the interests of the economic well-being of the
UK…or in support of the prevention or detection of serious crime.”
MI-6 has existed, in various forms since the establishment of a secret
service in 1569 by Sir Francis Walsingham, who became secretary of state
to Queen Elizabeth I. It was constituted in its present form by
Commander (later Sir) Mansfield Cumming in 1912 as World War I
approached. In the 1930s and 1940s it was considered the most effective
intelligence service in the world. During the rise of Nazi Germany, MI-6
conducted espionage operations in Europe, Latin America, and much of
Asia. (The “MI-6” label developed during this period because it was then
“section six” of “military intelligence.”)
When the United States entered World War II, the British agency helped
train personnel of the U.S. Office of Strategic Services and has since
cooperated with the successor Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The
revelation in the mid-1950s that MI-6 had been penetrated by British
double agents who had served the Soviet Union since the 1930s stirred
wide public consternation. Details of MI-6 operations and relationships
seldom appear in the British press. The agency has the power to censor
such stories through the use of “D” notices under the Official Secrets
Act. MI-6 reports to the Foreign Office.
Another branch of British intelligence system is MI-5.
MI-5 is the formally Security Service, intelligence agency charged with
internal security and domestic counterintelligence activities of the
United Kingdom. It is authorized to investigate any person or movement
that might threaten the nation’s security.
MI-5’s earliest antecedent was a secret service formed in 1569 by Sir
Francis Walsingham, who later became secretary of state to Elizabeth I.
The need for centralized control of intelligence functions was first
expressed early in the 20th century. MI-5 was formed in 1909 to identify
and counter German spies then working in Britain, which it did with
great effect. It was placed under the command of Vernon Kell, then a
captain in the British army. Kell retired as a major general in 1924 and
was later knighted, but remained in charge the agency until 1940. (The
“MI-5” label developed during this period because it was then “section
five” of “military intelligence.”) The Security Service makes no direct
arrests but rather works secretly behind the more publicized “Special
Branch” of Scotland Yard. The director of the Security Service reports
to the prime minister through the home secretary.
Undoubtedly, the successful activity of different organizations depends
on their leaders. For example, the boss of MI-5 during the most
successful years of its work was an extraordinary person, a woman of a
great spirit Dame Stella Rimington.
Dame Stella Rimington
Former Director General of MI5
Stella Rimington was the first woman to lead MI5, the first to be
invested as a Dame for her services to national security. She has broken
the code of absolute discretion that is meant to bind senior public
The woman who was to become Britain’s most famous female security
officer was born in South Norwood, London, in 1935. She was an only
child. Her father was a mechnical engineer. Her most vivid memories of
childhood are of being bombed.
She was educated at Nottingham High School for Girls, and Edinburgh
University. On graduation, she became an archivist, a job that she never
saw as a serious career. She was in love with John Rimington, the man
who would become her husband. She met him on the school bus when she was
17. Soon they lost touch, but met up again in Edinburgh.
The couple married in 1963. He was by then a civil servant and in 1965
was posted to the British High Commission in New Delhi and she became a
dutiful diplomatic wife. She took an active part in amateur dramatics,
but not much else. Then, in 1969, much to her surprise, the local MI5
man asked, if she would help out as an assistant. As a bored housewife
without children, she jumped at the chance.
Fifteen years later, she was separated from her husband, had two
children and was, according to one former colleague, “a promising
mid-level officer. She was solid, but not dazzling”. But MI5 was to be
radically shaken up during the Eighties, and Stella Rimington benefitted
from the decision to find “new blood” to run the organisation. She was
given the difficult field of counter-subversion, in which she was
extremely successful. She was promoted to Director of
Counter-intelligence, then to being deputy Director General, in charge
of operations, and then, finally, in 1992, to head the organisation.
As part of the new, post-Cold War “openness”, Stella Rimington was the
first Director General to be publicly named. The publicity was not
without problems because The Sunday Times identified her home address.
It was a pointlessly cruel piece of journalism, causing her immense
inconvenience as she and her daughters had to move instantly from a
neighbourhood they liked to somewhere they didn’t. She felt angry, both
at The Sunday Times and what she considered the lack of help from
A year ago Dame Stella wrote a book about her tenure as Director
General of MI5, thought there are a lot of people in the Government who
wish she wouldn’t.
Why has she done it? Money could be one reason. She has a decent pension
from MI5, a couple of non-executive directorships, including one at
Marks & Spencer, but those are small beer compared to the six figure sum
she could expect for her “autobiography of a spook”. Yet some of those
who know her doubt that she would stoop so low as to sell her country’s
secrets for personal gain.
Many of her colleagues think that she has another motive: vanity. Stella
Rimington used to be a very important person. Now she isn’t. It’s
painful and she just wants to be back in the limelight.
But on the other hand there are no reasons to worry about. Stella
Rimington was a brilliant woman, so we will remember her forever.
Besides, not long afterwards, she was immortalized as James Bond’s new
boss in Golden eye. James Bond worked, of course, for MI6, not MI5, but
everyone assumed that Dame Judi Dench, who starred in the role, was
playing Stella Rimington – including Dame Stella herself who found the
portrayal “quite startling”.
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