MI6 looking for ‘Jamal Bond’

Figures for 2016 show that MI6, which had a staff of about 2,500, has a major gender and ethnicity imbalance.
Sunday 03/06/2018
A general view of the MI6 building in London.  (AP)
Shark tank. A general view of the MI6 building in London. (AP)

LONDON - An ad campaign by Britain’s MI6 intelligence agency sought to recruit women and ethnic minorities to the service. At a time when the United Kingdom is facing unprecedented threats from non-state actors, particularly the Islamic State (ISIS), the recruitment of agents from diverse cultural backgrounds could prove invaluable.

The advert — the first televised one from the intelligence agency — featured a shark menacingly swimming in an aquarium before the camera pulls out to show a startled child being comforted by her mother.

“We are intelligence officers but we don’t do what you think,” the advert’s voiceover says. “It is not keeping your cool in the shark tank. It is picking up the silent cues that matter. Understanding others. Helping them see things differently. It is exploring the world beyond your own. And if that sounds familiar it is because you do it every day. MI6 — secretly, we are just like you.”

MI6 announced that it would be reviewing its recruitment criteria to secure a more diverse workforce. Currently, candidates must be British and have at least one parent who is British. Having foreign-born parents rules out many potential recruits and second-generation immigrants often fail to meet that criteria.

“We are making our services’ nationality rules slightly more flexible to support our diversity agenda and enable a wider selection of candidates to join us,” an MI6 recruitment official said.

Speaking at a news conference announcing the recruitment drive, MI6 Chief Alex Younger said: “I want this opportunity to dispel the myths that still too often see potential candidates rule themselves out. My message remains simple: There is no standard MI6 officer. If you have what it takes, then apply to join us.”

“Regardless of background, if you have the skills we need and share our values, I want you to consider a career in intelligence in a service that reflects today’s society, MI6 needs the best people this country has to offer,” he added.

In an exclusive interview with Britain’s Guardian newspaper, another first for MI6, Younger asserted that MI6 “need[ed] to reflect the society we live in,” warning of the dangers of “groupthink.”

The Secret Intelligence Service, informally known as MI6, is the foreign branch of Britain’s intelligence service. It has been seeking to shed its “James Bond” image for years. Younger describing the popular movie franchise as a blessing.

Figures for 2016 show that MI6, which had a staff of about 2,500, has a major gender and ethnicity imbalance. Women make up just 24.1% of senior posts and 37.8% of non-senior staff. Just less than 7% of non-senior staff come from a black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) background and they are not represented at all in senior posts. MI6 is seeking to fill 800 new positions before 2021.

MI5, which handles domestic intelligence cases, has had campaigns to recruit BAME candidates but as of 2016 did not have a single senior staff member from such a background. MI5’s website states that 40% of its employees are women and 8% come from a BAME background, a 100% increase from ten years ago.

This is also not the first time MI6 has sought to expand recruitment, particularly among ethnic minorities. In 2007, some MI5 and MI6 agents spoke to the media under the condition of anonymity seeking to bolster recruitment among BAME candidates.

One Muslim MI6 agent, “Yasmin,” told the BBC that it was important that people from all faiths and backgrounds join the intelligence service. “I would say extremism in any form is wrong, be that Islamic extremism or any other kind of extremism,” she said.

“I feel very, very strongly that if you are able to do something to make a difference, you should make that difference.”

The head of MI6 recruitment, speaking in 2006, went further, saying: “We want to be truly representative and reflective but clearly if we are going to be reflective we do need to have Muslims in our organisations because of the insight and understanding that they bring.”