London, Asharq Al-Awsat – A high-level British diplomat revealed that Britain is still at significant risk of a terrorist attack, although the source of this threat is now from relevant groups in Yemen and Somalia. The diplomat, who is the liaison between the British Foreign Office and the British Secret Intelligence Service [SIS], and who met with a number of Arab journalists in a closed press conference in the capital of London on Thursday, said that SIS, which is more commonly known as MI6, helps the British government – via covert means – to protect the security and economic interests of the United Kingdom at an international level. The high-level British diplomat spoke to journalists on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of his job, and revealed that MI6 collects secret information from all across the globe in order to support the British government’s policies and objectives. He said that the goal of the intelligence community is to warn politicians about what will happen tomorrow or in the near future in the west, in order to counter any threats. He also said that “the most important threats that we are facing in the twenty-first century includes instability in some regions of the world, terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and drug smuggling.”
He said that Britain’s foreign intelligence gathering agency, MI6, helps the British government to respond to these challenges, and in order for MI6 to be able to effectively carry out its duties, it must protect details of its operation, its agents and sources, and its secret methods. He said that the center of Britain’s intelligence gathering operations is in Cheltenham, which is also the location of GCHQ [Government Communication Headquarters]; the center of Britain’s Government Signal Intelligence [SIGNIT] activities. He stressed that MI6 activity focuses upon foreign operation, not domestic activities, which are handled by MI6’s sister agency, MI5. The British Foreign Office liaison also revealed that those working for MI6 support British foreign policy by providing information, and there is direct coordination between MI6 and the corridors of the British Foreign Office.
The Foreign Office’s Intelligence liaison also revealed that MI6 has a total of approximately 2,500 employees, 10 percent of whom are members of ethnic minorities. He said “we have no problem recruiting members of ethnic minorities, as they are part of the fabric of British society.” He also referred to MI6’s growing interest in recruiting Arabic speakers. He also spoke about MI6’s role in combating terrorism in Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, with regards to its information-gathering activities.
The British liaison between the British Foreign Office and MI6 was speaking to Arab journalists on the occasion of the 100 year anniversary of the foundation of MI6. A book [MI6: The History of the Secret Intelligence Service 1909 – 1949] was published to commemorate this anniversary. This book reveals – for the first time – the official story behind the founding of this organization and the history of its first 40 years. The book was written by Professor Keith Jeffrey of Queen’s University in Belfast, and he was given unrestricted access to MI6 archives during his research. This book was launched at the British Foreign Office in the attendance of former SIS Director Sir John Scarlett – who originally commissioned this project – which partially lifted the veil on MI6 operations and revealed a number of unknown facts about the period from the foundation of MI6 to the period four years after the end of World War II. The 810-page book deals with MI6’s first forty years, from uncovering German spy networks in Britain in the period between the end of World War I and the beginning of World War II, as well as the efforts to break German codes during World War II which led to the Enigma machine.
The book ends just before the turmoil suffered by the British Intelligence community at the hands of the Soviets in the fifties and sixties after it was revealed that some of Britain’s most successful spies were actually double-agents covertly working for the Soviet Union as part of a spy-ring that was later dubbed the Cambridge Five. The most famous member of the Cambridge Five was MI6 officer Kim Philby, who later defected to the Soviet Union where he was awarded the Order of the Red Banner, and later posthumously named a Hero of the Soviet Union.
The book tells the story of the emergence of MI6 under its first and first director Mansfield Cumming in 1909, as well as how Britain spied upon its ally, the US. The book records that MI6 decided to stop this in 1938 based upon a request by MI5, who wanted to build close coordination and ties with the FBI. The book also reveals how a number of internationally renowned British writers, including Graham Green, Arthur Ransome, Somerset Maugham, Compton Mackenzie, Malcolm Muggeridge, and philosopher AJ Ayer all worked for MI6. These revelations bring the British literary scene into question once more, after previous it was previously revealed in the nineties that British author George Orwell – real name Eric Blair – was also attached to MI6.
Professor Keith Jeffrey also revealed that the “license to kill” – as popularized by fictional MI6 agent James Bond – was a myth, although the book does speculate that MI6 agent Bill “Biffy” Dunderdale, a close friend of James Bond author Ian Fleming, may have been the model for 007, due to his “penchant for pretty women and fast cars.”