International Espionage In The Spotlight: How To Become A Secret Agent:

Which is the world’s most powerful intelligence agency? Most people probably assume that this title belongs to America’s CIA , due to its notoriety and because it features in so many spy movies. In fact, surveys on this topic – such as one conducted by the cable & satellite channel Fox News, with its headquarters in New York – invariably place Pakistan’s ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence) at No.1. According to Abir Gupta, a commentator for, this organization, founded in 1948, “is so dominant that it practically runs the country, along with the army”.

Also included in the “Top Ten” lists compiled by both Gupta and Fox News are: India’s RAW (Research and Analysis Wing), founded in 1968 and whose main function is “to monitor the movement and activities of its neighbours, especially China and Pakistan; Israel’s Mossad (1949), depicted as “the godfather of all intelligence agencies”; The Federal Security Bureau of the Russian Federation (FSB), widely regarded as just a substitute name for the Soviet Union’s KGB (founded in 1918) and currently one focus of speculation as to exactly who initiated and carried out the assassination attempt on Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury on 4th March.

China’s Ministry of State Security (MSS) was founded in 1983. This agency, declares Gupta, “has played a major role in curbing any anti-communist or anti-government revolts” and indeed the strength and popularity of the communist party are “quite dependent on it”. Germany’s BND (Bundesnachrichtendienst: 1956) has headquarters in both Berlin and Pullach, a district of Munich: “When it comes to getting inside information about the Middle East and Latin America, there are few agencies that can beat it”. The General Directorate for External Security (DGSE) in Paris “receives a huge part of the French Government’s revenue, has more than 5000 employees, and is relatively young (1982) compared to its counterparts”. The basic interest of Australia’s ASIS in Canberra is “centred on the Asian and Pacific regions. It works with such efficiency and secrecy that for years many people in the Australian Government itself were unaware of its activities”.

As anyone who has watched recent James Bond films will be aware, Britain’s MI6 ( Military Intelligence Section 6) is based on the banks of the River Thames, next to Vauxhall Bridge. The Sun journalist, Tom Michael, noted on 19th January that it’s role is to supply the UK Government with “ a global covert capability” – unlike MI5, which deals instead with domestic security threats. MI6 is now recruiting an additional 1,000 spies, in order to increase its numbers to 3,500. Applicants, comments Michael, can apply to be language specialists, tech experts, intelligence officers or security guards to “watch over the iconic and fortress-like SIS (Secret Intelligence Service) building. He warns candidates that they “will face an exhaustive 6-month selection process, during which they will be thoroughly security vetted, assessed medically and repeatedly tested and interviewed to narrow the field down to the very best”.

Anyone seeking a job with either MI5 or MI6 should be a British citizen (either born in the country or naturalised), at least 18 years old and resident in the UK for nine out of the last ten years. The starting salary for a relatively junior intelligence analyst is around £25,000, for tech experts between £30,000 – £55,000 and for an “explosive chemist physical security specialist”, £53,284. There is an increasing tendency, so the Guardian columnist, Matthew Jenkin has observed, for the secret service “to recruit people who are older, have established themselves in other careers and are looking for a change, not just to take them fresh out of university.

It’s now also a myth, the BBC News reporter Peter Taylor, has pointed out, that to be a modern spy you have to be a white upper- class male who has graduated from either Oxford or Cambridge University. On the contrary, Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee – cited by the Daily Mail’s Home Affairs Editor, James Slack – has told the UK’s spy chiefs they should recruit middle-aged mothers from websites such as “Mumset” because “they understand people better and are skilled at relationships”. In the view of the committee, action is required to break through the “very traditional male mentality and outlook” currently dominating the ranks of the intelligence agencies.

There are of course other factors which MI5 / MI6 have to take into consideration. The Military Degree Programs website specifies that in the USA, anyone aspiring to be a secret agent “must pass an in-depth background check and submit to a hair follicle drug test”. Furthermore, that high-level government agencies, including the CIA, often run credit checks to ensure that potential employees are not gamblers or over-investors: “Poor financial management skills can portray an otherwise excellent candidate as risky or imprudent: These are not desirable qualities in a spy”.

According to the former Special Branch Officer, Tony Robinson, ideally a person who accepts an invitation to spy for the security services should be motivated by patriotism and attracted by the excitement of the job: “Anyone who would spy for money isn’t necessarily loyal. They are likely to spy for whoever offers the most money”. You especially need to have an excellent memory for names and facts – not to be reliant on recording equipment when, for example, you’re infiltrating a “subversive meeting”. The BBC’s Peter Taylor has emphasised that “The clothes you’re wearing, how you’re walking and how you’re talking” are all aspects you constantly have to be thinking about if you’re a secret agent: “You have to blend in with your surroundings, be Mr or Mrs Grey – a nobody, a person you might pass on the street but forget in a second”.

Filed under: Politics, Society | Posted on March 20th, 2018 by Colin D Gordon

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