According to the obituary penned by ‘M’, and published in The Times when 007 had gone missing after destroying Blofeld’s castle in Japan, James Bond was recruited into the ‘Ministry of Defence’ in 1941 with the help of an old Vickers colleague of his father. It was a nice touch. Ian Fleming, Bond’s creator, had a pretty shrewd insight into how individuals in the real-life world of espionage had traditionally been recruited into the UK’s Secret Service: potential recruits were often approached due to word-of-mouth, or through a Gentleman’s Club, or through top Universities such as Oxford or Cambridge, or via the Armed Forces. The Service was very much the preserve of an elite in the 1930s and 1940s.
After a series of embarrassing and damaging spy scandals, this policy did begin to change in the 1950s and 1960s, with more recruits entering the Service from red-brick Universities and other institutions and more diverse backgrounds. However, this was painfully slow, and it remained the case for a long time that MI6’s ‘rivals’ in MI5 (the domestic Security Service) tended to have a more diverse workforce.
The real-life British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) – known more popularly as MI6 – now seems to be determined to play ‘catch up’ in a big way. It has just announced a major change in its recruitment policies, and is also releasing a new recruitment advert in UK cinemas.
For Their Eyes Only
Ironically, though, this major new recruitment campaign will include MI6 going back to the quiet and more traditional ‘tap on the shoulder’ approach as one of the ways to recruit more black, Asian and female officers. The initiative has come from the agency’s current chief, Alex Younger (who is known within SIS and in Whitehall more generally as ‘C’), who said that expansion of MI6 was needed because ‘the demands on our services, our capabilities, are on the up’, with more threats than ever from terrorist groups and hostile states.
Younger told the British media that the agency had been getting too many applications from people who think a knowledge of James Bond and the ability to shoot a gun would automatically secure them a job: according to ‘C’ and his key officers, though, MI6 does not want ‘Daniel Craig on steroids’. It is thus starting a new recruitment drive across the UK: ‘We have to go out and ask these people to join us. Before we were avowed as a service, that was the only way of recruiting people, a tap on the shoulder. That was the way I was recruited. We have to go to people that would not have thought of being recruited to MI6. We have to make a conscious effort. We need to reflect the society that we live in. Simply, we have to attract the best of modern Britain. Every community from every part of Britain should feel they have what it takes, no matter what their background or status’.
Bland, James Bland
Supporting her boss, the SIS’s head of recruitment – a senior field officer known only as Sarah – added that James Bond’s legacy meant that the agency still received applications from people who thought being a good shot was an advantage: ‘They may well be able to use a revolver. But that is not really what we are looking for. We don’t want to be the SAS. The brand has attracted a lot of good people. But it has also put off equally fantastic people. There is a perception out there that we want Daniel Craig, or Daniel Craig on steroids. He would not get into MI6. We need to get that message across because it is so embedded. We are between a rock and a hard place – between trying to be innovative, while protecting the secret stuff that keeps this country safe. We get thousands of people applying. But we need people from a wider range of backgrounds in order to be able to select the best talent this country has to offer’.
The aims and objectives of MI6 have become more public in recent years, and can be traced back to a rare (secret) memo set out in 1948 by the diplomat Sir Nevile Maltby Bland, who wanted to re-energise the Service after the Second World War and get it properly ready for the newly developing ‘Cold War’. He told government Ministers in 1948 that MI6 needed two types of recruit: ‘men of character, integrity and intellect’, who could act with subtlety, and also ‘more hard-boiled types’.
In more recent times, the demand for ‘hard-boiled types’ who mainly use hardware seems to have declined in favour of recruitment of those who can use software: the Service much prefers ‘bland’ and self-consciously anonymous individuals who can blend in easily, have intellect and can use computers as the best way to gather secret intelligence. Moreover, MI6 wants to be less white and also have more women. In other words, the world of MI6 is now more reminiscent of Len Deighton than Ian Fleming.
Nevertheless, it is worth remembering that the recent EON James Bond films themselves have also addressed some of these issues: in Skyfall, for example, Craig’s Bond appeared to be seen by some within the Service as past his ‘sell-by’ date. He had to prove them wrong. Similarly, in Spectre, the whole issue of SIGINT versus HUMINT (electronic intelligence tools versus human intelligence-gathering skills) formed a key part of the plotline. Our hero more than demonstrated that the old-fashioned skills he had developed as a double-0 agent in the field could still easily outwit the best electronic systems in the world.
Just after the current ‘C’ had given his interview to the press, he strapped on a rocket jet-pack and flew off over the River Thames back to Vauxhall Bridge. ‘Q’ would be proud!