Move to diversify Britain's spy agency

Mr Younger aims for a workforce that can "reflect the society we live in".
Mr Younger aims for a workforce that can "reflect the society we live in".

MI6 is now hiring - with a focus on recruits from minority groups

LONDON • Britain's MI6 spy agency will go back to its old, informal "tap on the shoulder" method of hiring new agents, in a bid to find more black and Asian recruits.

Mr Alex Younger, head of the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) - as MI6 is officially known - told the Guardian newspaper he wanted the agency to reach communities who were "selecting themselves out".

"We have to go out and ask these people to join us," said Mr Younger, who rarely makes public comments, in an interview published on Thursday.

The intelligence chief, who is also known as "C", added: "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 we live in."

In 2015, Britain announced that it would recruit another 1,900 spies to deal with the threat posed by Islamist militants.

According to the Guardian, MI6 will launch a recruitment campaign next week, in a drive to take its numbers to 3,500, the largest in its history.

  • 1,900

  • Number of spies that Britain announced in 2015 it would recruit, to deal with the threat posed by Islamist militants.

The Guardian said Mr Younger would not be drawn on specific dangers Britain faced but had warned that the agency needed to be "upstream of the threats".

MI6 needs to spread its network of officers and agents more widely, when there are equally worrying threats coming from terrorists and states, Mr Younger told the newspaper.

Russia is a key concern for all of Britain's intelligence agencies, which is potentially awkward, the report noted.

British Prime Minister Theresa May's government is seeking to build a strong relationship with United States President Donald Trump, who has been beset by claims over links to his Russian counterpart, Mr Vladimir Putin.

Mr Younger said: "The terrorist threat has grown but that has not resulted in a diminution of threats posed by hostile states.

"They have ways of posing a threat to us that they did not have before."

Mr Younger conceded that during his career, MI6 had "suffered from groupthink", and he wanted people to have the confidence to stand up to him if they did not agree.

"Simply, we have to attract the best of modern Britain," he said. "Every community from every part of Britain should feel they have what it takes, no matter what their background or status. We have to stop people selecting themselves out."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 04, 2017, with the headline 'Move to diversify Britain's spy agency'. Print Edition | Subscribe