MI5 does not assassinate: official

Security website gems

The news earlier this week that UK intelligence agency MI5 had launched a new all-singing, all-dancing website must have caused a few ruffled feathers down at rival spook outfit MI6.

Yes indeed, they might have a lovely headquarters on the Thames and the highly-regarded John Scarlett as new boss - he of the authoritative and uncannily accurate Iraq weapons dossier - but what they don't have is a home on the Web to call their own.

Sadly, MI6 is still inhabiting a dark corner of the Foreign Office, skulking around under the "Secret Intelligence Service" moniker.

And what will gall the wannabe James Bonds even further is that they do not have anything to even remotely touch MI5's myths section in terms of pure entertainment.

Try this:

1. MI5 is the "Secret Police"

We are a civilian organisation and members of staff have no executive powers, such as the authority to detain or arrest people. We are not a "secret police force".

Our investigations are shared with the police or other law enforcement agencies when there is a prospect of the arrest of people who are committing or planning criminal offences. Over a number of years we have developed and applied procedures that enable our intelligence to be admitted as evidence in criminal proceedings (see "Evidence and Disclosure"). In addition, we may recommend to the Home Office or to the Foreign & Commonwealth Office that known terrorists or foreign intelligence officers, for example, be refused entry to the UK or be deported or expelled. However, the decision whether to do so lies outside the Service.

So far, so good. Next:

4. MI5 "vets" Ministers and Members of Parliament

Ministers and MPs are not subject to vetting. An incoming Prime Minister will only be told of any information we hold on a potential member of the new Cabinet if that information is both serious in the context of national security and it appears likely that the individual concerned will need access to sensitive information. This has been public knowledge since 1973, when it was referred to in the Report of the Security Commission on the Jellicoe-Lambton affair. In its 1997/98 report the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) referred to the fact that since 1992 the Leader of the Opposition has also been informed of any serious security issue concerning a possible member of the Shadow Cabinet. The numbers involved are very small indeed.

That's a shame. Taxpayers should be entitled to expect that the intelligence community would have seen David Blunkett and his accursed ID card scheme coming a mile off. "Serious in the context of national security"? Too right.

8. MI5 investigates trade unions and pressure groups

It has often been alleged that, in the past, we systematically investigated trade unions and various pressure groups, such as the National Union of Mineworkers and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.

We have never investigated people simply because they were members or office-holders of trade unions or campaigning organisations. But subversive groups have in the past sought to infiltrate and manipulate such organisations as a way of exerting political influence.

We'll take that as a yes, then.

9. MI5 taps telephones and eavesdrops illegally

We do not tap telephones or install eavesdropping equipment illegally. In carrying out such operations we comply fully with the provisions of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA). Where an eavesdropping operation would also involve entry or interference with a property, a separate warrant is obtained under the Intelligence Services Act 1994.

Don't be silly, it's all done perfectly legally.

17. MI5 staff are prohibited from saying anything about the Service

Our members and former members are prohibited by Section 1 of the Official Secrets Act 1989 from disclosing, without lawful authority, information relating to security or intelligence which came into their possession while in the Service.

It is clearly important that security and intelligence information is protected from unauthorised disclosure, to prevent damage being caused to our sources, operations and methods. But Section 1 is sometimes criticised as prohibiting disclosures even about such unimportant matters as the colour of the Thames House carpets (which are blue!) and the menu in the staff restaurant. These criticisms are misguided.

We agree. There's very little point in joining MI5 and then shooting your mouth off about it in the local pub. Or in a book, for that matter.

But enough of the politics, let's get down to the nitty-gritty. To its credit, MI5 does not dodge the really provocative myths, such as:

3. MI5 carries out assassinations

It is claimed from time to time that we have been responsible for murdering individuals who have become "inconvenient" in some way. We do not kill people or arrange their assassination. We are subject to the rule of law in just the same way as other public bodies.

We're going to say they're telling the truth here - just in case. Moving swiftly on, we'll conclude this brief trawl of the new-look MI5 with one final, and truly illuminating, piece of debunking:

16. MI5 does not recruit tall people

Contrary to media reporting, we do not just recruit people under 5'11". There is a height restriction in place for our mobile surveillance recruitment campaign, but no such restrictions exist for any of the other campaigns. You can be tall and work for the Security Service!

Which, of course, will come as a great relief to seven-foot hired killers with metal teeth who are currently between Bond movies and looking for a bit of freelance work.... Oh no, hold on - MI5 doesn't assassinate people, does it? ®

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