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MI5 test for Mandarin-speaking snoops 'just too easy'

'I'm gonna be the first American James Bond in China!'

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

British intelligence nerve-centre MI5 is recruiting fluent Chinese speakers to eavesdrop on phone calls - but it got more than it bargained for when its Mandarin comprehension test was ridiculed by Redditors.

Blighty's Security Service set up an online language exam, which encourages peeps with Mandarin, Russian, Sylheti, Swahili, Somali and Pashto skills to test their suitability for a role with the service.

It explains as follows:

The tests reflect the nature of some of the work of our Foreign Language Analysts, Mandarin Intelligence Analysts and Russian Analysts, who listen to lawfully intercepted phone calls made by the targets of our investigations.

You’ll use your judgement, language skills and cultural knowledge to decide between those calls that are important and those calls that are not, and transcribe your findings in clear and succinct written English to help further investigations.

However, users of the wildly popular social news website Reddit took the Chinese exam – which requires the applicant read or listen to a passage and answer a set of related questions – and were none too impressed with the quality of the language.

One Redditor, willdunz, opined yesterday: “This can't be the real admission test right? I mean nobody talks like that in China; even those news anchors on CCTV [China Network Television] talk faster than this.”

Another, snackburros, claimed that the “written passage has some grammar, usage and sentence structure awkwardness to it”. One wag, getting his MI6 and MI5 mixed up, added: "Easiest test ever. I'm gonna be the first American James Bond in China."

To be fair, the test is meant to be a basic first hurdle for those interested in such a role, rather than a green light for Chinese speakers into one of the UK’s most secretive and revered institutions.

MI5 explained as much in the following disclaimer:

The clips do not reflect the full complexity of the challenges offered by our analyst roles but they are indicative of the type of skills successful candidates should be comfortable using on a routine basis.

The Security Service, which mainly tackles major crime and terrorism within the UK, needs more language experts as it makes more requests to telcos than any other body for information on phone calls and internet activities in the UK.

That was according to a parliamentary report last month into a controversial draft communications surveillance law, which calls for much wider snooping powers. Officials claimed there is a 25 per cent "shortfall" in the comms data the authorities want and what they can currently get. ®

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