Secret Intelligence Service

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The Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), more commonly known as MI6 (originally Military Intelligence Section 6), or the Secret Service or simply Six, is the United Kingdom's external intelligence agency.

SIS is responsible for the United Kingdom's espionage activities overseas, as opposed to MI5 which is charged with internal security within the UK. The Republic of Ireland also falls within MI5's remit. It was founded in October 1909 (along with MI5) as the Foreign Section of the Secret Service Bureau. Its first director was Captain Sir George Mansfield Smith-Cumming, who, often dropping the "Smith", used his initial "C" as a code name which was also used by all subsequent directors of SIS (compare with "M" in Ian Fleming's James Bond novels).

Real-world background

World War II

During the Second World War, SIS was overshadowed in intelligence terms by several other initiatives, including the massive cryptanalytic effort undertaken by the Government Code and Cypher School (GC & CS), the bureau responsible for interception and decryption of foreign communications at Bletchley Park; the extensive "double-cross" system run by MI5 to feed misleading intelligence to the Germans; and the work of the Photographic Reconnaissance Unit. It was also affected by the inflammatory activities of the Special Operations Executive, which tended to increase the danger to its own agents. Its most famous operation of the war was a spectacular failure known as the Venlo incident (after the Dutch town where much of the action took place), in which SIS was thoroughly duped by agents of the German secret service, the Abwehr, posing as high-ranking Army officers involved in a plot to depose Hitler. In a series of meetings between SIS agents and the 'conspirators', SS plans to abduct the SIS team were shelved due to the presence of Dutch police. When a meeting took place without police presence, two SIS agents were duly abducted by the SS. This failure considerably tarnished the service's reputation.

During the Second World War SIS first began to be referred to as 'MI6' when, under a reorganization of military intelligence at the War Office, the War Office circulating section acquired the military designation MI6 (within SIS it was termed Section VI). Despite difficulties at the outset of the war, SIS recovered and began to run substantial and successful operations both in the occupied Continent and in the Middle East and Far East where it operated under the cover name 'Interservice Liaison Department' (ISLD). One of SIS' main functions throughout the war was to operate the secure wireless system that carried the ULTRA intercepts of Axis Enigma communications broken by the Government Codes and Cipher School (GC&CS).

Cold War

In 1946 SIS absorbed the 'rump' remnant of the Special Operations Executive (SOE), dispersing the latter's personnel and equipment between its operational divisions or 'controllerates' and new Directorates for Training and Development and for War Planning. The 1921 arrangement was streamlined with the geographical, operational units redesignated 'Production Sections', sorted regionally under Controllers, all under a Director of Production. The Circulating Sections were renamed 'Requirements Sections' and placed under a Directorate of Requirements.

SIS operations against the USSR were extensively compromised by the fact that the post-war Counter-Espionage Section, R5, was headed for two years by the penetration agent Harold Adrian Russell 'Kim' Philby. Although Philby's damage was mitigated for several years by his transfer as Head of Station in Turkey, he later returned and was the SIS intelligence liaison officer at the Embassy in Washington DC. In this capacity he compromised a programme of joint US-UK paramilitary operations in Enver Hoxha's Albania (although it has been shown that these operations were further compromised 'on the ground' by poor security discipline amongst the Albanian émigré recruited to undertake the operations). Philby was eased out of office and quietly retired in 1953 after the defection of his friends and fellow members of the 'Cambridge spy ring' Donald Duart Maclean and Guy Burgess.

SIS suffered further embarrassment when it turned out that an officer involved in both the Vienna and Berlin tunnel operations had been turned as a Soviet agent during internment by the Chinese during the Korean War. George Blake returned from his internment to be treated as something of a hero by his contemporaries in 'the office'. His security authorisation was restored, and in 1953 he was posted to the Vienna Station where the original Vienna tunnels had been running for years. After compromising these to his Soviet controllers, he was subsequently assigned to the British team involved on Operation Gold, the Berlin tunnel, and which was, consequently, blown from the outset. Blake was eventually identified, arrested and faced trial in court for espionage and was sent to prison - only to be busted out and escape to the USSR in 1964.

Despite these setbacks, SIS began to recover in the early 1960s as a result of improved vetting and security, and a series of successful penetrations, one of the Polish security establishment codenamed NODDY and the other the GRU Colonel Oleg Penkovsky. Penkovsky ran for two years as a considerable success, providing several thousand photographed documents, including Red Army rocketry manuals that allowed US National Photographic Interpretation Centre (NPIC) analysts to recognise the deployment pattern of Soviet SS4 MRBM and SS5 IRBM in Cuba in October 1962. SIS operations against the USSR continued to gain pace through the remainder of the Cold War, arguably peaking with the recruitment in the 1970s of Oleg Sergeivich Gordievsky whom SIS ran for the better part of a decade then successfully exfiltrated from the USSR across the Finnish border in 1985. The real scale and impact of SIS activities during the second half of the Cold War remains unknown, however, because the bulk of their most successful targeting operations against Soviet officials were the result of 'Third Country' operations recruiting Soviet sources traveling abroad in Asia and Africa. These included the defection of KGB officer Vladimir Kuzichkin to the SIS' Tehran Station in 1982, the son of a senior Politburo member and a member of the KGB's internal Second Chief Directorate who provided SIS and the British government with warning of the mobilisation of the KGB's Alpha Force during the 1991 August Coup which, briefly, toppled Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

SIS activities allegedly included a range of covert political action successes, including the overthrow of an increasingly pro-Soviet Mohammed Mossadeq in Iran in 1953 (in collaboration with the US Central Intelligence Agency), the again collaborative toppling of Patrice Lumumba in the Congo in 1961, and the triggering of an internal conflict between Lebanese paramilitary groups in the second half of the 1980s that effectively distracted them from further hostage takings of Westerners in the region.

A number of "intelligence operatives" (spies) have left SIS. Usually they have either found new employment in the civilian world or defected to a friendly country. In the late 1990s, an SIS officer called Richard Tomlinson was dismissed and later wrote a story of his experiences that was published in Russia by a publisher with links to the successor of the KGB, known as the SVR.

End of Cold War to present


Current logo, adopted in 2010

The end of the Cold War represented less a wholesale change of SIS' operational orientation than a reshuffling of existing priorities. The Soviet Bloc ceased to swallow the lions share of operational priorities, although the stability and intentions of a weakened but still nuclear-capable Federal Russia constituted a significant concern. Instead, functional rather than geographical intelligence requirements came to the fore such as counter-proliferation (via the agency's Production and Targeting, Counter-Proliferation Section) which had been a sphere of activity since the discovery of Pakistani physics students studying nuclear-weapons related subjects in 1974; counter-terrorism (via two joint sections run in collaboration with the Security Service, one for Irish republicanism and one for international terrorism); counter-narcotics and serious crime (originally set up under the Western Hemisphere Controllerate in 1989); and a 'global issues' section looking at matters such as the environment and other public welfare issues. In the mid-1990s these were consolidated into a new post of Controller, Global and Functional.

During the transition, then-C Sir Collin McColl embraced something of a new, albeit limited, policy of openness towards the press and public, with 'public affairs' falling into the brief of Director, Counter-Intelligence and Security (renamed Director, Security and Public Affairs). McColl's policies were part and parcel with a wider 'open government initiative' developed from 1993 by the government of (now Sir) John Major. As part of this, SIS' operations, and those of the national signals intelligence agency, GCHQ were placed on a statutory footing through the 1994 Intelligence Services Act. Although the Act provided procedures for Authorisations and Warrants, this essentially enshrined mechanisms that had been in place at least since 1953 (for Authorisations) and 1985 (under the Interception of Communications Act, for warrants). Under this Act, since 1994, SIS and GCHQ activities have been subject to scrutiny by Parliament's Intelligence and Security Committee.

During the mid-1990s the British intelligence community was subjected to a comprehensive costing review by the Government, and as part of broader defence cut-backs SIS had its resources cut back 25% across the board and senior management was reduced by 40%. As a consequence of these cuts, the Requirements division (formerly the Circulating Sections of the 1921 Arrangement) were deprived of any representation on the Board of Directors. At the same time, the Middle East and Africa Controllerates were pared back and amalgamated. According to the findings of Lord Butler of Brockwell's Review of Weapons of Mass Destruction, the reduction of operational capabilities in the Middle East and the weakening of the Requirements division's ability to challenge the quality of the information the Middle East Controllerate was providing the Joint Intelligence Committee's estimates of Iraq's unconventional weapons programmes. These weaknesses were major contributors to the UK's erroneous assessments of Iraq's 'weapons of mass destruction' prior to the 2003 invasion of that country.

On May 6, 2004, it was announced that Sir Richard Dearlove was to be replaced as head of the SIS after his retirement by John Scarlett, formerly chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee. Scarlett is an unusually high profile appointment to the job, and a well known figure on television screens in the United Kingdom due to his evidence at the Hutton Inquiry. His predecessor, Sir Richard Dearlove, is now Master of Pembroke College, Cambridge and photographs of him are publicly available for the first time.

SIS headquarters

Mi6 The world is not enough

SIS Building in The World is Not Enough.

Main articles: SIS Building

SIS headquarters, since 1995, is at 85, Vauxhall Cross, along the Albert Embankment in Vauxhall on the banks of the River Thames by Vauxhall BridgeLondon. Previous headquarters have been Century House, 100 Westminster Bridge Road, Lambeth, 1966-95; and 54, Broadway, off Victoria StreetLondon SW1, 1924-66. (Although SIS operated from Broadway, it was actually based at St. James's Street).

SIS in James Bond

The intelligence agency Bond works for is simply called MI6 or the British Secret Service.The MI-6 Building in the first 23 Bond EON Movies was the regular building at Vauxhall Cross until part of it was exploded in Skyfall and the whole building collapsed by another bomb in Spectre. MI6 is now being stationed at a larger building with its personnel. Universal Exports, most of time is used as a cover of the intelligence agency.

Film History

Dr. No (1962)

MI6 is first introduced with James Bond (Sean Connery), M (Robert Lee), Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell), and Q (Peter Burton). No additional MI6 personnel are introduced throughout the film. In From Russia With Love (1963) additional MI6 Personnel are introduced into the film; Captain Nash and Kerim Bay who are both deceased.

Goldfinger (1964)

Sections, branches and departments

Main articles: The 00 Agents

Main articles: Q Branch

 MI6 staff and personnel

Characters Role(s) In literature? In Eon films?
M Head of SIS/MI6
Bill Tanner Chief of Staff
Charles Robinson Deputy Chief of Staff x
Q Quartermaster
R Deputy Quartermaster x
Miss Moneypenny Secretary to M
Penelope Smallbone Apprentice secretary x
Mary Goodnight 00-Section secretary
James Bond 00 operative

Tiago Rodriguez

Intelligence operative x

René Mathis

Intelligence operative x

Dr. Molly Warmflash

Medical doctor x

Craig Mitchell

M's bodyguard x

Strawberry Fields


Dikko Henderson

Intelligence operative

Sebastian Ronson

Intelligence operative x


Intelligence operative x

Paula Caplan

Intelligence operative x

Kimberley Jones

Intelligence operative x


Intelligence operative x


Intelligence operative x


Intelligence operative x


Assistant to M x


Intelligence operative x


Laboratory technician x


Psychological evaluator x

Mlle. La Porte

Intelligence operative x

Shaun Campbell

Intelligence operative

Godfrey Tibbett

Intelligence operative x

Jim Fanning

Art specialist x

Lieutenant Hip

Intelligence operative x

Captain Nash

Intelligence operative


Laboratory technician x


Intelligence operative, Station T x



Green Four

Butler, Blayden House x

Luigi Ferrara

Intelligence operative x


Q's personal assistant x


Intelligence operative


Sheik Hosein

Doctor Hall


Ben Daheer

Andrew Surry


Miranda Frost

Kim Park

Paul Inglis

Naz Husein

Steve Benelisha



Rosika Miklos



Percy Osborne-Smith

Ophelia Maidenstone

Nicole Hunter

Miss Nagai




MI6 intelligence sections

Main articles: MI6 intelligence sections

Throughout both the films and novels, various MI6 intelligence "sections" are named with a letter. The letter is usually the first name of the country or city in which it is located.


See also

External links


  • Davies, Philip H.J. (2004). MI6 and the Machinery of Spying London: Frank Cass, ISBN 9780714654577 (h/b)
  • Davies, Philip H.J. (2005) 'The Machinery of Spying Breaks Down' in Studies in Intelligence Summer 2005 Declassified Edition.
  • Dorril, Stephen (2001) MI6: Fifty Years of Special Operations London: Fourth Estate, ISBN 1857027019
  • Humphreys, Rob (1999) London: The Rough Guide, Rough Guides, ISBN 185828404X
  • Richard Tomlinson, The Big Breach - From Top Secret to Maximum Security. Coauthor Nick Fielding, Mainstream Publishing (1 February 2001) ISBN 1903813018

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