COULD YOU MAKE IT IN MI5? Have you got what it takes to be a spy? Ex-Mi5 intelligence officer Annie Machon gives us the pros and cons of a secret life within the Ministry of Defence
’t tell n a c u o Y “ ything t n a e n o y an cruitmenf e r e h t t abou pane o a o s , s s e n proc s betwee ds l l a f s s gla ur frien o y d n a you ily” and fam I was initially recruited as an intelligence officer, running operations against targets. Those targets could be a group, country or individual. You have to assess the threat and how to use different resources to run intelligence on them; whether you want to intercept their phone lines and emails, put bugs in their houses or arrange someone to follow them on the street. You always have to deploy your resources in the most legal way possible. You then assess the information that’s returned to you, arrange an arrest or drop the investigation.
Successful operations were amazing to run. Sometimes I’d see a short report on BBC News mentioning something I was working on and I’d know that was just the tip of the iceberg; that there was so much depth to the story but that the public are only shown a fraction of it. One disadvantage is it’s hard to keep in touch with old friends, because most people want to catch up and chat about work or their achievements and you can’t. You end up socialising with people at work and become friends with other Mi5 agents because they are the people it’s easiest to talk to. I’d say if you want to be in Mi5, it’s best to focus on qualities rather than skills. Skills can always be taught. You need to have good judgment, be confident, analytical and have a strong ethical framework. If you’re thinking about joining, Mi5 has regional offices now, including in Scotland, so you don’t even need to move down to London. I was at Mi5 for six years in three different posts, as you are reassigned every two years. I did it because I felt it was a job that could really make a difference and potentially save lives.
AS TOLD TO RACHAEL FULTON
graduated from Cambridge with a classics degree in 1989, worked in publishing for a little while and later began work at the Foreign Office with ambitions of becoming a diplomat. It was then that a strange letter from the Ministry of Defence arrived, encouraging me to apply for some jobs. My first thought was, “It’s Mi5.” They had a filthy reputation at the time so I wasn’t too impressed, but it was my father who encouraged me to reply. Nowadays you go to the Ministry of Defence website and do a quick test online, but back then it was terribly secretive. They also used to put cryptic adverts in newspapers to get people to apply. My former partner David Shayler (also a former Mi5 agent) was recruited that way – he thought he was applying for a journalism job but it turned out to be the Ministry of Defence. The recruitment process went on for months. At the end of it, I’d been completely honest and I thought, ‘It’s Mi5, they know everything about me anyway.’ When you first get in and begin work it’s exhilarating. You can’t tell anyone anything about the recruitment process, so a pane of glass falls between you and your friends and family.