MI6 takes a brief look at the history of James Bond's
real life employers - British Military Intelligence
A Brief History of MI6
25th June 2005
When James Bond fans think of MI6 they think of M, Moneypenny
or maybe gadget-master Q. However these were all creations from
the mind of author Ian Fleming, but what lies behind the world
of 007 is perhaps not so quite well known.
The Military Intelligence Department, or
more commonly know as MI6, was founded on the first of August
1909. This government organization is concerned with matters
of espionage and information gathering for the British government.
The British Secret Service is the worlds oldest intelligence
agency along with it partner MI5.
Commander Mansfield-Smith Cumming took on the role of MI6
chief. He was known though out the espionage world simply
as 'C'. This name stuck, and is probably one of Fleming's
influences in calling his character, 'M'.
Commander Cumming was a hard man, prepared to put his men through
whatever it took to gain information. He had previously lost a
leg in his early years in military service and delighted in horrifying
members of staff by plunging a knife into his wooden replacement.
The major reason for the British government to launch such an
extensive secret service was World War One. One of the service's
early missions was to break down one of the most successful German
spy rings, headed up by Gustav Steinhauer. MI6 performed this
task with such efficiency that the agency was put on the tail
of yet another German spy, Walther Nicolai. Their record was tarnished
in the second of the great wars and their results throughout that
time were pitiful. However their more famous and often successful
era was yet to come.
Above: Guy Burgess
Throughout it's heyday, MI6's attention
was focused on the Soviet Union and it's Cold War activities.
Their victories remained private affairs between the government
and themselves. Failures too were only known by some major
slip to the press or a scandal.
One of the most famous double-crossings MI6, as well as
MI5 suffered was the defection of five double-agents, known
as the "Cambridge Spies". Burgess Maclean, Blake,
Blunt and Philby were all traitors to the British government.
Towards the end of it Cold War period, and after the Cambridge
Spies incident, MI6 tightened up its internal security and
modernised its method of working.
The secret service organised their offices and staff into regions
of the world. They were labeled with roman numerals from I to
IX. Section V was concerned with Soviet Union activities.
Above: SIS Headquarters ("MI6")
at Vauxhall Cross, London
The service did it's recruiting from the
ranks of the very best military officers or sometimes from
the police. In more modern times MI6, now know as the SIS
(Secret Intelligence Service), are more selective in their
recruiting, and like to choose young learned men or women
with a good knowledge of languages.
Now, in it's new location, right on the Themes, MI6 is
know officially known as the SIS. The SIS is mainly concerned
with assisting NATO in keeping terrorist groups at bay.
The staff of MI6 are now encouraged to perform by incentives
of money. In this day and age, staff are expected to perform
to get paid. Gone are the days where staff get paid on the
rank of their jobs. Now you must prove yourself and get
good results for a pay rise. If an operative does not complete
their goals to an expected standard, they may find themselves
The official job of the SIS is summed up in the Intelligence
Services Act, recently revised in 1994, as "to obtain
and provide information relating to the actions or intentions
of persons outside the British Islands, and perform other
tasks relating to these in relation to the interests of
MI6 Quick Facts
001 Founded: 1st August 1909
002 First Chief: Commander Mansfield-Smith Cumming
003 Staff: 1,800
004 Annual Budget: £104 million
005 Recruits From: Military, Police, Universities etc.
006 Located: Vauxhall Cross, The Thames, London
007 Answers to: Foreign Office
MI6 Visits MI6