Intelligence is in government operations, evaluated information concerning such things as the strength, activities, and probable courses of action of other nations who are usually, but not necessarily, opponents. In a world of sovereign nations, information is a prime element of national power, and intelligence is the vital and often pivotal foundation for national decisions.
National intelligence organizations
In a world in revolutionary ferment, the authentic intelligence officer occupies the centre of great debates over national security policy. At issue in most of the debates are questions of power, probability, and time. A prime task of the modem professional intelligence officer, military or civilian, is to try to answer questions for the policymaker about power and about behaviour probabilities, within a time scale. For a chief of state trying to decide a question about nuclear armaments, for example, an ideal intelligence system would provide precise knowledge of a potential enemy's power, the probability of that enemy's behaviour or reaction in given contingencies, and a time schedule for the most likely sequence of events.
These are basic problems for all intelligence services. Information as to how these services address their problems is highly uneven. More is generally known about the U.S. system than any other, a good deal about that of the old Soviet Union, and comparatively less about other systems. Intelligence systems follow three general models: the U.S., which was followed by former West Germany, Japan, South Korea, and other nations that came under U.S. influence after World War II; the old Soviet, which was imitated in large measure by most communist-governed nations; and the British, on which were patterned the systems of most nations with true parliamentary governments.
The United Kingdom
British intelligence was organized along modem lines as early as the days of Queen Elizabeth I, and the long British experience has influenced the structure of most other systems. Unlike those of the United States and the old Soviet Union, British intelligence agencies have preserved through most of their history a high degree of secrecy concerning their organization and operations. Even so, Britain has suffered from large number of native spies within the intelligence establishment.
The two principal British intelligence agencies are the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS; also known by its wartime designation, MI-6) and the Security Service (commonly called MI-5). The labels derive from the fact that the Secret Intelligence Service was once "section six" of military intelligence and the Security Service, "section five."
MI-6 is the formally Secret Intelligence Service, British government agency responsible for the collection, analysis, and appropriate dissemination of foreign intelligence. MI-6 is responsible for the conduct of espionage activities outside British territory.
The Intelligence Services Act 1994 defines the role of MI6 as "a) to obtain and provide information relating to the actions or intentions of persons outside the British Islands; and
b) to perform other tasks relating to the actions or intentions of such persons...[in relation to]
the interests of national security, with particular reference to defence and foreign policies...the interests of the economic well-being of the UK...or in support of the prevention or detection of serious crime."
MI-6 has existed, in various forms since the establishment of a secret service in 1569 by Sir Francis Walsingham, who became secretary of state to Queen Elizabeth I. It was constituted in its present form by Commander (later Sir) Mansfield Cumming in 1912 as World War I approached. In the 1930s and 1940s it was considered the most effective intelligence service in the world. During the rise of Nazi Germany, MI-6 conducted espionage operations in Europe, Latin America, and much of Asia. (The "MI-6" label developed during this period because it was then "section six" of "military intelligence.")
When the United States entered World War II, the British agency helped train personnel of the U.S. Office of Strategic Services and has since cooperated with the successor Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The revelation in the mid-1950s that MI-6 had been penetrated by British double agents who had served the Soviet Union since the 1930s stirred wide public consternation. Details of MI-6 operations and relationships seldom appear in the British press. The agency has the power to censor such stories through the use of "D" notices under the Official Secrets Act. MI-6 reports to the Foreign Office.
Another branch of British intelligence system is MI-5.
MI-5 is the formally Security Service, intelligence agency charged with internal security and domestic counterintelligence activities of the United Kingdom. It is authorized to investigate any person or movement that might threaten the nation's security.
MI-5's earliest antecedent was a secret service formed in 1569 by Sir Francis Walsingham, who later became secretary of state to Elizabeth I. The need for centralized control of intelligence functions was first expressed early in the 20th century. MI-5 was formed in 1909 to identify and counter German spies then working in Britain, which it did with great effect. It was placed under the command of Vernon Kell, then a captain in the British army. Kell retired as a major general in 1924 and was later knighted, but remained in charge the agency until 1940. (The "MI-5" label developed during this period because it was then "section five" of "military intelligence.") The Security Service makes no direct arrests but rather works secretly behind the more publicized "Special Branch" of Scotland Yard. The director of the Security Service reports to the prime minister through the home secretary.
Undoubtedly, the successful activity of different organizations depends on their leaders. For example, the boss of MI-5 during the most successful years of its work was an extraordinary person, a woman of a great spirit Dame Stella Rimington.
Dame Stella Rimington
Former Director General of MI5
Stella Rimington was the first woman to lead MI5, the first to be invested as a Dame for her services to national security. She has broken the code of absolute discretion that is meant to bind senior public servants together.
The woman who was to become Britain's most famous female security officer was born in South Norwood, London, in 1935. She was an only child. Her father was a mechnical engineer. Her most vivid memories of childhood are of being bombed.
She was educated at Nottingham High School for Girls, and Edinburgh University. On graduation, she became an archivist, a job that she never saw as a serious career. She was in love with John Rimington, the man who would become her husband. She met him on the school bus when she was 17. Soon they lost touch, but met up again in Edinburgh.
The couple married in 1963. He was by then a civil servant and in 1965 was posted to the British High Commission in New Delhi and she became a dutiful diplomatic wife. She took an active part in amateur dramatics, but not much else. Then, in 1969, much to her surprise, the local MI5 man asked, if she would help out as an assistant. As a bored housewife without children, she jumped at the chance.
Fifteen years later, she was separated from her husband, had two children and was, according to one former colleague, "a promising mid-level officer. She was solid, but not dazzling". But MI5 was to be radically shaken up during the Eighties, and Stella Rimington benefitted from the decision to find "new blood" to run the organisation. She was given the difficult field of counter-subversion, in which she was extremely successful. She was promoted to Director of Counter-intelligence, then to being deputy Director General, in charge of operations, and then, finally, in 1992, to head the organisation.
As part of the new, post-Cold War "openness", Stella Rimington was the first Director General to be publicly named. The publicity was not without problems because The Sunday Times identified her home address. It was a pointlessly cruel piece of journalism, causing her immense inconvenience as she and her daughters had to move instantly from a neighbourhood they liked to somewhere they didn't. She felt angry, both at The Sunday Times and what she considered the lack of help from official quarters.
A year ago Dame Stella wrote a book about her tenure as Director General of MI5, thought there are a lot of people in the Government who wish she wouldn't.
Why has she done it? Money could be one reason. She has a decent pension from MI5, a couple of non-executive directorships, including one at Marks & Spencer, but those are small beer compared to the six figure sum she could expect for her "autobiography of a spook". Yet some of those who know her doubt that she would stoop so low as to sell her country's secrets for personal gain.
Many of her colleagues think that she has another motive: vanity. Stella Rimington used to be a very important person. Now she isn't. It's painful and she just wants to be back in the limelight.
But on the other hand there are no reasons to worry about. Stella Rimington was a brilliant woman, so we will remember her forever.
Besides, not long afterwards, she was immortalized as James Bond's new boss in Golden eye. James Bond worked, of course, for MI6, not MI5, but everyone assumed that Dame Judi Dench, who starred in the role, was playing Stella Rimington - including Dame Stella herself who found the portrayal "quite startling".