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Historically Speaking

Historically Speaking- Those Intriguing British Letters: MI-5 and MI-6

By Tom Morrow

More and more we see the security services of the United Kingdom’s monikers, MI-5 and MI-6, mentioned in news reports, but what do they mean and which does what for whom?

Kim Philby

MI-5 (Military Intelligence, Section 5), is the United Kingdom’s domestic counter-intelligence and security agency and is part of its intelligence machinery alongside the Secret Intelligence Service (MI-6). The service is directed to protect British parliamentary democracy and economic interests, and counter terrorism and espionage within the UK. The MI-5 is the British version of our FBI — it investigations all domestic crimes.

The British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), more commonly known as MI-6 (Military Intelligence, Section 6), is the foreign intelligence agency of the British government — a counterpart to our CIA. Think “James Bond.” Author and Bond creator Ian Fleming was a member of MI-6 during World War II. The existence of MI-6 was not officially acknowledged until 1994. It forms a part of the UK’s intelligence machinery alongside MI-5 and Defense Intelligence.

During the Second World War the human intelligence work of MI-6 was overshadowed by several other efforts: the cryptanalytic effort undertaken by the Government Code and Cypher School, the bureau responsible for interception and decryption of foreign communications at Bletchley Park where the infamous German “Enigma” machine’s code was broken; the extensive “double-cross” system run by MI-5 to feed misleading domestic intelligence to German spies; and imagery intelligence activities conducted by the RAF Photographic Reconnaissance Unit.

Ironically, leading up to World War II, MI-6 assisted the Nazi Gestapo secret police, via “the exchange of information about Communism,” as late as October 1937, which was well into the Nazi era.
One of the strangest, most crippling episode of M-6 happened during pre- and post-World War II. In 1940, the leading member of the infamous “Cambridge Spy Ring,” MI-6 operative and Soviet agent Kim Philby applied for a vacancy in MI-6’s Section D and was vetted by his friend and fellow Soviet agent Guy Burgess. When Section D was absorbed by Special Operations Executive (SOE) in summer of 1940, Philby was appointed as an instructor in the arts of “black propaganda.”

In early 1944 MI-6 re-established Section IX, and Philby took a position there where he was able to alert the NKVD, the Russian secret service, about all British intelligence on the Soviets … including what the American OSS (forerunner of the CIA) had shared with the British about the Soviets.

Severe damage was done by Philby in August 1945, when NKVD intelligence officer Konstantin Volkov tried to defect to the UK, offering the names of all Soviet agents working inside British intelligence services. Philby received the memo on Volkov’s offer, and alerted the Soviets so they could arrest him. The Russian agent never made it to England.

MI-6 operations against the USSR were extensively compromised by the fact the post-war Counter-Espionage Section, R5, was headed for two years by Philby. Although Philby’s continued damage was mitigated for several years by his transfer as Head of Station in Turkey, he later was assigned as the MI-6 intelligence liaison officer at the British Embassy in Washington D.C. In that capacity he compromised a program of joint U.S.-UK paramilitary operations.

As MI-6 investigators closed in on him, Philby escaped to Moscow in 1953, following his friends and fellow members of the “Cambridge Spy Ring,” Donald Maclean and Guy Burgess.
During the Global War on Terror, MI-6 has exchanged information with the CIA. In the run-up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003, it is alleged, although not confirmed, that MI-6 conducted Operation Mass Appeal which was a campaign to plant stories about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in the media. Evidently it worked. The U.S. attack on Iraq was for fear of WMDs.

In November 2011, MI-6 helped capture Libyan leader Col. Saif al-Islam Gaddafi. The top-secret mission, dubbed Operation X to disguise its purpose, used modern electronic intelligence (ELINT) technologies to bug the Libyan leader along with his friends and family.

Today, both MI-5 and MI-6 work closely with America’s FBI and CIA and are heavily involved in tracking down and capturing ISIS-influenced jihadists who have attacked and killed dozens of Brits and Americans through acts of domestic terror both in the UK and U.S.

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