MI5 warns wannabe spies to keep mum about their ambition

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The Independent Online
Only Miss Moneypenny is to know. Hundreds of would-be James Bonds who responded to a groundbreaking Security Service recruitment advertisement two weeks ago cannot boast to their friends or relatives of their ambition.

The advertisements, published in newspapers last month, advised those interested in applying for work with MI5 to call a number for more information, "but try and avoid telling your friends about your application, because discretion is a serious part of working for the Security Service". Those who model themselves faithfully on 007 will be cocking an eyebrow at the application pack questionnaire's postscript: "Everyone who is eligible to join the service will receive equal treatment ... there will be no discrimination on grounds of race, ethnic origin, religion, gender, marital status or disability".

The pack also reinforces the message about discretion: "You must bite your tongue and generally refrain from talking about your work outside the Service".

New recruits have the chance to be involved in glamorous sounding "investigation and countering of terrorism, espionage by foreign intelligence services against UK interests and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction".

But the job description also raises the spectre of work in "financial and resource management" - a reminder that assignments in MI5 are usually less glamorous and more desk bound, than those taken on by members of MI6, who carry out intelligence-gathering abroad. Operational work for MI5, it says, is more likely to involve recruiting and running agents or managing surveillance teams.

The recruitment exercise is a logical development from the policy of measured openness which began in 1989 when MI5 was placed on a statutory basis and acknowledged to exist for the first time under its then head, Stella Rimington. A booklet was later published by HMSO, entitled "The Security Service". Under Mrs Rimington's successor, Stephen Lander, the policy has continued and with the job advertisements the service is casting its net more widely than in the past, when new recruits were likely to be signed up from the Civil Service, or over sherry in a tutor's room at an Oxbridge college.

The advertisements are aimed at a different kind of person altogether: "level one" was aimed at young people with three or four years of work behind them, degrees not obligatory, and "level two" those "with a proven track record of managing people and resources" from a wide range of background, such as "teachers, fund raisers, overseas aid workers and journalists".

The response to the advertisements, placed by recruitment consultants Austin Knight, was enormous. The information telephone line was apparently connected to a single over-worked answering machine. The lucky few who managed to leave their names and addresses should now have received their Security Service job application pack and have less than a week to complete an eight-page form plus a five-page questionnaire requiring mini essays to demonstrate their ability to plan and organise, handle change, and resolve problems.

The salary offered is modest, considering the range of abilities sought: pounds 19,000 for the level one posts and pounds 24,000 for level two (with only "exceptional" cases eligible for more up to a ceiling of pounds 30,000). And to achieve that, applicants have to pass a five-stage interview procedure, which includes a day-long assessment and a security interview with a vetting officer, presumably to explain away that youthful dalliance with the Communist Party or the gay campaign group Stonewall.

The covering letter sent with the pack is written by someone called "The Recruitment Advisor". Applicants may find the process impersonal, but they will be cheered to see that "The Recruitment Advisor" has taken the time to sign letters personally, albeit with a single initial. It looks a little like a "D" or an "O" - and very much like a "Q".