Women spies come in from the cold

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MI5 AND its director general, Stella Rimington, are trying to recruit successful professional women as spies.

Top career women are being sought for senior positions in the security service by the woman who herself broke with 85 years of all-male tradition by becoming the agency's head.

In a drive to open the door to more women - and enlist female recruiting agents - Mrs Rimington is speaking at a string of dinners attended by top professionals.

Earlier this month Mrs Rimington spoke after the annual meeting of the City Women's Network - a London-based group aimed at promoting contacts for senior female professionals. The meeting was held at the Lansdowne Club, frequented by successful career women, and overlooked by MI5's offices in Curzon Street, London.

On Wednesday, reliable sources say, Mrs Rimington will make an unofficial appearance at a dinner held by Diversity UK, which publishes a directory of equal opportunities consultants. Officially, however, the organisers are denying that Mrs Rimington will be present at the evening, where Barbara Mills, Director of Public Prosecutions, is to be the keynote speaker.

The move is part of a drive to recruit from a broader social spectrum and follows the circulation of equal opportunities guidance among Whitehall departments.

Half of MI5's 2,000 employees are women but, with the exception of Mrs Rimington, principal jobs - such as those running agents - are still dominated by men.

Women are considered 'good spies' because they are skilled at methodical research. They are also considered better able to cope with 'double lives' than men.

Although advertisements for specialised MI5 posts are occasionally placed in disguised form in the press by headhunters, the service still refuses to follow the example of the CIA in the United States and recruit openly.