Why reputation is all in the world of the FSB and SIS


The work of the world's intelligence services is broadly similar but their areas of responsibility do not coincide.

The Russian Federal Security Service - Federal'naya sluzhba bezopasnosti, or FSB - still numbering an estimated 75,000 people - covers some of the areas of the British "Security Service" MI5, which is responsible for counter-intelligence and counter-terrorism, and the Secret Intelligence Service, SIS, which spies abroad and is often known by its historic title, MI6.

The Security Service, headed by Stephen Lander, who took over from Stella Rimington just after Easter is based at Thames House, on Millbank in London: SIS, headed by David Spedding, is based across the Thames, at Vauxhall Cross. Each of the British services numbers about 2,000 people, although the numbers are misleading as they also use many agents and informers who are not full-time employees.

Some of the operations undertaken by the British SIS also fall under the purview of Russian military intelligence - GRU, the Main Intelligence Directorate, which has not diminished since the demise of the Soviet Union.

Although the British Intelligence services shared a common origin, they were soon split and developed a different ethos and even, in some cases, a mutual hostility. Whereas SIS maintained a certain glamour through its association with the Foreign Office, MI5's modus operandi is often portrayed as rather mundane, police-style work. MI5 has no executive authority: if they catch anyone spying they report it to Special Branch.

Both services were founded in March 1909 as the Secret Service Bureau under the leadership of Captain Vernon Kell and Captain Mansfield Cumming (known as "C" - the origin of Ian Fleming's "M" in the James Bond spy-thrillers). In October 1909 functions were divided, Kell took responsibility for counter-espionage within the British Isles and "C" for gathering intelligence overseas.

The Russian security service is the heir of the Soviet "Committee for State Security" - the KGB. At its height in the mid-1980s the KGB ran a network of some 400,000 agents in Russia and an army of 200,000 elite troops, including border guards. However, the First Chief Directorate (Foreign Intelligence) - the equivalent of SIS - numbered just 12,000. Immediately after the break-up of the Soviet Union at the end of 1991 the service was split up. The covert elements of the service were split into intelligence and counter-intelligence, mirroring its British counterpart. In March 1995 it was reunited under Colonel General - now Army General - Mikhail Barsukov, a Yeltsin ally.

Barsukov was held responsible for the disastrous handling of the hostage crisis at Budyennovsk last year, and security experts yesterday said the Russian demand for the expulsion of nine British diplomats might be an attempt to restore the FSB's reputation. Significantly, pressure for hard-line action came from the FSB and not from the Russian Foreign Ministry.

The reputation of an intelligence service is as important as its performance, and the British services have been well-regarded of late. Their biggest embarrassment occurred in the 1960s when members of the Cambridge spy ring recruited in the 1930s - Kim Philby, Anthony Burgess and Donald Maclean - were revealed as highly placed KGB agents. Sir Anthony Blunt and Roger Hollis followed.

In contrast to the secretive nature of the British and Russian intelligence services, the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) maintains a relatively high profile. Headed by John Deutch, a former deputy defence secretary appointed by President Clinton a year ago, it has 28 separate intelligence bodies covering everything from political and economic to purely military intelligence, where it sometimes clashes with the the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), much like its British and Russian equivalents.

The total US intelligence budget is $28bn (pounds 18bn) but the exact amount is secret. Its biggest success was undoubtedly the overthrow of communism: its biggest embarrassment was the Bay of Pigs fiasco in 1961, when the CIA masterminded the landing of a small army of Cuban exiles on the south Cuban coast. The CIA's reputation has been damaged by two recent scandals.

In 1994 it was discovered that veteran CIA officer Aldrich Ames had been selling secrets to the former Soviet Union, and last year it emerged that a murderous Guatemalan colonel had been on the CIA payroll.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
peopleGerman paper published pictures of 18-month-old daughter
Arts and Entertainment
'A voice untroubled by time': Kate Bush
musicKate Bush set to re-enter album charts after first conerts in 35 years
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Williams' life story will be told in a biography written by a New York Times reporter
arts + ents
Life and Style
food + drink
Life and Style
Roger Federer is greeted by Michael Jordan following his victory over Marinko Matosevic
tennisRoger Federer gets Michael Jordan's applause following tweener shot in win over Marinko Matosevic
peopleJustin Bieber accuses paparazzi of acting 'recklessly' after car crash
Arts and Entertainment
Oppressive atmosphere: the cast of 'Tyrant'
tvIntroducing Tyrant, one of the most hotly anticipated dramas of the year
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Merger and Acquisition Project Manager

£500 - £550 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client are currently...

SEN Teaching Assistant

£50 - £55 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: SEN TAWe are looking to recrui...

Technical Manager – Heat Pumps

£40000 Per Annum dependent on experience: The Green Recruitment Company: They ...

Test Job

TBC: Test Recruiter for iJobs: Job London (Greater)

Day In a Page

Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

The science of herding is cracked

Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

This tyrant doesn’t rule

It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?
Rachael Lander interview: From strung out to playing strings

From strung out to playing strings

Award-winning cellist Rachael Lander’s career was almost destroyed by the alcohol she drank to fight stage fright. Now she’s playing with Elbow and Ellie Goulding
The science of saturated fat: A big fat surprise about nutrition?

A big fat surprise about nutrition?

The science linking saturated fats to heart disease and other health issues has never been sound. Nina Teicholz looks at how governments started advising incorrectly on diets
Emmys 2014 review: Can they genuinely compete with the Oscars

Can they genuinely compete with the Oscars?

The recent Emmy Awards are certainly glamorous, but they can't beat their movie cousins
On the road to nowhere: A Routemaster trip to remember

On the road to nowhere

A Routemaster trip to remember
Hotel India: Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace leaves its darker days behind

Hotel India

Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace leaves its darker days behind
10 best pencil cases

Back to school: 10 best pencil cases

Whether it’s their first day at school, uni or a new project, treat the student in your life to some smart stationery
Arsenal vs Besiktas Champions League qualifier: Gunners know battle with Turks is a season-defining fixture

Arsenal know battle with Besiktas is a season-defining fixture

Arsene Wenger admits his below-strength side will have to improve on last week’s show to pass tough test
Pete Jenson: Athletic Bilbao’s locals-only transfer policy shows success does not need to be bought

Pete Jenson: A Different League

Athletic Bilbao’s locals-only transfer policy shows success does not need to be bought
This guitar riff has been voted greatest of all time

The Greatest Guitar Riff of all time

Whole Lotta Votes from Radio 2 listeners
Britain’s superstar ballerina

Britain’s superstar ballerina

Alicia Markova danced... every night of the week and twice on Saturdays
Berlin's Furrie invasion

Berlin's Furrie invasion

2000 fans attended Eurofeurence
‘It was a tidal wave of terror’

‘It was a tidal wave of terror’

Driven to the edge by postpartum psychosis