Security Service

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United KingdomUnited Kingdom Security Service
- MI5 -
Mi5 crest and logotype.svg
Supervisory authority (s) Home office
Consist since 1909 as the Secret Service Bureau
Headquarters Thames House , London
Authority management Andrew Parker

The Security Service (also known as MI5 , after the historical name: Military Intelligence , Section 5 ) is the British domestic intelligence service and, alongside the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) and Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), is one of three major civil intelligence agencies in the country. MI5 is under the Ministry of the Interior ; Andrew Parker has been General Manager since April 2013 . The MI5 motto is Regnum defende (Latin for "Defend the Kingdom").


MI5 headquarters in Thames House , London

Early years

In October 1909 the British War Office and the Admiralty set up the Secret Service Bureau , an anti-espionage service to protect the British Navy and its ports against spies from the German Empire. At the beginning, only two officers worked for the service: Captain Vernon GW Kell and Frigate Captain Mansfield Cumming. Later, espionage was added to counter-espionage, and two independent services were formed: the domestic secret service under Kell was responsible for protecting the island kingdom, while the foreign secret service under Cumming was responsible for investigating potential opponents. In 1916 the designation MI5 (Military Intelligence, Section 5) was introduced for the domestic secret service, a few years later the foreign intelligence service was given the designation MI6 (Military Intelligence, Section 6, today's Secret Intelligence Service ).

At the beginning of its activities, the security service was very successful. Although he employed little more than a dozen people in the previous years of the First World War , he managed to prevent the dreaded espionage activities of the German Empire, which had sparked a nationwide hysteria in Great Britain. MI5 identified around twenty German agents and decided not to arrest them for the time being, just to keep them under surveillance. The reason given was that if they were arrested, Germany would send new agents who were still unknown to the authorities. Instead, MI5 waited until shortly before the start of the war to arrest them, effectively cutting off Germany from reliable intelligence from Great Britain.

This success of MI5 is now being questioned by the historian Nicholas Hiley. According to his research, which he published in two articles, this success is a fiction that MI5 still carries in its official history today.

The time between the wars

After the war, MI 5's budget was cut from £ 100,000 to just £ 35,000 a year, and the workforce dropped from £ 800 to just £ 150 in 1920.

In the following years, the financial and personnel savings continued steadily, in 1929 only thirteen officers were working for MI5, which severely restricted the efficiency and even led to the international intelligence service MI6 - contrary to the established division of tasks - at times with its own agents and investigations operated domestically.

During these years MI5 showed little interest in Germany. The Weimar Republic with its reduced army, the demilitarized Rhineland, political instability and extreme inflation were not seen as a threat to the security of their own country.

Instead, the remaining limited resources were used to concentrate on averting the “red threat” emanating from the Soviet Union and the “Communist International”. MI5 feared less the intrusion of foreign spies than subversion of its own troops and sabotage of military facilities. In addition to the Communist Party of Great Britain , pacifists, conscientious objectors and workers' organizations, which MI5 alleged to be subversive , were also monitored. Exiles from Germany and Austria who had left their homeland for political reasons were also monitored. This expansion of competencies also happened with practically no supervision, because MI5 was not accountable to parliament and could work independently of the cabinet and the prime minister. Only since 1994 has the service's activities been subject to scrutiny by a parliamentary committee. However, it went unnoticed that the Soviet secret service NKVD recruited spies and sympathizers into the British establishment during this time. The former Cambridge students Kim Philby , Donald Maclean , Guy Burgess and Anthony Blunt , who were only exposed after the war, are best known .

Second World War

MI5 made other mistakes during World War II . At the beginning of the war he was unprepared, both organizationally and in the use of his resources - out of proportion to the task assigned to MI5: a large-scale internment of enemy aliens in order to expose enemy agents. The operation was poorly handled and nearly resulted in the end of the agency in 1940.

One of Winston Churchill's first acts after assuming office in early 1940 was the dismissal of longtime head of the agency, Vernon Kell. David Petrie took over the post after the initially appointed AWA Harker was found to be ineffective. With the end of the attack on Great Britain ( Battle of Britain , The Blitz ), the work of MI5 was also made easier, which ultimately made possible the greatest success of World War II, the so-called "double-cross" system .

Under this system, exposed enemy agents should not be immediately arrested and sent to court, but instead should be "turned over" if possible (thereby becoming double agents ). Enemy agents were therefore given the chance to avoid legal proceedings (and the possible death penalty) and to send false (but credible) information to their own secret service, for example the German defense . This was how one could mislead enemy intelligence services. This approach developed into a very successful system of deception during World War II.

An analysis after the end of the war on the basis of secret German documents showed that of around 115 agents sent out, all agents (except for one who committed suicide) could be identified and captured, several of whom were "turned over". The system, in which MI5 was only responsible for the independent London Controlling Section , played a decisive role in the disinformation of the German military regarding the time and place of the landing of Allied troops in North Africa ( Operation Torch ), in Sicily and on D-Day (which then took place in Normandy ).

post war period

The personal responsibility of the prime minister was handed over to the interior minister in 1952, who holds this position to this day. It was not until 1989 that a directive from the Minister of the Interior, which laid down the mandate of security services, was introduced into law. It was not until the late 1980s that the service was officially admitted. The service has also advertised openly in newspaper ads since 1997 and has had a website since 2000. The current head of the agency is Andrew Parker, who succeeded Jonathan Evans in office in April 2013.

The post-war period was a difficult period for MI5, which obviously failed to uncover the Soviet agents that had been smuggled in by the NKVD. In addition, the service was challenged by the Soviet intelligence service KGB , which was highly active in Great Britain, and by the rising terrorism in Northern Ireland .

The role of the security service in the fight against terrorism

The end of the Cold War and even more so the fight against terrorism made an increasing reorientation towards international cooperation against international terrorism necessary. MI5 has been very successful in fighting Irish terrorism; its operations in this connection led to 21 convictions between 1992 and 1999, with some MI5 actions during the Troubles being partly controversial in Great Britain. MI5 Northern Ireland is headquartered at Palace Barracks in Holywood , County Down.

In 1996, the new government expanded the legal scope of the Security Service to support law enforcement agencies. This has led to some discussion, as some politicians feared on the one hand a new "secret police" function of the security services and on the other hand an intrusion into the closely guarded area of ​​other law enforcement agencies.

MI5 is at the forefront of the fight against Islamist terrorism in Britain today. Some house searches against suspicious Islamists and the arrests of key suspects are attributed to the Security Service. It has also been reported (and not denied) that MI5 personnel were involved in interrogating suspected British citizens in Guantánamo Bay .

On June 2, 2006, MI5 hit the headlines when it and 250 officers stormed a house in London suspected of being a Dirty Chemical Bomb . However, no bomb was found in the house and the action was commented on in the media as a “failure” and “debacle”.

The last time MI5 made a name for itself was on August 9, 2006, when it managed to thwart a planned terrorist attack on several airlines between England and the United States.

MI5 was also involved in the investigation, as well as the tracking down and arrest of the perpetrators who planned and partially carried out bombings and arson attacks on various facilities in Great Britain between June 27 and 30, 2007.

In May 2012, it became known that the foiled Al-Qaeda attack on a US jet had been prevented by an MI5 double agent. As part of this action, Fahd al-Kuso was killed by a drone operation. MI5 is officially prohibited from participating in actions aimed at the targeted killing of suspects.


The Security Service currently employs around 3800 people. The proportion of women is 41%, the proportion of employees under the age of 40 is 56%.

General Directors

Media reception

  • The professionals , successful English television series based on MI5,called CI5 there.
  • Spooks - In the sights of MI5 , also an English television series about MI5.
  • Jihad in the City gives an insight into the current work, with a thoroughly critical view from several perspectives.
  • The Game , English mini-series about a fictional MI5 agent story from the 1970s.


  • Christopher Andrew : MI 5. The True Story of British Secret Service. from the English by Stephan Gebauer, Enrico Heinemann and Norbert Juraschitz. Propylaen publishing house, Berlin 2010, ISBN 978-3-549-07379-7 .
  • Peter Wright, Paul Greengrass: Spycatcher - Revelations from the Secret Service. Ullstein Verlag, Berlin 1988, ISBN 3-550-07994-X .
  • Charmian Brinson , Richard Dove: A Matter of Intelligence. Manchester University Press, 2015 (English)
  • Calter Walton: Empire of Secrets . British intelligence, the Cold War and the twilight of empire. Harper Press, London 2013, ISBN 978-0-00-745796-0 .

Web links

Commons : Security Service  - Collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Archived copy ( Memento of April 5, 2012 in the Internet Archive )
  2. Carsten Volkery: - License to Spy 100 years of British secret service. On Spiegel Online.
  3. ^ Nicholas Hiley: Entering the Lists: MI5's great spy round-up of August 1914. In: Intelligence and National Security. Vol 21, issue 1, 2006, pp. 46-76. doi: 10.1080 / 02684520600568303
  4. ^ Nicholas Hiley: Re-entering the Lists: MI5's Authorized History and the August 1914 Arrests. In: Intelligence and National Security. Vol 25, issue 4, 2010, pp. 415-452. doi: 10.1080 / 02684527.2010.537022
  5. ^ Christopher Andrew, The Defense of the Realm: The Authorized History of MI5. Allen Lane, 2009, note 112 at pp. 873–875.
  6. Christopher Andrew: The Defense of the Realm. The authorized History of MI5. London 2009, p. 118.
  7. Christopher Andrew: The Defense of the Realm. The authorized History of MI5. London 2009, p. 188.
  8. ^ Charmian Brinson, Richard Dove: A Matter of Intelligence. Manchester University Press, 2015 (English)
  9. ^ Thaddeus Holt: The Deceivers: Allied Military Deception in the Second World War. Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London 2004, ISBN 0-29784-804-6 .
  10. Terrorist raid in London - The failure of Forest Gate. Spiegel Online, June 6, 2006, accessed June 12, 2006 .
  11. Spiegel Online from May 12, 2012: Espionage affair about underwear bombers: MI5 is not amused
  12. Archived copy ( Memento of March 11, 2012 in the Internet Archive )
  13. Review

Coordinates: 51 ° 29 '38.3 "  N , 0 ° 7' 32.2"  W.