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The intelligence services are not what they were


Discreet, that is. A case in point is something I observed this evening.

It was a hot day in London, by London standards. So a large, prominent office on Millbank had its back doors open. Being the sort of large, prominent, office it is, the back doors therefore had two police officers with Heckler & Koch submachineguns stationed outside, drawing attention to the place, and costing the taxpayer something over £100,000 a year, pro rata. I have seen this before. It is not an emergency procedure.

Are we to assume that the intelligence service in question was not intelligent enough to acquire proper ventilation and/or airconditioning when it took over the large, prominent, office building a decade ago? Could it be that there is no space inside the doors for an armed guard to stand discreetly? (If an armed guard were otherwise necessary on a non-descript building that was not obviously of governmental import – such as the soul-less, off-the-beaten track, south London and Euston buildings occupied by the same organisation for the latter half of the Cold War, when it had a serious job to do and took it seriously.) Or is this part of security swagger, the latest trend in government where departments impress politicians, each other, and the mulitude, with their importance and power by elaborate, even flamboyant, precaution and fortification?

10 comments to The intelligence services are not what they were

  • Surprised you didn’t see a set of plates with “007”… I’ll bet that bloke with the MI5 plates uses an equally obvious password on his online accounts…

  • lucklucy

    Isnt that kind of security paid by the bank?

  • Fraser

    Please tell me you saw that car somewhere else. I mean, our security bods couldn’t be THAT stupid, could they?
    Who am I kidding…

  • guy herbert

    The photo is merely illustrative of what our secret services might get up to next. So many daft stories get released that are calculated to impress the importance of what they do on the public mind, that the PR department must reach saturation and start doing other things to raise their profile.

    Maybe the SIS could become an Olympic sponsor, with the tag-line: “keeping the global village safe.”

  • Johnathan Pearce

    It really is odd. In the Ian Fleming or Len Deighton spy stories, 007 or Harry Palmer would go to an obscure office masquerading as something else, such as Universal Exports or Acme Studios. The offices would often be a bit shabby, a place to which one would not give a second’s glance. Yet nowadays MI5 loves to brag about its presence. There is no doubt that Guy has effectively answered his own question: it is about showing off and telling the public about how big and impressive it is. A sort of manhood extension really. Ahem.

  • permanent expat

    Much the same, I take it, as most other institutions in The Septic Isle.

  • ResidentAlien

    Too busy playing with their flash toys in shiby buildings to pay attention to real intelligence?

    If the owner of that car really works for MI5 he should be fired for gross misconduct.

  • Tanuki

    The true security-types never announce themselves – they’re like ninjas. It’s a Zen thing. They arrive in anonymous cars [often hired] and go about their business quietly and discreetly.

    Security which openly advertises itself is what Bruce Schneier describes as “security-theater.”.

  • Julian Taylor

    I would imagine that Ian Fleming must be turning in his grave at the notion that MI6 would even contemplate soliciting the use of their new headquarters for a Bond movie – but that’s exactly what happened in The World Is Not Enough.

    As for the ‘true security types’ I do know enough former members of a certain Hereford-based regiment who are most certainly not shy of self-publicity wheresoever and whenever it suits them. Such people possess an element of the theatrical showoff within them and I daresay MI5’s staff are no different.

  • Andrew Kinsman

    Perhaps they could extend the idea, and have a logo and strapline on all their vehicles. Something that included words like “vibrant”, “robust”, “delivering for” and “safer communities”.