MI6 plans to bolster staff numbers in face of advances in digital technology

Written by Rebecca Hill on 22 September 2016 in News

The Secret Intelligence Service MI6 is reported to be recruiting almost 1,000 new staff in response to rapid changes in technology and increasing amounts of digital information.

MI6 is set to increase staff to keep up with technology changes - Photo credit: Flickr, Alex France

According to BBC Newsnight, the spy agency, which currently employs 2,500 people, is going to increase its staff levels by 40%.

The increase in staff at MI6 has been attributed to the challenges posed by advances in technology and the changes in the way intelligence services have to operate.

Speaking in Washington DC on Tuesday, MI6 head Alex Younger said: “The information revolution fundamentally changes our operating environment.

"In five years’ time there will be two sorts of intelligence services: those that understand this fact and have prospered, and those that don’t and haven’t. And I’m determined that MI6 will be in the former category.”

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Intelligence agencies are becoming increasingly reliant on social media and the internet, while online technologies that allow identification digitally, such as facial recognition software, can expose spies operating in the field.

Younger said that opponents, “unconstrained by conditions of lawfulness or proportionality, can use these capabilities to gain increasing visibility of our activities which means that we have to completely change the way that we do stuff”.

In addition, Younger referred to a loss of collaboration between intelligence agencies across the world and the technology community – public concerns about their online privacy has led to internet companies cracking down on access, for instance.

“I think that the real issue for us has been the effect that this has had on the levels of trust between the intelligence communities internationally and the technology community where I think that the right and proper response to the common threats that face us is through community of effort and teamwork between those different groups,” he said.

“And to the extent that those revelations damaged and undermined the trust that needs to exist, I think it is highly problematic.”

Issues around the way the security services deal with information overload were exposed earlier this year, when a leaked MI5 document released by the website The Intercept suggested that the agency was struggling to keep up with the data it was generating at the start of the decade.

The report, allegedly from whistleblower Edward Snowden and dated 2010, said that MI5 “can currently collect…significantly more than it is able to exploit fully” and that it created “a real risk of ‘intelligence failure’ ie from the Service being unable to access potentially life-saving intelligence from data it has already collected”.

The increase in staff at MI6 is part of a wider increase across the UK’s security services, with plans to recruit 1,900 additional staff being announced in the government’s Strategic Defence Review last year.

In response to the BBC’s report of almost half of these heading to MI6, a government spokesman told PublicTechnology that it “would not comment on how those officers will be distributed”.

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