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MI5 comes out of the closet

The original purpose of this blog was to share the documentaries i found while procrastinating...things have sort of snowballed from there, but i like to occasionally like to return to my roots :p

Here is a BBC series of documentaries about terrorism The Secret War on Terror. Get in there quick before the BBC achieves it to the virtual bin!

For me, the most fascinating thing about it is the interview with Baroness Manningham-Buller, the former Director General of the Security Service. It may seem obvious why, but let me elaborate a little with a heavily cited potted history of MI5's public presence.

The Security Service was first formed in 1909. It is only until the Security Services Act 1989 that the government officially acknowledged the existence of the Security Service. It wasn't until 1992 that the name of a newly appointed Director General was announced publically, Dame Stella Rimington. The current Director General, Jonathan Evans, lives very much in the public eye, yet seems to take this in his stride. He was appointed in 2007, and has since then given press interviews and given public speeches. So it took 80 years for the security service to be acknowledged publicly, a further 3 years before we knew who ran it, and almost 100 years before they spoke in public. DG's have only been speaking in public, about their time as DG for 3 or 4 years. So you can see why i find Baroness Manningham-Buller's appearance in this documentary to fascinating!

So back to the doc...In this documentary we have Baroness Manningham-Buller talking fairly frankly about the sorts of issues she faced while DG. You can see that she this doesn't come naturally to her, but if you consider the world she has worked in that is understandable. She chooses her words very carefully, and doesn't say more than is absolutly nescesary. However she doesn't stonewall, and she gives the impression of being someone who is comfortable with the concept of the security service being open to the media, but is still learning to get used to it.

I think most law students have considered the arguments of national security at some point, and have probably studied them in const & ad. Its a fine balance between not compromising an investigation, and ensuring that the highest level of public scrutiny is possible. From hearing Director Generals speak, i am encouraged. Modern DG's seem to embrace the concept that openness if the default position, rather than secrecy by default. Because of the nature of what the security service does, we can only ever take this on trust, we can never be sure that they aren't hiding complicity in torture or whatever...but the willingness of Director Generals to be public figures gives me confidence in them. 

Something else that is encouraging is the types of people who are being DG's. Originally they were military MEN. The modern service is not generally one that recruits from the military, it is one that employs from all walks of life. We have had 2 consecutive female DG's prior to the current DG. I am proud that this has been the case.

And the last big development of the security service has to be in recruitment. Its difficult to know how they recruited in the past, but anecdotal evidence seems to suggest it was primarily through university's. These days they have a modern recruitment system, that doesn't appear to be much different from corporate organisations. You can go on line here to find out more information, and apply. This is a huge step forward. 

This once secret organisation has now embraced public opinion by appearing to achieve the balance between national security and openness. There is still progress that can, and must, be made, but i have confidence in them to protect me, my family, my friends and my readers ;-) from harm, and i am willing to give them the space to do long as that space isn't abused.

Baroness Manningham-Buller

Here is a compilation of things i have come across in the past few years about Security Service, SIS and GCHQ;

MI5 BBC Radio 4 discussion on the authorised history of (5:36)
MI6: A Century in the Shadows - This was great, but i am struggling to find the audio files...thanks BBC for putting it in the virtual bin!
GCHQ documentary - The less interesting of the 3, but certainly does give us an insight! (22:34) BBC News Website Magazine article on GCHQ