Britain plans to hire hundreds of spies by 2020 amid increased threats to peace from radical terror groups and to exploit the potential of the digital age, the head of the UK’s Secret Intelligence Service MI6 has said.
MI6 is expected to grow from 2,500 to nearly 3,500 to provide extra security for their operations and staff, according to BBC sources. Alex Younger, who made a rare public appearance at a security conference in the US this week, warned that the internet and technological advances presented both an “existential threat and a golden opportunity”.
“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,” Younger said.
“Our opponents, who are 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,” he added.
The boost to MI6’s staff numbers is part of a wider commitment by the UK government’s 2015 ‘Strategic Defence and Security Review’ to recruit 1,900 extra personnel to the intelligence services. The remaining 900 new personnel will be split between the other UK spy agencies – Security Service (MI5) and Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ).
Younger appeared at the security conference in Washington DC earlier this week alongside CIA director John Brennan and their Australian and Afghan counterparts. Asked if he thought the threat posed by Islamic State (ISIS) and other Islamist terrorist groups had reached a peak, Younger sounded a cautious note.
“I would like to be optimistic about this but we have got quite long experience of this phenomena now and I see it very much as the flip side to some very deep-seated global trends, not least of all globalisation, the reduction of barriers between us,” he said.