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MI6 looks for ethnic agents

London, Nov. 26: The British security services, known as MI5 for domestic intelligence and MI6 for overseas counter-intelligence, have allowed their Asian agents to be interviewed by journalists for the first time in an effort to encourage recruitment of members of the ethnic minorities, especially Muslims, into their ranks.

Working on the principle that it takes a Muslim to catch a Muslim — although the principle underlying recruitment is never put in such stark terms — the authorities are showing mounting concern about the extent to which al Qaida and its associated groups have managed to penetrate the UK’s 1.6million strong Islamic community.

The work of the security services is normally shrouded in secrecy. However, in an effort to convince potential recruits that a career in MI5 or MI6, starting at £27,000, could be a rewarding experience, two journalists — Andy West, from BBC Radio 1 Newsbeat and Anna Cunningham from the BBC’s Asian Network — have been allowed to interview a couple of MI6 officers and the head of MI6 recruitment in London.

Ever since the suicide attacks on London’s transport system on July 7, 2005, in which 52 people were killed and 700 injured, the governments of both Tony Blair and his successor, Gordon Brown, have been persuaded of the need to gather more intelligence on home grown militants.

The four suicide bombers — Mohammed Sidique Khan, 30, Shehzad Tanweer, 22, Hasib Hussain,18, all of Pakistani origin, and Germaine Lindsay, 19, who had a Jamaican background — had appeared well integrated members of British youth with “clean skins”.

Subsequent trials have demonstrated that some young British Muslims are indeed plotting against the state. One MI5 estimate is that their number could be as high as 1,600.

According to another security source, “there are 3,000 to 4,000 people who went from the UK to (al Qaida training camps in) Afghanistan and came back. The important question is, where are they now'”

The connection with Pakistan and its madarsas is also a big worry. More than 400,000 journeys are made each year between Britain and Pakistan, the vast majority of them legitimate.

Speaking of the need to attract agents from a wider range of ethnic backgrounds, the head of recruitment at MI6 told the BBC: “We need people to deploy into a range of situations around the world and people who have a different ethnicity can often go places and do things and meet people that those from a white background can’t. There are some places that white males can’t go.”

The head of recruitment also played down any comparison with Ian Fleming’s fictional James Bond. “This is the biggest myth at the service — we do not have a licence to kill — we do not carry Berettas, that’s simply not true,” he remarked.

Cunningham was allowed to speak to two agents, whose names were given as Jayashree and Shahzad. Both officers denied the service targeted Muslims and said they only investigated individuals when there was reason to do so.

Asked about her motivation, Jayashree replied: “This is a country that has welcomed my family. I’ve been born, raised here. This is my country. I just want to work as hard as I can to ensure that it’s safe — for my I’d like to say community but by that I mean my whole country.”

She acknowledged that the perception that the authorities were targeting Muslims had to be corrected.

Shahzad spoke of the need for discretion.

“Right from the recruitment process we advise that you minimise the number of people you reveal your application to,” disclosed. “This is a very interesting place to work: the difference is that we can’t go home and talk about our work. When you leave the office, you really leave your work behind.”

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