21 February: In the UK, MI6 has announced that it is reducing the minimum age requirement for joining from 21 to 18. It is hoped that this will attract younger people who are more familiar with modern technology. Alex Younger, the current ‘C’, used the term “live” technology during a tour of the Vauxhall Cross headquarters by thirty teenagers. Younger described the tour as an attempt to dispel the image of MI6 as somewhere for Oxbridge graduates only.
He was being a little disingenuous. As one of our recent articles indicated, the leadership of the service is likely to continue as white, upper class fiefdom for some time to come. Of course, workers from poorer or ethnically diverse backgrounds will be welcomed, but they should not expect to rise to the higher ranks. This has led to a higher than average churn rate amongst new recruits. Once the James Bond image has worn off and reality sets in, too many people are deciding not to stay. One of the problems with a closed organisation is that nepotism and incestuous promotion practices tend to go on for much longer than they would in a normal employment. This problem is also responsible, at least in part, for the service’s poor performance in recent years.
And MI6 does badly need younger, more technically capable recruits. When Younger referred to “live” technology he meant that modern electronic developments such as the internet and facial recognition technology have made it increasingly difficult to maintain conventional cover stories and for officers to operate abroad. Where technologically skilled recruits are available in the UK, they tend to be attracted to GCHQ and its offshoots which are at the cutting edge or MI5 which does not have the same burden of continual foreign service. It is a problem that MI6 is finding increasing difficulty in solving. It will take more than publicity tours, but MI6 seems to lack a coherent plan to tackle the issue.