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MI5 slashing staff to boost overall computer skills

31-Mar-2010 • Bond News

MI5 is launching an unprecedented round of redundancies among its older staff to improve its computer skills - reports The Telegraph.

Despite an expanding budget, the Security Service is laying off employees in order to hire new intelligence officers and support staff with better command of information technology and more up-to-date skills.

Most of MI5's counter-terrorism work focusses on Islamic extremists, many of whom make sophisticated use of the internet and other computer technologies to prepare and co-ordinate their plots.

The MI5 redundancy programme has set tongues wagging in Whitehall, with civil servants in other departments joking about a “James Bond generation” of elderly spies being put out to pasture because they can’t use the internet.

The redundancy programme has been disclosed by Jonathan Evans, the director-general of MI5.

He recently told a Parliamentary committee that he is concerned that his agency’s overall IT skills are not up to scratch, leading him to get rid of some employees.

“I think some of the staff perhaps aren’t quite the ones that we will want for the future,” Mr Evans told the Intelligence and Security Committee.

As a result, a programme of “both voluntary and compulsory redundancies” is being introduced.

Whitehall officials said the MI5 redundancy programme was aimed at altering the skills profile of the organisation and increasing the number of its staff that can be deployed on active counter-terrorism operations.

Only a small proportion of the service’s staff will affected by the lay-offs, it is understood. But redundancies will be made across the organisation and not confined to specialist IT staff.

This is not the first time the ISC has reported on the impact of age on the secretive world of the intelligence agencies.

In 2008, MI6 warned the committee that that plans to increase the Whitehall retirement age could hamper its secret overseas operations by allowing intelligence officers to stay on in to old age.

And in an earlier report, the committee warned that some of the agencies' staff simply cannot work in the same way as they get older.

It said: "In both cases, there are categories of staff for which maintaining operational capability past a certain age would be difficult."

MI5 currently has around 3,500 officers with an aim to increase that to 4,100 by next year, meaning the service will have doubled in size since 2001

Many of the new MI5 officers have been recruited at junior levels in order to boost the number of frontline staff involved directly in counter-terrorism work, coordinating investigations, running agents and conducting surveillance operations against targets.

MI5 has attributed the success of its recruitment campaigns to a focus on raising awareness of the Security Service as an “employer of choice”, with radio commercials and a media advertising campaign aimed at London commuters, along with on-line testing at the early stages of recruitment.

But it has also had to improve its screening mechanisms so that candidates with serious vetting concerns can be identified and rejected at an early stage.

MI5 is dealing with a “couple of hundred cases of one sort or another” relating to terrorism, Mr Evans has said. He has previously said the service has around 2,000 individuals under surveillance.

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