MI6 takes a brief look at the history of James Bond's real life employers - British Military Intelligence

A Brief History of MI6
25th June 2005

When James Bond fans think of MI6 they think of M, Moneypenny or maybe gadget-master Q. However these were all creations from the mind of author Ian Fleming, but what lies behind the world of 007 is perhaps not so quite well known.

The Military Intelligence Department, or more commonly know as MI6, was founded on the first of August 1909. This government organization is concerned with matters of espionage and information gathering for the British government. The British Secret Service is the worlds oldest intelligence agency along with it partner MI5.

Commander Mansfield-Smith Cumming took on the role of MI6 chief. He was known though out the espionage world simply as 'C'. This name stuck, and is probably one of Fleming's influences in calling his character, 'M'.


Commander Cumming was a hard man, prepared to put his men through whatever it took to gain information. He had previously lost a leg in his early years in military service and delighted in horrifying members of staff by plunging a knife into his wooden replacement.

The major reason for the British government to launch such an extensive secret service was World War One. One of the service's early missions was to break down one of the most successful German spy rings, headed up by Gustav Steinhauer. MI6 performed this task with such efficiency that the agency was put on the tail of yet another German spy, Walther Nicolai. Their record was tarnished in the second of the great wars and their results throughout that time were pitiful. However their more famous and often successful era was yet to come.

Above: Guy Burgess

Throughout it's heyday, MI6's attention was focused on the Soviet Union and it's Cold War activities. Their victories remained private affairs between the government and themselves. Failures too were only known by some major slip to the press or a scandal.

One of the most famous double-crossings MI6, as well as MI5 suffered was the defection of five double-agents, known as the "Cambridge Spies". Burgess Maclean, Blake, Blunt and Philby were all traitors to the British government.

Towards the end of it Cold War period, and after the Cambridge Spies incident, MI6 tightened up its internal security and modernised its method of working.

The secret service organised their offices and staff into regions of the world. They were labeled with roman numerals from I to IX. Section V was concerned with Soviet Union activities.

Above: SIS Headquarters ("MI6") at Vauxhall Cross, London

The service did it's recruiting from the ranks of the very best military officers or sometimes from the police. In more modern times MI6, now know as the SIS (Secret Intelligence Service), are more selective in their recruiting, and like to choose young learned men or women with a good knowledge of languages.

Now, in it's new location, right on the Themes, MI6 is know officially known as the SIS. The SIS is mainly concerned with assisting NATO in keeping terrorist groups at bay.

The staff of MI6 are now encouraged to perform by incentives of money. In this day and age, staff are expected to perform to get paid. Gone are the days where staff get paid on the rank of their jobs. Now you must prove yourself and get good results for a pay rise. If an operative does not complete their goals to an expected standard, they may find themselves unemployed.

The official job of the SIS is summed up in the Intelligence Services Act, recently revised in 1994, as "to obtain and provide information relating to the actions or intentions of persons outside the British Islands, and perform other tasks relating to these in relation to the interests of national security".


MI6 Quick Facts
001 Founded: 1st August 1909
002 First Chief: Commander Mansfield-Smith Cumming
003 Staff: 1,800
004 Annual Budget: £104 million
005 Recruits From: Military, Police, Universities etc.
006 Located: Vauxhall Cross, The Thames, London
007 Answers to: Foreign Office

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