James Bond would not get job with real MI6, says spy chief

Alex Younger says while Bond has ‘created a powerful brand’ for MI6, the fictional agent bears little resemblance to reality

The chief of Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service, Alex Younger, acknowledged on Thursday that the organisation’s most famous fictional agent, James Bond, is both a blessing and curse.

The upside of the Bond novels and movies is that MI6, as SIS is more commonly referred to, is one of the best-known intelligence agencies in the world, and guarantees that almost anyone Younger invites to lunch will attend. The downside to such “fictional stereotypes”, he said, was that Bond created a view of an MI6 officer that bore no resemblance to reality.

Younger mused about the impact of the Bond movies during a rare public speech by the chief of an organisation whose existence was not even officially recognised until 1994.

Younger, the 16th chief since MI6 was founded in 1909, is known as “C” – like all those who have held the position since the service’s first chief, Sir George Mansfield Smith-Cumming – rather than “M” as in the Bond films.

Ralph Fiennes as ‘M’ (left) and the real MI6 chief, known as ‘C’, Alex Younger.
Ralph Fiennes as ‘M’ (left) and the real MI6 chief, known as ‘C’, Alex Younger. Composite: Rex/PA

Younger, the only member of MI6 who can be publicly identified, assumed office in November 2014. Only few details of his life have been published. The former army officer, 53, joined MI6 in 1991, specialising in counter-terrorism and serving in the Middle East and Afghanistan. He was involved in organising security for the London Olympic Games.

“I’m conflicted about Bond. He has created a powerful brand for MI6: as C, the real-life version of M, there are few people who will not come to lunch if I invite them. Many of our counterparts envy the sheer global recognition of our acronym,” Younger said.

“And to be fair, there are a few aspects of the genre that do resonate in real life: fierce dedication to the defence of Britain, for example. The real life ‘Q’ would want me to say that we too enjoy – and, indeed, need – a deep grasp of gadgetry. But’s that’s pretty much where the similarity ends. And, were Bond to apply to join MI6 now, he would have to change his ways.”

MI6 officers do travel to exotic and dangerous parts of the world but, according to Younger, someone as reckless and immoral as Bond, who broke the law with such frequency, would not be welcome in MI6.

“For too long – often because of the fictional stereotypes I have mentioned – people have felt that there is a single quality that defines an MI6 officer, be it an Oxbridge education or a proficiency in hand-to-hand combat. This is, of course, patently untrue. There is no standard MI6 officer.”

Younger said he wanted MI6 to be as diverse as possible. Younger’s public speech follows the heads of the other two intelligence agencies, Andrew Parker at MI5 and Robert Hannigan at GCHQ, in coming out from the shadows and attempting to be a bit more transparent.

He has spoken in public before, not least as part of a panel in the US with his American counterpart. The novelty of the speech on Thursday was that it was made at MI6 headquarters. Reporters, who made up the audience, were transported in by van and saw little inside other than portraits of the Queen and Prince Philip at the entrance.

MI6 building in Vauxhall, London.
MI6 building in Vauxhall, London. Photograph: Tim Ireland/PA

The HQ, known as Vauxhall Cross, is well known, compared with MI6’s previous HQ near Waterloo, which was supposedly secret. Vauxhall Cross has appeared in several Bond movies including The World Is Not Enough. A special showing was arranged for staff at HQ, who reportedly cheered when part of the building was destroyed. The building was hit by an explosion again in Skyfall.

Contributor

Ewen MacAskill Defence and security correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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