This appeared in The Blade (Toledo, Ohio) in 1986
Britain's SIS Operates Hand-in-Glove With the CIA
LONDON—Unlike America's CIA, the British Secret Intelligence Service, also known as MI6, does not officially exist.
Its address and telephone are state secrets, as is the name of its current chief.
The SIS occupies a 20-story building called Century House in south London, not far from Westminster. It is said to employ a staff of between 1,000 and 1,500.
The extensive filing system used by SIS analysts is known as “The Registry.” (The CIA's central computer is called “The Spider”).
The SIS director-general is known simply as “C.”
OFFICERS are organized geographically into regional “desks”--the United Kingdom (concerned with recruitment and the monitoring of foreign diplomats), the Soviet bloc, Europe, the Middle East, and the Far East.
The SIS maintains only one station in the whole of Latin America, so is largely dependent upon the CIA for intelligence reports from that part of the world. It is said that the SIS station in South America reported Argentina's aggressive intention two weeks before the invasion of Falkland/Malvinas Islands.
The SIS is generally thought to be smaller than the CIA and therefore its officers more broadly trained. While they lack specialization, they are said to be strong on good political analysis.
Americans tend to have an image of British agents, whether or not deserved, as “class acts,” as characters out of spy thrillers: good at their jobs, urbane dashing, polished, in the mold of James Bo
THE SECRET Intelligence Service was created in 1907 as the Secret Service Bureau. In the 1930s it was split into MI5 and MI6. “Five,” as the former is known, is also officially secret.
Attached to the Home Office, the SIS is a sort of British equivalent of the FBI, although MI5 officers do not have powers of arrest. This function is left to the Special Branch, a department of the police which works in conjunction with MI5.
A SPECIAL relationship exists between the CIA and MI5.
They have close liaison in Washington and London, as indeed throughout the globe, sharing both secrets and defectors. They run a joint defector program.
CIA people are called the “cousins,” in the parlance of the secret world; SIS people are called the “friends.” They have jointly mounted operations including:
- An unsuccessful attempt in 1950 to topple Enver Hoxha's Stalinist regime in Albania. Their sponsorship of Albanian freedom fighters ended in tragedy, betrayed by the notorious traitor, Kim Philby, who was at that time the senior SIS liaison officer in Washington.
- A successful CIA-SIS cooperative operation in 1953 deposed the Iranian prime minister, Mohammed Mossadeq, and installed Mohammed Reza Pahlavi as the Shah of Iran.
In theory, the cousins and friends do not spy on each others. It is assumed that both the SIS and CIA keeps check on everybody, friendly or not.
The CIA tends to use Britain as a home base for operations in Africa and the Middle East. On the occasion when CIA mounts operations inside Britain, such as reported infiltration of labor unions in the 1960s, it is with the knowledge and blessing of the SIS.
In 1975, Harold Wilson, then the prime minister, said in the House of Commons that everything the CIA does in Britain is known to the government.
CIA operatives abroad are probably closer to their British “friends” than to their own colleagues in the State Department.
UNLIKE the CIA, the SIS does not possess a portfolio for paramilitary operations. These missions are undertaken by the Special Air Service, an elite counterinsurgency force. The size and structure of the three SAS regiments are, of course, secret. The nearest U.S. Equivalent of SAS is the Delta Force, based at Fort Bragg in North Carolina.
The most important element of the British and American special intelligence alliance is the Government Communications Headquarters, which works hand-in-hand with the supersecret National Security Agency, its America counterpart. Their function is signals intelligence and decoding.
BRITISH newspapers are banned from printing details about British intelligence. A system known as the “D Notice,” which critics call official censorship, makes the naming of names illegal and subject to public prosecution under the Official Secrets Act.
Much of the information available today on SIS is that obtained in the United States under the Freedom of Information Act.