If a spy’s worst nightmare is to be unmasked, then to be mistaken for a spy is a hazard which faces many visiting academics, businessmen, journalists, and others who may have special access to circles of influence in countries that are potentially hostile to Britain.

For example, after he was released from an Iranian prison, British businessman, Roger Cooper said;

Unfortunately I fit the profile of a British spy. I had good Iranian contacts as I travelled to Iran a lot and I spoke fluent Farsi.”

The trouble is that over the years the Secret Intelligence Service, or MI6 as it is better known, has indeed used businessmen and tried to use journalists as freelance contacts. Internally they call these people “approved unofficial agents”.

Some of these people have been persuaded by the apparently exotic attractions of the secret world of espionage in order to try doing something they believe to be satisfyingly patriotic.

However, this is a false picture of the seedy demi-monde of both full-time and part-time spies, of ambiguous and misplaced loyalties and where the unsuspecting (and the naive) get lost in a wilderness of mirrors.

MI6: Facts and Tactics

MI6 has recently eased its nationality and age rules. A recruitment ad campaign in 2018 sought to encourage more women and ethnic minority candidates to apply, as well as older people. 

Under old rules, candidates had to have at least one parent with British nationality or with ‘substantial ties’ to the UK in order to be eligible to apply.

The rules have been relaxed but applicants themselves still have to be British citizens. However, even if both parents are migrants people born in the UK they can join MI6. 

There have also been changes to age eligibility rules, with the upper age limit of 55 scrapped. In 2020, they also cut the minimum employment age from 21 to 18 as the service sought to attract younger recruits with technology skills.

MI6 – Background

  • MI6 have used businessmen and tried to use journalists as freelance contacts, or what they call “approved unofficial agents“. 
  • Successive UK governments have maintained the fiction that these operatives do not exist in peacetime. Thus they cannot be held to account, and can (and do) deny everything. 
  • MI6 has an officer attached to most large embassies abroad. 
  • UK embassies go to extraordinary lengths to disguise their agents. 
  • Most host countries know exactly who the agents are. 
  • MI6 has been known to have placed agents in banks abroad, and in companies which have branches in locations where there is no official government presence. 
  • MI6 persuaded the Observer newspaper to take on Kim Philby as its Beirut correspondent after his fellow Soviet agents, Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean, fled to Moscow in 1951. 
  • MI6’s use of outsiders is well known.

Profile of a part time spy

But what are they really looking for? Let us take a brief look at the criteria, as we know it.

  • Oversees academics, businessmen, journalists, and others with special access to circles of influence in countries potentially hostile to Britain.
  • These people are referred to by MI6 as approved unofficial agents.

Examples

Kenneth and Keith Littlejohn

Below you will see examples of some well known spies who were working for the British intelligence services. They all made the same mistake.

The got caught.

After being exposed these operatives were abandoned by the security services and left to face the consequences alone.


Bill Graham

  • Former military policemen. 
  • In 1979 asked by MI6 to apply for a double-glazing contract for the Soviet trade mission in Highgate, north London. 
  • Offered the Russians a deal, subsidised by MI6, that they could not refuse. 
  • While working on the windows, planted bugs, collected documents, and secretly photographed the building.

Kenneth and Keith Littlejohn

  • Jailed for their part in a Dublin bank robbery. 
  • Said at trial that they were put up to it by British intelligence as part of an attempt to discredit the IRA. 
  • Robert Carr, then Home Secretary, admitted that Kenneth Littlejohn had had dealings with British intelligence. 
  • Government denied that it had approved of any illegal acts. 
  • Rejected an inquiry, citing “a long-established rule that we do not discuss the activities of the intelligence services in public”.

Roger Cooper

  • British businessman. 
  • Released from an Iranian prison. 
  • Fit the profile of a British spy. 
  • Good Iranian contacts.
  • Traveled to Iran a lot. 
  • Spoke fluent Farsi.

Oleg Gordievsky

  • KGB double agent. 
  • Smuggled out of Moscow by MI6 in 1985. 
  • Said that “important information is gathered only by intelligence services; conventional diplomats, are more or less a waste of time and money. MI6 should come into the open and proudly publicise its successes.”

Greville Wynne

  • Businessman. 
  • Asked by MI6 to act as a freelance contact for Oleg Penkovsky – the GRU (Soviet military. intelligence) colonel who supplied Britain with Russian missile secrets. 
  • Wynne “enjoyed the excitement”. 
  • Arrested in 1962. 
  • Released two years later in exchange for Gordon Lonsdale, the KGB spy held in Britain. 

James Rusbridger

  • International commodity broker. 
  • Had done Moscow a favour by disposing of unwanted Cuban sugar in the early 1960s. 
  • Asked by MI6 to take money into Russia and bring classified documents out. 
  • Told that if anything went wrong he would be on his own.

Anthony Divall

  • Hamburg-based businessman. 
  • Asked by MI6 during the Falklands war to pose as an arms dealer and to penetrate the Argentinian military procurement mission in Paris. 
  • Backed by a £16 million draft from the Whitehall branch of Williams and Glyn’s bank, he fooled the Argentinians into believing he could provide 30 Exocet missiles, thereby discouraging them from going after genuine arms dealers. 
  • After Falklands war ended Divall said he had been asked by MI6 to leak the successful Exocet scam to a quality British newspaper. 
  • Relationship with MI6 ended after the agency persuaded the German police to drop arms-dealing charges against him and he had tried to sue the agency for £200,000 in expenses.

Approved Unofficial Agents

The practice of governments asking their private citizens to gather information is understandable, and understood throughout the world: the unquenchable thirst for information and high-grade gossip is not unique to Whitehall.

However the practice of national intelligence services using freelance agents is considered by many as unacceptable and fundamentally irresponsible.

Although these ‘dark-state’ programs are not unique to MI6, Mossad, CIA, GRU, UN (and others) all employ similar programs, the British operation does have one peculiar advantage: successive UK governments have publically maintained the lie that these programs do not exist in peacetime; thus they cannot be held to account, and can subsequently deny everything.

In common with the intelligence agencies of other countries, MI6 has an officer attached to most large embassies abroad. Despite the lengths to which embassies go to disguise their agents, most host countries know exactly who they are.

MI6 is known to have placed agents in banks abroad, and in companies which have branches in locations where there is no official government presence.

The Swiss, for example, are well aware that many of the “diplomats” accredited to the United Nations agencies in Geneva are more interested in winkling out secrets from each other, and perhaps trying to turn themselves into double agents, than in the well-being of the UN.

MI6’s use of outsiders is well known.

For example MI6 asked Greville Wynne, a businessman, to act as a freelance contact for Oleg Penkovsky, the GRU (Soviet military intelligence) colonel who supplied Britain with Russian missile secrets. Wynne, who enjoyed the excitement, was arrested in 1962 and released two years later in exchange for Gordon Lonsdale, the KGB spy held in Britain.

James Rusbridger, an international commodity broker who had done Moscow a favour by disposing of unwanted Cuban sugar in the early 1960s and was thus persona grata in the Soviet Union, was asked by MI6 to take money into Russia, and bring secret documents out.

He was told that if anything went wrong, he would be on his own.

Kenneth and Keith Littlejohn, jailed for their part in a Dublin bank robbery, said at their trial that they were put up to it by British intelligence as part of an attempt to discredit the IRA.

The then Home Secretary, Robert Carr, admitted that Kenneth Littlejohn had had dealings with British intelligence, but the Government denied that it had approved of any illegal acts, and it rejected an inquiry, citing “a long-established rule that we do not discuss the activities of the intelligence services in public”.

Anthony Divall, a Hamburg-based businessman, was asked by MI6 during the Falklands war to pose as an arms dealer and to penetrate the Argentinian military procurement mission in Paris. Backed by a £16 million draft handled by the Whitehall branch of Williams and Glyn’s bank, he fooled the Argentinians into believing he could provide 30 Exocet missiles, thereby discouraging them from going after genuine arms dealers.

When the war was over, Divall said he had been asked by MI6 to leak the successful Exocet scam to a “quality British newspaper”. His relationship with MI6 ended after the agency persuaded the German police to drop arms-dealing charges against him and he had tried to sue the agency for £200,000 in expenses.

In 1979 Bill Graham, a former military policemen, was asked by MI6 to apply for a double-glazing contract for the Soviet trade mission in Highgate, north London. He offered the Russians a deal, sub sidised by MI6, that they could not refuse and, while working on the windows, planted bugs, collected documents, and secretly photographed the building.

MI6 even persuaded the Observer newspaper to take on Kim Philby as its Beirut correspondent after his fellow Soviet agents, Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean, fled to Moscow in 1951.

Oleg Gordievsky, the KGB double agent smuggled out of Moscow by MI6 in 1985, suggests that important information gathered only by the ‘official’ intelligence services and/or conventional diplomats, is more or less a waste of time and money.

He says that MI6 should come into the open and proudly publicise its successes.

And Finally….

In May 1983 the Observer newspaper revealed the name of a double glazer who infiltrated the Russian trade delegation in Highgate, North London, for MI6.

His name was Mr Bill Graham.

Later that year a book entitled “Break-in” was written by the former MI6 agent, (Mr Bill Graham), and published in June 1987.

In the book Mr Graham describes how he successfully infiltrated and bugged the Soviet trade mission in London. At the time the publishers said that there had been no opposition from the government to the book whereas the government had tried to suppress Mr Peter Wright’s book “Spycatcher”.

Maybe the reason for this was because Mr Graham’s book described a successful operation whilst Mr Wright’s allegations (about MI5) were potentially embarrassing. 

Please note: All the information in this article is in the public domain. Everything you saw here was based on an article published in 1991 by the Guardian newspaper.

Let us close by saying that the practice of using part time spies by British intelligence continues to this day.

Lets end with that music…

Peace and Tranquility.

Author: Anonymous

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