MI5 re-casting its social veil: gays and lesbians are in

August 17th, 2008 - 4:17 pm ICT by IANS  

By Venkata Vemuri
London, Aug 17 (IANS) Two former school mates have come together to expand the social frontiers of Britain’s counter-intelligence spy ring by proposing to recruit from among gays and lesbians. The British Security Service, popularly known as MI5, is responsible for protecting the UK against threats to national security, its official web site says. The current move follows path-breaking steps by MI5 to recruit officers from British Muslims and Asian languages experts, particularly after the London Underground bombings.

MI5 chief Jonathan Evans is reportedly in favour of bringing in recruitment firm Stonewall to scout for officers from among gay and lesbians. Stonewall boss Ben Summerskill, incidentally, went to school with Evans in Kent.

Until the early 1990s gays were barred from sensitive government jobs because of fears that they would be vulnerable to blackmail. The ban followed revelations about the notorious Cambridge spy ring, the 1950s group of Cambridge graduates who worked in the intelligence service. Two of the ringleaders, Guy Burgess and Anthony Blunt, were both gay.

This year MI5 will appear in Stonewall’s graduate recruitment guide, which lists gay-friendly employers.

Since the London Underground bombings on July 7, 2005, MI5 has been expanding rapidly. Staff numbers are expected to hit 3,500 by the end of the year, up from 1,500 in 2001.

Stonewall director Summerskill said: “I am optimistic that in 10 to 15 years their (MI5’s) employment profile will look very much like modern Britain. There is no reason why there shouldn’t be a lesbian or gay director-general.”

Explaining why MI5 might wish to recruit from the gay community, he added: “People from all minority communities do have experience of getting on with people who are different and of fitting in. They are also good at doing these things in a way that is not conspicuous.”

One of Stonewall’s first achievements has been to set up a gay and lesbian “network” at MI5 to work with spy chiefs on policy. Stonewall, which was paid for its work, has also been advising on how to create a working environment where gay officers can feel comfortable about “coming out”.

In the past, homosexual staff were nervous about revealing their sexual orientation to colleagues because it might lead to claims that they had lied to recruiters when they joined.

A Whitehall source confirmed to The Sunday Times that MI5 was working closely with Stonewall, saying: “The service seeks to reflect the broad range of UK society which it serves.”

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