Date Founded: 1st August 1909
Mission When Founded: To conduct counter-espionage activities against German intelligence. In 1931 their brief was expanded to assess all threats to the security of the nation and the empire, including domestic communism and fascism.
Mission During the War: The same.
Jurisdiction: Operates within the confines of Great Britain and the British Empire.
Headquarters: Thames House, Millbank
# of Personnel: 3000 (1940)
Annual Budget: ?
History/Profile: MI5 was created as Military Operations Five (MO5) in 1909 on the recommendation of the Secretary of the Committee of Imperial Defence (CID), Sir Charles Ottley. Ottley envisioned a centralised Secret Service Bureau divided into two distinct entities with separate spheres of interest - namely foreign and domestic. Cabinet approved his proposal and MO5 was created at the same time as its sister organisation, the Secret intelligence Service (SIS). Captain Vernon Kell, formerly of the South Staffordshire Regiment, was appointed as the Department's first Director-General; a post he was to hold for the next thirty years. Kell had seen action in China during the Boxer Rebellion and was noted for his skill in languages. Ill health had cut his military career short, and he had taken a position at the War Office in the CID.
Within months of its creation, SIS was transferred from the War Office to the Admiralty; effectively ending Ottley's vision of a centralised Secret Service Bureau. The two organisations developed independently from then on, and not always on equal footing. Kell looked to expand his organisation quickly; he circumvented budgetary restraints by getting officers transferred to regular War Office duties and having their commanding officer order them to report directly to him. Up until 1939 Kell was to personally interview all candidates for the Service, so as to ensure their 'reliability'. The upshot of this was that officers tended to be drawn almost exclusively from Kell's own (relatively high) social circle, leading to accusations of snobbery and arrogance.
He also lobbied for new legislation that would make it easier to prosecute enemy agents. Amendments to the Official Secrets Act he pushed for made even mere possession of sensitive material a potentially prosecutable offence. When war broke out in August 1914, Kell and his fledgling organisation were more than prepared. With the help of Special Branch, MO5 had identified most of the German's main spy rings years previously, and a series of raids in early August broke the back of German Intelligence and catapulted MO5 into the limelight.
In 1916, the directorate of Military Intelligence was formed and MO5 became MI5. The name change was purely cosmetic. Although officially still a part of the War Office, MI5 had by this point achieved independence - and direct access to the Prime Minister's Office.
Despite a contraction in personnel and budget following the end of the Great War, Kell was able to consolidate MI5's status in the intelligence community and acquire new spheres of interest as well. MI5 appointed liaison officers to the Dominion and Colonies' own security organisations - establishing an overseas network to both rival SIS's Passport Control Office Network and in the long term, to consolidate relations with these security organisations once their host countries had achieved true independence.
In the twenties MI5's concerns shifted to the threat of Communist subversion and the Irish troubles. In the early thirties, however, it became obvious that Germany was once again making preparations for war. MI5 turned its attention to the Abwehr. Initially, their efforts were hampered severely by a lack of funding. Operations were for the most part limited to planting informants within the main domestic pro-nazi organisations. Despite the restrictions placed upon them in peacetime - which allowed the Abwehr to run a highly successful pre-war intelligence operation - Kell knew that war was coming and made plans to smash the German networks once the Service's wartime powers came into effect.
Under the powers granted by the Alien Registration Act, MI5 were able to easily keep tabs on all enemy aliens at large in the UK. Keen to repeat his coup of 1914, Kell hoped with the outbreak of war to eliminate all of the Abwehr's intelligence networks by pursuing a policy of internment. Aliens were ordered to report to collection centres for assessment as of September 1939. By the following year nearly 7000 people had been interned, with many more facing severe restrictions on their movements. The Emergency Powers Act passed that same year allowed internment to be extended to domestic subversives. Kell wasted no time in ordering the arrests of the major pro-nazi groups. Despite the fact that this undoubtedly crippled the Abwehr's operations, scoring a vital early victory in the 'shadow war' that was to come, events were in motion that would lead to Major-General Kell's removal from office.
Kell had not enjoyed a comfortable relationship with Winston Churchill in the past, and following Churchill's appointment as Prime Minister in 1940, he took his revenge by ordering a reorganisation of the Security Service. Kell was the first to go; he died just two years later, a broken man. Kell's initial successor was the head of B-Division, Brigadier A.W.A Harker; but this proved to be only a temporary measure. Stewart Menzies, the newly appointed chief of SIS, lobbied Churchill long and hard to get his choice for the new Director-General - David Petrie - installed. He was eventually successful; - in November 1940, Petrie was appointed the new Director-General of MI5, with Harker assuming the position of his Deputy. Petrie had worked for the Indian Political Intelligence Bureau, and also in Palestine. One of his first acts as Director-General was to review Kell's notorious recruitment policy, which he effectively scrapped. Under Petrie the Security Service expanded rapidly, experiencing an influx of new talent that was not always well regarded by Kell's old guard.
Although MI5's staffing and organisation was to change radically several times over the course of the war, the divisional structure remained more or less the same throughout, consisting of six operational divisions as follows; -
A Division - Administration
B Division - Counter-Espionage
C Division - Security
D Division - Military Liaison
E Division - Aliens
F Division - Overseas Control
MI5's 'star performer' during wartime was undoubtedly B Division - headed by Guy Liddell from 1940 onwards - which made perhaps the most important contribution to the war effort. B Division's work in Britain was essentially grounded in its network of Regional Security Liaison officers, of which there were twelve, each assigned to a different geographical region. The RSLO's worked closely with local constabularies and army units as well as Special Branch to identify and apprehend German spies and saboteurs. Once apprehended, prisoners would eventually be sent to Latchmere House in Surrey - known as Camp 020 - for interrogation. It was here, under the tyrannical regime of Indian army veteran (and half-German) Colonel 'Tin-eye' Stephens that B Division (specifically B1 (a) under Tar Robertson) attempted to 'turn' enemy agents.
MI5's 'Double Cross System' proved to be their major wartime success story; it began with the recruitment of SIS cast-off Arthur Owens (code-named SNOW) in 1939. With most of their networks smashed by the internment of their agents, the Abwehr became increasingly reliant on the intelligence provided by the opportunistic Welsh nationalist, not realising his freedom was no accident. Although the SNOW network was shut down in 1941, Robertson and Liddell were convinced of the strategy's soundness and had been able to recruit other agents, and even on occasion their Abwehr case officers. The extent to which turned agents co-operated varied - some simply broadcast reports on their wireless transmitters back to their controllers under MI5 supervision - others like Dimitri Popov (TRICYCLE) and Edward Chapman (ZIGZAG) actually returned to the field and spied on the Abwehr. Eventually, every Abwehr agent operating in Britain was either imprisoned or turned. The contribution of these double agents to the war effort cannot be understated. In particular, disinformation they passed to German intelligence was crucial to the success of OVERLORD.
Overseas operations, meanwhile, were the province of F Division. F Division operated through their network of Defence Security Officers, who in turn worked with local police and military in a similar fashion to the RSLO's back home. The DSO's operated throughout the Empire, and were of particular importance in the Caribbean and India, where the Abwehr made several attempts to disrupt shipping and sow seeds of local dissension. In addition to the colonies, MI5 also supplied staff to British Security Co-ordination (BSC) in New York and Security Intelligence Middle East (SIME) in Cairo - both of which were officially the province of SIS.
The largest and most important overseas station, however, was undoubtedly Gibraltar. 'The Rock' was of vital strategic importance to the allies, being a window to the Mediterranean and a stepping stone into North Africa. Allied forces were faced with the constant threat of infiltration, subversion and sabotage; MI5 enjoyed ultimate responsibility for all aspects of local security. During the war as many as three Abwehr agents were executed on the Rock. Gibraltar station also participated in several counter-intelligence operations against the Abwehr, such as NID's infamous operation MINCEMEAT.
With the exception of Gibraltar station, most of MI5's overseas work can be described as chiefly defensive, contributing little in the way of positive intelligence.
MI5 Officer: Fast Talk, Listen, Persuade, Psychology, Spot Hidden, Handgun & any two of the following Other language, Martial Arts, Forensics, Locksmith, Photography, Sneak
Sample CharacterFergus Ridley age 42
Written by Nick Brownlow
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