Britain's MI5 plans to recruit 1,000 new staff

 

Britain's domestic spy agency MI5 is planning a major recruitment drive to boost its effectiveness in the fight against international terrorism, Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott confirmed today.

A government source said 1,000 new staff would be appointed over the next few years to take the counter-intelligence service's numbers up to 3,000.

Mr Prescott said the staff would be targeted at new geographical areas, moving the focus away from Cold War spying and towards the heightened threat of an al Qaeda-related strike in the wake of the September 11th attacks on the United States.

"The Cold War is a very good example," Mr Prescott told BBC television. "An awful lot of our spies might speak Russian but they are not so much for Arabic. What we have got now is a readjusting to a whole different circumstance."

MI5 was created in 1909 as a counter-espionage bureau to tackle the threat to British naval interests from German spies.    Its work since then has focused largely on dealing with Soviet espionage during the Cold War.

But its responsibilities now also include dealing with the new threat posed by al-Qaeda and other militant organisations.

Mr Prescott said the security threat now may come for example from a person walking into an underground rail station and carrying out a chemical weapons attack. "You have really got to have greater use of intelligence than we have got at the moment."

Home Secretary David Blunkett is expected to make a formal announcement of the recruitment drive on Wednesday. The extra staff will include linguists, surveillance staff and desk officers.

Once a highly secretive body whose existence was never formally acknowledged, MI5 now has its own website www.mi5.gov.ukand advertises openly for new recruits.