The History of MI6

by Antonella Colonna Vilasi
05 August 2014

This account traces the organizational development of MI6 from its foundation in 1909 to the present day. The agency began as the foreign section of the Secret Service Bureau. Both, the Secret Service Bureau, and the subsequent MI6, ” remained publicly unacknowledged by the British government for over eighty years and was given a formallegal basis only by the Intelligence Services Act of 1994.”

MI6, officially known as SIS, Secret Intelligence Service, is the United Kingdom's foreign intelligence agency. Together with the Security Service or MI5, and the Government Communications Headquarters GCHQ, it forms the heart of Britain's national intelligence community.

The main aim of MI6 is to collect foreign intelligence from human sources on matters of interest to the British government. The agency has also been responsible for carrying out “covert” operations.

These make it analogous to America's Central Intelligence Agency CIA, although MI6 is much older.

Its role stands in contrast to MI5, which collects intelligence on security threats in Britain, and the GCHQ, which monitors electronic communications .

Today, MI6 is based at 85 Vauxhall Cross in London, and is led by Chief John Sawers, a former diplomat who was Britain's ambassador to the United Nations. Its budget and the number of employees are both secrets.

Although most of MI6's history is shrouded in secrecy, it is known to have been part of a number of very important operations since it was first established. Details of MI6 operations and relationships seldom appeared in the British press until the 1990, when, for the first time, the secretive organization publicly named its head.

In the first half of the Cold War, the agency collaborated with the American CIA in secret operations to tap communications in East Germany, and the overthrow of the elected government of Iran in 1953, followed by the return of Shah. It was also hit hard by the discovery of a number of high-level Soviet spies in the British government. SIS's current operations are unknown, but it is believed that since the end of the Cold War their focus on Russia and the former Soviet bloc fell; while counterterrorism activity rose substantially. It presumably continues to cooperate with the CIA.



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