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[] Observer 10.3.02: MI6: We now need twice as many spies,

MI6: We now need twice as many spies 

Terror 'poses greatest threat in 60 years' 

Peter Beaumont and David Rose
Sunday March 10, 2002
The Observer 

The Secret Intelligence Service, MI6, is seeking to double its recruitment of front-line officers for the 'war against terrorism' to safeguard against what it has described to Cabinet Ministers as the greatest threat to Britain's security in 60 years. 
The proposal is contained in a paper that will be put before the Cabinet in the next few weeks. It includes calls for an increase in the service's budget of between 10 and 20 per cent and a rapid expansion of its counter-terrorism unit. 

The disclosure comes amid warnings that new officers will be expected to work in the most hostile and dangerous conditions experienced since the end of the Second World War. 

The request for a sharp increase in the service's funding comes as intelligence officials have begun briefing Ministers on the results of the first interrogations of al-Qaeda prisoners held at Camp X-Ray in Guantánamo Bay. 

They have also completed the first trawl of almost 15 tonnes of documents seized in Afghanistan. They say intelligence derived has revealed the frightening scope of the threat. 

US and British officers are said to have been taken aback by the ingenuity and scale of operations planned by al-Qaeda, and now believe that Osama bin Laden was trying to develop viable weapons of mass destruction employing chemical, biological and nuclear components. 

That concern has been underlined by the growing conviction of officials that bin Laden and the majority of his senior commanders are still alive and sheltering in the border region between Paktia province, scene of this week's heavy fighting, and Pakistani tribal areas. 

The plan to increase MI6's funding, currently with permanent secretaries of government departments involved, has the support of Prime Minister Tony Blair and Foreign Secretary Jack Straw. Although it is expected to be agreed with little argument, Treasury sources have indicated that Gordon Brown will be happy with the proposed increases in funding only if they are part of a wider reform of MI6 operations. 

Although the numbers are relatively small - recruitment of new officers would increase from around 20 to 40 a year - the increase would have a substantial knock-on effect on wider staffing levels, which requires around five support staff to each front line officer. 

Ministers and senior intelligence officers are understood to have been alarmed by the inability of MI6 to conduct effective counter-terrorism operations following a decade of cuts, instituted as part of the so-called 'peace dividend' that followed the end of the Cold War. 

According to government sources those cuts had been so deep that on 11 September only 30 of MI6's 1,600 officers were working in counter-terrorism, in contrast to 600 officers in the US Counter Terrorism Centre, although the drafting in of extra staff quickly boosted that number to 100. 

In the immediate aftermath of the attacks MI6 was given emergency extra funding and had already accelerated its fast track training procedures for new recruits. 

Although MI6 is looking for new fast-track graduate trainees - especially those with expertise in Arabic and Asian languages - it is also seeking to persuade experienced former officers, who left to join private business intelligence agencies, to take a salary cut and return. 

'There has been a realisation that the service is badly undermanned,' said one source. 'It has been accepted that if there were a September 11 style attack on London, we would be embarrassed by the number of people and resources we have available for counter-terrorism work. 

'Priorities and the working environment have both changed,' he added. 'This will not be like Vienna or Geneva during the Cold War. Officers will now be expected to work in very dangerous environments.' 

This week, a new chief is set to take command of a vastly expanded counter-terrorism department at MI6's London headquarters at Vauxhall Cross. It will employ about 100 'intelligence branch' fast-track graduates, a quarter of the total strength. 

Meanwhile, dozens of MI6 officers in British embassies around the world have been told to largely forget about other targets. 

'It amounts to a complete re-focusing and restructuring,' one source said. 'We are pulling in experts from every relevant field.'

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