Joining MI5 'not about James Bond stereotypes', says its boss

·4-min read
Sharp, witty and mistakenly - Madame Tussaud's London /Ahead of the premiere of the latest 007 film, No Time To Die, Madame Tussauds London has revealed it will be the only place in the world where fans can come face to face with all six figures of the James Bond actors. (L-R) Dalton, Moore, Craig, Connery, Brosnan and Lazenby will be in attraction from Thursday 30th September 2021
Sharp, witty and mistakenly - Madame Tussaud's London /Ahead of the premiere of the latest 007 film, No Time To Die, Madame Tussauds London has revealed it will be the only place in the world where fans can come face to face with all six figures of the James Bond actors. (L-R) Dalton, Moore, Craig, Connery, Brosnan and Lazenby will be in attraction from Thursday 30th September 2021

MI5 recruits should be inspired by more than just “James Bond stereotypes”, the head of the security service has said.

Ken McCallum, director general, urged more people from state schools and working class backgrounds to apply to the counter-intelligence agency.

He said he hoped by revealing more of his own life story he would be able to recruit a new generation of spies with a “range of different voices”.

Speaking to The Sun, Mr McCallum, who grew up in a “regular” Glasgow suburb, explained why he felt the James Bond films were unhelpful when trying to get people to join MI5.

The 47-year-old said: “There are still too many people who rule themselves out of careers with MI5 who could be really great.

MI5 director general Ken McCallum gives a speech at Thames House in central London. Picture date: Wednesday July 14, 2021. PA Photo. Photo credit should read: Yui Mok/PA Wire - Yui Mok /PA
MI5 director general Ken McCallum gives a speech at Thames House in central London. Picture date: Wednesday July 14, 2021. PA Photo. Photo credit should read: Yui Mok/PA Wire - Yui Mok /PA

“What really matters here in this place is teamwork. We are absolutely not about James Bond stereotypes.

“If there’s a little bit in my story that helps others think, ‘I’m not that different to him’, and so can see themselves being in MI5 then that’s great.”

Mr McCallum attended state school and grew up in a single parent family after his parents separated when he was just three.

He said: “I hadn’t got a clue what I wanted to do with my life but I knew I wanted to contribute something. I wanted to serve.”

After excelling in his studies he was encouraged by his teachers to apply to Oxford or Cambridge but he said that at the time he felt that was beyond his reach.

“I had not often left Scotland and the expense of relocating meant it didn’t seem like a realistic option,” he said.

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 12: Athletes pass the Palace of Westminster as they compete in the Men's Marathon on Day 16 of the London 2012 Olympic Games on the streets of London on August 12, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) - Getty Images Europe
LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 12: Athletes pass the Palace of Westminster as they compete in the Men's Marathon on Day 16 of the London 2012 Olympic Games on the streets of London on August 12, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) - Getty Images Europe

Instead he went to university in his hometown and studied computing and mathematics before applying to join the civil service “out of curiosity”.

Shortly after sending off his application however, he received a letter asking him if he would be interested in joining the intelligence services.

He was recruited into MI5 in 1995 and spent his early years working as an intelligence officer and agent-runner in Northern Ireland.

Speaking about his time working in Ireland, he said: “We played our part in choking off the violence enough to help that take place and that’s something to be rightly proud of. We don’t always succeed, but we often do.”

Later, he led counter terrorism investigations during the London 2012 Olympic Games and MI5's response to the attempted assassination of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal in 2018.

Mr McCallum was announced as the 18th Director General of MI5 last year, taking over from Sir Andrew Parker.

Mr McCallum also said that while James Bond was not an accurate representation of a secret agent, the service did often call on the help of top film directors to help train new spies.

 Ian Fleming, the author of the Bond novels, was an officer in the Royal Navy's Naval Intelligence Department - Express
Ian Fleming, the author of the Bond novels, was an officer in the Royal Navy's Naval Intelligence Department - Express

He added: “We try to pull in external voices when we can. It’s a really important part of our organisation.

“We do a very specialised form of acting here, it’s an important part of our skillset. Actors have to perform, just like that.

“And in our work we have to nail it, in that moment, when it really, really matters. It’s no good getting it right in a meeting room, hours later. It has to be then.”

He said that what MI5 needed now was “people from different parts of the country, with a range of different skills, voices, experiences”.

Mr McCallum also paid tribute to a number of female bosses he had during his career, including Dame Eliza.

Mr McCallum said that working within the service was all about building “partnerships and alliances”.

He added: “Everything we do is about partnerships — with the police, MI6, GCHQ or internationally with countries like America.”

MI5 is the UK’s domestic counter-intelligence and security agency, and works alongside the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) and Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ).

The service was founded in 1909 and is responsible for protecting the UK’s citizens and interests at home and overseas.

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