MI5 posts 1,600-word job advert calling for Russian-langauge applicants who are British, bright and discreet enough not to tweet the good news if successful
It is over 20 years since the Berlin Wall fell, the Cold War ended and Britain’s spooks were recalled from behind the Iron Curtain.
But now UK security services are recruiting a new generation of Russian-speaking spies to help monitor Vladimir Putin’s undercover agents as relations worsen once again.
Applicants should be British, bright and discreet enough not to tweet the good news if successful, according to an online advert for the intelligence agencies.
In remarkable detail the 1,600-word post, linked from MI5’s recruitment webpage and accessible to the public, spells out the shadowy activities potential spies will undertake if they get the job.
Successful applicants will spend hours listening into tapped phone calls, scouring documents “intercepted under warrant” and chasing new leads for a better understanding of the Russian state.
Their work will cover “terrorism”, “espionage” and “potential threats to national security” but will also be “fascinating and rewarding”, the advert says.
Any intelligence uncovered will be fed back to teams of investigators in London, operatives abroad and “influence Government policy” on how to deal with Mr Putin. There are also chances for postings overseas.
With positions at MI5, MI6 and GCHQ all on the cards and a potential salary of £30,000 there is unlikely to be a shortage of applicants before the 26 March deadline.
But the sudden drive to employ new Russian experts has raised questions about whether our intelligence agencies have been to slow to react to an apparent surge in espionage from the East.
It comes as tensions with Russia reach heights not seen since the Cold War following its seizure of Crimea and the aggression of pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.
Dr Andrew Foxall, Director of the Russia Studies Centre at The Henry Jackson Society, says the Ministry of Defence dropped the ball on watching Russia after the Berlin Wall came down.
“There is clearly a desperate need within the security services and Government as a whole for Russian-speaking individuals,” he told the Sunday Telegraph.
“There was a process that began in 1990 which involved frittering away the capability to understand Russia due to an increasing lack of Russian speakers. That’s continued unchecked ever since.”
London has now become a “hotbed of activity” for Russian “dark forces” in recent years, according to Dr Foxall, who said it was about time MI5 strengthened its coverage of Kremlin-placed spies.
“Individuals that we traditionally think about as being spies in the James Bond sense are actually relatively few and far between,” Dr Foxall said.
“Instead what the Russians have are individuals in think tanks, in banks or high up in particular organisations who are on their pay role and placed to feedback information to the Kremlin. It is a subcontracting of traditional spy activities to individuals who the Russians can pick up, use and drop when they’re not useful.”
Those thinking about joining the British state’s efforts to counter Russia’s influence should be warned – a gruelling application process awaits that could last up to nine months.
First, only British citizens need apply. Each candidate must have spent eight of the last 10 years living in the UK and have at least one British parent. Interested parties are urged to “check your suitability for the role” by taking a test designed to gauge the ability to speak Russian and “recall detail”.
Next comes “pre-screening questions” online which include listing biographical details, employment history and an explanation as to why you have an interest in Russia, plus an application form.
After a prolonged period of sifting, MI5’s recruitment team then handpicks candidates to attend a language test in London. An “assessment centre” day follows for those that pass, which includes face-to-face interviews, before yet another stage of “recruitment activities”. Only then are decisions made.
So what is Britain’s secret service looking for? “Enthusiasm, flexibility and team-working are all important. You’ll have an analytical and enquiring mindset, sound judgment and good attention to detail,” the advert says.
And, of course, an ability to stay tight-lipped: “Discretion is vital. You should not discuss your application, other than with your partner or a close family member, providing that they are British.” The advert adds: “You should not post on social media sites about your application.”
Sir Tony Brenton, who would get regular intelligence briefings as Britain’s ambassador in Russia between 2004 and 2008, explained why having Russian-speaking spies was so important.
“Russia is a pretty opaque place, therefore quite a lot of material is not available through overt sources. The action of intelligence agencies and the stuff that they can sweep up is very helpful in filling out our picture about what’s going on in Russia and what’s driving them,” he said.
Sir Tony said those who make it tend to be “loyal”, “bright” and “stable: “You don’t want people who are going to go over the edge or go off and sell everything they know to a newspaper.”
Candidates who think they fit that bill have around five weeks to apply.
This article was written by Ben Riley-Smith Political Correspondent from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.
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