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The Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) | MI6

More commonly referred to as MI6, the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) is the UK's external espionage agency, with a focus on protecting the UK's interests overeas. Whereas in the past, MI6 was a key player in the cold war, in the 21st century MI6 has been more and more geared towards fighting global terrorism. In addition to intelligence gathering, one of the roles of the SIS is to carry out covert operations against threats to the UK's national security. To perform that mission, the SIS has had, throughout its history, in one form or another, a special operations capability.

The SIS, as one might expect, is a more opaque organization than even the Special Forces and as such any information in the public domain about its structure, capabilities and activities is sketchy at best.

SIS Special Operations - Background Information

Before WW2, MI6 had developed a unit known as section D for carrying out covert / paramilitary operations overseas.

During World War 2, on the orders of Winston Churchill, section D was amalgamated with similar units in other organizations to form the Special Operations Executive (SOE). The SOE caused havoc behind German lines, organizing resistance, gathering intelligence and performing sabotage operations.

Following WW2, MI6 absorbed the remaining elements of the SEO to form the Directorate of War Planning (D/WP). The D/WP's remit was to disrupt any Soviet invasion / occupation of Western Europe, much as the SOE had done to German-occupied Europe during the war. Strong ties with military special forces such as the Royal Marines Special Boat Section (to later become the Special Boat Squadron, later still the Special Boat Service (SBS)) were formed.

In 1953/54 the D/WP morphed into the Special Political Action Section (SPA). The SPA was involved in several actions abroad, including a number of coups and assassination plots. The SPA was abolished in the 1970s by an unsympathetic Labour government.

With the lack of a dedicated 'dirty tricks' unit to call on, the SIS formed closer links with the SAS and SBS. In 1987, the United Kingdom Special Forces (UKSF) directorate was formed, in part, some believe, to improve collaboration between the SAS, SBS and SIS.

The Modern day SIS reportedly runs its covert operations under the General Support Branch. Other sources point to an entity entitled the Special Operations Department. It has long been rumoured, although never confirmed, that the SIS run a unit known as 'The Increment' - a secretive cadre of ex and current UKSF personnel which it uses for so-called 'deniable operations' in foreign countries. more info : The Increment
(Eliteukforces report)

The SIS's covert operations capability as reportedly been significantly enhanced since the global war on terror began in 2001. Aside from an increase in budget, it has been reported that additional recently-retired UKSF personnel have been hired to provide 'muscle' for SIS operations. In an increasingly hostile climate, one of the roles of UKSF veterans employed by the SIS is to provide close protection to SIS personnel overseas. CPU RMP close protection specialists are also thought to have been drafted in for such operations.
more info :
Donít worry, 007, youíre still licenced to kill
(Times report)
UK Intelligence And Security Report August 2003
(AFI Research - .doc file)

SIS Selection & Training

SIS operatives are often recruited by talent spotters at elite universities and military academies. Recruits must first pass the basic civil service entry exams before moving on to an in-depth interview before a panel of SIS officers. Finally, a detailed background and security check are carried out for each candidate.

Candidates accepted into the service go through a six month trainnig programme known as the Intelligence Officer's New Entry Course (IONEC). IONEC students learn how to recruit and handle agents, how to operate under a cover identity and various tradecraft skills such as the use of dead drops, surveillance and counter-surveillance techniques, secret writing and the use of codes.

Despite a reliance on UKSF for special operations, SIS operatives still receive training in the use of firearms, including pistols and submachine guns. It would be rare, however, for an SIS Intelligence Officer to fire or even carry a firearm in the line of duty.

SIS training takes place mainly at Fort Monckton, Portsmouth.

SIS Operations

Some notable SIS operations include :

  • 1982 - The Falklands Conflict
    During the Falklands conflict, SIS operatives were instrumental in efforts to deny the Argentineans from receiving any more of the deadly French-made Exocet missiles, several of which had already sunk British warships. Posing as arms dealers, the SIS men either bought up all the missiles available on the open and black market or posed as sellers themselves, stringing the Argentines along on wild goose chases.

  • 1980s - Afghanistan
    SIS operatives were active in Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation, assisting the Mujahideen resistance. Activities included supplying the anti-Soviet forces with weapons such as anti-tank missiles and anti-aircraft missiles (at first the largely useless British-built Blowpipe SAMs and later the more effective US-built Stingers). Ex SAS/SBS men were also involved in these operations.

    Other MI6 operations in Afghanistan included obtaining Soviet military equipment from the battlefield for later analysis.

    SIS also arranged for Mujahideen fighters to be trained in heavy weapons on islands off Western Scotland by the SAS Revolutionary Warfare Wing (RWW). The Mujahideen soldiers were shuttled between Scotland and Pakistan by a C-130 operated by the RAF S&D flight, a small cadre of RAF special forces pilots that support SIS/Increment operations.

  • 1991 - Northern Iraq
    The SIS were involved with stirring up an unsuccessful Kurdish rebellion against Saddam Hussein 's regime in the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf War.

  • 1990s - The Balkans
    SIS operations in the former Yugoslavia include directing the SAS and 14 Int on hunting down war criminals.

    more info : Operation Tango
    (Eliteukforces report on one such SAS operation )

    SIS operatives also developed contacts within the various factions in the region and facilitated local peace deals.

    It has long been rumoured that the SIS had plans to assassinate the Serb leader, Slobodan Milosevic, by blinding his car's driver with a special flash-gun built into a camera.

  • 2001 - Present - Afghanistan
    The SIS reportedly had men inside Afghanistan within days of the terrorist attacks of September 11th. Protected by a small UKSF team, SIS operatives developed contacts with friendly Afghan forces, paving the way for future military operations. Later in 2001, SIS operatives assisted a Coalition Joint Special Operations Task Force (CJSOTF) of American Delta Force and British SBS commandos in the hunt for Osama Bin Laden in the mountains of Tora Bora. The SIS continues to be active in Afghanistan.

  • 2003 - Present Iraq
    In 2003, with UK forces approaching from the South, SIS operatives were active inside the southern Iraqi city of Basra, creating a network of agents in preparation for the invasion. SIS operatives assisted the SBS in gathering intelligence that aided the UK's entry into the city. They ran agents, snatched prisoners and identified targets for air strikes.

    In post invasion Basra, the SIS provided intel for the SBS in its efforts to track down members of the Baath regime. In one such incident, the SBS called in an air strike on a house that the SIS had identified as the location of Ali Hassan al-Majid, otherwise known as 'Chemical Ali', a most-wanted member of Saddam's regime. Due to communication problems, the raid was not a success, however other air strikes called in by SIS/SBS teams were successful.

    The SIS was to continue to operate in Iraq, providing intelligence for the British forces in the south as well as for SAS Task Force Black in Baghdad.

    more info : Faulty phone wrecked MI6 bid to kill Chemical Ali
    (Telegraph report)

  • 2011 - Libya
    A small SIS/UKSF team were arrested by anti-Gaddafi forces when attempting to make contact with a rebel faction in March 2011, at the onset of the NATO campaign which eventually ousted the dictator from office.
Related Book:
This fascinating memoir by former MI6 spook, Ian Tomlinson, tells of his recruitment by the SIS, various missions and subsequent dismissal and arrest. Features info on his training, including training with the SAS Revolutionary Warfare Wind (RWW), 22 SAS's contribution to 'The Increment'. Comes highly recommended for a rare look into one of Britain's most secretive institutions.


read more / buy at amazon:

The Big Breach: From Top Secret to Maximum Security

 

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