Deployed on high-stakes missions across the globe and surrounded by glamorous admirers, James Bond should be the perfect recruitment tool for Britain’s intelligence agencies.
But the icon gives a disorted impression of MI6’s work and may be hampering its drive to hire more minorities, Muslims and women, the service’s chief recruiter said in an interview Monday with British Broadcasting Corp. radio.
MI6 allowed BBC Radio One—a station aimed mainly at young people—to conduct the first interviews inside the agency’s London headquarters as part of a recruitment push.
And Bond, for all his stunts, gadgets and swagger, is not even necessarily the ideal spy.
“People who have a different ethnicity can often go places and do things and meet people that those from a white background can’t,” the MI6 official said. “There are some places that white males can’t go.”
MI6 has around 2,000 staff, though it has never publicly disclosed the exact figure or how many women and minorities it employs.
MI6 recently advertised for Somali speakers and boasted in job listings that the agency’s imposing headquarters on the banks of the River Thames has “basketball courts . . . a restaurant, coffee lounge and bar.”
Britain’s domestic security service—known as MI5—is also trying to enlist more recruits from minority backgrounds as it expands from a staff of 3,000 to one of 4,000.
Both agencies and police have faced criticism from Muslims, who believe they are unfairly targeted during inquiries into terrorism. Police have been accused of using heavy-handed tactics and acting on flimsy intelligence to detain Muslim suspects.
Minorities make up only 6.5 percent of the staff of MI5, which focuses on threats inside Britain. The service—which has had two female chiefs since 1992—is also struggling to attract women.
The official said MI5 needs people of all backgrounds, particularly for surveillance duties—when agents must blend in with the community.
Two MI5 agents from ethnic backgrounds also spoke to the BBC’s Asian Network in interviews broadcast Monday, saying their work helped defend—not betray—their communities. Their names were also withheld.