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Last Updated: Monday, 26 November 2007, 10:08 GMT
Asian MI5 and MI6 officers speak
MI5 building

British Asian intelligence and security officers have spoken to the BBC about their work in a bid to broaden recruitment among ethnic minorities.

Two MI5 agents were permitted to talk for the first time in the hope of attracting more ethnic minorities into the security service.

They told Asian Network their job was to protect the UK, not target Muslims.

Meanwhile, a Muslim officer of the security service MI6 has told Radio 1 about her work recruiting spies.

MI5 - Britain's domestic security service - says it hopes the insight into life as a British Asian agent will help increase its percentage of black and minority ethnic staff, which currently stands at 6.5%.

It also wants to improve relations with Muslim communities.

It has a target of increasing its current 3,000 staff to 4,000 by 2011 to help track the 2,000 individuals currently believed to pose a threat to national security.

Family reaction

A male agent, who called himself Shazad, and a female agent, Jayshree, talked about life inside MI5.

In the exclusive interviews - the first recorded at MI5's London headquarters in the organisation's 98-year history - the officers discussed the challenges of leading double lives.

I feel very, very strongly that if you are able to do something to make a difference, you should make that difference
Yasmin, MI6 agent

"When out with friends or relations I tend to be quite vague about my work - I don't want the unnecessary attention," said Jayshree, who analyses intelligence from a variety of sources, including overseas.

She added that her parents knew about her role, but were "not as excited or interested" as she thought they would be.

"To the point that once my father said 'What's there to get excited about? You work for MFI', and I had to remind him that I don't work for a furniture store, I work for the security services."

They said they did not feel any conflict as British Asians in their security roles because their work at MI5 was not about targeting communities, but instead about tracking individuals.

Shazad said: "If you look at the bigger picture, I think you realise this isn't about spying on your own community, or letting your own community down, or any of those things.

"It is about protecting people like yourself - others out there - from threats, and there can be a number of different kinds of threats."

'Totally compatible'

The BBC's security correspondent Gordon Corera said the recruitment drive was not just about political correctness.

He said MI5, in particular, needed to be representative in order to run operations successfully.

MI5 chief Jonathan Evans
MI5 chief Jonathan Evans says 2,000 UK individuals pose a threat

Officers had to be able to blend into the communities in which they operated and have the right cultural and social backgrounds to identify where threats were coming from, our correspondent said.

But Yasmin, who is a member of overseas intelligence agency MI6, told BBC Radio 1's Newsbeat she did not think she was recruited because of her Muslim faith.

And she said she would challenge "very strongly" any suggestion that her religion complicated her work.

"The way I feel is that my duty to God is totally compatible with my duty to my country," Yasmin said.

"I would say extremism in any form is wrong, be that Islamic extremism or any other kind of extremism.

"I feel very, very strongly that if you are able to do something to make a difference, you should make that difference."

The head of MI6 recruitment, Mark, said the organisation wanted to attract people from all ethnic minorities, not just Muslims.

"We want to be truly representative and reflective, but clearly if we are going to be reflective we do need to have Muslims in our organisation because of the insight and understanding that they bring," he said.

'Absolute shock'

The MI5 agents recalled how they felt after hearing about the 7 July terror attacks in 2005.

Jayshree said she felt "absolute shock" but had been trained to deal with such an event.

"The reality was that this was probably one of the biggest jobs that any of my colleagues and I ever had to undertake.

Once I joined I felt that the work we were doing was invaluable - and this is a country that has welcomed my family
Jayshree, MI5 agent

"We'd received the training and we just got ahead and tried to do as much work as we could."

Unlike the public, she was in a position where she could "make a difference" and "find out what had happened and piece things together".

Asked what motivated her to first become an MI5 agent, Jayshree said she felt she was repaying a debt to her country.

"Once I joined I felt that the work we were doing was invaluable - and this is a country that has welcomed my family.

"I've been born, raised here - this is my country. I just want to work as hard as I can to ensure that it's safe for my, I'd like to say community, but by that I mean my whole country."

She added that she couldn't think of "any better way of paying back or working to protect everyone who lives here".

Shazad agreed that he joined MI5 to help the country his family had chosen to make home.

"It was one of the driving points behind why I joined. It was an opportunity to work for an organisation whose input really did matter and an opportunity to work somewhere where you could make a real difference."

But when asked if life inside MI5 was anything like BBC drama Spooks, Jayshree said: "I think, particularly being a female in the service, I'd always be worried that a baddie would want to chuck my head in a deep fat fryer - so I'm particularly grateful that our work doesn't represent Spooks."

The MI5 interviews will be broadcast on BBC Asian Network from 0600 GMT on Monday, 26 November.

The MI6 interview is part of a week-long series of special Newsbeat reports on the British security services. They will be broadcast at 1745 GMT from Monday 26 November.

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26 Nov 07 |  Magazine


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