Mon, Feb 23, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Britain to expand size of MI5 by 50%

RECRUITING DRIVE The domestic intelligence agency is getting a shot in the arm to counter the threat of terrorism, with at an estimated US$111.7 million in new funding

AFP , LONDON

Britain intends to boost the size of its domestic intelligence service MI5 by 50 percent by hiring 1,000 new staff to counter the threat of terrorism, British news media reported.

Home Secretary David Blunkett, the Cabinet minister responsible for MI5, is to announce the ambitious recruiting drive in the coming week, according to the news reports.

The extra staff, to be hired over several years, would put MI5 back to the manning levels it had during World War II, the domestic Press Association news agency said Sunday.

"It is understood that the recruitment drive ... will include linguists, surveillance desk officers and staff involved in providing security advice to British business and industry," it said.

Blunkett is expected to make a formal announcement about MI5 hiring on Wednesday when parliament debates the renewal of the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001.

Britain sees itself as a front-line state in the US-led campaign against global terrorism, launched by US President George W. Bush after the Sept. 11 attacks in New York and Washington in 2001.

MI5 is one of the pillars of British intelligence, the others being the foreign spy agency MI6 and the electronic eavesdropping agency GCHQ.

Criminal investigations of suspected terrorist activity within Britain are led by the anti-terrorist branch of London's Metropolitan Police.

The Mail on Sunday newspaper said it would cost British taxpayers an estimated ?60 million (US$111.7 million) to train and pay the new MI5 staff.

The Observer meanwhile reported that Blunkett is to unveil plans for new anti-terrorism powers that would see suspects convicted in British courts on lower standards of proof, and for crimes they may not have even committed.

Since the end of the Cold War, MI5 has increasingly been involved in anti-terrorism work, analysts say.

Initially it concentrated on the Irish Republican Army (IRA), the main Catholic paramilitary group in Northern Ireland that has all but renounced its armed struggle since the 1998 Good Friday peace accords in the province.

But since the Sept. 11 attacks it has increasingly turned its attention on al-Qaeda and related organizations.

It has also come under criticism for a lack of sufficient staff with the background and language skills needed to penetrate Islamic extremist groups.

In a lecture in London last October, MI5 chief Eliza Manningham-Buller said MI5 and other security agencies had succeeding in "degrading" the threat posed by Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network.

But she warned that the danger of a terrorist attack would not diminish within five years, and it would likely remain "for a considerable number of years thereafter."

"It is clear that terrorists are willing and able to attack British interests both at home and overseas," the Press Association quoted an unidentified source as saying on Saturday.

"As Eliza Manningham-Buller and Sir John Stevens [the Metropolitan Police commissioner] have said, the threat from international terrorism remains high and is likely to do so for the foreseeable future."

On its Web site, MI5 says it already has vacancies for "generalists" ("one of your first jobs might be as a member of a small team investigating a terrorist group planning attacks against British interests") and for linguists fluent in Arabic, Persian, Punjabi, Russian, Turkish and Urdu.

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