Do the preparation task first. Then read the article and do the exercises to check your understanding.
You might have heard of MI6 through the man known as 007. James Bond doesn’t exist, of course, but what about MI6?
What is MI6?
MI6 is very real. It is an organisation that recruits agents who collect ‘human intelligence’, or information, from countries around the world in order to protect the security of the UK. The official name for MI6 is the Secret Intelligence Service, or SIS.
How old is MI6?
MI6 started life in 1909 so it's over a hundred years old. However, it wasn’t officially recognised by the British government until 1995!
Where is MI6?
The agency started off in a small, rented office but it has its present headquarters in a huge building at Vauxhall Cross on the banks of the River Thames in London. The building is shown in several James Bond films, including The World Is Not Enough and Skyfall.
The first chief of MI6 was Sir Mansfield Cumming. He always signed his name as ‘C’ in green ink. Since then, the chiefs of MI6 have continued the tradition and still sign documents with a green ‘C’.
John le Carré, famous for his spy novels, is a former MI6 agent. He changed his name from David John Moore Cornwell because agents weren’t allowed to publish books under their own names.
During the Second World War (1939–1945), MI6 communicated with agents through coded radio messages broadcast on the BBC. MI6 was also involved in breaking other countries’ codes in order to understand their secret communications. Most of this code breaking work was done at Bletchley Park, in the south of England, by teams of people who were good at maths, languages or solving puzzles. Modern computers didn’t exist at that time and the code breakers had to use huge noisy machines to help them break the codes.
MI6 has an official website where anyone can learn about its history, read a glossary of Secret Intelligence Service words, take a virtual tour or even apply for a job.
Worksheets and downloads
Would you like to be a secret agent? What do you think are the best parts of the job?