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The never-ending doublespeak over whether MI5 and MI6 officers emulate James Bond took a new twist recently, with an Army Chief designate insisting that real spies do not resemble the fictional hitman, at the same time that a UK court ruled that British intelligence agents can carry out torture and murder to avoid blowing their cover.

Vice Chief of Staff of the Indian Army Lt General Manoj Naravane recently commented on intelligence work at the launch of a new book – RN Kao: Gentleman Spymaster – a biopic of Kao, the first chief of India’s external intelligence agency the Research and Analysis Wing, written by Nitin Gokhale.  Naravane said:

When we talk or think about intelligence, we normally think of James Bond, guns, girls, guitar and glamour, but the world of Intelligence is not that. The world of intelligence is more of John Le Carre’s Smiley novels…Unseen, unheard, unknown, working behind the scenes, analysing volumes of information

However, a recent ruling by the UK’s Investigatory Powers Tribunal found that MI5’s ‘Third Direction’ upheld the long-standing British policy of allowing agents to commit grave and violent crimes, including torture and murder.A challenge to this policy was brought by Reprieve, Privacy International, the Centre for the Administration of Justice and the Pat Finucane Centre, in the latter case as a direct result of British intelligence collusion in the assassination of human rights lawyer Patrick Finucane.  The tribunal’s ruling was not unanimous – for the first time ever, two of the judges voted against the government but ultimately the Third Direction won 3-2.  As reported by Middle Eastern Eye, British collusion in the CIA’s torture program was one of the issues at stake in this ruling:

A UK parliamentary committee that examined the country’s involvement in human rights abuses following 9/11 found that MI5 or MI6, the overseas intelligence service, had helped to fund three rendition operations and planned or agreed to a further 28; supplied questions to other countries’ intelligence agencies on 232 despite knowing or suspecting a prisoner was being tortured; and on 13 occasions were present when a prisoner was being tortured or mistreated.

So, contrary to Naravane’s statements the agents recruited by MI5 and MI6 effectively do have a license to kill (and rape, kidnap, torture, shoot, bomb and commit other serious crimes).  As one of the few commentators who believes that the three major terrorist attacks in the run-up to the 2017 election and the attack in the run-up to the 2019 election were all orchestrated in some way by British intelligence, to my mind this ruling all but confirms that this is exactly what MI5 agents do.  The notion that we ‘simply don’t do that sort of thing in this country’ has been comprehensively refuted, first by the existence of this policy and now by its affirmation by the British courts.