There are many ways to recruit a spy. Certainly too many to cover in an article such as this. It really depends on who the particular intelligence agency is looking for, which organization, and what its objective is. It will come as no surprise that some methods are more or less well publicized than others. For SIS in particular, given that the organization did not officially exist until 1994, many of the methods used for recruitment are, for obvious reasons, still closely guarded secrets. Graduate recruitment is one thing, but developing a potential (currently operational) agent is another, especially if they are already in full time professional employment or indeed, working for another intelligence agency.
The PR stance at the moment may well be to promote a progressive, modern image, and in many ways it most definitely is. However, the traditional ‘tap on the shoulder’ approach was really symptomatic of a desire to retain control of the recruitment process. To that end, things have not really changed. SIS has, and always will be, more cautious about the ‘walk in’ candidate and will have entirely different, and more complex, processes in place to evaluate such a person. Furthermore, the complex recruitment cycle is now refined to the point where SIS can recruit individuals without them even knowing. Now that’s surely the recruiters’ holy grail. As with all things ‘intelligence’ orientated, there is a constant focus on resources and purchasing power. SIS needs to maximise the value of each pound spent and therefore, long and complex targeting of individuals used to gain information, has to be considered against the costs of recruiting those intelligence officers charged with interpreting that information. So, in essence, a balancing act in the same way as any other modern-day commercial organisation. Let’s not forget however, that despite the budget allocated by the Intelligence Committee and oversight of section 5, 6 and GCHQ, there are still relatively few intelligence officers out there. Especially in the ever-changing competitive world of private intelligence agencies and their corporate counterparts which compounds the problems caused by the brain drain and external temptations.
SIS Chief Alex Younger said in his speech at St Andrews that “If you think you can spot an MI6 officer, you are mistaken. It doesn’t matter where you are from. If you want to make a difference and you think you might have what it takes, then the chances are that you do have what it takes, and we hope you will step forward.” Clearly this is a nod to the future and the recognition that with Espionage 4.0 around the corner, intelligence agencies need to invest now and allow time for the training and development of new individuals. Individuals that could take two or more years to develop before assuming roles of increased responsibility and clout. This is the likely reason and not, as some cynics have suggested, merely PR propaganda developed for the benefit of our adversaries to suggest that UK intelligence is growing. The argument here being that even if the funds are not available, and even if the organisation is cutting costs, creating the illusion that the funds are there is just as effective.
So far the common denominator is money. Whether it is the level of funding, or the maximisation of value for each pound spent. Mr Younger’s comments clearly pushes ideology as a motivator and driver for potential candidates, and one can hardly blame him. Let’s face it, it would be hard for SIS to push the financial incentive when faced with free market competition. So, it is a given that the organisation has to, regardless of whether it is true or not, sell the notion of ‘making a difference’ as the key driver. So, enter the ‘buddhist spy’ i.e. someone who has forsaken all desires of financial or materialistic rewards in favour of….that little bit more. Here, the idea that freedom is power is never more true, but by god it’s a tough one to find, especially in the younger recruits. Money can never be the sole motivator in this profession, but the complexities of life, youth, character and practical issues, means it simply is important. One cannot really attribute this simply to youth either. Yes, the younger recruits may well be ambitious and dazzled at the prospect of financial reward, but then again so is the 42 year old married man with three children. So its not that. Indeed, the tap on the shoulder system which focussed on the Oxbridge folk probably worked largely because they were the elite and on the whole from upper middle class affluent backgrounds where they always has the family vault to nudge open in times of desperation. Ironically, this student and the buddhist spy are similar in that they are both free from financial pressures thereby making them more effective.
So, they key thread to pull from the above is that there is power to be had from the freedom of external influences. Without wanting to drift down the spiritual or philosophical road too much, a successful spy in todays world could be the one who can happily remove any influence, both positive or negative. In the case of the honey trap, it would be rendered useless if the person did not attribute so much influence to sex. In the case of financial reward, bribery or extortion, if one truly has zero desire for money then it is powerless. In the case of power itself, if one is sufficiently self confident to the point where the affirmation from power is not needed, then that too is rendered useless. So the buddhist spy almost becomes machine like. Perhaps this is another case for the advancement of the neurodiverse, or those people less emotionally driven to some extent, in favour of the ‘safety’ of the binary world. In essence, the buddhist spy is simply a person who cannot be bought, and therefore cannot be compromised. Could you be that person?