Difference between the MI5 and the MI6

By: | Updated: Dec-13, 2021
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The MI5 and the MI6 are very important military agencies responsible for protecting the UK against potential threats. There are several differences between these two agencies that this article seeks to highlight.

Summary Table

MI5 MI6
Also known as the Security Service Also known as the Secret Intelligence Service
By definition, focuses on domestic counter-intelligence operations, counter-terrorism, and espionage By definition, focuses on foreign or external threats
Accountable to the Home Secretary Answers to the Foreign Secretary
Headquartered in the Thames House in London Headquartered in Vauxhall Cross, Lonodon

Definitions

MI5 insignia
The MI5 insignia

The MI5, or Military Intelligence, Section 5, is the United Kingdom’s Security Service, forming part of the territory’s intelligence machinery. The main role of this organization is to conduct domestic counter-intelligence and security operations. MI5 works alongside GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters), Defence Intelligence, and the Secret Intelligence Service. Headed by the Joint Intelligence Committee, MI5 is tasked to protect and preserve British parliamentary democracy and its economic interests. In the UK civil service community, MI5 is also called Box 500, after its wartime address PO Box 500. The organization is currently located in Thames House, London and founded by Vernon Kell.

The MI5 is focused on several key responsibilities. Their top priority is to respond to both local and foreign terrorism. The organization reportedly spent 65% of its 2014 budget on foreign counter-terrorism while the rest of the budget was allocated on domestic terrorism and counter-espionage. It is also the MI5’s responsibility to respond to subversion and counter the production of WMD’s (or weapons of mass destruction).

MI6 insignia
The MI6 insignia

The MI6, otherwise known as the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), is Britain’s foreign intelligence agency. It stands for Military Intelligence, Section 6. Its head, the SIS chief, answers to the Foreign Secretary. The MI6’s existence was kept secret for 85 years until it was formally acknowledged by the British government in 1994. It is part of the United Kingdom’s intelligence machinery along with GCHQ, Defence Intelligence, and MI5. The SIS is currently headquartered in Vauxhall Cross, London.

Founded in 1909, MI6 was derived from the Secret Service Bureau. It was established as a means to control domestic and overseas covert intelligence operations. The bureau was divided into army and navy sections, which eventually concentrated on internal and foreign counter-espionage works, respectively. In 1916, the foreign section of the bureau was designated the Directorate of Military Intelligence Section 6. The first MI6 director was Captain Sir George Mansfield-Cumming. He usually signed letters by affixing the letter “C” in green ink. This practice was adopted by subsequent SIS directors when signing documents.

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MI5 vs MI6

So, what’s the difference between the MI5 and the MI6? The British Military Intelligence or MI used to be composed of numbered agencies that ran up to 19. During the post-World War II era, most of these agencies were consolidated into the MI5 and MI6.

MI5 stands for Military Intelligence, Section 5, and is the United Kingdom’s Security Service. It deals with gathering information and conducting operations domestically to protect the United Kingdom and its people against foreign threats or international terrorist activities. MI6 or Military Intelligence, Section 6, is otherwise known as the UK’s Secret Intelligence Service (SIS). This agency focuses on foreign or external threats. The MI6 is often described as the UK’s equivalent to the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency), whereas, MI5 is often compared to the NSA (National Security Agency) of the US. The MI5 is answerable to the Home Secretary of State, and the MI6 is to the Foreign Sectary.

The main difference between MI5 and MI6 is that the former is the British Security Service and the latter is known as the Secret Intelligence Service. The MI5 was formed in 1909 as a response to threats to national security and to protect against espionage and sabotage. In comparison, the MI6 was formed in 1919 to counter German intelligence activities. The main difference between these two agencies lies in their origin, history, operational roles, intelligence gathering methods, responsibilities and funding.

The history of both agencies begins with Edward Woodroffe Woodrow, a Conservative MP who initiated a bill for setting up an intelligence service for the UK. He later became Sir Robert Bruce Lockhart. The then British Prime Minister Herbert Asquith appointed Lockhart as Director of Naval Intelligence. However, due to several disagreements with him over funding of his agency, Lockhart resigned from his post in 1914.

Following this development, Admiral Reginald Hall became the first Director of Naval Intelligence. He then formed a small committee that recommended an expansion of his agency’s role. The committee also suggested that this expansion should be implemented through building up on existing institutions and structures within the country’s military establishment rather than establishing an entirely new agency within it.

The government agreed with the committee’s recommendations and the Naval Intelligence Division was formed in 1915. It was renamed as the Secret Service Bureau in 1916. This agency was later renamed as MI5 on 4 February 1920.

In 1918, William Melville wrote a report for the Cabinet about how the British intelligence services should be improved and expanded. This report proposed a restructuring of these services to include counter-espionage, counterespionage, internal security and counterespionage as its core functions. It also recommended that a separate service be created for counter-espionage activities. The Cabinet accepted these recommendations and it was also decided that this new service would be under control of the Foreign Office rather than being under the direct control of the War Office. In 1919, Reginald Hall became Director General of Security Intelligence Service (SOE). The Foreign Office then took over SOE and its operations were expanded in order to better meet new threats to national security arising from war with Germany and elsewhere in Europe during First World War.

As a result of this development, MI5 was given greater responsibilities for monitoring foreign espionage activities within Britain during Second World War and subsequently against possible threats arising from it after the war ended. It was also given the responsibility of handling the former intelligence services, including SOE and MI6. The Foreign Office and MI5 established a Joint Intelligence Committee in 1941 to deal with all intelligence-related matters.

How is MI5 different from MI6?

In order to explain how these two agencies differ from each other, it is important to highlight their origins, operational roles, intelligence gathering methods, responsibilities and funding. The MI5 has its origins with Admiral Reginald Hall’s Naval Intelligence Division that later became SOE during World War II. However, there are some key differences between these two agencies that will be highlighted below:

Origins

The main difference between these two agencies is that the MI5 was formed in 1909 to counter espionage and sabotage. The MI6 was formed in 1919 to counter German intelligence activities.

Operational roles

The MI5’s main role is to monitor potential threats and protect the UK against such threats through countering espionage and sabotage. In comparison, the MI6’s main role is to gather intelligence on foreign intelligence services operating within Britain and elsewhere in Europe. This includes the interception of radio signals and communication systems, the use of agents, spies and other covert operations against such agencies. It also includes gathering information on potential threats arising from their activities as well as undertaking research on potential military targets within Europe for possible future war preparations by Germany or other countries that may be hostile towards Britain.

Intelligence gathering methods

The MI5 has an extensive surveillance network throughout Britain that is tasked with monitoring potential threats against national security as well as political opponents of the government, people who are known to have communist sympathies or people who are active members of extremist groups such as far-right organizations or neo-Nazi groups. These networks are also tasked with identifying possible risks posed by former British intelligence officers working for foreign intelligence agencies operating within Britain and elsewhere in Europe during World War II.

The MI6 uses a similar surveillance network to the MI5 but it also uses agents, spies and other covert operations against foreign intelligence agencies operating within Britain and elsewhere in Europe, especially after the cold war. It also gathers information on potential threats arising from their activities as well as undertaking research on potential military targets within Europe for possible future war preparations by Germany or other countries that may be hostile towards Britain.

Responsibilities

The MI5 is responsible for protecting the UK against potential threats through countering espionage and sabotage. In comparison, the MI6 is responsible for gathering domestic intelligence on foreign intelligence services operating within Britain and elsewhere in Europe. This includes the interception of radio signals and communication systems, the use of agents, spies and other covert operations against such agencies. It also includes gathering information on potential threats arising from their activities as well as undertaking research on potential military targets within Europe for possible future war preparations by Germany or other countries that may be hostile towards Britain.

Funding

The MI5 receives funding from both HM Treasury and HM Home Office through HM Treasury’s Security Service account. In comparison, the MI6 receives funding from both HM Treasury and HM Home Office through HM Treasury’s Foreign Office account. However, it is important to note that the MI6 is not funded by HM Treasury.

Is James Bond MI5 or MI6?

Although MI5 and MI6 are both agencies, James Bond is the fictional character created by Ian Fleming. In his novels, James Bond is an agent of the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS). However, in real life, he is an agent of the MI6.

How does James Bond differ from his fictional counterpart?

In his books, James Bond has a background in military service. He has served as a Royal Navy officer and then worked for the SIS. This is why he was recruited by British intelligence services to become an agent. In real life, he was not a member of the military. He joined the SIS after he was released from prison in 1953. It was only after several years that he finally worked for MI6. Therefore, there are no official records that indicate that James Bond ever served in the military or joined any other agency. The difference between him and his fictional counterpart can be seen through their special skills and experiences they have with espionage and intelligence gathering operations abroad and also at home within Britain. While James Bond is often depicted as having combat skills similar to those of super-spies like Jason Bourne or Frank Church in American thrillers such as The Bourne Identity or Mission Impossible: Fallout, he is not depicted as having the same training and experience in combat as his fictional counterpart.

How realistic is the depiction of MI6 in films and TV series?

The portrayal of MI6 in films and TV series is also very realistic, such as Spooks on BBC. The agencies in the UK have always worked to keep their operations secret, even when they are at home. They would never risk being caught by enemies abroad if they were seen to be openly doing their jobs. The agency does not publish details of their budget, number of agents or their operational areas. This is why their depiction in films and TV series is so realistic.

Would the Director General of MI5 like to speak at my conference or event?

The Director General of MI5 is currently unable to accept any new speaking engagements.

Does MI5 carry out illegal surveillance or eavesdropping?

No. MI5 is not authorized to carry out illegal surveillance or eavesdropping. The agency can only carry out such activities if they have a court order. Such surveillance is allowed under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) 2000.

What are the biggest current threats to national security?

The biggest current threats to national security are international terrorism, cybercrime and espionage. International terrorism is the use of violence or the threat of violence to advance a political, religious or ideological cause. Cybercrime is the illegal use of computers and other digital devices to commit fraud, extortion, stalking or harassment. Espionage is the illegal collection of sensitive information on behalf of a foreign power.

What are some ways that intelligence agencies gather information?

There are several ways that intelligence agencies gather information. The most common way is through surveillance. Intelligence agencies often have staff in place who observe individuals and their activities, whether they are at home or abroad. This allows them to see what individuals do at work, where they go and with whom they associate with on a regular basis. They also have staff who watch public places such as airports and train stations for signs of suspicious activity that could indicate an imminent terrorist attack.

They also try to identify key people within terrorist groups so that they can monitor their communications and movements in order to disrupt their activities before they carry out attacks on UK soil. The second way that intelligence agencies gather information is through covert operations overseas. In these operations, intelligence agents can pose as members of the local population so that they can gather information on the activities of potential terrorists. They can also use surveillance to track and identify potential terrorists, even if they are in other countries. The third way that intelligence agencies gather information is through sharing information with other intelligence agencies in other countries. They can also do this with police and law enforcement agencies within the UK to ensure that there is a strong cross-border intelligence network in place to combat terrorism and cybercrime.

What is the current national threat level?

The current national threat level is “severe”. This means that an attack is considered to be highly likely. The national threat level was raised to “severe” in September 2014 following the Paris attacks. The UK is considered to be at risk of terrorism due to the nature of its terrorist attacks and previous attacks in other countries. However, it is important to note that the threat level does not indicate how likely an attack will occur. Therefore, although the current national threat level is severe, it does not mean that there will be a large-scale terrorist attack in the UK within the next few months or years.

Is there a National Security Council?

Yes, there is a National Security Council (NSC). The NSC was formed in 1973 by the British government to ensure that the UK has a single voice on national security issues and that there is consistency in decision-making. The NSC includes representatives from different agencies such as the Ministry of Defence, Home Office, Foreign Office, Treasury and Intelligence Services. It is chaired by the Prime Minister who appoints all members of the NSC.

How many staff does MI5 have?

The number of staff employed by MI5 is classified. However, some estimates put it at more than 30,000 people including support staff and contractors. This figure does not include staff employed by other agencies within the UK such as GCHQ or Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ). The most recent figures show that over 7,000 employees are currently working for MI5 on intelligence operations around the world. There are also more than 1,000 officers employed by police forces across England and Wales who work closely with MI5.

Does MI5 produce an annual report?

Yes, MI5 produces an annual report. The reports include the names of their agents and the work they do. They also detail the number of their agents and their sources in foreign countries.

Is MI5 the “secret police”?

MI5 is not the “secret police”. The government is responsible for law enforcement in the UK. The Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) is responsible for policing the entire UK, like FBI inthe USA. MI5 and MI6 are responsible for security and intelligence. Therefore, MI5 is responsible for gathering intelligence and then protecting it. They are also responsible for preventing espionage and counterespionage.

How does MI5 differ from the MPS?

MI5 has a different purpose than the MPS. The MPS was formed to handle law enforcement in the UK. However, MI5’s primary purpose is to carry out intelligence operations against foreign powers such as Russia, China, France, Germany and other countries around the world to prevent espionage and counterespionage operations by these countries on Britain. In contrast, the MPS was formed to protect the citizens of Britain from crimes such as murder, rape and other serious crimes that would harm them physically or emotionally. It does not have any responsibility for gathering intelligence against foreign countries or preventing espionage or counterespionage activities by foreign countries on Britain. Therefore, MI5 has a different mission than that of the MPS.

Does GCHQ work with MI5 and MI6?

GCHQ is the British government’s official signals intelligence agency. It is responsible for collecting and analyzing foreign signals intelligence, as well as providing signals intelligence services to other UK government agencies. The agency also provides security services to the UK government. MI5 and MI6 are the two agencies that work with GCHQ to carry out their own missions. However, they do not share information with GCHQ about their operations abroad or at home. In contrast, GCHQ has a direct line of communication with the US National Security Agency (NSA) in the US to share information about foreign signals intelligence with them. The NSA also shares information with GCHQ about other countries’ electronic communications, such as cell phone calls and email messages between citizens of these countries and Britain. This allows MI5 and MI6 to prevent espionage activities by foreign countries on Britain, as well as espionage activities by foreign governments on Britain.

What is the difference between all of the intelligence services; MI5, MI6 and GCHQ?

In the end, the purpose is the same to protect UK citizens from external threats and to support UK military operations abroad. However, the difference between all of the intelligence services is that they each carry out their missions in different ways. They are also responsible for different tasks.

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