British spies have given a rare insight into the devastation and anger in the intelligence community following terrorist attacks. Officers from MI5, GCHQ and MI6 described the impact that atrocities have on them and their colleagues.
In the first joint interview with staff from all three UK intelligence agencies, they also gave their views on depictions of their profession, explaining that most of their work is a far cry from James Bond, Killing Eve and Bodyguard.
The UK’s security services came under immense pressure last year as the country was hit by five attacks in less than six months. We’ve been trained to deal with these things but you channel your energy into seeing what else you can do, how you can support your colleagues progress your investigations, but it’s a tough time when that happens
“Jo”, an MI5 officer, described the aftermath of such incidents as “truly awful”.
She said: “We’re devastated when something like that happens, and you get a real awful sinking feeling.
“We wouldn’t be human if individually we didn’t think, ‘what else could we have done here?’.
“You turn it around. We’ve been trained to deal with these things but you channel your energy into seeing what else you can do, how you can support your colleagues progress your investigations, but it’s a tough time when that happens, no doubt about it.
“We know that we will not stop every attack from happening. We know that’s the case, as much as we try we know that the reality is that we cannot stop everything from happening.”
“Dia”, who works for GCHQ, said: “There’s a lot of anger around when that happens and people channel that anger, they get together and they put all their efforts into trying to address what’s happened and trying to solve and actually go after those who’ve done it.”
MI6 officer “Kate” said: “When bad things happen, we take it so seriously… we get to go to work the next day or sooner, probably, and try and work out how to never let that happen again, and to find out about the people that did it and catch them.”
While five attacks occurred last year, police and security agencies have thwarted 17 plots since March 2017. Dia said: “It’s really important to acknowledge how many we have ended up stopping and how many people we have protected.”
Meanwhile, the portrayal of spies in TV and film can be “completely ridiculous”, according to the officers.