Site seers

18th September 1998 at 01:00
The Security Service (MI5).

Open government, most people agree, is a good thing, and recent efforts to throw light into the darker recesses of Whitehall must be applauded. But what's this - an MI5 Web site? An essentially secret service, baring its all to the world?

Well, yes and no. Once you get over the surprise of finding an MI5 site, the next most surprising thing is how ordinary it makes counter-espionage seem.

We learn that the starting salary of a spy - sorry, intelligence officer - is Pounds 16,024, and that an equal opportunities policy operates. There's a colour snap of the MI5 headquarters in London, and an upbeat introduction from Home Secretary Jack Straw.

But the "Information about the Security Service" section is intriguing. You sense the tension just beneath the surface of the terse prose. There's a history, facts and figures on staff and budgets, and long expositions on "The Nature of the Threat", and on methods of investigation.

Even the "Myths and Misunderstandings" section is deadpan, as in:

"Assassin-ation: The Service does not kill people or arrange their assassination." Where does all this leave James Bond?

Bill Hicks.

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