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Archive for Saturday, April 18, 2009

British spy agency searches for ‘Q’

April 18, 2009

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— He was James Bond’s go-to guy for inventions that included dagger-embedded shoes, radioactive lint and a deadly sofa that swallowed people.

Now, Britain’s domestic spy agency — MI5 — is hunting for its very own “Q,” of sorts.

MI6’s sister organization, which carries out surveillance on terror suspects inside Britain and gives security advice to the government, is searching for someone to lead its scientific work. Projects could include everything from developing counterterrorism technology to tackling a biological or chemical attack.

“Looking for a chief scientific adviser to lead and coordinate the scientific work of the security service so that the service continues to be supported by excellent science and technology advice,” MI5’s Web site ad reads.

Since the 2001 terror attacks in the United States and the suicide bombings in London in 2005, spy agencies around the world have raced to develop technological tools in the fight against terrorism.

Mobile phones equipped with sensors for detecting chemical, biological or radioactive agents are in the works. Others, such as supersensitive eavesdropping devices, will likely be rolled out for the 2012 Olympics in London.

The biggest fear, however, remains a chemical, biological or nuclear attack.

“Threat equals the capability of your enemy and their intention,” said a British government official who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of his work. “What we’ve seen over the years is terror cells transferring both knowledge and technology. The intention is limitless.”

MI5 has long had a roster of scientific staff tasked with developing high-tech gadgets, but an official said the service now wants a high-profile figure to lead pioneering work in technology and science.

The adviser’s work will focus chiefly on creating sophisticated new tools to help security service officers carry out surveillance and analysis work, said a government security official, who requested anonymity to discuss the work of MI5.

Recent court cases in Britain have detailed the heavy use by MI5 and police of audio and video bugs and e-mail intercepts to track conversations between suspects.

Security officials refuse to discuss what techniques MI5 uses, for fear of compromising their methods. But officers have been rumored to have other James Bond-style kits at their disposal, including chemicals which can be attached to a suspect and leave a trace wherever they go — similar to the radioactive lint supplied by Q to 007.

Candidates for the MI5 job need to be at least 18, British or naturalized citizens who have “world-class scientific expertise and credibility in relevant scientific and technology disciplines, outstanding influencing and communication skills, experience of building an effective network and of creating a high quality team.”

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