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Britain’s Other Secret Service: MI5 – 10 Interesting Facts and Figures About MI5 You Probably Didn’t Know

MI5 Headquarters – Thames House

Editor’s Note: This article was written by John Rabon and originally appeared on

MI5, otherwise known as The Security Service, is the domestic counterintelligence and security agency for the United Kingdom. While the Security Intelligence Service (otherwise known as MI6) focuses on foreign threats (and where the fictional James Bond works), MI5 focuses on threats within Britain. Though not as buried in secrecy as MI6, MI5 has its own interesting history and facts.


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The Secret Service

MI-5 formed in 1909 as the Secret Service Bureau. The first Director General was Major-General Sir Vernon Kell.

Early Mission

As the Secret Service Bureau, MI-5 wasn’t formed to just protect against domestic threats, but to gather intelligence on German Imperial activities. It’s worth noting that this directive occurred five years before World War I. While the SSB handled both foreign and domestic threats, Captain Mansfield Cumming successfully argued for a separation into two departments, leading to the split of the SSB in 1910 in the Security Service (MI5) and the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6).

The Cold War is Over?

Accusations of spying continue even today. In 2006, Russia claimed that Britain kept a listening device in a rock on a Moscow Street. The accusation turned out to be true. Meanwhile, MI5 estimates that Russia has as many spies in Britain today as it did at the height of the Cold War.

Setbacks During WWII

Despite the organization’s importance, WWII was one of MI5’s lowest points. The staff had been reduced to 30 operatives and 6 surveillance operatives. The Blitz ended up destroying most of the Security Service’s files and it had to leave its headquarters at Blenheim Palace. Despite all of this, as you can imagine, the Service’s workload increased during the war. Eventually, MI5 was given more resources to combat threats at home.

Not-So-Secret Spy

Michael Bettaney was an MI5 agents who apparently wasn’t so good at maintaining his secrecy. Recruited to the counter-espionage unit of MI5 in 1982, he was eventually convicted of passing sensitive documents to the Soviets in 1984. Besides his frequent boasting of working for “the other side”, he twice admitted to being a spy: once to avoid a ticket master at the station; and a second time to get out of being arrested for public drunkenness. He was arrested for treason when a MI6 agent working inside the Soviet embassy, Oleg Gordievsky, reported Bettaney to his superiors.

No License to Kill

MI5 has vehemently denied such a thing actually exists. Of course, if MI5 and MI6 agents killed as often as Bond, they wouldn’t be very good at staying secret.


Much like MI6, MI5 has made a transition from being a super-secret organization to being more open to the public. In 1989, the Security Service Act gave the Service legal standing within the government for the first time, but also forced it to become more accountable. The Security Service could no longer tap phones or install bugs without a warrant. In 1993, it published a book, aptly titled “The Security Service” described the six branches of the organization: counter-terrorism, counterespionage, counter-subversion, protective security, security intelligence, and record keeping.

Shifting Focus

With the Cold War winding down in the early 90s, MI5 went from catching Soviet spies to preventing terrorism at home, specifically acts of violence committed by the Irish Republican Army. The Metropolitan Police officially handed over the intelligence effort against Irish terrorism to the Security Service in 1992. In addition to preventing several bombings, MI5 was responsible for at least 21 successful prosecutions of Irish militants.

The “Military” in Military Intelligence?

Though MI5 began under the Directorate of Military Intelligence, in 1952, Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill transferred the Service over to the Home Office, under whose authority MI5 remains to this day.

America Isn’t the Only One Spying on Its People

In 2006, MP Norman Baker accused MI5 of “hoarding information on people who pose no danger to this country.” The accusations proved well-founded, and it came out that MI5 had secret files on 272,000 people. It also revealed a “traffic light” system governing the files: “Green” referring to active files (10% of the files), “Yellow” meaning “enquiries prohibited, further information may be added” (46%), and “Red” meaning “enquiries prohibited, substantial information may not be added” (44%).




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Real Life James Bonds: 10 Interesting Facts and Figures about MI6 – The British Foreign Intelligence Service


Editor’s Note: This article was originally written on by John Rabon and is being republished here.

“Bond. James Bond.” Though they may not refer to their agents as “00” anything, MI6, more officially known as the Secret Intelligence Service, is still a crack intelligence agency. MI6 actually stands for “Military Intelligence, Section 6” and is comparable to the C.I.A. in America. It’s sister organization, MI5 is the security service responsible for protection from domestic threats, much like the F.B.I. or Department of Homeland Security. Of course, any intelligence agency builds up its share of secrets and interesting facts over many years of service, and MI6 is no different.


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Wrong Letter

Though the head of MI6 in the James Bond films always uses the letter “M”, in the real world, the head of the service is actually referred to as “C”. This originated with the first leader of the organization, Sir Mansfield Cumming, who signed everything “C”. All subsequent heads of MI6 are also referred to as this, regardless of what his or her real name is. “C” always writes and signs every document in green ink.

Different Branches

At one point, there were 19 different Military Intelligence branches. MI1 handled the management of information, MI11 was responsible for codebreaking, MI2 for Russian and Scandinavian Intelligence, MI4 for aerial reconnaissance, and so on. Eventually, many of these branches were absorbed into MI5 or MI6.


MI6 Headquarters is in Vauxhall Cross, first seen as the home of MI6 for the Bond films in “The World Is Not Enough”. It was completed in 1994 and the price tag was rumoured at £130 million. Much of the building is underground to protect more sensitive materials and the layout is protected by the Official Secrets Act.

Out of the Shadows, Into the Light

MI6 was born as the Secret Service Bureau in 1909 and its existence was not fully disclosed until 1994.

Undisclosed Age

The official retirement age for senior MI6 staff is a secret. Only the Intelligence and Security Committee know what the age is.

Smiley’s People

John le Carre, the author responsible for “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” and “Smiley’s People” was himself a MI6 agent. “TTSS” is based on the infamous Cambridge Five: Guy Burgess, Donald Maclean, Anthony Blunt, John Cairncross, and Kim Philby, who were recruited as university students by the Soviets and became moles for the KGB. Le Carre changed his name from David John Moore Cornwell as agents aren’t allowed to publish under their own names. In addition to la Carre, author Graham Greene was also an MI6 agents. Ian Fleming was not with MI6 but with Naval Intelligence during the war which inspired his creation of James Bond.

Make Cupcakes, Not Bombs

MI6 agents hacked an Al-Qaeda online magazine and replaced instructions for bomb-making with cupcake recipes.

The Digital Age

Much like the CIA finally signing up with Twitter, MI6 has gone online with its own webpage. There visitors can learn about the history of the agency, search for jobs, and take a virtual tour of the organization.

Cool Gadgets

Super spy gadgets were a very real thing, though maybe not to the extent of having magnetic watches and grenade pens. Real spies used technology like cameras in matchboxes and brushes with secret compartments.


Social media nearly lost the current “C”, Sir John Sawers, his job when his wife posted a great deal of his family’s personal information to her Facebook profile. The information included the couple’s home address and the locations of their three children. Fortunately for him, the data was later removed.




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Jane Austen: 10 Facts and Figures about Jane Austen You Probably Didn’t Know


This article was originally published on our sister site on August 18th, 2014. It was originally written by John Rabon, an Anglotopia contributor. 


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Jane Austen

Jane Austen was an amazing writer and woman for her time. She penned a total of six novels, all of which are still studied in classrooms to this day. Her keen insights into social customs paint a picture of life in the Georgian era and all the delights and pratfalls that life entailed. While not a famous name in her own time, her works made her a literary celebrity in the 19th Century, a status she maintains today. Have a look below at some things you may now know about this great author.

Big Family

Jane was one of eight children in the Austen family and the youngest girl, though not the youngest child. Despite all her siblings being literary, Jane was the only one who became a published novelist. She honed her writing skills mostly as a way of entertaining her family members. Her father, George Austen, was a clergyman and her mother Cassandra was from a higher social class. Her mother actually experienced a social fall in marrying George, but it did nothing to dampen her spirits.

Young and Accomplished

By the age of 23, Jane had already completed original versions of Northanger Abbey, Sense and Sensibility, and Pride and Prejudice.


Many of Austen works reflect situations in her own life. When her father died, Jane, her mother, and her sister experienced a financial crisis similar to Sense and Sensibility. The family’s financial situation also led to a fall in Bath society. The novel Northanger Abbey portrays Bath society in a very positive light, but Persuasion, which was written after George Austen’s death, is very cynical, reflecting Austen’s attitude towards the socialites who shunned her.

Not a Fan

Mark Twain hated Austen’s works, once stating that that an ideal library is one “that does not contain a volume by Jane Austen. Even if it contains no other book.” Of course, this may have all been an attempt to troll fellow author and critic William Dean Howells, who was an ardent Austen fan.

Fan Nickname

Jane Austen’s fans refer to themselves either as Austenites or Janeites. is one of the foremost fan sites, and across the Atlantic Ocean, there’s the Jane Austen Society of North America. JASNA holds an annual meeting in the fall in Canada or the United States.

Modern Adaptations

Though there are many period film and television adaptations of all six of her novels, there are several modern adaptations as well, mostly of Pride and Prejudice. Helen Fielding’s novel Bridget Jones’s Diary and its three sequels are based on it, even going so far as cast Colin Firth as Darcy expy Mark Darcy in the films. YouTube also has its own adaptation in The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, a video diary web series that ran for 100 episodes from 2012 to 2013. The film Clueless with Alicia Silverstone is actually an adaptation of Emma as well.

Home School

While Jane’s brothers all attended Oxford University, Jane and her sister Cassandra were home schooled by their father and mother. Because of his education, George Austen also educated other boys in the area and some of them lived with the Austen family.


Of the four novels published during her lifetime, none bore her name. Sense and Sensibility bore the byline “By a Lady” and Pride and Prejudice simply stated that it was by “The Author of Sense and Sensibility”. Her father had tried to get Pride and Prejudice (then called “First Impressions”) and Northanger Abbey published, but there was no success until Sense and Sensibility was printed in 1811.

In the Navy

Her brothers Charles and Frank both served in the British Navy and were a source of information for her to write Persuasion and the character of naval officer Frederick Wentworth.

Kennedy Connection

Jane suffered from a mysterious disease that was never diagnosed accurately, starting around 1816 until her death in 1817. Today it is believed that she suffered from Addison’s Disease, a rare chronic endocrine disorder in which the adrenal glands do not produce sufficient steroid hormones that also affected President John F. Kennedy.


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10 Facts and Figures about the Classic Mini You Probably Didn’t know


Since our Mini shirt is so popular this week, we thought it would be fun to explore the history of the car. So, we did some digging and found 10 interesting facts and figures about this iconic British Car.

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1. The Classic Mini was one of the most popular cars every produced and a total of about 5,387,862 were built until it stopped production in the year 200. In 1961, the Morris Minor Mini became the first British car to sell more than 1,000,000 automobiles.

2. Due to the cars unique front wheel drive layout – with the engine sideways – allowed for 80% of the internal space of the car to be used for passengers, which explains how four people could fit relatively comfortably in a small space.

3. The Mini was not its original name and was originally built under two different brands at the British Motor Corporation. On introduction in August 1959 the Mini was marketed under the Austin and Morris names, as the Austin Seven and Morris Mini-Minor. The Austin Seven was renamed to Austin Mini in January 1962 and Mini became a marquee in its own right in 1969. In 1980 it once again became the Austin Mini and in 1988 the Rover Mini.

4. The designer of the car Sir Alec Issigonis hated the concept of windows that rolled up and down and demanded that the windows on the Mini slide open.

5. An original Mini could be bought for around $1000 in today’s money. A Mini these days costs substantially more!

6. Issigonis’ friend John Cooper, owner of the Cooper Car Company and designer and builder of Formula One and rally cars, saw the potential of the Mini for competition. Issigonis was initially reluctant to see the Mini in the role of a performance car, but after John Cooper appealed to BMC management, the two men collaborated to create the Mini Cooper. The Austin Mini Cooper and Morris Mini Cooper debuted in 1961. The Mini Cooper became a very successful car in its own right and many people think the Mini and the Mini Cooper are the same car.

7. Between 1960 and 1967, BMC exported approximately 10,000 left-hand drive BMC Minis to the United States. Sales were discontinued when stricter federal safety standards were imposed in 1968 and the arrival of the larger and more profitable Austin America. Mini sales fell in the 1967 calendar year and the U.S. importer was expecting the forthcoming Austin America to find a larger market. However, the America was also withdrawn in 1972 due to slow sales and the introduction of bumper height standards.

8. It was manufactured at the Longbridge and Cowley plants in England, the Victoria Park / Zetland British Motor Corporation (Australia) factory in Sydney, Australia, and later also in Spain (Authi), Belgium, Chile, Italy (Innocenti), Malta, Portugal, South Africa, Uruguay, Venezuela and Yugoslavia.

9. The Mini Mark I had three major UK updates – the Mark II, the Clubman and the Mark III. Within these was a series of variations, including an estate car, a pick-up truck, a van and the Mini Moke – a jeep-like buggy.

10. The legacy of the Mini endures. There are some 469 Mini clubs in the UK and at least another 260 world-wide. The car is continually voted one of the most favorite cars of all time and it was recently voted as Britain’s favorite car ever produced.



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