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Britain looks for new spy recruits

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Britain's spy masters have come out of the shadows and onto the airwaves as they hunt for new members, sending real-life 007s out on a recruiting drive.

At the top of the list of sought-after new spies are members of Britain's Muslim and Asian communities.

In the last six years, Britain's security services have sought to double their budget and their staff. So when the overseas agency MI6 goes on the hunt for new British spies, their head of recruitment had to admit their most famous fictional recruit, James Bond, is a slight hindrance.

"To be honest, I think sometimes we're hindered by it because I think it gives people a false impression of what working for the organisation is actually like," the unnamed recruitment head said.

"It does tend to turn out quite a lot of thrill-seekers and fantasists and we're really not interested in them."

Voices were disguised on the BBC's Radio 1, the model for the ABC's Triple J, and one of the most listened to stations in Britain.

It is all a very long way from the traditional method of recruitment - a tap on the shoulder from an Oxford don. Now Britain's domestic intelligence agency, MI5, chooses its agents and the radio station they spoke to with very deliberate intent.

Targeting recruits

The BBC's Asian Network is directly aimed at people from countries like India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, whether they were born in the UK or elsewhere.

Many in Britain's Asian community are Muslim and some feel unfairly targeted by the domestic spooks at MI5, but some of the agents who spoke to the BBC were Asian and were quick to say their community is not subject to unreasonable scrutiny.

"This is a country that has welcomed my family, born, raised here," one MI5 agent said.

"This is my country and I just want to work as hard as I can to ensure that it's safe."

"If you look at the bigger picture, I think this is not about spying on any one community," another agent said.

"It's about protecting people like yourself, others out there from threats, and there can be a number of many different types of threats."

MI5 is very worried about the links between Pakistan and the three bomb plots in Britain since July 2005, and that means it is crucial for them to recruit more south Asian agents.

But on the BBC's web pages and on its radio programs, there seems a great deal of scepticism about why these agencies were speaking now. And the security agencies could find that building trust is difficult.

Since 2005, thousands more people have been stopped and searched by uniformed police. The chance of being stopped has increased dramatically if you are not white and to date, none of the arrests under stop and search powers have led to a significant terrorism arrest. © 2007 Australian Broadcasting Corporation

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