While its top three intelligence agencies (MI5, MI6, and GCHQ) have impressive intelligence gathering skills, a new report from Britain's Intelligence and Security Committee complains that their analytical capability is insufficient.
This speaks to an organizational difference between the U.S. intelligence community and that of Britain.
Where the U.S. counterparts of MI5 (the FBI (albeit a law enforcement agency), the CIA (MI6 equivalent), and the NSA (GCHQ equivalent)) collect intelligence in a similar manner to Britain, they also retain large analytical divisions to assess and report on the value and meaning of collected intelligence.
Conversely, while MI6 has a limited "R" (for reporting) cadre focused on analysis, its "P" (for production) stations involved in intelligence collection remain the agency's focus. The ISC notes a senior intelligence official who argues that "[British services] need to introduce… more of the qualitative side… we need to [evolve] the process so that we can also look at the extent to which… it is not just about volume; it is about quality."
This is a long overdue challenge which, as Philip Davies has explained, should have been resolved in the aftermath of the 2003 Iraq War.
More positive is a recent MI6 organizational change. Describing this development, the ISC notes that MI6 operations are now conducted under four assistant directors. One director is responsible for counter-terrorism, one for strategic advantage (collecting intelligence abroad), one for cyber-warfare and [redacted], and one for a specific [redacted] geographic concern.
Asked by the ISC why the fourth directorship had a specific geographic concern, MI6's chief responded that "The importance of the high-level contacts and relationships we have there… need… to be considered at the strategic level… I did need strong geographic focus at that level when it came to the Middle East."
I would assume that this means MI6 has a director tasking for either Israel, Jordan, or Saudi Arabia. All three of those nations retain very close and beneficial intelligence relationships with the U.K.
What else does the report tell us about Britain's spy infrastructure?
At a more amusing level, a clearly aggravated ISC makes a not so subtle reference to MI6's decision to move some of its operations to another government building in London. The report hints that this building is either MI5's headquarters at Thames House or the Metropolitan Police's counter-terrorism headquarters at New Scotland Yard.
But while MI6 claims this move is an efficiency and integration opportunity, the ISC says MI6 simply sent a lot of their administrative staff out of its headquarters at Vauxhall Cross! Spies, it seems, don't like the paper pushers. The ISC also reports on another very British problem: GCHQ lacks sufficient building space and car parking.
A more serious takeaway from the report, however, is that Britain's intelligence community continues to lack diversity in its workforce. That's a problem not for reasons of political correctness, but rather because white people aren't terribly predisposed to be able to wander around Karachi or Baghdad or Beijing without being noticed. Where the U.S. intelligence community workforce averaged a 25 percent minority rate in 2016, the U.K. minority rates were as follows:
MI5: 8.2 percent non-senior ranks and 0 percent senior ranks.
MI6: 6 percent non-senior ranks and 0 percent senior ranks.
GCHQ: 3 percent non-senior ranks and 2 percent senior ranks.
Ultimately, though, the British intelligence community is in good shape. Its officers are skilled, committed and savvy, and allow their nation to influence and punch effectively on the international stage.