JAMES Bond fans have been left devastated by the news that No Time To Die, the latest instalment in the 007 franchise, has been pushed back yet again due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Movie lovers will have to wait until October to see Daniel Craig tackle death-defying stunts, take part in high-speed car chases and have a bevvy of beautiful women fall at his feet.
The upcoming James Bond movie has been pushed back again as a result of the pandemic[/caption]
But is life in the secret service REALLY as glamorous as the action-hero depicts?
Annie Machon, 52, worked as an intelligence officer at MI5 for six years during the 1990s.
She reveals she was more desk-bound than Bond – but the way she was recruited after graduating from Cambridge in 1989 aged 22 sounds like something straight out of Hollywood.
Annie told Fabulous: “I wanted to be a diplomat. I’d done the exams to enter the Foreign Office.
She sparked an international manhunt when her and her boyfriend David Shayler ran away[/caption]
“Then, I received a mysterious letter, seemingly from the Ministry of Defence, telling me there might be ‘other jobs that you would find more interesting.
“If you would like to find out more please call this number.’ My gut instinct was it was MI5. I was terrified but my dad persuaded me to go for it.”
Having signed up, Classics graduate Annie was subjected to a gruelling 10-month selection process designed to find out if she had the right temperament.
She said: “They look for people with good judgement, as you will be running operations; communication skills, as you have to brief government ministers, or recruit agents to crack open a terrorist cell; and more mundanely, good management and team-building skills.
Annie said you have to have ‘nerves of steel’ to make it as a spy[/caption]
“Most importantly, you have to be cool, calm and collected and have nerves of steel – you can potentially stop bombs going off and save lives.
“In the first three-hour interview they asked me about everything in my life from the age of 12 onwards.
“Then I did a two-day intensive process of tests and psychiatric evaluations. Once I passed that, I went up to be grilled by the Final Selection Board – the great and the good of Whitehall.”
Annie made the grade – but then began the vetting process, when she and eight close friends were grilled about her personal life – and sexuality.
In the first three-hour interview they asked me about everything in my life from the age of 12 onwards.Then I did a two-day intensive process of tests and psychiatric evaluations.
“A little old lady came to visit me in my family home, which is when I was asked if I was a lesbian or a communist.
“It was quite discomforting as she was old enough to be my grandmother! If I had been a lesbian, I wouldn’t have got the job.”
In 1994 MI5’s policy changed, and they are now rated as one of the top employers for LGBTQ people.
At the time, Annie explains there was no moral judgement – but she added: “The paranoia was if you were in the closet and you were caught, then you might be blackmailed, as had happened in the past.”
Annie says the money was below average for a graduate in the 1990s[/caption]
While we know James Bond is more than happy to sleep with the enemy should his country require it, Annie says she was never asked that particular question.
Back then, she says, it would have been MI6 who were looking for more “ethically flexible” people who would often work on their own in the field like Bond, while MI5 needed safe pairs of hands running ops in London.
“We certainly weren’t sleeping around!” she says.
While James Bond is always clad in designer suits, Annie says no one does it for the money.
‘The money was below average for a graduate’s starting salary in the 1990s. Around £14,500 per year. I do think it has improved slightly now though.”
Once she arrived at MI5, Annie was given two weeks to become “an expert” in her new role at F2 Branch.
Roles would rotate every two years and while each branch she worked in had a different focus, she says the “core activities” are the same.
Annie says she was allowed to tell a partner or best friend what she did for a living[/caption]
“As a general intelligence officer, it’s identifying the targets and co-ordinating the resources you have to investigate them,” she said.
In her first role, Annie was alarmed to discover she was investigating what the service called “subversive” British citizens for their acceptable democratic views.
She said: “I’d wanted to work on the Russian section, but instead worked on this small and dying section which had a fascination with left-wing politicians – most of whom then formed a government in 1997!”
After two years, Annie moved on to investigating Unionist and Republican terrorists in Northern Ireland in T Branch, and then international terrorism in G branch.
So what was it like spending her twenties working on top level operations – and not being able to tell anyone what she was doing?
She met her ex David while at the library during a quiet lunchbreak[/caption]
Annie revealed: “When we were recruited you were told you could tell your partner or best friend and that was it.
“But even then it was quite intimidating and you didn’t know what you could say. The cover is that you are working for the Ministry of Defence.
“Because of the vetting process, your friends know what you are up to but you can’t talk about it so you become distanced quite quickly. They’re gossiping about what they did at work and you can’t.”
In such a high-pressure job, it might be easy to turn to drink or drugs, but although there was one famous case in the 80s of an officer with PTSD going rogue, she wasn’t aware of anyone struggling when she was at MI5 – picked as they were to withstand extreme pressure.
But when mistakes were made, as inevitably happened occasionally, some senior management would protect staff but others would “point fingers”. Annie says, “The motto of MI5 is Regnum Defende [Defend the Realm] but we used to call it Rectum Defende.”
There were always scandals, married people getting up to naughties, but it was kept internal. It was frowned upon again not because of the moral issue but because it made them vulnerable to blackmail.
When it came to relationships, love affairs between single spies were “tacitly encouraged”.
Annie said: “You start socialising much more inside the office – it’s a friendly, collegiate atmosphere – and then of course that would lead to relationships with your colleagues.”
That wasn’t viewed as a problem by bosses unless one of the parties was married.
She added: “There were always scandals, married people getting up to naughties, but it was kept internal. It was frowned upon again not because of the moral issue but because it made them vulnerable to blackmail.”
In fact, it was at MI5 that Annie met her ex, David Shayler, a relationship that would eventually result in them both going on the run from their own employers after whistleblowing on alleged illegal activities and MI5 errors.
The couple went on the run in 1997[/caption]
“I met him in the library at F2 branch at lunchtime,” she says. “Then we both ended up working at T and G branch.”
“We’d been told we were the new generation of intelligence officers but that created a culture clash with the Cold War old guard. It wasn’t just me and David who got concerned but most of our peers.”
The pair resigned from the service in 1996 and went on the run in 1997, aiming to create “a bit of a scandal” and hoping the issues David was planning to leak to newspapers, such as phone tapping high-profile journalists and also an attempted assassination plot on Libya’s Colonel Gaddafi, would prompt an inquiry.
She recalled: “David kept me out of the details, but told me to pack for just three or four weeks. We fled to Holland and floated around smaller towns for a week and David started to do interviews.
“We knew MI5 was hot on our trail, so we took the train from the Hague to Paris and then Bayonne in one day. We kept moving, in disguise, using cash, not pre-booking hotels.”
Annie has written about her career as a spy in the book Spies, Lies & Whistleblowers[/caption]
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Her family frantic, Annie went back after a month knowing she’d be arrested, but she was never charged.
She packed up her and David’s flat and was given a secret rendezvous to meet David in rural France.
Instead of four weeks, the pair ended up staying there for three years – all the time suspecting their phones were being bugged and emails read.
“We were high-level targets,” she says. “It was debilitating.”
It’s a very important job and people do really important work and I would never discourage anyone from joining. Being a spy was a memorable and life-changing experience
Eventually, they returned after Annie nearly died from bacterial meningitis.
David stood trial and was imprisoned for six months and the pair split in 2006. “He lived through seven years of it, and was held in high-security Belmarsh Prison. It was inhumane and had an impact, and sadly he did change.”
Now, nearly 25 years on, how does Annie, a director of the World Ethical Data Foundation, feel looking back on that period?
She said: “It was a big loss not just of work but of our social circle, but we had factored that in and did it anyway. I learned a lot from it too. I had to know the law and the case – I was fighting for someone I loved, and it was intense.”
What would she say now to anyone wanting to join MI5? Despite what happened, Annie said: “It’s a very important job and people do really important work and I would never discourage anyone from joining. Being a spy was a memorable and life-changing experience.”
The WEDF are holding a digital event from March 15-17. See worldethicaldataforum.org for more details
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