Founded in 1909, SIS (or MI6) exists to protect the UK’s people, economy and interests from overseas threats. We help other countries with whom we share values of democracy, international law and universal human rights.
SIS has officers operating all around the world. We work closely with the other UK intelligence agencies - MI5 and GCHQ, and Government departments.
We work secretly overseas to gather intelligence from people and organisations. Our work is often referred to as 'espionage' or 'spying'. It has to be done in secret to protect our staff, our agents, our technology and ultimately the UK. 'Agents' are individuals who choose to help us collect intelligence.
We have three core areas of focus:
- Counter Terrorism – stopping terrorist attacks in the UK, against our interests overseas, and supporting our allies
- Disrupting Hostile State Activity – tackling threats from hostile and malign states, promoting the UK’s prosperity and influencing international affairs
- Cyber – promoting and defending the UK’s cyber realm and using our cyber expertise to reduce threats.
Our impact in these areas also reduces serious and organised crime, prevents the spread of nuclear and chemical weapons and upholds the international rule of law.
SIS is governed by British law and has independent oversight to balance the fundamental freedoms of our citizens with their right to be safe, secure and prosperous. Our checks and balances are among the most comprehensive and stringent in the world.
SIS is accountable to the government of the day, who set our priorities. The Prime Minister has overall responsibility for intelligence and security matters, however day-to-day ministerial responsibility for SIS lies with the Foreign Secretary.
Along with GCHQ and MI5, SIS is responsible for the majority of the UK's operational intelligence and security work.
The Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) assesses intelligence gathered by the agencies and presents it to ministers to enable informed policy-making.
There are several pieces of legislation that govern what we do.
- The Intelligence Services Act 1994 sets out SIS function as a foreign-focused intelligence agency.
- The Investigatory Powers Act 2016 provides a modernised framework for the use and oversight of investigatory powers by law enforcement and the security and intelligence agencies.
- The Human Rights Act 1998 protects citizens' rights under the European Convention on Human Rights.
Parliament and the Judiciary provide rigorous oversight of SIS and its operations.
- The Investigatory Powers Commissioner's Office (IPCO) oversees the use of the powers we employ to conduct our operations.
- The Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) is a judicial body which offers a route for redress for anyone who believes they have been the victim of unlawful action in our use of covert investigative techniques.
- The Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) provides oversight of our operations, policy, expenditure and administration to Parliament.
Leading the Secret Intelligence Service
Sir Alex Younger is the current Chief of SIS. Appointed by the Prime Minister in November 2014, Sir Alex is the sixteenth Chief. He is the only member of SIS who is named in public. He is commonly known as ‘C’ – and as is tradition, he only writes in green ink – even online.
Before joining SIS in 1991, Sir Alex served as an Officer in the British Army and studied Economics at St Andrew’s University. Since joining SIS, he has had a wide-ranging career in the UK and overseas, including leading counter-terrorism operations in the lead up to the London 2012 Olympic Games, and serving as the most senior SIS Officer in Afghanistan.
Sir Alex reports to the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and is a member of the National Security Council. His vision for SIS is to ensure we remain one of the most effective intelligence agencies in the world – underpinned by strong legal and ethical foundations – in line with the values of the UK.
A message from the Chief
"Our people are our strength, our most precious asset. They are what makes MI6 the world renowned institution it is. What we have in common is a determination to make a difference to the things that matter to our country; keeping our nation safe and prosperous. This is our shared purpose. But I want this shared purpose to be achieved by a workforce as diverse as the country it serves.
As you will expect, our mission is challenging and complex. Our aspiration is to create a workforce of individuals as unique as the challenges we face. We recognise that the more diverse the contribution, the better the solution and the greater the impact of our work. We need to harness the talent and diversity that Britain has to offer. It is our ability to do so that will give us the critical edge over our adversaries, both now and in the future."
Sir Alex Younger, 'C'.
As an equal opportunities employer, we recruit, train and promote based on merit. We value and encourage difference, including background, perspectives and working styles. We have various work streams to ensure we make the most of the huge range of skills our staff have, and we endeavour to accommodate personal circumstances. An increasing proportion of our workforce work part-time or flexibly (according to their preference).
We are determined to continue to create an inclusive and diverse organisation, representative of the country. So, if you are interested, or teetering on the edge of pressing that 'apply' button (maybe you think you aren’t ‘the right type’, don’t have the 'right' education or the ‘correct’ experience) we would urge you to apply. You might just find the career you’ve been looking for!
Our mission since 1909
Tackling the threats to our national security
The risks to UK security, as identified in the National Security Strategy, are becoming increasingly diverse. Past threats were more predictable, but today’s adversaries are constantly changing. So the ability to adapt and combine the UK’s collective security resources is paramount.
SIS plays a prominent role in supporting UK national security against three of the four highest priority risks – by countering international terrorism, combating weapons proliferation, supporting stability overseas and securing the UK's cyber advantage. As laid out in the Strategic Defence and Security Review, we focus on identifying risks and opportunities at the earliest possible stage, shaping developments and preventing threats from emerging.
"Intelligence work on its own can't stop every attack or prevent every evil. But it can shorten wars, and it can and does save lives." Sir Alex Younger, 'C'.
The UK Government is working to combat the international proliferation of Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Weapons (CBRN) and SIS plays a crucial role.
We obtain intelligence on malign states which aim to get hold of these weapons, disrupt their efforts and stop their proliferation.
Working with the UK’s other intelligence agencies and partners overseas, we also help to ensure UK weapons exports are rigorously controlled so they don’t get into the hands of terrorists or states.
Terrorist threats to the UK and its interests overseas could come from a number of terrorist organisations and their supporters, both inside and outside the UK. As these threats become more diverse and unpredictable, SIS plays an active role in reducing the risks to the UK.
The Strategic Defence and Security Review sets out the UK’s overall approach to counter terrorism. This focuses on gathering and assessing intelligence, investigations and disruption, preventing people from becoming terrorists, and protecting critical national infrastructure and public places. This is summed up in four stages – Prevent, Pursue, Protect and Prepare.
We detect and disrupt overseas terrorist threats to the UK and its interests, in partnership with the other UK agencies, close allies and partners. One of our main activities is recruiting agents who can provide key intelligence on terrorist plans and organisations. Working closely with the Security Service (MI5) we also disrupt threats in the UK, where the threat has an international angle.
The world increasingly interacts digitally through cyber space. Alongside the many benefits, it leaves individuals, organisations and governments open to cyber risks. These include the possibility of hostile cyber intrusions or attacks against the UK and the UK’s interests. The National Security Strategy identifies this as one of the four main areas of security risk to the UK.
Working as part of a cross-government effort, including GCHQ and it's National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), MI5 and law enforcement, SIS provides secret intelligence to help protect the UK from current and future cyber threats. These can come from a range of cyber actors, such as malign states, terrorists and/or criminals.
Instability and conflict overseas
We know that instability and conflict overseas can create weak governments and poor security – just the right environment for terrorists and organised crime groups to thrive. Terrorist groups increasingly recruit, plan and direct their global operations within conflict-affected states.
SIS works with our foreign partners and UK enforcement agencies to disrupt criminal activity. Through the work of our agents and allies, we provide intelligence to the UK Government and early warning indications of potentially hostile threats. The work we do, including the strategic insight and understanding we provide, informs policy and decision-making – often leading to early political intervention to prevent prolonged instability.