Cambridge spook heads MI5

Adam Clark - Deputy News Editor 29 April 2013

Cambridge has returned to its place at the head of the UK spying business this week with the appointment of alumnus Andrew Parker as Director-General of MI5 last Monday.

Previously deputy director, Parker was in charge of MI5’s response to the London 7/7 terrorist attack, helping to disrupt major planned terrorist plots. He was promoted to deputy director in 2007 after his team helped foil a plot to explode liquid bombs on transatlantic airliners.

Having graduated in Natural Sciences from Churchill, Parke joined the intelligence services soon after and has worked there for over thirty years. He replaces Sir Jonathan Evans in the role.

Parker’s appointment has been much more public than that of his counterpart ‘C’, at MI6 – whose real identity as Sir John Sawers was revealed when his wife’s Facebook revealed private details about him. MI5 in contrast published a short biography of Mr. Parker, noting him as a keen ornithologist and wildlife photographer.

Speaking to The Cambridge Student, Professor Christopher Andrew, Emeritus Professor of Modern and Contemporary History at Cambridge, official MI5 historian and rumoured recruiter of MI5 agents at Cambridge said that counter-terrorism is likely to remain Parker’s top priority. The threat of homegrown and self-radicalised terrorists such as in the recent Boston bombing and previous plots in Toronto and Birmingham will likely be the main focus of counter-terrorism efforts.

Professor Andrew noted that while the media perception is often that if there are no terrorist attacks then the threat is hyped, the “general test of success of security services is things that don’t happen rather than things that do”.

Parker said that: “It is a great honour to be appointed Director General of MI5. I am extremely proud of the extraordinary work that the men and women of MI5 do to keep the country safe in challenging circumstances. I look forward to leading the Service through its next chapter.”

The appointment of a Cambridge graduate after the Bristol-educated Sir Jonathan Evans might raise the hopes of finalists without career plans that traditional ‘shoulder-tap’ recruitment might return to Cambridge. However MI5’s recruitment processes are less secretive than in the past – as adverts in TCS suggest.

Previous Cambridge recruitment to spy services has been a mixed bag. Professor Andrew noted Cambridge’s”cosmopolitan tradition of intelligence recruitment” in reference to the infamous Cambridge Five who passed information to the KGB during World War II and the Cold War.

It’s not all bad though – James Bond graduated from Cambridge with a first in Oriental languages!

Adam Clark – Deputy News Editor