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British government to recruit new spies
Updated: 2004-02-23 09:11

MI5, Britain's intelligence service, is launching an extensive recruitment drive, aiming to grow by 50 per cent to fight the increased threat of terrorism.

Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott said on Sunday the new staff would be targeted at new areas in the world, moving the focus away from Cold War spying and towards the threat of al Qaeda.

"The Cold War is a very good example," Prescott told BBC television. "An awful lot of our spies might speak Russian but they are not so much for Arabic. What we have got now is a readjusting to a whole different circumstance."

According to a well-placed source, British Home Secretary David Blunkett will announce plans to recruit another 1,000 MI5 officers in a speech Wednesday to the House of Commons.

The announcement is set to be made in Parliament during a debate on terrorism laws introduced in Britain after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 on the United States.

The recruitment drive, which includes finding and training staff, will happen during the next few years -- with the aim of boosting the agency's capacity to collect, analyze and act on intelligence, and to effectively respond to intelligence received from around the world.

The increase is expected to bring MI5 back up to World War II staffing levels. MI5 employs about 1,900 people, with salaries starting at $37,500 a year.

The details of the positions have been posted on the agency's Web site.

MI5 has come under fire for failures in intelligence gathering.

A parliamentary committee recently said British intelligence made a "serious misjudgment" assessing the threat to British interests in Indonesia before the terrorist attack October 12, 2002 on a nightclub in Bali. The attack killed more than 190 people, including 24 Britons.

The report found that MI5 should have raised its assessment of the threat to British nationals and interests in Indonesia before the attack.

The panel recommended a review of the system as "a matter of urgency."

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