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MI6: Spy force shrouded in mystery

The MI6 is the shadowy organisation responsible for Great Britain's foreign intelligence gathering.

Even its internal counterpart MI5 has a website, but MI6 -- officially known as the Secret Intelligence Service -- remains shrouded in mystery, answerable only to the Cabinet.

It was in 1909 that Britain's spying services split into internal and external departments with MI6 gaining its acronym -- standing for Military Intelligence, section six -- in 1911.

For most of its history MI6 has not officially existed but it was drawn into the state apparatus by former prime minister John Major under the Intelligence Services Act.

MI6 proved an effective force during World War I but was tarnished in World War II when two agents were abducted in Venlo in the Netherlands in 1939 and its covert operations in Nazi-held Germany were turned over to the newly -reated Special Operations Executive.

James Bond
Bond, James Bond, is the most famous, albeit fictional, MI6 employee  

It tends to be when things go wrong that the organisation enters public consciousness, most famously in 1963 when one of its star agents, Kim Philby, defected to the USSR and was later revealed as a KGB spy.

More recently, former agent Richard Tomlinson spent a year in jail after touting a book proposal in 1997 and he remains a thorn in its side with the service accusing him of posting a list of 116 alleged MI6 agents on the internet in 1999.



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