Out of the cold, on to the web

The spies are coming out of the cold, or at least emerging from the shadows. This weekend MI5 has published for the first time photographs of the 15 director-generals who have led Britain's domestic intelligence service.

From its foundation early last century to fight the growing threat from Germany, the identity of the head of the security service was a secret.

The decision to show images of previous MI5 chiefs marks the latest shift to present a much more open image of the security services that has seen much of its traditional secrecy eroded over the past decade.

Between 1909, when the security service was founded, and 1993, the Prime Minister appointed the director-generals in secret and their names and roles were not even disclosed to the general public.

In fact, it was not until the end of the 1980s that the government admitted the service's existence. MI5 has recruited openly through newspaper advertisements since 1997 and has had an internet website since 2000.

Twelve years ago the Conservative government decided to usher in a new era of openness by publicly naming the newly appointed director-general, Dame Stella Rimington, who has since published a book about her time at MI5.

The first photograph put up on the website is of the original director-general Captain Vernon Kell who co-founded the Secret Service Bureau, the first incarnation of MI5. He successfully masterminded the dismantling of the German spy network in the UK on the outbreak of the First World War and remained MI5 boss until the early part of the Second World War.

Also photographed for the first time is Sir David Petrie who was boss of MI5 between 1941 and 1946, overseeing one of the busiest periods in the service's history, during which the service carried out many successful intelligence operations against Germany.

MI5's website also shows a picture of Sir Roger Hollis who was appointed director-general for nine years from 1956. In 1981 he was at the centre of controversy after allegations were published claiming Hollis had been a Soviet secret agent. These were eventually found to be groundless.

The website also offers a full profile of current director-general Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller.

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