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An Ex-MI5 Agent Says the UK's Secret Service Considered 'Blacking Up' to Infiltrate Mosques

The best of the best are smearing themselves in facepaint for a training exercise.

by Joel Golby
Jul 16 2015, 4:00pm

This is where spies live. Photo via

This article originally appeared on VICE UK

It's always fun when an ex-spy breaks cover and tells us spy things, isn't it? Such fun. Laser pens! Derring-do! Covert operations! Boat chases! If you did not dream of being a spy as a child, you did not truly have a childhood. If you have not spent a breaktime secretly pursuing one of your friends and speaking covertly into the lapel of your winter coat, you have not truly lived. Spies are just so fucking cool. Oh, no, wait, hang on—

An ex-spy says MI5 has so few Muslim officers that it considered 'blacking up' agents


The Independent, today, July 16, the Year of Our Lord 2015

Ah, no, that's a shame: says here the UK's spies are actually gigantic morons, whirling their arms blindly into a cocktail waiter at the swanky party, getting Martini all down their tuxedo, asking someone to remind them of the rules at a poker game, thinking brownface is a legitimate and subtle method of subterfuge. That is a shame. That truly makes me worry for the security of, like, the entire UK, and each and every one of us, and just suddenly very aware of the general concept and threat of terror, seeing as our main defense against it thinks that the best way of solving the sticky problem of infiltrating suspected Islamic terror units in the UK is with bad fancy dress. Our main defense against terror is literally a scene from Team America: World Police. Our main defense against terror watched Sean Connery in You Only Live Twice and went: yeah, cool, nice idea, good.

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Anyway the grass responsible for telling us all this is "Robert Acott," the codename of a former MI5 operative who spoke to Newsnight indicting the service after being drummed out following a breakdown.

Other highlights from the interview include him being sad when IRA suspect Dermot O'Neill was shot because he dressed fancy ("I actually felt a bit sad for him. Even though he was a terrorist—he had a lock up in Hornsey with four crate bombs, Kalashnikovs, pistols... but other than that, he was a normal bloke. He was quite fashion conscious. Always had Levi 501 jeans.") and that Abu Qatada's codename was "Dinosaur Egg," but the main bit was how higher ups at the Service intended to deal with the pesky lack of diversity in the force fucking up their attempts to infiltrate UK mosques post-9/11.

"We weren't used to dealing with the way they acted," Acott told Newsnight. "The good thing about following Irish targets was that they would meet in places like pubs, which you could go into. The Islamic targets would meet either round each other's houses or in mosques or whatever. You can't get away with going in there. And also they would live in mostly ethnic areas. Quite often you would find the only white people in the streets were surveillance officers."

How would you deal with that situation? If you said "send a spy intern down to Circus Circus in London Bridge with a pocketful of petty cash and the instruction 'get some of that brown face paint and some plastic pirate scimitars'": congratulations, you just passed spy school. Because that's what happened. With, as Acott estimated, there only being literally one Muslim surveillance officer on the force, one MI5 team leader suggested—and actually tried out, on a training exercise—blacking up as a method of infiltration. Just imagining a load of MI5 opps playing paintball in blackface. Tea towel turbans. Extremely problematic throat singing. Someone gets paint in the eyes and needs to go to the hospital.

Anyway, in short: Rachel Dolezal wasn't some cartoonish privilege-as-a-person strawman, she was actually the inspiration for some of the most sophisticated counter-terrorism operations of modern times. Further: the UK is doomed, our spies are shit.

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