Former MI5 leader Rimington to discuss US-British intelligence relations


Stella Rimington

Elora Tocci | Staff Writer

Stella Rimington is former Director General of the British civilian intelligence agency MI5, but don’t call her James Bond.

Rimington, who will deliver the 10:45 a.m. lecture today in the Amphitheater, became the first female head of a British intelligence agency when she took the post in 1992. She started working for the agency in 1965 as a part-time clerk and typist and worked her way up through the ranks, serving in the main fields of MI5’s responsibilities — counter-subversion, counter-espionage and counter-terrorism.

In 1965, gender discrimination in MI5 was rampant, but Rimington said that by the time she became Director General, she was not treated differently by her colleagues or the government because of her gender. The media, however, were a different story.

“The idea of a woman heading a British intelligence service came as a shock — they apparently thought that a person in that job should be like James Bond, and they described me as ‘Housewife Superspy’ and set about investigating my life,” she said.

But Rimington continued to work unfazed and served as the Director General for four years. She was the first Director General whose name was publicly announced upon her appointment, and during her four years, she increased transparency of MI5 in the public eye.

Rimington said civilian intelligence services can be smaller and more focused than law enforcement agencies and can thus concentrate on the most severe threats to national security and develop a deep understanding about them. But she said civilian intelligence agencies require close contact with other areas of government and law enforcement so that appropriate action can be taken at the right time.

Her lecture, she hopes, will convey that American and British intelligence agencies work quite closely with each other.

“The British intelligence services regard U.S. intelligence as their oldest and closest partner, and I regard that partnership as vital in helping to tackle what will be difficult security problems in the future and in defending our freedoms,” she said.

After Rimington left MI5 in 1996, she began to write novels around the fictional intelligence agent protagonist Liz Carlyle.

“Liz Carlyle is in a sense the antithesis of James Bond,” she said.

Although she writes the novels strictly to entertain readers, Rimington said she has made Carlyle as realistic as possible.

“(Liz Carlyle) is sharp, intelligent, intuitive and totally non-macho,” Rimington said. “She is part of a team, not a one-man band, and the way she tackles the difficult investigations she conducts, developing the intelligence, analyzing it and acting on it, is as close to reality as I can get it.”