UK spy agencies criticised for lack of black or Asian leaders

London: The UK’s intelligence agencies suffer from a lack of black and Asian staff in top posts, according to a report from the parliamentary intelligence and security committee published on Wednesday.

Neither MI6, which deals with overseas intelligence-gathering, nor MI5, had any people from a black, Asian or minority ethnic (BAME) background in the top posts in 2016-2017. The surveillance agency GCHQ was the only agency listed as having any staff at a senior level from a BAME background.

The spy agencies have over the last few years made a big play about the need for more diversity in recruitment. The head of MI6, Alex Younger, has said he wants a more diverse staff to be one of his legacies.

The report also found a lack of gender balance.

The report describes the lack of BAME staff in senior posts as “lamentable”. On lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, the report records 3 per cent of staff at MI6 choosing to declare themselves as LGBT, 4.4 per cent in MI5 and 1.3 per cent in GCHQ.

“It is not clear why the declaration rates for the agencies are lower for this group than for staff declaring as BAME,” the report says.

As well as the main spy agencies — MI6, MI5 and GCHQ — the report also covers the Ministry of Defence’s Defence Intelligence, the Home Office’s Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism and other intelligence organisations.

The chair of the committee, Dominic Grieve, said the intelligence agencies had made significant progress in recent years but there was still much to be done.

“At senior levels, in particular, the intelligence community is still not gender-balanced and does not fully reflect the ethnic make-up of modern Britain: whilst 31 per cent of the senior civil servants in MI5 are women, that figure is considerably lower [around 25 per cent] across the other agencies and rest of the intelligence community.

“There is a glaring lack of black, Asian and minority ethnic staff at senior civil service levels across the community: in 2016-2017, just one of the organisations overseen by the committee (GCHQ) had any staff at this level who declared as BAME.”

Work on the report began in December 2016.

Grieve complained about a lack of data, particularly in relation to recruitment. “To gain a clear understanding of diversity across the intelligence community, robust data is essential. Until an organisation knows where it stands and how it is performing, it cannot define and deliver progress,” he said.

“This means that no organisation’s commitment to diversity and inclusion can be taken seriously until it collects, scrutinises and is transparent with its workforce data and can measure its progress accordingly. Unfortunately the current data across the intelligence community is not sufficiently robust.”


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