April 5, 2010:
For over a year now, MI5 (Britain's domestic intelligence agency) has been trying to improve the technical skills of its staff, especially when it comes to computer hardware and software. The agency is also in the process of expanding from 3,500 to 4,100 personnel. Noting that all the new hires were required to have good computer skills, MI5 decided to get rid of (by firing or retiring) the bottom few percent of personnel with the worst computer skills. The lack of such skills among these operatives has become more glaring of late. Some of the older lads, who didn't get into PCs and software much at all, are generally glad to go.
Last year, MI5 even took a chance and decided to recruit from the hacker community. They duly found about fifty suitable candidates. The new employees had to pass the screening process (background investigation and lengthy interviews), and sign the documents obliging them to comply with the Official Secrets Act (under pain of severe penalties). The latter item means they cannot discuss their new job with anyone outside of MI5 (and many inside MI5 who do not have a "need to know.")
MI5, like many corporations and intel agencies, have found that the largely self-taught recreational (and occasionally criminal) hackers have lots of useful skills that cannot be found in university trained software engineers. The MI5 hackers have quickly proved their worth, playing key roles in several counter-terrorism cases. One interesting aspect of all this is that most of the fifty new hires (or their families) were from Asia (mainly India, Pakistan and China).
There's another Asia angle. So far, 70 percent of the terrorist plots discovered in Britain have some connection to Pakistan based groups. This makes it easier for MI5. South Asian Islamic radicals tend to use the Internet for communication, and spreading their message of mayhem and murder. They are easy to track if you have people who know their way around the Internet.
About four percent of the British population is from South Asia, or is of South Asian ancestry. Half of those are from India, 36 percent from Pakistan, and most of the rest from Bangladesh. About half the South Asian population is Moslem. While Britain is the European nation most agreeable to assimilation, it is also, like other countries in the region, hostile to migrants. They are tolerated, not welcomed, as they are in the United States.
The Moslem South Asians who cling to their old culture, form a pool of supporters for Islamic radicalism and Islamic terrorists. In the past, European nations considered their unhappy migrants as a potential source of criminals. Now, some of those criminal minded foreigners are turning to Islamic terrorism. But the speed with which MI5 has identified Islamic terrorists, and police have arrested them (and courts have sent them away for life) has discouraged many Moslems from getting involved with Islamic radicalism. The new MI5 emphasis on Internet based information gathering also catches a lot of ordinary criminal activity, which is something MI5 also watches, especially if it has an overseas aspect.