10 Top Secrets Revealed on MI5's Instagram Account

MI5 finally joined Instagram in April 2021, a giant leap for a century-old British spy agency that didn’t even ‘officially’ exist until 1989. Here are 10 tantalizing secrets MI5’s social media account reveals about Britain’s spooks.

 

MI5 Thames House

All aboard!

MI5 operates its own spy train! It’s a three-mile-long railway for document delivery cars (no passengers, sadly). While most MI5 intel is electronic, the spy agency still delivers paper files to 45 'stations' in its Thames House HQ. The stops are named numerically, but staff would rather make them more spy friendly with names riffing on London’s underground Tube stations like Covert Garden and 00Seven Sisters.

 

Children write to MI5 asking about spying

Dear Spies…

Children often write to MI5 asking how they can become a spy. "The gadgets look really cool," one eight-year-old said approvingly, adding that his spy skills included swimming. Another, age 10, boasts about his long list of language skills which include German, Spanish, Chinese, and English… “obviously”.

10 Top Secrets Revealed on MI5's Instagram Account

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MI5 finally joined Instagram in April 2021, a giant leap for a century-old British spy agency that didn’t even ‘officially’ exist until 1989. Here are 10 tantalizing secrets MI5’s social media account reveals about Britain’s spooks.

 

MI5 Thames House

All aboard!

MI5 operates its own spy train! It’s a three-mile-long railway for document delivery cars (no passengers, sadly). While most MI5 intel is electronic, the spy agency still delivers paper files to 45 'stations' in its Thames House HQ. The stops are named numerically, but staff would rather make them more spy friendly with names riffing on London’s underground Tube stations like Covert Garden and 00Seven Sisters.

 

Children write to MI5 asking about spying

Dear Spies…

Children often write to MI5 asking how they can become a spy. "The gadgets look really cool," one eight-year-old said approvingly, adding that his spy skills included swimming. Another, age 10, boasts about his long list of language skills which include German, Spanish, Chinese, and English… “obviously”.

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MI5's spy pods at the Thames House entrance

Where’s the doorbell? 

Officers enter MI5's Thames House HQ - a historical building on London’s famous Thames River - via security pod’s that lead into a lobby lit by a skylight. Don’t even think about dropping by unannounced. There’s no doorbell or door knocker outside. We’re betting there are a few security cameras though.

MI5's library

What’s MI5’s reading?

MI5’s library has a nifty collection of spy books including studies of the Irish Republican Army, Middle East terrorist group Isis, and the Soviet KGB spy agency. What’s buried on the back shelves? SPYSCAPE spies books about the Cambridge Five, including British traitors Kim Philby and George Blake. There’s also Mole Hunt, Nigel West’s book about a Soviet Spy in MI5. No John le Carré, but we live in hope.

MI5 has a spy cinema club that meets after work

MI5 has a spy movie club

Can there be a better place to watch spy movies than inside MI5’s secret cinema? The Top Secret Cinema Club meets once a month after work. What’s on? Espionage thrillers, documentaries, and foreign-subtitled films for budding linguists. MI5 isn’t giving away titles names, but we'd expect Judi Dench’s Red Joan and Helen Mirron’s Eye in the Sky to be on the list.
 

MI5 museum

MI5 has its own ultra-cool spy museum

Britain’s spies have the ultimate collection of Q-style gadgets - including invisible ink! Locked away in a private MI5 spy museum, the collection also includes a confiscated Soviet radio transmitter (above), early MI5 cameras, medals, documents, and a matchbox used for secret writing. 

 

Spy pigeons carried messages in WWII

Spy pigeons received medals!

MI5 deployed spy pigeons in WWII under Operation Columbia. More than 16,000 trained pigeons flew to occupied Europe carrying capsules attached to their legs with pleas for intelligence. Only one in 10 birds flew back to England, but some of those carried back crucial information. Britain even awarded more than 30 pigeons the Dickin Medal for outstanding animal acts of bravery.

MI5 has an in-house band with 30 members

MI5 will rock you

More than 30 spies belong to MI5’s resident band, including double bass players and trumpeters. The musicians perform at UK intelligence events and charity fundraisers. Instagram followers have come up with a few suggestions for MI5’s playlist, including Escape by Rupert Holmes. ‘If you like Pina Coladas and getting caught in the rain…’


The Portland spy ring

MI5 still considers the Portland spy ring case to be one of its most important Cold War victories. Five spies - three living deep undercover in England for the KGB - were arrested after a surveillance operation. A suburban bungalow in London’s Ruislip neighborhood revealed a kitchen trap door leading to a cellar and a bathroom used as a photography dark room. An aerial in a loft transmitted intel to Moscow.

 

MI5 has had 20 offices around London at various points

MI5’s 20 offices included one not-so-secret HQ

In addition to MI5’s Thames House HQ in London, the spy agency has had around 20 offices since it was established in 1909 including Curzon Street House in central London near Hyde Park. The location of the office was supposed to be hush-hush, of course, but as one ex-spy recalls: “When you got off the bus in Park Lane the conductor would shout: ‘Curzon Street and MI5’... All of us would troop off looking somewhat embarrassed!’”

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