What is "MI7"?
"You honestly believe there is an MI5 and an MI6 any more? Really? Even today? Think about that for a moment. Think about the idea that 'foreign' and 'domestic' affairs can actually be separated in the age of globalisation and the internet. And be reasonable!"
Of course, "MI7" as described on this website is (probably!) a fiction, although the common sense observation above suggests such a merger might just make sense. Yet there really was an MI7 at one time in British history, at detailed, for those who are interested, here on Wikipedia. It came into being, in 1916, out of an organisation set up a year earlier, called MO7. Its purposes were censorship, propaganda and translation. Literary activities, in other words!
The organisation in which Ruby Parker and John Mordred work is completely unrelated to that, and it is also unrelated to other fictional uses of the term (also detailed by Wikipedia). Its best characterisation is provided by Ruby Parker in Chapter 6 of The Kramski Case, when she is trying to persuade Sergei Orlov, David Bronstein and Jonathan Hartley-Brown to join.
“The reason you’re incredulous,” she went on, “is because you haven’t the faintest conception of how MI5, MI6 and the FBI and CIA now work. Which is very good news for us, very bad news for the Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki, not to mention the Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure and the Bundesnachrichtendienst. We’ve managed to keep our rivals in the dark for over a decade.”
“Bravo,” Bronstein said. “Now maybe you could fill us in on what the hell you’re talking about.” He folded his hands together. “No disrespect.”
She sat down. “I won’t bore you with the details. There is no MI5. Not any more. It merged with MI6 nearly a decade ago to create MI7, the result of an initiative to bring intelligence – in the cybernetic sense of the word – into Intelligence. We continue in public under the MI5, MI6 designation for obvious reasons. And because people seem to like it.”
“Right,” Bronstein said.
She chuckled. “We’ve had effective departments of spies in this country since Francis Walsingham in the sixteenth century, Lieutenant Bronstein. The author of Robinson Crusoe was a spy. There was nothing special about MI5 or MI6.”
“So in what way is MI7 different?” Hartley-Brown said.
“Instead of a bipartite division we now have a number of ‘levels’, physical and conceptual, run by different colour ‘Maidens’. Five of us. The White Maiden operates on the old MI5 and 6 remit, defending the realm, narrowly conceived. Beneath her, the Red, the Blue, the Grey, the Black. The latter works alone at a depth of two miles, one and three quarter miles beneath where you’re sitting.”
Bronstein blinked several times in quick succession, then drew back his head and grinned. “Five maidens, no misters. My kind of town.”
“Maiden is a formal designation. It doesn’t specify the gender of the role’s occupant.”
“And you all work together, yeah?”
“On the contrary.”
Bronstein looked as if he was about to burst out laughing. “No?”
“The idea is that providing every individual does his or her job conscientiously, and every department sticks to its brief, the behaviour of the whole is more rapid and rational than anything the previous pyramidal model could hope to offer. ‘Intelligence must be intelligent’.”
“A bit like a beehive,” Hartley-Brown said, diplomatically, though his head was spinning just as much as he knew Bronstein’s was.
“Each of us knows the brief of those above her,” Ruby Parker continued, tapping a small tub of flakes delicately over the fish tank and watching as a group of Gouramis came to feed, “although not what steps she’s taking to fulfil it. More, she’s authorised to facilitate or to sabotage her projects depending on whether she chances to discover them. But none knows the brief of those below. We make our guesses naturally – I happen to think the Blue Maiden has a more military remit than I do, for example - but precise knowledge isn’t possible, even if it were desirable. MI7 today is a different animal to MI7 in say 2000 or 2005, and it’ll be different again in 2020. And no one can predict how.”
Bronstein was still grinning. “So you’re actually authorised to sabotage operations carried out by your own organisation?”
“If we discover and disapprove of them, yes.”
“It’s original, I’ll give you that.”
“It’s how intelligent systems sometimes work, Lieutenant Bronstein.”
Orlov looked at her. “What’s your brief?”
“I can’t tell you everything. Very roughly, the Red Maiden exists to disrupt despotic and protect democratic regimes.”
“And who defines democratic?”
“We all do. Everyone.”
Hartley-Brown raised his eyebrows. “But what if we all decide that democracy involves getting the trains to run on time or killing all the Jews?”
“Then we define it as the separation of the powers, Mr Hartley-Brown, or as universal suffrage or Mill’s Harm Principle. We may think we need a definition when we’re having a discussion like this, but in practice it’s nearly always unnecessary.”
- 82 -
Of course, if all this sounds to good to be true, that's because it is. In subsequent novels - particularly The New Europeans and Little War in London - we learn that the various departments don't work together as smoothly as the theory suggests they should. In fact, sometimes, they are actively at each other's throats. Red continually has to defend its corner, and sometimes its very existence. Does this make the whole thing implausible? Definitely not. Arguably, it's a lot like most people's jobs. In any case, it certainly gives the well-worn figure of the "mole" a little more scope for creativity ...
The photographs on this page (excluding the background) are alternate pictures of Thames House and the SIS Building. All © J. J. Ward, 2017.