Take Instagram, a clearinghouse for vacation selfies, food pictures and airbrushed dispatches from your friendsâ lives. Now add MI5, Britainâs domestic intelligence agency, known for its spying and secret-keeping, performed â in the fog of popular imagination, anyway â by handsome, tuxedoed men who drink martinis.
A match made in influencer heaven?
MI5 officially joined Instagram on Thursday, making it the latest intelligence agency to try its hand at social media. The agency hopes its account, @Mi5official, will debunk myths about the art of spying, help explain the world of intelligence to the masses and highlight the agencyâs history, it said in a statement.
âWe must get past whatever martini-drinking stereotypes may be lingering,â Ken McCallum, MI5âs director general, wrote in a column in The Telegraph announcing the new Instagram account.
The agency hopes that its new âopen approachâ will attract a more diverse applicant pool by preventing people from ruling themselves out âbased on perceived barriers such as socioeconomic background, ethnicity, sexuality, gender, disability or which part of the country they happen to have been born in,â Mr. McCallum wrote.
(For the record: The martini reference in Mr. McCallumâs column is most likely a nod to James Bond, a fictional member of MI6, the British foreign intelligence service, who famously took his martinis âshaken, not stirred.â Purists will note that his drink of choice is actually a slight variation on the classic vodka martini.)
The agencyâs Instagram bio â where users who are not intelligence agencies typically list their location, hobbies, inspirational quotes, relationship status and more â simply says: âWe are MI5. We keep the UK safe from threats to national security.â
Its debut post was a photo of the âpodsâ at the entrance of the agencyâs London headquarters in Thames House. The off-kilter image drew confused comments from hundreds of Instagram followers. âCanât for the life of me work out the perspective on this pic but then again I did just wake up,â one wrote. âAnyway can I be a spy?â
âThe secret to successful spying? Consider all angles,â the caption under the photo reads. âItâll give you a better view.â
âBehind these pods lie some of the UKâs best kept secrets,â it coyly adds.
The agency also said it would provide âinteractive content,â including Q. and A. forums with intelligence officers.
In his Telegraph column, Mr. McCallum acknowledged the irony of an intelligence organization making its social media debut in the name of transparency. He said the move had become a âroutine step for most organizations, but more interesting when youâre in the business of keeping secrets.â
âOur operations, and the nature of the covert capabilities we build, will not become an open book,â he wrote. âBut we will become a more open and connected organization, constantly learning and finding new ways to tap into the diversity and creativity of U.K. life.â
MI5 is not the first government intelligence agency to make a foray into social media. The Government Communications Headquarters, another British intelligence and security organization, joined Instagram in 2018 to shed light on âthe life of an intelligence officer,â the organization said. It also has a Twitter account.
Since then, its feed has featured a mixture of unscrambling word puzzles, retweets from top intelligence officials and jokes.
âNo, we donât know where Tupac is,â the C.I.A. tweeted in 2014.
In 2016, the agency tweeted a real-time account of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden on its fifth anniversary. A spokesman for the agency told ABC at the time that the tweets were intended to âremember the day and honor all those who had a hand in this achievement.â However, the move was largely panned and left many questioning why an intelligence agency needed to have a social media presence at all.
The C.I.A.âs own Instagram account features lighthearted series including #humansofCIA, which spotlights employees. The agency, which did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Thursday, also recently rebranded its website with a starkly minimalist aesthetic.
Other intelligence agencies, including the F.B.I., which has Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Instagram and YouTube accounts, are active on social media.
Michael Landon-Murray, a professor at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs who has researched social media use by American intelligence agencies, said that social media had become a part of âimage and brand managementâ for intelligence agencies and âa box that needs to be checked.â
âA lot of what intelligence agencies do is kind of inherently ugly business,â he said. Social media can be a way for the organizations to demystify the public about their operations and âlook cool, look funny â in a sense, almost hoodwink the public,â he said.
Those who follow intelligence agencies on social media tend to be fully supportive of the agencies or antagonistic toward them, he said.
âI think that there are potentially helpful uses, and ultimately, I hope that if the public understands intelligence agencies better, that we can have better conversations about things like the efficacy of advanced interrogation techniques,â he said.
âIf itâs your thing, take a look at our Instagram page and follow us,â Mr. McCallum, the MI5 director general, wrote. âYou can insert your own joke about whether we will be following you.â
Originally posted on https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/23/world/europe/mi5-british-intelligence-instagram.html