Difference Between MI5 and MI6

The term “intelligence agencies” stands for a government department that is responsible for the collection of information related to military or politics in support of national security. 


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When it comes to the UK, the MI5 and MI6 are both its intelligence agencies but they are different from each other because MI5 is the British security service whereas MI6 is the British foreign intelligence service. 

MI5 vs MI6 

The difference between MI5 and MI6 is that the latter combats with threats outside the UK while MI5 deals with threats inside the UK or it can be said that MI5 is the domestic intelligence. On the other hand, MI6 is foreign intelligence. Therefore, MI5 are meant to catch their spies whereas MI6 is known as our spies. 

MI5 vs MI6

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MI5 is derived from the Secret Service Bureau and completed 111 years in 2020. Its main motto is to keep the country safe in terms of national security.

The Agency executive Andrew Parker (2013-2020) was succeeded by Ken McCallum (Director General). It’s licensed to investigate any person or movement when it comes to an internal threat. 

MI6 is the foreign section of the Secret Service Bureau and completed 112 years in 2021. The target of MI6 is to work overseas to make the UK safer and more prosperous.

The Agency executive Alex Younger (2014-2020) was succeeded by Richard Moore (Chief). Most of the staff of Mi6 are based overseas and others work from MI6 headquarters in Vauxhall, London.

MI6 is authorized by senior government ministers and supervise by Parliament. 

Comparison Table

Parameters of ComparisonMI5MI6
FounderVernon KellH.H. Asquith
EstablishedOct1909July 1909
Headed byKen McCallumRichard Moore
HeadquarterThame House, LondonVauxhall Cross, London
Employees 4,400 people2,594 people (31 march 2016)

What is MI5? 

MI5(Military Intelligence, Section 5), which is formally known as the security service mainly deals with internal threats. It is directed by the Joint Intelligence Committee whose main priority is to conduct intelligence operations.  

MI5’s aim is to protect the UK as a whole against threats to national security.

MI5 counters terrorism (who use violence to publicize their causes), espionage (who seek UK information), cyber (number of hostile actors target the UK), and proliferation (develop weapons of mass destruction). 

It is headed by a Director General (DG) who is supported by the secretariat, internal security organization, information services branch, and legal advisory branch. It was founded by Captain Vernon Kell in October 1909.

He was the Major General at that time and played an important role at the start of World War I as he captured most of imperial Germany’s intelligence.  

Captain Vernon Kell was also known as “K”. As a result, whoever was appointed as the Director-General of MI5 was known as “K” until the 1940s. 

At the time of the First World War, MI5 was the fifth branch of the Directorate of Military Intelligence as the name suggests MI5(Military Intelligence, Section 5) of the war office.

At that time, a number of other “MI” branches existed within this directorate but were later discontinued except SIS(MI6). 

What is MI6? 

MI6(Military Intelligence, Section 6) is also commonly known as SIS (Secret Intelligence Service) mainly combats with external threats.

It is responsible to gather information related to intelligence outside the UK in terms of government security, foreign, defense, and economic policies. 

The main aims of MI6 are to counter-terrorism (stop terrorist attacks in the UK), disrupting hostile state activity (tackle threats from hostile states and promote UK’s prosperity), and cyber advantage (promote and defend the UK’s cyber realm and use the UK’s cyber to reduce threats).  

During the period of the 1930s to 40s, it was the most effective intelligence service in the world as it conducted espionage operations in Europe, Asia, and Latin America

MI6 is sometimes using the cover name Government Communication Bureau. The members of MI6 secretly work around the world to make Uk safe from external threats.

MI6 works with GCHQ, MI5, law enforcement, HM Armed Forces, and other international agencies.  

Sir Mansfield George Smith-Cumming was the first director of the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS).

At the time of war when there is a need to acquire more information about Germany’s new navy, the head of MI6 (SIS) Cumming was known as “C” which evolved into a code name because he used to sign correspondence with his initial C in green ink.

In contemporary, the head of MI6(SIS) is still referred to as “C”. 

Main Differences Between MI5 and MI6 

  1. The main objective of MI5 and MI6 is that the latter work overseas to help the UK to make it safer and prosperous whereas MI5 helps to keep the country safe. 
  2. When it comes to accountability, MI5 is responsible to the home secretary namely Priti Patel of the Home Department. On the other hand, MI6 is accountable to Dominic Raab who is the Foreign Secretary. 
  3. MI6’s activities mainly include several secret political exploit triumphs while MI5 is concerned with domestic or internal security. 
  4. At the time of the First World War Kell, or “K”, the head of MI5, and Cumming, or “C” both divided up their work. “K” had the responsibility to counter-espionage within the UK whereas “C” was responsible to gather intelligence overseas.   
  5. MI5 is formally known as the Secret Service and deals with internal matters. In contrast, MI6 is known as the Secret Intelligence Service and deals with external matters. 
Difference Between MI5 and MI6
  1. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/08850600701249758
  2. https://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=IFLpJ1byJisC&oi=fnd&pg=PT5&dq=MI6&ots=jXn0Z9ge3R&sig=q6Wm5SQ_7-n4rKX5n5MQ37wayjk
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