Military Intelligence Section 5 (MI5): Background information when reading Sweet Tooth

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Sweet Tooth

A Novel

by Ian McEwan

Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan
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  • First Published:
    Nov 2012, 320 pages
    Paperback:
    Jul 2013, 400 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Norah Piehl

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About this Book

Beyond the Book:
Military Intelligence Section 5 (MI5)

Print Review

Just as the United States has separate bureaus for internal and international intelligence and security (the FBI and the CIA), so too does the United Kingdom. Serena Frome is recruited to be part of the Security Service, the internal counter-intelligence and security agency, more commonly known as MI5 (for Military Intelligence, Section 5). Its sister agency, responsible for international intelligence, is the Secret Intelligence Service. In the 1930s SIS adopted the title of MI6 as a "flag of convenience", becoming one of 17 British military intelligence units during WWII. Security Service CrestOther now defunct units included MI1 (code breaking), MI12 (censorship), and MI14 (Germany desk). MI6 fell out of official use years ago but many writers and journalists still use it when referring to SIS.

MI5 LogoIn Sweet Tooth, Serena and her MI5 colleagues spend a great deal of time investigating communism as well as terrorist threats posed by the Irish Republican Army. Today, according to its website, nearly 90% of MI5's work deals with counterterrorism efforts. In the decades since the setting of Sweet Tooth, MI5 and SIS's partner intelligence agency, the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), have gained additional prominence as a source for combating potential cyber terrorism. GCHQ was originally founded to intercept and decrypt signals and communications in the early twentieth century, Just like the United States' intelligence agencies, though, the UK's continue to evolve to address the ever-changing technologies and associated threats to national and international security.

Article by Norah Piehl

This article was originally published in November 2012, and has been updated for the July 2013 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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