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Can you keep a secret?

Do you have what it takes to be a surveillance officer for MI5?

The Security Service (MI5) is one of the most important public services in the country, it’s the one that people know least about – other than the often inaccurate fictional accounts portrayed in films and on television. The role of MI5 is to protect the UK from threats to national security from terrorism, safeguard the country against espionage and the spread of weapons of mass destruction.


Collecting intelligence is at the heart of MI5’s work. It helps obtain detailed knowledge of target organisations, their key personalities, infrastructure, intentions, plans and capabilities. One of these methods is through surveillance. This work is carried out by highly skilled specialist surveillance officers, who may work in vehicles, on foot or from fixed positions and in close co-operation with others, particularly the police. 

Personal qualities

Working for M15 is unlike any other job in the country and requires special people who can handle the demands of working in a highly sensitive environment. You should have a good standard of physical fitness and stamina as well as the ability to remain completely alert during spells of inactivity and then be able to react quickly when it all starts happening. Outstanding communications skills are a must as are patience, honesty, discreation, the ability to make a balanced judgement and handle responsibility.

Recruitment and training

Opportunities at MI5 are varied. Surveillance is a specialist role for which full training is provided; you do not require previous experience. Training involves practical exercises such as driving, map reading and navigational skills, and continual assessments and feedback. Once you’ve passed the introductory course, that’s not the end of training as you will continue to learn and develop within the role, responding to the changing nature of the work you will be doing. After five to eight years it’s possible to become a team leader, while some officers specialise in particular areas of surveillance like photography or technical aspects.


Working in MI5 is a rewarding career where you will be part of a team who are all committed to making the UK a safer place. You will be supported through all your posts, receive a competitive salary and exceptional benefits package. 


 A day in the life of Priya, 28, Mobile Surveillance Officer for MI5

What’s life like?

Unlike the manner in which we are portrayed in films and on television, the role does not involve analysing huge amounts of data, being an expert in IT security, or speaking lots of foreign languages. My role involves working as part of a team, gathering intelligence on targets of national security importance. These targets are identified by Intelligence Officers, who drive forward the Service’s investigative work.   

Do you ever go undercover?

Being a Surveillance Officer is a bit like being an actress – you need to be able to blend in to the background, so you tend to adopt different personalities depending on where you’re going, whether it is to a bank, café or park. When you finish the job and go home you come out of character and go back to being your normal self again.

How does your family feel about your career?

My immediate family know who I work for, but it is tricky when other relatives or family friends ask – not even my close friends are aware. I try to stick to the same story using my previous background in IT as cover. What we do is very sensitive and I’ve signed the Official Secrets Act, so to protect our sources, operations and methods I can’t tell my family exactly what I do but they understand the importance of the role.

When we think of spies we think of dashing men…

About 40% of people in the office are female and 56% are under the age of 40. Women get to do exactly the same jobs as men. There aren’t really the suave, sophisticated ‘James Bond’ types wandering the corridors.

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