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‘Jayshree’, British spy, gives rare interview to BBC

By Prasun Sonwalkar, IANS

London : Listeners of the BBC Asian Network woke up Monday morning to get a rare peek at the work of Asian agents working for British intelligence agencies currently grappling with several threats to security.

After the Sep 11 and the July 7 London bombings, MI5 and MI6, the intelligence agencies, went on an overdrive to recruit from the Asian community. But members of the Asian community have not been very keen to join them.

For the first time in the 98-year history of the organisations, two Asian MI5 agents were permitted to talk about their work in interviews to the BBC in a bid to increase recruitment from among Britain’s ethnic minorities.

They told the Asian Network their job was to protect Britain, not target Muslims. The first of the series of interviews was broadcast at 6 a.m. Monday. In the MI5 — the domestic intelligence service — Asians currently constitute 6.5 percent of the staff.

Keen to improve relations with Muslim communities, MI5 has a target of increasing its current 3,000 staff to 4,000 by 2011 to help track the 2,000 individuals currently believed to pose a threat to national security

The BBC said that a male agent, who called himself Shazad, and a female agent, named Jayshree, talked about life inside MI5. The officers discussed the challenges of leading double lives.

“When out with friends or relations I tend to be quite vague about my work — I don’t want the unnecessary attention,” said Jayshree, who analyses intelligence from a variety of sources, including overseas.

She added that her parents knew about her role, but were “not as excited or interested” as she thought they would be.

“To the point that once my father said ‘What’s there to get excited about? You work for MFI’, and I had to remind him that I don’t work for a furniture store, I work for the security services.” MFI is a prominent British furniture store.

They said they did not feel any conflict as British Asians in their security roles because their work at MI5 was not about targeting communities, but instead about tracking individuals.

Shazad said: “If you look at the bigger picture, I think you realise this isn’t about spying on your own community, or letting your own community down, or any of those things.

“It is about protecting people like yourself — others out there — from threats, and there can be a number of different kinds of threats.”

Meanwhile, Yasmin, who is a member of overseas intelligence agency MI6, told BBC Radio 1’s Newsbeat she did not think she was recruited because of her Muslim faith. This interview was scheduled to be broadcast Monday evening.

Yasmin said she would challenge “very strongly” any suggestion that her religion complicated her work.

She said: “The way I feel is that my duty to God is totally compatible with my duty to my country. I would say extremism in any form is wrong, be that Islamic extremism or any other kind of extremism.

“I feel very, very strongly that if you are able to do something to make a difference, you should make that difference.”

Jayshree and Shazad, the MI5 agents, recalled how they felt after hearing about the July 7 terror attacks in 2005. Jayshree said she felt “absolute shock” but had been trained to deal with such an event.

“The reality was that this was probably one of the biggest jobs that any of my colleagues and I ever had to undertake. We’d received the training and we just got ahead and tried to do as much work as we could,” she added.

Asked what motivated her to first become an MI5 agent, Jayshree said she felt she was repaying a debt to her country. She said: “Once I joined I felt that the work we were doing was invaluable — and this is a country that has welcomed my family.

“I’ve been born, raised here — this is my country. I just want to work as hard as I can to ensure that it’s safe for my — I’d like to say community, but by that I mean my whole country.”

She added that she couldn’t think of “any better way of paying back or working to protect everyone who lives here”.