MI6 | Autistic Spies | Aspergers and Autism in SIS

Credit Default Swaps killed the Moody 10 years ago…how will the FSB and CIA fare in Round II?

The names of the instruments might change, and the names of the participants might change, but history shows us, the outcome is normally the same.  The outcome for the many is nearly always eventually determined by the will of the few.  The question is.  Who are the few?

Now what new instrument do we know of that is not on a regulated exchange and has no reporting requirements just like CDS's in 2008.  Hmm...let's think for a Bit.  Here are some of our predictions.

Thought recoginition and mapping research began a long time ago. However, recent developments connecting Neuroscience with technology, will literally change how we think in the not too distant future.

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"A good MI6 Intelligence Officer wants to learn what makes people tick.  An Intelligence Officer on the autistic spectrum however, doesn't just want to know what makes a person tick, they want to know how to build the key that winds them up."


Some people say that being on the Autistic Spectrum is a natural 'next step' in the evolutionary development of the human race.  A little 'tongue in cheek' maybe, but having the ability, like our predatory ancestors, to strip out emotion in favour of survival, may actually lend some truth to the statement after all.  Are those people who previously sat on the fringes of society, destined to be the shapers and conductors of exponential thought?  Pretty bold statements indeed, but for those in the know, is 'learning difficulty' really an appropriate term to describe a large section of the community where learning is far from difficult, but sometimes a  little too easy?  Where 'special needs' more accurately refers to a need for more information or colour on a canvas in what is an otherwise monochrome landscape? They might not be able to integrate well in society, but they can, and do, help to protect it.   Being on the Autistic Spectrum, highly functional people with Autism, those with Aspergers and the Savant, can and do offer the intelligence services incredible talents.  There is a definition of an entrepreneur that goes "an entrepreneur is a person who is alert to opportunities that other people ignore".  On that basis, someone with ASD could be someone who is 'alert to details that other people ignore".

At SIS the challenge for the Recruitment Team is to find "ordinary people with extraordinary minds and skills".  Those with the variety of conditions that are grouped under the banner "Neurodiversity", namely dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, ADHD, Asperger’s and autism, often struggle to land jobs because of negative stereotypes. Full-time employment rates among members of the National Autism Society, for example, stand at only 15 per cent. Yet when it comes to being recruited as spies, those “problems” become pluses.

"GCHQ even has its own Neurodiverse Support Group. Its chairman (who naturally wants to be identified only as “Matt”) explains the thinking: “What people don’t realise is that people with neurodiversity usually have a 'spiky skills’ profile, which means that certain skills areas will be below par and others may well be above.”

GCHQ is not the only employer to spot this opportunity. Three quarters of the workforce of the Danish software company Specialisterne is made up of those on the autism spectrum. It argues that a diagnosis of autism can often point to enhanced perceptual functions and a greater-than-average ability to pay attention to tiny, apparently insignificant details. And that is precisely what is in short supply in the industry.


But does that neat fit between “neurodiversity” and spying stretch much beyond a genius with software, the sort of work that is more Q’s department than 007’s globetrotting high jinks? What about solving mysteries and tracking down criminals? Surely that same attention to detail could pay dividends in a secret agent or high-profile detective."


The many websites aiming to crush the myth that dyslexia is any obstacle at all to being a world-beater are full of the names of those who have thrived with it – inventors (Alexander Graham Bell), entrepreneurs (Richard Branson), virtuoso musicians (Nigel Kennedy), writers (F Scott Fitzgerald) and Renaissance men (Leonardo da Vinci). But I can find none with a special category for spies and detectives (with special thanks to Peter Stanford of The Guardian newspaper).

So, let's assume that in the real world the use of the phrase 'learning difficulty' is probably another one of those terms that will one day take a seat next to the latest politically incorrect phrases to describe a minority.  Closely followed by 'special needs' and joining  'police person', a 'person hole' cover or 'non-specific' genders as other reminders of changing societal pressures.  In essence, the majority of 'those' people with some exceptional skills at their disposal, have learnt how to deal with such pressures from an early age, and in many cases, developed coping mechanisms to deal with certain uncomfortable situations.  Just developing those skills in themselves requires a development and cerebral workout that most simply do not have to endure.  Being a highly functional, left handed, seemingly normal, outgoing and emotionally mature member of society is no mean feat and those people armed with the ability to not only survive, but thrive in those circumstances, have an ability that organisations such as GCHQ and SIS can harness.  In fact, one could easily say that in order to have created a so-called 'normal' persona and one which has had to sometimes live with the monotony a school curriculum has to offer, and at the same time 'flesh out' what to some would appear a highly popular person, is already well versed in the art of creating a 'legend' and false identity.  Survival skills like that, learnt from an early age, can sometimes take many months if not years to teach the 'normal' SIS recruit.  A thin line between madness and genius indeed.   But, if you place yourself in the shoes of a child who has had some profound differences growing up, and has then managed to sell themselves as being just like everyone else and actually sit comfortably in the upper percentiles, imagine how useful such a chameleon could be to the intelligence services.  It is innate, and the complex neural networks were busy finding ways to by-pass various synapses whilst others in the classroom were living a relatively charmed life of normality.

Of course, there has to be a price to pay, and in many circumstances this can be in the form of some quite profound mental health problems for individuals at the less functioning end of the spectrum.  That said, as studies of psychology and spectrum disorders such as autism, aspergers ADHD etc continue to develop from what was until very recently nothing at all, the exceptional talents people with these condition have, can be used to add value in most organisations.

As mentioned above, this adoption of the neuro-diverse within GCHQ already attributes value.  Of course, the less emotionally developed within the spectrum may find certain tasks restrictive, but then again doesn't everyone?  The often repeated mission statement, that the intelligence services are 'made up of diverse individuals to more closely represent the diverse society they protect' can be applied in this case.  Indeed, scaling back feelings of empathy, emotion or other external influences out of decision making in favour of logic, proof and testing, is an important contributor for organisations such as GCHQ.  Which is why they have been ahead of the curve in recognising this subject and treating it with the respect it deserves. 


A James Bond they are not, but if I had to go into a real Casino Royale, I'll take Rain Man over 007 any day.  

It is estimated that over 30%, and indeed maybe even as high as 53% of individuals working at GCHQ could legitimately have a place on the Autistic Spectrum (ASD). 

"Daring to think differently and be different"

- Article published by GCHQ - 29 Mar 2017

To mark World Autism Awareness Week, we hear from James*, a GCHQ member of staff with Asperger syndrome.

I think that it was down to GCHQ that I ever got diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, as my school, university and other jobs had serially failed to spot it for many years.

I just got labelled as "doesn’t suffer fools gladly", "can be a little blunt, especially in emails", "isn’t very sociable and rubs folk up the wrong way" and so on.

Interestingly, while people may have in hindsight attributed bad things to Asperger syndrome, it is very rare that anyone seems to make that connection with more positive behaviours.


The positive aspects are often things like:

  • Very good attention to detail, can spot patterns, anomalies and trends easily.

  • Very good focus on a task and determination to complete it, perhaps even explore wider context to it and innovate.

  • Very good, logical, science-based decision making without the often distracting emotional baggage many people have this. So able to make independent, unbiased decisions.


As you can imagine, all these things are crucial to GCHQ's work! This could be one of the reasons why we have always attracted a high number of neurodiverse staff, stretching back to Bletchley Park and beyond.

As our Director Robert Hannigan has said: "To do our job, which is solving some of the hardest technology problems the world faces for security reasons, we need all talents and we need people who dare to think differently and be different." 


I was encouraged to seek diagnosis by GCHQ's Neurodiversity Adviser, which turned out to be quite easy and painless. GCHQ has had a specialised neurodiversity support service for 20 years and has training and detailed guidance available for all staff. 
One of the things it offers are awareness sessions for managers. Good management makes a big difference to how well you cope. 

  • A good manager will help you to put in place coping mechanisms and make reasonable adjustments while you get these working.

  • A good manager will recognise what work you will do well and what work would be really challenging.

  • A good manager will make other workplace adjustments to minimise aspects of work that make an 'Aspie' anxious, such as business travel in my case. 

  • A good manager will recognise that Asperger syndrome isn't curable but that you can employ coping mechanisms and practise the hard things in graded steps.

  • A bad manager can ruin your confidence, career and make you totally unproductive.

My experience could have been a different story if I hadn't have found myself working for an employer who not only helped me diagnose my syndrome but also saw the positives. I’ve experienced how we are consistently striving to be even better at supporting neurodiverse staff.   It is great to see the department leading the way with education and looking for more opportunities to deploy neurodiverse staff in a way that ensures their skills are best employed.


GCHQ is a 'Disability Confident' Level 3 employer committed to supporting all our staff with disabilities, including those with neurodiverse conditions. We are actively ensuring our recruitment campaigns are accessible and that there are no barriers to the recruitment and continued professional development of neurodiverse staff.

*Name changed to protect his identity


Next Steps?

So there you have it. A mixture of our opinion, some 'PR friendly' published data from our friends at GCHQ, and a general perceived knowledge that all people on the spectrum are capable of emotionless but well thought out logical thoughts. Thoughts indeed that would furnish at least the top IT desks of cyber security, if not the lofty heights of Management. Does one detect a tone of cynicism? 

Maybe not cynicism but realism. Life is just not that simple. As any leading politician ( or psychologist for that matter) would say “it’s a little more complicated than that”. 

We are in for an interesting ride over the next ten years, especially when the' psychopath's nightmare' of a controlled amygdala comes to fruition. This is covered in more detail elsewhere, however for those who are interested click below.  The notion of controlling the part of our brain that is proven to regulate levels of emotion, has been around for some time.  Some have argued that in such extreme cases (even depression and mental illness) although there is no 'cure' as such, there are ways to treat these conditions.  With the inevitability of personal subcutaneous microchips rapidly approaching, there is certainly some fairly advanced progress being made in the US, Canada and the UK, to regulate the Amygdala using controlled flow of chemicals and medication in the brain with the help of technology. 


The next leap in terms of allowing technology to then affect behaviour becomes a much trickier ethical and philosophical proposition.  Specialist lawyers beware, you will be busy fairly soon we suspect.

Can we induce an event which leads to a material and significant change in a person’s ability or behaviour which would be useful to an organisation such as MI6?

A: Straps yourselves in for a little bit of a wild ride, so if extreme sports of the academic or indeed philosophical kind are not your thing, then please unbuckle now and leave the park.   The four terms used in the title would appear at first glance to be connected, but for the purposes of this article, are not.  There is a distinct, and key difference in that they refer to a journey of sorts.  The journey of the mind and neural functionality that eventually leads to a change which has been caused by an ‘event’. 

Each term describes a condition.  A condition of the brain at a point in the journey. 


Before we look at the journey and where it leads to, let us accept that each of these conditions describes a state of functionality that is different from the ‘norm’.  So, autism is recognised as a condition affecting the brain and functionality that has a spectrum associated with it.  At the very low end of the spectrum, rather confusingly, people would be described as highly functional i.e. they can pretty much operate in society as pass the tests which place them as being ‘normal’, whatever that is of course. 


The important point here and for the purposes of this article is that where ever the person is on the spectrum, the condition is innate and not causes by an event.  What we do recognise is that the functionality or ‘wiring' of the brain is different and a person is predisposed to think and react emotionally (or not depending on where on the scale you are) in ways that are perceived as abnormal.  There are then a whole host of sub conditions or effects that are then associated with people at various points on the spectrum.  As an example, these often go beyond the emotional or psychological, but manifest themselves in the form of physical tics maybe, or when closer to the more extreme end of the spectrum, mono-toned speech, lack of empathy, sometime social outburst etc.  This is in itself a huge subject which has been written about already to the extreme of its own spectrum and one which we will not wish to cover here.  For the purpose of this article, it is sufficient to acknowledge the state as it exists in its various form is innate.

The same can be said for those people diagnosed with Asperger’s.  However, as we move further along the spectrum of Nero diverse labels, we edge closer to signs of functionality among the neurodiverse which offer interesting potential to thinkers, scientists and organisations keen to incubate and foster exceptional talent......

Due to significant, and we have to say rather unexpected, demand for information and coverage of this subject, we have widened the net somewhat and invited contributions from various sources over the last six months.  Our focus has changed to a degree in that as we cover a greater number of topics (often with some 'venn like' cross-overs) it is becoming increasingly apparent that to ignore the Neurodiverse community would be at ones peril.  Increasingly so as we S.A.I (Secret Artificial Intelligence) has a focus on radical, innovative and dare we say it, 'anarchic-like' learning to tame the AI genie which left the bottle some time ago. Some readers may be familiar with Chief Alex Younger's comments concerning digitisation and the 'fourth industrial revolution" or "espionage 4.0" (which is probably more apt).  The word 'revolution' is not to be used lightly as it does have radical connetations and quite rightly so.  We will continue to invite contributions from various people on this subject which we envisage using as a platform with which to set up a working group to refine potential policies with.  If you feel this is something of interest to you please click here.

Other Topics associated with this subject

"Our Flaws could delay the move to AI Singularity"

The Affliction of Thinking

"Neuroscience - Limbic Resonance, the Amygdalla and Me"

Control of emotion and symbyosis between AI technology and Biological interfaces may indeed be perplexing from a philosophical perspective, but we are not good at emotion.  So, lets examine the facts.  Can current interfaces grow quickly enough to cope with the bandwidth demand?  In terms of control, sub-cutaneous micro-chips are a little "yesterday" but where will the borders of control lie and who will decide? 

Ignore the Neurodiverse at your peril...

"Our Flaws could delay the move to AI Singularity"

The Affliction of Thinking

Control of emotion and symbyosis between AI technology and Biological interfaces may indeed be perplexing from a philosophical perspective, but we are not good at emotion.  So, lets examine the facts.  Can current interfaces grow quickly enough to cope with the bandwidth demand?  In terms of control, sub-cutaneous micro-chips are a little "yesterday" but where will the borders of control lie and who will decide? 

Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament Diversity and Inclusion in the UK Intelligence Community

Paper published 18 July 2018 and presented to Parliament pursuant to section 3 of the Justice and Security Act 2013

Access to the full document can be found by clicking on the link below which will take you to the Governments Assets Publishing Department.


Full Publication - Diversity & Inclusion

The report published last year follows on from various initiatives between the Government and the Intelligence  Community to purse a policy of increasing diversity and awareness across a broad range of departments to, in some way, represent the society the services aims to protect.

Q: Can we induce an event which leads to a material and significant change in a person’s ability or behaviour which would be useful to an organisation such as MI6?

Straps yourselves in for a little bit of a wild ride, so if extreme sports of the academic or indeed philosophical kind are not your thing, then please unbuckle now and leave the park. The four terms used in the title would appear at first glance to be connected, but for the purposes of this article, are not.  There is a distinct, and key difference in that they refer to a journey of sorts.  The journey of the mind and neural functionality that eventually leads to a change which has been caused by an ‘event’. Each term describes a condition.  A condition of the brain at a point in the journey. 

Where did my Taxi Driver and my money go?”


Whenever there is a radical and rapid development in Technology, the voices of those who fear the human effects of such developments sing loud.  Of course, debate is ultimately a healthy proposition when conducted in the correct manner i.e a respectful exchange of ideas, evidence and facts to determine the truth or at least the likelihood of why ‘something’ happens.  The problem is that as we venture further up the emotional curve and hit the raw nerve of public consciousness, a healthy debate, absent of extreme views, is less and less likely.   This is quite possibly the stage we are at now when it comes to the vast changes of technological development at exponential rates of growth.  If one then throws into the mix a subject such as Artificial Intelligence, which has been the subject of many a doomsday prophecy, especially in the fictional world, then the prediction of likely effects  becomes distorted.  There are a vast number of capillaceous issues branching out from each topic within AI and on a scale which precludes us from analysis in this article due to time.  However, there are rarely more topics as emotive as a person's job and their ability to generate income in order to survive...so will driverless cars render the taxi driver extinct and will money even be necessary in any form? Read More. 13.08.19

Dark Web

An Opportunity or Threat?

Perceived wisdom suggests the Dark Web is synonymous with illegal activities involving weapons, drugs and pedophiia.  The assumption has been that if you use it, then you have something sinister to hide.  To be fair, closure of drug giants like "Silk Road" did nothing to change those perceptions.  However, in the big brother world of surveillance, the search for privacy is demanded by the majority and will be found in some way or another.  Furthermore, in a society where people are being increasingly attracted to the fringes of life,  the shift to increasing usage of the Dark Web is a given.  That does not mean it is wrong however, and as we often witness, it is people from the 'fringes' who sometimes operate outside of social norms, who provide the greatest sources of innovation.  We firmly believe the dark web will undergo an upgrade of sorts and although usual, non-secured browser based sites will attract some attention, their days are numbered.  The really exciting proposition is to predict Dark Web 2.0, 3.0 and so on. Rather ironically, but understandably, it is the law enforcement and intelligence agencies who are spending more and more resources on hiding within the shadows of the Dark Web.  It has been the most effective way so far.  However, as it grows, it will it continue to be the safe haven of the criminal or will some form of regulation (such as was with the legalisation of drugs etc), prevent the extreme offenders?  Take the example of Silk Road. It is not only possible, it is probable.  Whether you are in favour of legalisation generally or not,  in many cases it is a safer option.  Many of the sites that offered Marijuana were ran as slick commercial organisations where consumer satisfaction was paramount.  The product was therefore of superior quality (apparently) and it was offered within the relative safety of the internet and not some dark street corner.  Maybe that one is for the liberals out there.  For our purposes however, it shows that the deep dark web does actually have a USP which can be monetized, namely privacy.  Looking further head therefore, the real drug that will sell well in our 'Orwellian' future, is anonymity.  That will undoubtedly be the most precious of commodities.


As it stands now however, people and the societies they live in tend to display tendencies to self-regulate and yes, whilst there is always potential for abuse, the masses will (or should) drive the market to some degree of parity.  There are certainly huge opportunities around the corner.  A secured 'blockchain'esque' physical depository for parcel delivery is bound to happen on a large scale and accompany the growth of the Dark Web.  That is because the only chink in its armour at the moment is complete anonymity with delivery of items. Imagine a secure facility where parcels (aka Data) entering from one side, is subjected to 'scrambling' (aka 'Encryption') and leave the other side to be collected by a seemingly unconnected party (aka 'You').  Now multiply that across every City in the UK.  You then have what one can REALLY call an encrypted, secure, supply chain that would be undetectable to all agencies and, most importantly, legal  Read More.

There are many ways to recruit a spy.  Certainly too many to cover in an article such as this. It really depends on who the particular intelligence agency is looking for, which organization, and what its objective is.  It will come as no surprise that some methods are more or less well publicized than others.  For SIS in particular, given that the organization did not officially exist until 1994, many of the methods used for recruitment are, for obvious reasons, still closely guarded secrets.  Graduate recruitment is one thing, but developing a potential (currently operational) agent is another, especially if they are already in full time professional employment or indeed, working for another intelligence agency. 


The PR stance at the moment may well be to promote a progressive, modern image, and in many ways it most definitely is.  However, the traditional ‘tap on the shoulder’ approach was really symptomatic of a desire to retain control of the recruitment process.  To that end, things have not really changed.  SIS has, and always will be, more cautious about the ‘walk in’ candidate and will have entirely different, and more complex, processes in place to evaluate such a person.  Furthermore, the complex recruitment cycle is now refined to the point where SIS can recruit individuals without them even knowing.  Now that’s surely the recruiters’ holy grail.  As with all things ‘intelligence’ orientated, there is a constant focus on resources and purchasing power.  SIS needs to maximise the value of each pound spent and therefore, long and complex targeting of individuals used to gain information, has to be considered against the costs of recruiting those intelligence officers charged with interpreting that information.  So, in essence, a balancing act in the same way as any other modern-day commercial organisation.  Let’s not forget however, that despite the budget allocated by the Intelligence Committee and oversight of section 5, 6 and GCHQ, there are still relatively few intelligence officers out there. Especially in the ever-changing competitive world of private intelligence agencies and their corporate counterparts which compounds the problems caused by the brain drain and external temptations.


SIS Chief Alex Younger said in his speech at St Andrews that “If you think you can spot an MI6 officer, you are mistaken. It doesn’t matter where you are from. If you want to make a difference and you think you might have what it takes, then the chances are that you do have what it takes, and we hope you will step forward.”  Clearly this is a nod to the future and the recognition that with Espionage 4.0 around the corner, intelligence agencies need to invest now and allow time for the training and development of new individuals.  Individuals that could take two or more years to develop before assuming roles of increased responsibility and clout.  This is the likely reason and not, as some cynics have suggested, merely PR propaganda developed for the benefit of our adversaries to suggest that UK intelligence is growing.  The argument here being that even if the funds are not available, and even if the organisation is cutting costs, creating the illusion that the funds are there is just as effective.


So far the common denominator is money.  Whether it is the level of funding, or the maximisation of value for each pound spent.  Mr Younger’s comments clearly pushes ideology as a motivator and driver for potential candidates, and one can hardly blame him.  Let’s face it, it would be hard for SIS to push the financial incentive when faced with free market competition.  So, it is a given that the organisation has to, regardless of whether it is true or not, sell the notion of ‘making a difference’ as the key driver.  So, enter the ‘buddhist spy’ i.e. someone who has forsaken all desires of financial or materialistic rewards in favour of….that little bit more.  Here, the idea that freedom is power is never more true, but by god it’s a tough one to find, especially in the younger recruits.  Money can never be the sole motivator in this profession, but the complexities of life, youth, character and practical issues, means it simply is important.  One cannot really attribute this simply to youth either.  Yes, the younger recruits may well be ambitious and dazzled at the prospect of financial reward, but then again so is the 42 year old married man with three children.  So its not that.  Indeed, the tap on the shoulder system which focussed on the Oxbridge folk probably worked largely because they were the elite and on the whole from upper middle class affluent backgrounds where they always has the family vault to nudge open in times of desperation.  Ironically, this student and the buddhist spy are similar in that they are both free from financial pressures thereby making them more effective. 


So, they key thread to pull from the above is that there is power to be had from the freedom of external influences.  Without wanting to drift down the spiritual or philosophical road too much, a successful spy in todays world could be the one who can happily remove any influence, both positive or negative.  In the case of the honey trap, it would be rendered useless if the person did not attribute so much influence to sex.  In the case of financial reward, bribery or extortion, if one truly has zero desire for money then it is powerless.  In the case of power itself, if one is sufficiently self confident to the point where the affirmation from power is not needed, then that too is rendered useless.  So the buddhist spy almost becomes machine like.  Perhaps this is another case for the advancement of the neurodiverse, or those people less emotionally driven to some extent, in favour of the ‘safety’ of the binary world.  In essence, the buddhist spy is simply a person who cannot be bought, and therefore cannot be compromised.  Could you be that person?



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