Spy HQ moves to Edinburgh - and they’re recruiting

Dougray Scott in Bletchley Park movie Enigma
Dougray Scott in Bletchley Park movie Enigma
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It’s the stuff of Hollywood blockbusters and paperback pot-boilers, conjuring up scenes of men and women in smoke-filled rooms pouring over maps and plotting 
top-secret operations.

But now Edinburgh residents are being asked to sign up to a new army reserve battalion focused on military intelligence gathering – as a second job.

We will train people, so they don’t need a background in this at all. The vast majority [of recruits] will have a primary career, but they will do this as well.”

Commanding Officer Nat Haden

Fresh from the army’s recent bout of restructuring, 5 Military Intelligence Battalion is setting up headquarters in Redford Barracks and is on the hunt for sharp-witted recruits eager to grapple with the complex world of intelligence analysis.

Duties could include identifying enemy locations, predicting future manoeuvrings and studying the spread of Ebola – and there’s even opportunities for fresh-faced recruits to be deployed into overseas combat zones.

5 MI Battalion’s Commanding Officer, Nat Haden, who arrived in the city two weeks ago to head up the unit after its move north from Yorkshire, said the corps offered a fresh challenge to those able to commit to at least 27 days of training a year.

And he said candidates could come from all walks of life – with previous recruits 
including PhD students, retired policemen and even rocket scientists.

The 40-year-old said: “What we are looking for is people who are capable of taking in a lot of complex information, analyse it under pressure and understand what’s going on. It’s being able to take something like Game of Thrones and accurately explain what’s going on in five minutes.

“We will train people, so they don’t need a background in this at all. The vast majority [of recruits] will have a primary career, but they will do this as well.”

New recruits will undergo the army’s basic training regime for its reserve forces – including instruction on how to handle guns – as well as sitting tests to determine their mental ability.

But CO Haden insisted the role wouldn’t resemble anything seen in recent films such as The Imitation Game or TV show Spooks.

“Most of them go way into the world of fantasy,” he said. “For example, I’ve no idea how MI6 work but I’m pretty sure they are not all James Bond.”

5 MI Battalion is part of the 1st Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Brigade, based in Wiltshire, which was created in September last year after the latest army reforms, and whose emblem is a spider.

It is hoped the battalion will number around 370 after the latest recruitment drive.

alistair.grant@edinburghnews.com