The low profile of these three senior officers is in keeping with the history of women in British intelligence. In the past, women have been overlooked, relegated to secretarial roles or, before the SIS era, deployed as “honeytraps” to ensnare or blackmail enemies. When Vernon Kell co-founded MI6’s precursor in 1909, he identified as his ideal recruits men “who could make notes on their shirt cuff while riding on horseback”. His views on women were less well-known, but it is said that he once commented: “I like my girls to have good legs.” Despite having proved themselves with significant skill and bravery during the second world war, women in MI6 and its sister agency MI5 struggled to progress and were not regularly recruited as intelligence officers until the late 1970s.
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