The idea of the agent life is romanticized. As a child, who didn't sit in front of the television with a faster heartbeat while one of the James Bond films was on? And marveled at this man who easily jumped over roofs, pulled out the pistol and always accurately identified his opponents who, only when absolutely no other possibility could be seen, fled in one of the latest sports cars.
The department that James Bond works for really exists in the UK. He is part of MI6, the overseas department of the British Secret Service. MI5 take care of domestic affairs, the Government Communications Headquarter (GCHQ) is responsible for electronic monitoring. According to a report by Bloomberg, the agency has a total of 12,000 employees.
The reality is different
James Bond is always surrounded by beautiful women, wears expensive watches and drives even more expensive cars, always drinks martinis - shaken, not stirred - and never seems to have any other financial problems. James Bond is fiction. The reality is different. In fact, salaries for the British secret service start at a slim 30,490 British pounds per annum. That is the equivalent of 37,704 francs.
No wonder that many are looking for new professional opportunities. Headhunters say many quit in less than ten years. "The time will come when all your other friends who went to university are out there, working for banks and big corporations, and earning three times as much as you," says 48-year-old Annie Machon, a former secret service employee. "If you come up with a recommendation from MI5 or MI6, people will of course be interested."
Secret service employees are in demand
London is full of security agencies and information service companies that are reaching for former intelligence officials, writes The Times. "These days, in the complex world we live in, former intelligence officers are invaluable to companies advising other companies on security risks."
Christopher Steel, also a former MI6 agent, has recently risen to fame. According to a report by The Guardian, Steel worked as a secret service employee in Russia and France, among other places. When Steel left intelligence, he didn't go into the private sector as an employee. He founded a company with another man: Orbis Business Intelligence, based in London. As a private citizen, he was later hired by the FBI to investigate the corruption affair surrounding Fifa. He has now come into the spotlight because he is the author of a previously unverified dossier that contains explosive information about the future US President Donald Trump.
Like Steel, others with intelligence and expertise have started a company. "Orbis competes with a contingent of rivals, all equally full of former employees of the British secret service," continues "The Guardian". And they are all looking for lucrative jobs.
It's not always about money
Even if the salaries at the secret service are a deterrent, not all ex-agent resignations have financial reasons. This is what former MI5 employee Annie Machon affirmed. "Very often people just want their lives back," she says. A career in the secret service is like "sliding a pane of glass between you and the normal world". Ex-spy Cameron Colquhoun, who like Steel now has his own company, knows it: “It can be very intense and there is a lot of pressure because you always have to deal with bad news and high risk and make sure that there are no bad things happen.