The Duke of Cambridge asked personally for a chance to experience first-hand the challenges faced by MI5, MI6 and GCHQ as they fight to protect our realm. As Britain remains on “severe” terror alert, the second-in-line to the throne spent some of his time “on the streets” engaged in intelligence gathering operations. Intelligence experts last night hailed the news as a “unique event of the greatest importance”.
Prince William was embedded to each service for a week.
While he was able to return home to his wife Kate and three children during his secondment with the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) and The Security Service (MI5), during the first fortnight, he opted to stay overnight at GCHQ’s sprawling base in Cheltenham last week.
Intelligence officers were asked to simply address him as “Will”.
As a member of the Privy Council he was not forced to sign the Official Secrets Act. But he was nevertheless instructed not to discuss details of his assignments with the Duchess of Cambridge.
Speaking about the experience he said: “Spending time inside our security and intelligence agencies, understanding more about the vital contribution they make to our national security, was a truly humbling experience. These agencies are full of people from everyday backgrounds doing the most extraordinary work to keep us safe.
“They work in secret, often not even able to tell their family and friends about the work they do or the stresses they face.
“They are driven by an unrivalled patriotism and dedication to the values of this country. We all owe them deep gratitude for the difficult and dangerous work they do.”
GCHQ head of counter-terrorism operations, known only as David, said: “Having The Duke of Cambridge spend time with our teams was an incredible opportunity. William worked exceptionally hard to embed himself in the team and comfortably held his own amongst some highly skilled analysts and operators. His Royal Highness asked some probing questions and demonstrated a real grasp of our mission.
“This was a rare opportunity to expose in detail the technical ingenuity and problem-solving skills needed on a daily basis to help keep the UK safe.”
Royal sources confirmed that the 36-year-old spent some of his time operating with counter-terror forces on the streets of Britain in his second week with MI5.
“The Duke worked alongside counter-terrorism teams to see how they conduct their investigations, including understanding the role of analysis and surveillance,” said a royal spokesman.
Prince William’s first week was spent with MI6 where it is thought he spent most of his time at SIS HQ at Vauxhall Cross, London, helping to identify intelligence threats.
“His Royal Highness saw first hand how SIS helps the UK identify and exploit opportunities as well as navigate risks to national security, military effectiveness and the economy from those who wish the UK harm,” said a royal spokesman.
His decision to embed with Britain’s spies is thought to have been partly prompted by his personal attachment to MI6 chief Sir Alex Younger. Both Prince William and Sir Alex are alumni of St Andrews University.
The country continues to face threats from Islamist jihadis and extreme Right-wing groups, as well as espionage and malicious cyber attacks. According to director general Andrew Parker, MI5 is instrumental in thwarting at least one major terror attack every month.
It is thought the royal could have taken part in vehicle-based surveillance work. It takes 25 field officers to mount a 24-hour surveillance on terrorist suspects.
With recent studies suggesting the team numbers more than 3,000, this accounts for a substantial amount of MI5 resources.
In recent weeks MI5, which commands about 5,000 officers, is said to have been investigating links between Christchurch murderer Brenton Tarrant and British white supremacist groups, which he is thought to have met while in the UK two years ago.
MI6 has around 2,000 officers at home and around the world to tackle the four pillars of counter terrorism, the proliferation of Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Weapons (CBRN), cyber attackers in foreign climes and anticipating threats from nations where government control is weak and criminal activity strong.
Prince William’s final work was spent with GCHQ where, royal sources say, he “spent time with those using cutting-edge technology, technical ingenuity and wide-ranging partnerships to identify, analyse and disrupt threats”.
Last night, Prof Anthony Glees, director of the University of Buckingham’s Centre for Security and Intelligence Studies, said: “I can’t think of any historical comparison to this – it is truly a unique event of the greatest importance.It links together the security of our realm and the Crown and underscores the importance that the delivery of national security is to the whole of the country, not just the political class.
“That the second-in-line to the throne wants to have proper first hand knowledge of how our intelligence services work is very significant. It puts the Royal Family where they should be – on the side of our security community. So often this has been vilified – let’s remember how, in the 1970s, there was a rift between MI5 and the public when Harold Wilson accused them of spying on him.
“More recently, John McDonnell campaigned for the disillusion of our security services. We have moved on from there.”
Dr Paul Maddrell, author of Spy Chiefs, said: “Exposure like this shows what a long way our intelligence services have come. Now they publicly acknowledge how many terror plots they foil.
“But it’s worth remembering they were only officially acknowledged after the Cold War. Before that they didn’t officially exist – it was a conspiracy of silence.”