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National Security News


MI5 Predicts Maths Graduates Will Be the Spies of the Future

Director General Ken McCallum of MI5 declared that mathematics graduates will be the forerunners of the intelligence community in the years to come.

Delivering the annual Bowman lecture at the University of Glasgow, McCallum delved into the intriguing domain where mathematics intersects with espionage.

Reflecting on his own mathematical background, as an alumnus of the university, McCallum stressed that “maths and statistics play such a crucial role in keeping our country safe”.

Ken McCallum delivering the Bowman lecture on 1st June. (Source: MI5)

McCallum said, “Since I graduated on this stage more than 25 years ago, the world has changed enormously. It will change even more in the next twenty five.

“Technological advances, underpinned by maths, are driving big shifts in how life is lived on our planet,” emphasising how numerical sciences are revolutionising the landscape of national security.

“The UK is fortunate to have mathematicians of genuine distinction serving in our intelligence community,” said the Director General as he highlighted the rich history of mathematicians in the intelligence community.

As he drew parallels to the legacy of iconic codebreakers such as Alan Turing and their lasting contributions, he added that at MI5 “only a few specialists will ever make explicit reference to Bayes’ Theorem – but it underpins our day-to-day operations.”

During the lecture, McCallum explained how MI5 employs mathematical analysis to detect and disrupt threats, highlighting the analytical sophistication that underlies national security efforts. Specifically unveiling the aspects of espionage driven by numbers, McCallum underscored the role of statistics and probability in MI5’s decisions.

“In MI5’s work, false positives are bad. We never want to intrude on someone’s privacy unnecessarily. We don’t want to use up any of our finite resources on a threat which turns out not to be real, when plenty of others are,” he emphasised, shedding light on the agency manages risk.

McCullum added, “I don’t know how many of MI5’s people even think of themselves as having mathematical or statistical skills. But they’ve got them.”

Earlier this year, the Prime Minister also spoke on the importance of maths. “We’ve got to start prizing numeracy for what it is – a key skill every bit as essential as reading,” said Rishi Sunak.

The Prime Minister’s aim to combat “anti-maths” mindset present in the UK echoes McCallum’s assertion about the significance of leveraging “the brilliance, ingenuity, and creativity of the UK’s maths and science community to keep our country safe in the years ahead.”

Rushi Sunak giving speech on improving attainment in mathematics (Source:

The relationship of mathematics and artificial intelligence (AI) was another focal point of the lecture.

“AI may be one of the most important innovations in human history, and the government believes it is critical to both our economic and national security that the UK prepares for the opportunities AI brings,” McCallum quoted the UK’s AI strategy.

McCallum revealed MI5’s groundbreaking applications of AI, from automating audio data analysis to detecting violence in images.

McCallum explained how this cutting-edge technology converges with mathematical principles, stating: “Our data scientists build, train, and deploy our own machine learning models, continually improving them based on real feedback – giving our people a huge productivity boost, enabling them to apply their analytical skills to the true secrets and mysteries.

“This interplay between maths, computing science, engineering and human expertise is a critical dynamic for us.”

Concluding the lecture in a compelling call to action, McCallum urged mathematics graduates to consider contributing their skills to MI5’s mission. “We need you. Given the adversaries out there, you need us,” he said, highlighting the symbiotic relationship between mathematics and national security.

Val Dockrell is a London-based Senior Investigator and Open Source Intelligence (“OSINT”) specialist who has led in-depth investigations in multiple jurisdictions around the world. She also speaks several languages and is a member of the Fraud Women’s Network. Her X (formerly Twitter) handle is @ValDockrell.