It is the first time that the number of foreign intelligence gathering officers employed by MI6, also known as the Secret Intelligence Service, has been published.
The figure was disclosed yesterday in the annual report of the parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee.
The ISC had previously disclosed the number of domestic security service officers who work for MI5, known as “spooks” – now around 3,500 – but had never done so for spies.
MI6 has launched a new recruitment drive aimed, in part, at former City bankers, with experience of foreign countries and language skills.
According to the ISC’s report, there are now 2,252 MI6 officers and it aims to increase that to 2,527 this year.
The report also revealed there were 5,296 staff employed at the GCHQ monitoring station in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, where they intercept telephone, email and internet communications. The report said the combined budget for MI5, MI6 and GCHQ was now £2.2bn.
According to the report, MI6 devotes 37 per cent of its effort to fighting international terrorism, with an increased focus on al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsular, based in Yemen, following its role in the failed Christmas Day bombing over Detroit.
Much of the rest of its focus is on Russia, Iran and an unnamed third country, redacted from the report – probably China.
MI5 currently has around 3,500 officers with an aim to increase that to 4,100 by next year.