Skip to Main Content

To report an imminent threat call 999 or ring the Anti-Terrorist Hotline on 0800 789 321
Current national threat level: SEVERE Read more about threat levels >>

Major-General Sir Vernon Kell (Director 1909–40)

Major-General Sir Vernon KellMajor-General Vernon George Waldegrave Kell (1873–1942) was the co-founder and first Director of the Security Service. As an officer of the South Staffordshire Regiment of the British Army, he served in Russia and China, where he fought in the Boxer Rebellion of 1900, and rose to the rank of Captain as an intelligence analyst at the War Office.

In 1909, Kell was selected by the War Office to co-found the Secret Service Bureau in conjunction with Captain Mansfield Smith-Cumming of the Royal Navy. Kell took charge of domestic counter-intelligence, while Cumming was responsible for foreign intelligence. In due course their respective sections of the Secret Service Bureau became the Security Service (MI5) and the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6).

Kell successfully masterminded the dismantling of the German spy network in the UK on the outbreak of World War I. By 1939 he had been promoted to the rank of Major-General. However, the Security Service was unprepared for the outbreak of the Second World War and experienced severe problems as a result. Kell was consequently retired in June 1940 on the orders of the recently-appointed Prime Minister, Winston Churchill.

Fact or Fiction?
Terrorism is the biggest current threat to national security.

True False

Latest News

view ALL News

MI5 publishes Gender Pay Gap report 2020

MI5, along with SIS and GCHQ, has published its Gender Pay Gap report for 2020.

Read Full Article ›
Thames House with archway lit up purple

Seeing MI5 Differently

To mark International Day for Persons with a Disability, we are publishing an inspiring blog written by a colleague in...

Read Full Article ›