The Queen has praised MI5 officers for the “tireless work you do to keep our country safe” in her first public visit to the intelligence agency.
She thanked MI5 on behalf of the nation after meeting a large number of staff at their headquarters, Thames House in central London.
MI5 director-general Sir Andrew Parker gave the Queen a tour of the agency’s private museum and showed her artefacts relating to double agents who helped deceive the Nazis over the site of the Second World War D-Day landings.
“I am always struck by the remarkable resolve with which you carry out your vital role.
“There will no doubt continue to be significant threats and challenges ahead.
“But, on each of my visits to MI5, I have been impressed by the way that you have adapted to the changing threats to our nation.
“Whether responding to the threats from the Nazis or the Cold War, domestic terrorism or the cyber sphere, you have always demonstrated the utmost commitment to your motto Regnum Defende (defence of the realm).
“Because of the nature of your work, it is without public recognition, so it is on behalf of the country that I say to you all, thank you.”
The visit comes after the Government moved to strongly deny claims that MI5 chiefs do not trust Home Secretary Priti Patel and are limiting intelligence-sharing.
Only the director-general could be identified during the royal visit, with everyone else kept out of photographs and television footage.
MI5 officers work in secret, normally only tell one or two family members what they do, and create a back story as cover for friends and associates.
During the museum tour, Sir Andrew proudly described the MI5 operation to deceive the true location of the Allied Forces’ assault on Europe on June 6 1944 as the “the most important thing MI5 has done” since the agency was formed in 1909.
The Queen replied “And very successfully too.”
During her visit, the Queen was shown a Nazi Iron Cross awarded to “Garbo”, described as the greatest double agent of the Second World War for his work in tricking the German high command over the D-Day landings and other operations.
His real name was Juan Pujol and his work feeding misinformation to the Nazis from a fictitious group of informants left Hitler’s senior officers thinking they were receiving important intelligence about the landings.
Highlighting the Nazi honour, Sir Andrew told the Queen: “Because they so believed the intelligence they were receiving, he was decorated for it; in reality he was deceiving them and saved many lives at Normandy.”
The Queen was also told about the work of her father, King George VI, in helping to deceive the enemy during the war by visiting a fake oil storage depot in Dover built by Shepperton film studios on behalf of the War Office.
Today MI5 leads on investigations, at home and abroad, where there is a threat to the UK and works closely with partners like the police and other intelligence agencies.
The majority of its work is against Islamist extremism but it also tackles Northern Ireland-related terrorism, hostile foreign state activities and right-wing terrorism.
At any one time it has around 600 counter-terrorism investigations under way, concerned with 3,000 individuals.
The Queen chatted to one staff member who manages MI5 officers as they recruit members of the public to provide intelligence on terrorist threats.
The manager, who cannot be named, said: “I told the Queen we rely on the bravery of the members of the public. They do extraordinary things on our behalf.”
The royal family has a close connection with the security agencies – the Prince of Wales has been patron of the intelligence services since 2011 and the Duke of Cambridge spent a week working alongside MI5 officers last year.
Sir Andrew gave a speech and praised the Queen, telling her: “Your powerful sense of duty and public service to the nation has been an inspiration to us.
“For more than a century MI5 has undertaken vital work to keep the country safe. Your Majesty’s support for the work we do is appreciated by us all.”