LONDON - Bond. Jane Bond.
Britain's secret spy agency, home to the very white and very male 007, is hunting for women and minorities to tackle global terrorism. More than 20,000 people have applied since MI6 began its open recruiting campaign about a year ago, in a drive that has all but replaced the famous shoulder tap used to recruit author Graham Greene and others in World War II.
MI6's website encourages mothers to apply, and assures women they won't be used as "honey pots," or seductresses. Disabled applicants are welcome. And a special search is directed at minorities who speak Mandarin, Arabic, Persian, and the Afghan languages of Dari and Pashto.
Could the future James Bond be a woman or an Urdu speaker?
"The key challenge is the terrorist threat," MI6's head of human resources said in an interview, speaking on condition of anonymity. "Government agencies have to show they're making positive efforts [to diversify] but for us it means much more."
Suicide bombers killed 52 rush-hour commuters in Britain in 2005. A year later, intelligence agents uncovered an alleged plot to blow up several trans-Atlantic airliners. Last year, two men failed to detonate bombs outside a London nightclub and Scottish airport.
British law enforcement says it is watching more than 21,000 people and 200 plots.
Many of the suspected cells have alleged links to extremist networks in Pakistan - most of Britain's 1.8 million Muslims are of Pakistani origin - but new threats are emerging in Bangladesh, China, Iran, and Somalia.
These days, it takes more than a trench coat to blend in with the changing landscapes.
"There are three strangers in the room that you need to get on your side. How do you get them to warm to you? Could you be an operational officer?" asks one of MI6's ads, which have appeared in British newspapers, travel magazines, and The Economist. Another ad shows a line of Arabic text and asks would-be applicants whether they're able to translate it in a hurry.
The drive comes as Britain prepares for the Equalities Bill, which will allow organizations to give preference to female and ethnic minority candidates. Pola Uddin, the first Muslim woman in the House of Lords, said it's time Bond had a taste of affirmative action.
"We need less sexism and a symbol who doesn't always hold a martini glass," she said.
Applicants are required to be British citizens and at least 21 years old. Salaries start at about $52,000, but senior officers can earn six-figure sums.
Applicants are told to keep the monthslong vetting process secret, but it can involve a battery of personal questions about family relationships, drug use, finances, and religion.