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MI6 building 'like a fortress'

LONDON, England -- The headquarters of Britain's MI6 is hardly the spy world's best-kept secret, towering as it does over the River Thames.

The target of Wednesday's missile attack even starred, after some government wrangling, in the recent James Bond thriller The World Is Not Enough.

In the film a bomb goes off, destroying part of the Vauxhall Cross building, and James Bond is pictured whizzing by on waterskis.

The striking Terry-Farrel designed structure was seen as a reflection of a new spirit of post-Cold War openness when MI6 moved in in 1994, British Prime Minister John Major having pledged to sweep away the "cobwebs of secrecy" hanging over Britain's spy services.

Vauxhall Cross, or "Babylon-on-Thames," stands unashamedly ostentatious in the centre of the capital and everyone knows what it is for, with the building featuring on many bus tours.

But its openness goes only so far.

The building is said to be like a fortress, covered with security cameras inside and out and reinforced with special bomb and bullet-proof walls, triple-glazed glass to block electronic eavesdropping and jamming, extra-stout doors and two moats.

Although its multiple floors rise step by step into the London skyline, much of the construction is below ground to protect sensitive areas such as the computer control room from potential terrorist attack.

The refit and refurbishment alone for Britain's international intelligence gathering agency cost 80 million -- exactly what this was spent on being confidential on the grounds of "national security."

Such figures caused controversy earlier this year when it was revealed that Vauxhall Cross and Thames House, MI5's new headquarters across the river, together cost 547 million, more than twice original estimates.

Reuters contributed to this report.



RELATED STORIES:
MI6: Spy force shrouded in mystery
September 21, 2000
Rocket launcher theory in MI6 attack
September 21, 2000

RELATED SITES:
National Intelligence Machinery
James Bond -- The World Is Not Enough

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