New spymaster moves into Vauxhall Cross

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The Independent Online
(First Edition)

BRITAIN'S new spymaster has begun work in Britain's new spy headquarters.

David Spedding, head of the Secret Intelligence Service - MI6 - has this month quietly moved into his office in the pounds 230m Vauxhall Cross building on London's South Bank, replacing Sir Colin McColl, who ran SIS for five years.

Mr Spedding, 51, confronts a new set of problems for the agency: he will have to account to Parliament for its activities, facing (almost certainly in camera) a committee of senior MPs appointed to scrutinise the intelligence services, and defend its budget from a searching secret review being conducted by Sir Michael Quinlan, former permanent secretary at the Ministry of Defence.

Most important of all, he will have to redefine the mission of MI6 in a world that has changed dramatically since his predecessor took charge.

His job will be to reassess the principal strategic threats facing Britain, which are no longer likely to come from the former Soviet Union. Instead, they are expected to come from the international drugs trade, and from unstable Third World countries which within 10 years may be nuclear-armed and may possess missiles able to hit Britain.

A pounds 5m Whitehall study into the latter problem is under way.

Mr Spedding's background is perfect for the role: he is a specialist in terrorism and Middle Eastern affairs, the first to head MI6. Ostensibly a career diplomat, married with two children, who lists his interests as golf and medieval history, he has spent much of his service in Arab countries: he ran all Britain's secret Gulf war operations.

However, he has stubbornly maintained his predecessors' tradition of anonymity: no photographs, no interviews. The openness of his widely pictured opposite number at MI5, the Security Service, Stella Rimington, makes not a jot of difference. The only photograph of him published so far shows him as a schoolboy at Sherborne in the Fifties. He is the faceless man of Vauxhall Cross.

The new building, which replaces the former SIS headquarters, Century House in Lambeth, is only too visible, a huge Post-Modern pile on the south side of Vauxhall Bridge, with exterior detail that resembles Christmas-tree decorations. It is just a stone's throw from the celebrated penthouse of Lord Archer.

MI6 officers, who moved in last month, can occasionally be seen on the balcony enjoying the sunshine. So far, however, they have been heard to say very little.

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