Real life 'M' (who's actually known as 'C') Sir John Sawers stepping down as chief of MI6

He has led the Secret Intelligence Service for five years

The head of MI6, Sir John Sawers, is to stand down after five years in charge of the UK’s Secret Intelligence Service.

The agency said Sir John - a former diplomat who spent three years advising Prime Minister Tony Blair on foreign policy - had done “an exceptional job as chief”, typically declining to elaborate on his achievements. He will leave in November.

Sir John is likely to be remembered for bringing an unprecedented openness to the role as MI6 chief, also known as C, regularly giving speeches and appearing at televised parliamentary hearings to describe the agency’s work.

In recent months he has had to deal with the fallout from the Edward Snowden revelations, telling a select committee in November that the leaks by the former US intelligence operative had been very damaging.

He said: “They have put our operations at risk. It is clear our adversaries are rubbing their hands with glee. Al-Qaida is lapping it up.”

Sir John had an inauspicious start when he landed the role as head of MI6 after his wife posted beach photos on Facebook of the incoming spy chief in his swimming trunks. He was yet to take up the role although his appointment, taking over from Sir John Scarlett, had been announced.

Lady Shelley Sawers also included details on about where the couple worked, their friends and family, and where they liked to go on holiday. The material was soon removed.

After working for Mr Blair, which included a key role in Northern Ireland implementing the Good Friday Agreement, Sir John spent two years as Ambassador to Egypt before returning in a senior role at the Foreign Office, where he began his diplomatic career in 1977.

A Foreign Office spokesman said: “Sir John Sawers will complete his five-year term at SIS this autumn. He has done an exceptional job as chief of the Secret Intelligence Service.”

MI6 was not officially recognised until 1994 when John Major’s Government introduced the Intelligence Services Act making it subject to Whitehall scrutiny. The agency now employs around 3,200 people and has its headquarters in Vauxhall Cross, central London.

The Cabinet Office is due to begin the process of recruiting a successor with the outcome to be announced later in the year.

Read more: 'Snowden revelations have left UK vulnerable to terrorist attacks'
Intelligence chiefs asked to brief Government over torture allegations
Intelligence chiefs break cover with all guns blazing
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions