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'
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