Search for the new 'C' as MI6 chief steps down: Sir John Sawers to leave post in November after five years in charge
* First M16 chief to be chosen from outside the service in 41 years
* Compared to James Bond because of his suave manner and good looks
* Leaves following damaging revelations by Edward Snowden
By Ian Drury | June 27, 2014
The Foreign Office is searching for a new spy chief after it was announced Sir John Sawers, the head of MI6, is stepping down.
The boss of Britain's overseas intelligence services – traditionally known as ‘C’ – will leave the post in November after five years.
Sir John – often compared to James Bond for his suave manner and good looks – had tried to lift the veil of secrecy surrounding MI6 and was its first head to give a public speech.
But his departure comes after a rocky year in which the three British intelligence services – the others are MI5 and GCHQ – were thrown into disarray by CIA whistleblower Edward Snowden's revelations about surveillance.
Only one – Andrew Parker, the director general of the domestic spy agency – will be left. Officials said Sir John’s departure was not linked to the Snowden disclosures.
Sir John was the first MI6 chief to be chosen from outside the service for 41 years.
His appointment was opposed by senior spies who believed it was an attempt by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) to increase its influence after the Iraq debacle, when the intelligence agencies claimed Iraq had stockpiled weapons of mass destruction.
Sir John, 58, is a career diplomat who has also worked as an envoy in Baghdad and as foreign affairs adviser to former Prime Minister Tony Blair.
But he was no stranger to the world of espionage, having trained with MI6 at the start of his career before joining the FCO.
Last year he told an intelligence committee hearing the Snowden revelations had been very damaging. ‘They have put our operations at risk. It is clear our adversaries are rubbing their hands with glee. Al-Qaeda is lapping it up,’ he said.
In 2012, MI6 was also in the spotlight when a coroner criticised spies for hampering the police investigation into the death of Gareth Williams, a GCHQ employee seconded to the agency who was found dead in a holdall in a London flat.
Even though he presided over a secret service, Sir John was accidentally exposed by his wife, Shelley, on the internet shortly after being appointed to the top job.
To the astonishment of spy-watchers, personal photographs posted on Facebook showing the spy chief on a beach in tight-fitting swimming trunks. Other potentially compromising details about where the family live and work, who their friends are and where they spend their holidays were posted.
The names of serving members of MI6 other than its head are secret, so a speculative list of potential successors will not be made public. But one candidate could be Charles Farr, director of the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism (OSCT), a close ally of Home secretary Theresa May.