News24

Britain names new spy boss

2009-06-16 19:39

London - Britain's top diplomat at the United Nations has been appointed as the new head of the country's MI6 overseas spy agency, Prime Minister Gordon Brown's office said on Tuesday.

John Sawers, who is currently the UK's permanent representative to the UN and previously represented Britain in negotiations over Iran's disputed nuclear programme, will take up his new post in November.

He replaces John Scarlett, whose career has been dogged by concerns over the intelligence used to build the case for the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq. He is retiring after five years.

Brown's Downing Street office said in a statement that Sawers, 53, was rejoining MI6 - but declined to give details of his previous appointment with the intelligence agency, formally known as the Secret Intelligence Service or SIS.

MI6 only began publicly naming its chief in the 1990s. Until 1992, Britain's government refused to confirm the organisation's existence.

Like all heads of MI6, Sawers will be known as "C" in tribute to the agency's first chief Captain Mansfield Cumming - who signed himself "C" in green ink on official documents. Each chief since has used the initial "C" to sign off papers.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said Sawers would lead the agency amid increasing threats from international terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

"He's going to have his work cut out in terms of the deteriorating situations in both Iran and Pakistan," British opposition Conservative party lawmaker Patrick Mercer said.