Matthew Dancona

The new chief of MI6

The new chief of MI6
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So MI6 is to have a new chief: Sir John Sawers, presently our man at the UN, is going back to the service he worked for in his early years, replacing the estimable Sir John Scarlett in November. Scarlett, who flickered on to the public stage much against his wishes during the Hutton Inquiry, was an SIS chief of the old school and the best school who understood that, whatever the threat – Soviet communism or al-Qaeda – and whatever the improvements in technology, there was nothing to beat recruiting and managing agents on the ground. He will depart with honour.

His replacement was one of three shortlisted, one of whom, intriguingly, was an “external” candidate. Sawers is best known for his time between 1999 and 2001 as Tony Blair’s foreign policy adviser, during which he was deeply involved in the management of the Kosovo crisis and the Northern Ireland peace process. He was also political director of the FCO for four years, experience which will doubtless serve him well as he negotiates the minefield of running a 21st century intelligence service at a time of public sector cuts, demands for ever greater transparency and an Islamist threat that is both elusively supranational and deeply domesticated.