John Sawers

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John Sawers
UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras

Sir John Sawers is the head of of MI6. He was named as the new chief of MI6 on 16 June 2009, and replaced Sir John Scarlett in November 2009.[1]

Background

Sawers was born in Warwick, and educated at the City of Bath boys' school.[2]

He studied physics and philosophy at the University of Nottingham and later studied at the universities of St Andrews, Witwatersrand and Harvard.[3]

MI6 career

Richard Norton-Taylor notes that "It is highly unusual for a diplomat, or any outsider, to be appointed as the head – or C for chief, as he is still officially called – of MI6, Britain's secret intelligence service."[4]

However, the BBC states that "As Downing Street coyly noted, Sir John is "rejoining" the SIS - no details were given about his previous career in MI6."[5]

The Telegraph states that "Although he trained with MI6 at the beginning of his career, he has spent the time since as a career diplomat".[6] However, Michael Evans' account suggests that Sawers undertook two overseas postings as an MI6 officer, presumably under diplomatic cover:

He began his career with MI6 in 1977, serving in Yemen and Syria. He then switched to the Diplomatic Service in the 1980s, following a more conventional path as a British envoy, and was appointed political director of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in 2003.[7]

Diplomatic career

According to an official FCO biography Sawer spent his early career working "in Yemen and Syria, and was in South Africa from 1988-91 during the first part of the transition from Apartheid. Between spells overseas, he worked in London, mainly on EU business."[8]

For two and a half years, he served as Principal Private Secretary to Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd. According to the Foreign Office, "The period was dominated by war in Bosnia, crises in the Middle East, and the debate in Britain on the European Union."[9]

Sawers spent the period from 1995 to 1998 in the United States. After a year as an International Fellow at Harvard University he joined the British Embassy in Washington where he headed the Embassy team dealing with foreign and defence policy issues.[10]

Outside of politics

Having departed his role as chief of the secret intelligence service in November 2014, Sawers sought the advice of the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (ACOBA) regarding some potential appointments outside of government. The first was a post as non-executive board member of oil company BP, and the Foreign Secretary permitted this providing that he serve a three month waiting period from his last day in crown service, he did not draw upon any privileged information from his time in government and that he serve a two year lobbying ban from his final day in office. Sawer took up the appointment in May 2015.

The second position Sawers sought the advice of ACOBA for was that of chairman of Macro Advisory Partners, an investment advisory firm. Providing the same conditions of the first appointment were observed, the Foreign Secretary saw no issue with Sawers entering the role, and he did so in February 2015.

Sawers also sought advice regarding a role as advisory board member of lobbying firm Edelman, in which he would advise the leadership of the company on it's strategy and client relationships. The committee noted that Sawers had no dealings with Edelman in his last two years in office or any of their competitors, and that the position would no involved any dealing with government. ACOBA advised he did not use any privileged information from his time in office and that he serve a two year lobbying ban from his last day in crown service, and Sawers took up the post in June 2016. [11]

Foreign affairs adviser

Sawers was foreign affairs advisor to Tony Blair from January 1999 to summer 2001, a period that included the Kosovo War. He was involved in negotiations on Northern Ireland and the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement.[12][13]

Egypt ambassador

Sawers next post was as Ambassador to Cairo from 2001 to 2003.[14]

Iraq envoy

Sawers served as a special envoy in Baghdad for three months after the invasion of Iraq. According to The Telegraph, he argued against the policy of dismissing members of the Ba'ath Party.[15]

Foreign Office political director

Sawers served as Foreign Office political director for four years at the height of the Iraq conflict[16] from August 2003 to August 2007.[17]

The Foreign Office described his role as follows:

In this post he advised the Foreign Secretary on political and security issues worldwide, and negotiated on behalf of the Foreign Secretary with international partners in the G8, EU and the UN. He was particularly closely involved in policy on Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and the Balkans.[18]

UN representative

Sawers became the UK's permanent representative to the UN in New York in August 2007.[19]

The BBC describes his role in the post as follows:

as an ambassador of one of the permanent five, Sir John has played a central role in the key resolutions negotiated here over the past two years - on Iran, North Korea and the Middle East.
On Sri Lanka and Burma, he has been pushing the UN to play an active role.
An Iran specialist and scientist, his press briefings on the status of Iran's nuclear programme have been known to resemble seminars on nuclear physics.[20]

Director of MI6

Sawer was named as the new chief of MI6 on 16 June 2009. He was due to replace Sir John Scarlett in November 2009.[21]

Shortly after his appointment, details of Sawer's wife's Facebook account were revealed by the Mail on Sunday. The paper revealed that Lady Sawer's half-brother Hugo Haig-Thomas was an associate of right-wing historian David Irving. Opposition spokesmen including Liberal Democrat Edward Davy and Conservative Patrick Mercer questioned whether Sawers' security had been compromised.[22]

Sawers is the first MI6 chief appointed from outside the service since Sir John Rennie in 1968, and the Facebook incident has contributed to criticism from his predecessors.[23]

According to the Sunday Times' Anne McElvoy, former MI6 director Richard Dearlove was critical of the appointment because of Sawers' closeness to the Government. McElvoy added that:

One recently retired C has taken the unusual step of speaking out to The Sunday Times Magazine about the appointment. “It’s a dreadful mistake,” he says flatly. “The problem will be operational credibility with the troops. What kind of signal does it send if someone who was barely in the service before he left it is appointed as its head? He is dealing with people who have devoted their lives to SIS, as MI6 is formerly known.[24]

SpyBlog suggests that because Dearlove is mentioned directly in the article "the recently retired C" may be John Scarlett.[25]

The UPI news agency reported that Sawer and CIA head Leon Panetta had visited Riyadh in early 2010. This reportedly coincided with increased Saudi pressure on Pakistan to cooperate with the US against the Taliban.[26]

After five years in the top job and 36 years of service to the British government, Sawers finally left in November 2014, joining the board of BP.[27]

Views

According to Richard Norton-Taylor, 'Sawers is known to adopt a hard line on Iran and be sceptical about any suggestions that it does not want to build nuclear weapons'.[28]

Affiliations

External resources

Alan Cowell, British Spymaster Says Iran Is 2 Years From Nuclear Bomb Capability, New York Times, 13 July 2012.

Notes

  1. Richard Norton-Taylor, Sir John Sawers named as new chief of MI6, guardian.co.uk, 16 June 2009.
  2. Richard Norton-Taylor, Sir John Sawers named as new chief of MI6, guardian.co.uk, 16 June 2009.
  3. Richard Norton-Taylor, Sir John Sawers named as new chief of MI6, guardian.co.uk, 16 June 2009.
  4. Richard Norton-Taylor, Sir John Sawers named as new chief of MI6, guardian.co.uk, 16 June 2009.
  5. Laura Trevelyan, New MI6 boss is 'excellent dancer', BBC News, 16 June 2009.
  6. Duncan Gardham, Career civil servant the new chief of MI6, telegraph.co.uk, 17 June 2009.
  7. Michael Evans, [http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article6511372.ece Outsider Sir John Sawers appointed new head of MI6], Times Online, 16 June 2009.
  8. Permanent Representative, UK Mission the UN, New York, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, accessed 17 June 2009.
  9. Permanent Representative, UK Mission the UN, New York, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, accessed 17 June 2009.
  10. Permanent Representative, UK Mission the UN, New York, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, accessed 17 June 2009.
  11. Sir John Sawers Summary of business appointments applications, Gov.UK, accessed 18 July 2016
  12. Permanent Representative, UK Mission the UN, New York, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, accessed 17 June 2009.
  13. Richard Norton-Taylor, Sir John Sawers named as new chief of MI6, guardian.co.uk, 16 June 2009.
  14. Permanent Representative, UK Mission the UN, New York, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, accessed 17 June 2009.
  15. Duncan Gardham, Career civil servant the new chief of MI6, telegraph.co.uk, 17 June 2009.
  16. Duncan Gardham, Career civil servant the new chief of MI6, telegraph.co.uk, 17 June 2009.
  17. Permanent Representative, UK Mission the UN, New York, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, accessed 17 June 2009.
  18. Permanent Representative, UK Mission the UN, New York, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, accessed 17 June 2009.
  19. Permanent Representative, UK Mission the UN, New York, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, accessed 17 June 2009.
  20. Laura Trevelyan, New MI6 boss is 'excellent dancer', BBC News, 16 June 2009.
  21. Richard Norton-Taylor, Sir John Sawers named as new chief of MI6, guardian.co.uk, 16 June 2009.
  22. Jason Lewis, MI6 chief blows his cover as wife's Facebook account reveals family holidays, showbiz friends and links to David Irving, MailOnline, 5 July 2009.
  23. Anne McElvoy, On Her Majesty's Not-So-Secret Service, Sunday Times, 4 October 2009.
  24. Anne McElvoy, On Her Majesty's Not-So-Secret Service, Sunday Times, 4 October 2009.
  25. Anne McElvoy, On Her Majesty's Not-So-Secret Service, Sunday Times, 4 October 2009.
  26. Saudis 'pushed ISI to aid U.S.', UPI, 25 February 2010.
  27. FT.com Former MI6 Chief Sir John Sawers joins BP BoardMay 14 2015, accessed 23 September 2015
  28. Richard Norton-Taylor, Sir John Sawers named as new chief of MI6, guardian.co.uk, 16 June 2009.