There seems to be lots of unfounded media speculation, from across the newspaper political spectrum e.g.
- MI5 chief to resign after only four years in charge" - The Guardian
- "Dame Eliza stepping down as head of MI5 after only four years" - The Times
- "MI5 chief quits as full story of July 7 is about to emerge" - Daily Mail
This seems like lazy journalism to us.
Dame Eliza is not retiring until April next year, i.e. 4 and half years after taking up the role of Director General, which she started in October 2002. She will then have served 33 years in the Security Service, and will have spent 10 years at the top of MI5, as Deputy and then as Director General. She will be 59 years old in July 2007.
Why is this length of time as Director General considered to be significant ? According to the historical list of previous Directors General on the official MI5 Security Service website, this is neither an unusual amount of time to have held this post, nor an unusual age at which to retire - see our table below (birth and death dates from Wikipedia):
|Number of years served as head of MI5||Age at retirement||Period served||Name||Birth / Death|
|6||59||1903 - 1909 (Secret Service Bureau)||Sir William Melville||(b. 1850 - d. 1918)|
|31||67||1909 - 1940||Vernon Kell (from 1919, Sir Vernon Kell)||(b. 1873 - d. 1942)|
|6||67||1940 - 1946||Sir David Petrie||(b. 1879 - d. 1961)|
|7||65||1946 - 1953||Sir Percy Sillitoe||(b. 1888 - d. 1962)|
|3||50||1953 - 1956||Dick White (from 1955, Sir Dick White)||(b. 1906 - d. 1993)|
|9||60||1956 - 1965||Roger Hollis (from 1960, Sir Roger Hollis)||(b. 1905 - d. 1973)|
|7||60||1965 - 1972||Martin Furnival Jones (from 1967, Sir Martin Furnival Jones)||(b. 1912 - d. 1997)|
|7||61||1972 - 1979||Michael Hanley (from 1974, Sir Michael Hanley)||(b. 1918 - d. 2001)|
|3||62||1979 - 1981||Sir Howard Smith||(b. 1919 - d. 1996)|
|4||62||1981 - 1985||Sir John Jones||(b. 1923 - d. 1998)|
|2||64||1985 - 1987||Sir Anthony Duff||(b. 1920 - d. 2000)|
|5||60||1987 - 1992||Patrick Walker(from 1990, Sir Patrick Walker)||(b. 1932)|
|4||61||1992 - 1996||Stella Rimington (from 1996, Dame Stella Rimington)||(b. 1935)|
|6||55||1996 - 2002||Stephen Lander (from 2000, Sir Stephen Lander)||(b. 1947)|
|4 years 6 months||58||2002 - 2007||Honourable Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller||(b. 1948)|
There is no evidence that her retirement is due to the supposedly impending "full details" about the July 2005 terrorist attacks - who really believes that all the known facts will actually be revealed to the public ?
This does not seem any more likely to have influenced her decision, than the recent murder of Alexander Litvinenko , involving radioactive Polonium-210, former and current Russian espionage agents etc. which is also a plot which MI5 failed to detect and prevent.
Nobody should underestimate the difficulties of the job: having to deal with odious NuLabour politicians, the other secret intelligence agency rivals for budgets, skilled manpower and political influence, the bureaucratic culture of secrecy and incompetence, and the occasional terrorist plot or foreign spy scandal.
How well has Dame Eliza done at the job of Director General of the Security Service MI5 ?
Has she been a champion of our civil liberties and freedoms, working behind the scenes, or is she one of the main apparatchiki who have been pushing the United Kingdom down the slippery slope towards a surveillance police state ?
We do not really know, because of the culture of unnecessary secrecy.
We assume that the announcement of her retirement, which was apparently decided upon back in 2005, is to allow an orderly transition, to whoever is selected from the very small pool of possible candidates as her replacement.
It will also allow the usual corporate interests to sound her out about accepting possible directorships.
Feel free to use the comments or email, to speculate on either who her replacement might be, or on the corporate directorships which may come her way.