The Sunday Times has a fairly detailed article on Sir John Sawers, including criticisms of his appointment by retired incumbents and contenders for the post of Chief of the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS/MI6).
There are named quotations from Sir Richard Dearlove (Chief of SIS from 1999 to 2004) and Sir Francis Richard (Director of GCHQ from 1998 to 2003), as well as from another, anonymous, former Chief of SIS.
From The Sunday Times
October 4, 2009
When he takes up his job on November 1 in the postmodernist building (known as "Legoland" to its occupants) in Vauxhall Cross on the Thames, he'll be the first C since Sir John Rennie, in 1968, to come from outside its ranks.
As one senior source puts it, "His life will change immediately. It won't be possible for friends to write to or phone him at home. He will disappear from normal life. He will not live at his home, but at a place in central London whose location will be kept secret. His security will be reviewed weekly. His driver will use different routes to take him from there to the office."
One recently retired C has taken the unusual step of speaking out to The Sunday Times Magazine about the appointment.
Is this code for Sir John Scarlett, the outgoing Chief ?
Surely Sir Colin McColl (Chief of SIS from 1989 to 1994) does not count as "recently retired" ?
Which really only leaves the outgoing Sir John Scarlett as the unnamed "recently retired C".
"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.
Perhaps "formerly" should read "formally" ?
"I know what the case in favour is: good Whitehall style, wide contacts and so on. But those shouldn't be the main criteria for this post. The main job is to lead the Secret Intelligence Service, and I am not convinced John Sawers, whatever his many talents, is at all qualified for that."
The retired C goes on to lambast David Miliband, seen as the prime mover behind the appointment: "It's the move of a very inexperienced foreign secretary. Sawers is an able, likable policy wonk. But the needs of the service have not been taken into account."
A typical day for Sawers will start with the morning meeting at Vauxhall Cross. This will be attended by the eight senior officers who make up the service's board of top personnel.
It discusses big operations and priorities.
The rest of the day is often spent in one-to-one meetings with senior officers and, says one who has attended the meetings, "an awful lot of time is spent liaising with Whitehall".
He meets the prime minister or foreign secretary frequently and has management meetings and updates from other secret-service chiefs. Dealings with the CIA and other key allied services are also conducted directly through his office, so he will travel frequently -- but his name does not appear on passenger flight lists, and great efforts are made to ensure that his whereabouts remain unknown at any time.
The retired C I spoke to isn't convinced: "The service is loyal and cohesive and it can survive one bad chief. But it isn't encouraging for those within the service that an impulsive and immature foreign secretary should have made the wrong choice at such an important time."
We agree that the Labour apparatchik David Miliband is a national embarrassment as Foreign Secretary, but it is impossible to predict how well Sir John Sawers will turn out as the new Chief of SIS - we pray that he will be a resounding success.
However, given the lack of effective public oversight of "British Intelligence", how can we ever be sure that any disasters will not simply be covered up ?