Before becoming Chief of the Secret Intelligence Service Sir John worked around the world in diplomatic and security postings, including spells as the Foreign Office‘s Desk Officer in the EU Department, Foreign Policy Advisor to Prime Minister Tony Blair, and British Permanent Representative at the UN. His time at MI6 was marked by leading a service whose reputation had been damaged by the Iraq war and the Snowden affair, whilst also charged with tackling new technological and ideological threats.
Sir John Sawers served as the Chief of MI6, the Secret Intelligence Service, for five years. A former diplomat and civil servant, he’s also served as the British Permanent Representative at the UN, as well a number of roles at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
Joining the FCO after studying in the UK, South Africa and at Harvard, Sir John was stationed in Syria and Yemen. He was MI6’s Political Officer in Damascus before returning to the Foreign Office as Desk Officer in the EU Department. He returned to South Africa, this this time during the country’s transition from apartheid to democratic rule. His second stint working in Europe saw a period dominated by conflicts in the Middle East and Bosnia as well as debate over the UK’s role in Europe.
In the US Sir John led the Foreign and Defence policy team at the British Embassy in Washington. He returned to the UK as Foreign Policy Advisor to Prime Minister Tony Blair working on, amongst other issues, the Northern Ireland peace process, the Kosovo War, and Iraq. He was then appointed UK Ambassador to Egypt and later Special Representative in Baghdad.
Back in the UK again Sir John was Director General for Political Affairs at the FCO, advising the Foreign Secretary on global political and security issues and dealing with G8, EU and UN partners. He also headed the British delegation in the EU/Iran nuclear programme negotiations before becoming the British Permanent Representative at the UN. He then served a five-year term as the Chief of MI6 during a period covering the rise of ISIS, the Syrian civil war, the rise of cyber warfare and tensions with Russia. Whilst in post, he delivered the first ever public speech by a serving MI6 Chief when he addressed the Society of Editors touching on human rights, secrecy and the difficult choices the service had to make.
Sir John continues to commentate on the geopolitical and intelligence climate, covering Europe, the US, Russia, China and the Middle East. Commercially, he advises energy and financial services companies on risk and security issues. He also considers the wider lessons from his time at MI6 where he was faced with an organisation reluctant to change but damaged by a loss of public trust and facing new technological challenges.
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