7 Nov 2013

Tinker, Tailor… the spy chiefs on show for the first time

How much do we know about the spymasters who stepped out of the shadows to face the television cameras? Channel 4 News has the scoop on the snoopers.

How much do we know about the spymasters who are about to step out of the shadows and face the television cameras?

The heads of MI5, MI6 and GCHQ were questioned in public by parliament’s intelligence and security committee for the first time on Thursday.

The spymasters gave evidence about the role of the intelligence services in an unprecedented televised session.

But what do we know about the men who run the shadowy world of surveillance, espionage and counter-intelligence?

Watch the video: heads of GCHQ, MI5 and MI6 appear in front of MPs

MI5: Andrew Parker

Sir Andrew Parker

The only Oxbridge graduate of the three, Parker studied natural sciences at Cambridge before joining the security service.

He said he was “fascinated and drawn by the opportunity to work in a professional organisation doing work of real national importance”, adding: “That might sound starry-eyed, but it has been my genuine experience every day since.”

A career intelligence officer, he led MI5‘s response to the 7/7 bomb attacks on London in 2005, and helped foil the al-Qaeda plot to blow up transatlantic airliners with liquid explosives.

Parker had worked for the service for more than 30 years and was deputy director general when he took over from Sir Jonathan Evans earlier this year, in keeping with MI5’s tradition of appointing director generals from within the ranks.

Rare public appearances include a speech to the Royal United Services Institute (Rusi) last month, when he talked about how the security service was adapting to counter new threats.

Parker is married with two children and describes himself as a keen ornithologist and wildlife photographer.

MI6: Sir John Sawers

Sir John Sawers (Reuters)

Sir John is the only member of the secret intelligence service whose name is officially in the public domain.

The head of MI6 is still known as ‘C’ after the first chief, Mansfield Cumming.

Heads of the foreign intelligence service are appointed by and accountable to the Foreign Secretary, who is obliged to sign off operation abroad that would otherwise be illegal.

Born and raised in Bath, Sir John excelled at athletics at school and went on to study physics and philosophy at Nottingham University. His official biography states that he joined MI6 before entering the diplomatic service, getting posted to Yemen, Syria and South Africa.

He served two years as Ambassador to Cairo and was Tony Blair’s Foreign Affairs Adviser before heading to Iraq in 2003 to help set up the provisional government after the invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.

Sir John suffered an embarrassing moment shortly after his appointment when his wife posted holiday snaps of him wearing short swimming trunks

Sir John was the UK’s permanent representative to the United Nations from 2007 until his appointment as C in 2009. The most high-profile of the three spy chiefs, Sir John defended MI6’s human rights record in a speech to the society of editors in 2010. Last year he warned MPs that poor pay and working conditions were damaging morale in the intelligence services.

Sir John suffered an embarrassing moment shortly after his appointment when his wife, Lady Shelley Sawers, posted holiday snaps of him wearing short swimming trunks on her Facebook page.

Their daughter Corrine came in for criticism in 2010 when she posted a picture of herself posing with a gold-plated Kalashnikov rifle on the social networking site.

GCHQ: Sir Iain Lobban

The director of the Cheltenham listening post is the most reclusive of the three intelligence chiefs.

He studied languages at the University of Leeds before joining GCHQ in 1983.

In a speech last year to mark the centenary of the birth of troubled enigma code-breaker Alan Turing, he said intelligence agencies need to attract brilliant recruits with “unique personalities”, adding: “I don’t need to tell them how to live their lives.”

Little is known of Sir Iain’s private life. He is reportedly a keen supporter of Everton.


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