In another life, Sir John Sawers may well have been the stuff of popular fiction—the mysterious spy who worked for a secret organization. Yet, on Thursday, Sawers became the first serving chief in the history of Britain’s MI6 to deliver a public address.
It’s an unprecedented act, all the more because MI6 has always been shrouded in secrecy, its place in the popular imagination thanks only to James Bond. Predictably, the appearance was hailed as a move towards more openness in the agency.
This might be an indicator that Britain’s top spies are increasingly becoming public figures. But there may as well be a more mundane reason: Sawers’ speech followed that of the chiefs of two other British security agencies, at a time when Britain is planning to cut security budgets as part of a major fiscal tightening. Sawers himself undercut the transparency drive when he said, “Secrecy is not a dirty word.”
It seems the mystery is yet to unfold.