John Sawers

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Sir John Sawers
Chief of the Secret Intelligence Service
In office
1 November 2009 – 1 November 2014
Prime Minister Gordon Brown
David Cameron
Preceded by Sir John Scarlett
Succeeded by Alex Younger
Permanent Representative of the United Kingdom to the United Nations
In office
1 August 2007 – 1 November 2009
Prime Minister Gordon Brown
Preceded by Sir Emyr Jones Parry
Succeeded by Sir Mark Lyall Grant
Director-General for Political Affairs at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office
In office
Preceded by Sir Peter Ricketts
Succeeded by Sir Mark Lyall Grant
HM Ambassador to Egypt
In office
Prime Minister Tony Blair
Preceded by Sir Graham Boyce
Succeeded by Derek Plumbly
Personal details
Born (1955-07-26) 26 July 1955 (age 63)
Warwick, England
Nationality British
Alma mater University of Nottingham
University of St Andrews
University of the Witwatersrand
Harvard University
Occupation Intelligence officer, civil servant
Profession Diplomat

Sir Robert John Sawers GCMG (born 26 July 1955) is an English intelligence officer, diplomat and civil servant. He was Chief of the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6),[1] a position he held from November 2009 until November 2014.[2] He was previously the British Permanent Representative to the United Nations from August 2007 to November 2009.[3][4]


Born in Warwick,[5] Sawers was brought up in a family of five children in Bath and educated at the City of Bath Boys' School (which became Beechen Cliff School before he left), where he still holds the 440-yard hurdles school record.[6] He is a descendant of the historic Stratford family through his maternal grandmother.[7] He studied physics and philosophy at the University of Nottingham, and spent periods at the Universities of St Andrews, Witwatersrand and Harvard. During his time at Nottingham he took a year out of his studies to serve in the students' union committee. His interests include theatre, hiking and sport, especially tennis and cycling. His wife Shelley is a teacher. They have three grown-up children.


Foreign and Commonwealth Office[edit]

Sawers joined the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in 1977.[8] In his early career, Sawers worked in Yemen and Syria, on behalf of MI6.[1][9][10] He became Political Officer in Damascus in 1982 and then returned to the Foreign & Commonwealth Office to take up the role of Desk Officer in the European Union Department in 1984 and Private Secretary to the Minister of State in 1986.[8]

He was based in Pretoria and then Cape Town in South Africa from 1988 to 1991[8] during the first part of the transition from apartheid.[11] He returned to the Foreign & Commonwealth Office yet again to take up the roles of Head of European Union Presidency Planning Unit in 1991 and Principal Private Secretary to Douglas Hurd in 1993.[8] The period was dominated by war in Bosnia, crises in the Middle East, and the debate in Britain on the European Union.

From 1995 to 1998 he was in the United States and spent a year as an International Fellow at Harvard University[8] and later at the British Embassy in Washington D. C., where he headed the Foreign and Defence Policy team.[8]

From January 1999 to summer 2001 he was Foreign Affairs Adviser to Prime Minister Tony Blair,[8] dealing with all aspects of foreign and defence policy and working closely with international counterparts.[11] The period included the Kosovo War. He also worked on the Northern Ireland peace process and the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. He reviewed the Iraq sanctions policy during this period and issued a document that included consideration of regime change.[12]

He served two years in the Middle East as Ambassador to Egypt from 2001 to 2003,[8] and for three months was the British Government's Special Representative in Baghdad[8] assisting in the establishment of the Coalition Provisional Authority as the transitional government during the Occupation of Iraq.

In August 2003 Sawers was appointed Director General for Political Affairs at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. In this post he advised the Foreign Secretary on political and security issues worldwide and negotiated on behalf of the Foreign Secretary with international partners in the G8, EU and the UN. He was particularly closely involved in policy on Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and the Balkans. Sawers headed the British team in the EU-3 negotiations over Iran's nuclear program in 2006,[13] utilising his scientific background on nuclear matters.[14]

In 2007 he became British Permanent Representative to the United Nations.[8]

Sawers is a governor of the Ditchley Foundation, which aims to promote international, especially Anglo-American, relations.[15]

Chief of the Secret Intelligence Service[edit]

Sawers was announced as the new chief of the Secret Intelligence Service on 16 June 2009, succeeding Sir John Scarlett. He took up his new appointment in November 2009.[1] In July 2009 his family details were removed from the social networking site Facebook following media interest in the contents.[16][17] On 10 and 16 December 2009 Sawers gave evidence to The Iraq Inquiry.[12][18] In July 2010 his salary was revealed to the public to be in the range of £160,000 to £169,999.[19]

During the Syrian Civil War Sawers supported the Chief of the Defence Staff General Sir David Richards in drawing up plans to train and equip a Syrian rebel army of 100,000 to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad, as an alternative option to the government’s plan for limited direct military involvement. The plans were rejected by the National Security Council as too ambitious.[20] Ultimately on 29 August 2013, parliament refused to support the government's plan to participate in military strikes against the Syrian government.[21]

Sawers announced his intention to stand down from chief of the Secret Intelligence Service by November 2014, the fifth anniversary of his appointment.[2] He was replaced by Alex Younger.[22]

Already Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George (KCMG), he was appointed Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael and St George (GCMG) in the 2015 New Year Honours for services to national security.[23][24]

Later career[edit]

After retiring as Chief of the Secret Intelligence Service Sawers became Partner and Chairman of Macro Advisory Partners, who provide strategic advice and insights to investors and governments.[25] He also became a Visiting Professor in the Department of War Studies at King's College London.[26]

He is a member of the Steering Committee of the Bilderberg Conferences and participated in all conferences since 2014 [27]


  1. ^ a b c Michael Evans (June 16, 2009). "Outsider Sir John Sawers appointed new head of MI6". The Times. London. Retrieved 2009-06-16. 
  2. ^ a b Ewen Macaskill and Richard Norton-Taylor (26 June 2014). "MI6 chief Sir John Sawers to step down". The Guardian. Retrieved 5 July 2014. 
  3. ^ "Permanent Representative — Sir John Sawers". United Kingdom Mission to the United Nations, Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Archived from the original on 2009-04-09. Retrieved 2009-06-16. 
  4. ^ A & C Black (2012). "SAWERS, Sir (Robert) John". Who's Who 2012, online edition. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 2012-05-02. 
  5. ^ "The 'James Bond' taking top job at MI6". BBC. 1 November 2009. Retrieved 2009-09-01. 
  6. ^ "Ex-Bath pupil to head M16". Bath Chronicle. 17 June 2009. Retrieved 2009-06-17. 
  7. ^ Sawers family genealogy site (run by David Sawers, brother of John) - Stratford lineage
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Beckett: Senior Diplomatic Service Appointments". Foreign and Commonwealth Office. 2006-12-10. Archived from the original on 2008-12-05. Retrieved 2009-06-16. 
  9. ^ "Lunch with Sir John Sawers". Retrieved 29 December 2014. 
  10. ^ "SIS - The Chief". Archived from the original on 2012-04-15. Retrieved 2013-03-19. 
  11. ^ a b Laura Roberts (28 October 2010). "Sir John Sawers: profile of MI6 chief". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 12 January 2015. 
  12. ^ a b Michael Savage (1 February 2010). "Plan to oust Saddam drawn up two years before the invasion". The Independent. Retrieved 2010-02-10. 
  13. ^ Kaveh L Afrasiabi (1 Apr 2006). "Iran: Options for a face-saving solution". Asia Times. Retrieved 2009-06-17. 
  14. ^ Laura Trevelyan (16 June 2009). "New MI6 boss is 'excellent dancer'". BBC. Retrieved 2009-06-17. 
  15. ^ "The Governors". Ditchley Foundation. Archived from the original on 28 September 2012. 
  16. ^ "MI6 chief's Facebook details cut". BBC News. BBC. 2009-07-05. Retrieved 2009-07-05. 
  17. ^ Jason Lewis (5 July 2009). "MI6 chief blows his cover as wife's Facebook account reveals family holidays, showbiz friends and links to David Irving". The Mail on Sunday. Retrieved 2009-07-05. 
  18. ^ "Iraq violence 'may have prompted UK rethink'". BBC News. BBC. 17 December 2009. Retrieved 29 January 2010. 
  19. ^ "Quango chiefs' salaries revealed". BBC News. 2 July 2010. Retrieved 2 July 2010. 
  20. ^ Richard Spencer (4 July 2014). "Britain drew up plans to build 100,000-strong Syrian rebel army". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 4 July 2014. 
  21. ^ Robert Winnett (29 August 2013). "Syria crisis: No to war, blow to Cameron". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 1 January 2014. 
  22. ^ "Appointment of the new Chief of the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6)". GOV.UK. Press releases. Her Majesty's Government. 2014-10-03. Retrieved 2014-10-03. 
  23. ^ "No. 61092". The London Gazette (Supplement). 31 December 2014. p. N3. 
  24. ^ "New year honours 2015" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 31 December 2014. Retrieved 31 December 2014. 
  25. ^ "Partners". Macro Advisory Partners. Retrieved 20 January 2015. 
  26. ^ "War Studies Annual Lecture". King's College London. 2015. Retrieved 20 January 2015. 
  27. ^ "Steering Committee". Bilderberg Meetings. Retrieved 2017-09-18. 

Offices held[edit]

Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Sir Richard Gozney
Principal Private Secretary
to the Foreign Secretary

Succeeded by
Sir William Ehrman
Preceded by
Sir John Holmes
Private Secretary for Foreign Affairs
to the Prime Minister

Succeeded by
Francis Campbell
Preceded by
Sir Graham Boyce
British Ambassador to

Succeeded by
Sir Derek Plumbly
Preceded by
Sir Peter Ricketts
Director-General, Political of the
Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Succeeded by
Sir Mark Lyall Grant
Preceded by
Sir Emyr Jones Parry
Permanent Representative of the
United Kingdom to the United Nations

Succeeded by
Sir Mark Lyall Grant
Government offices
Preceded by
Sir John Scarlett
Chief of the SIS
Succeeded by
Alex Younger