Monday, July 6, 2009

British chief spy blows cover on Facebook

Foreign Secretary David Miliband has defended the next head of MI6 after details of his personal life were posted on Facebook. Pictures and private details of Sir John Sawers, who will take on the post in November, were revealed on an easily accessible profile page of his wife, Lady Shelley Sawers.

After a career as a diplomat, culminating in his current post as the UK's permanent representative to the United Nations, Sir John has become accustomed to a relatively public existence. Basic biographical details, including some information on his family, are already available in his Who's Who entry but it is the level of detail on the social networking site and the ease of access which has raised eyebrows.

The publication of information on the location of the family's London flat is likely to complicate security arrangements, at least in the short term. Up-to-date photographs not only of his three children but also their partners and Sir John's elderly parents are also made available on the site, meaning that they can be more easily identified. Patrick Mercer warned that family members could potentially be targeted by abductors or terrorists. The page was taken down after the Mail on Sunday informed the Foreign Office.

Mr Miliband denied that national security had been compromised, saying it was "no state secret" that the MI6 chief wore Speedos on holiday. And shadow business secretary Ken Clarke said the UK's enemies "did not wholly rely on the Mail on Sunday and Facebook for their information".

Disclosures on Lady Sawers' Facebook page have led to concerns that Britain's top spymaster's personal security has been compromised even before he takes up his post...

Lady Sawers disclosed details including the location of the London flat used by the couple and the whereabouts of their three children and of Sir John's parents, the Mail on Sunday reported. Mr Miliband told BBC1's Andrew Marr Show: "What are you leading the news with that ... The fact that there's a picture that the head of the MI6 goes swimming. Wow that really is exciting. It is not a state secret that he wears Speedo swimming trunks, for goodness sake let's grow up." Mr Clarke dismissed the potential security implications of the information - which he said he was certain Britain's enemies would have already known. "In the old days we used to keep the name secret, all photographs were banned and I never really believed that the Russians didn't know who the head of MI6 and MI5 was," he told Sky News' Sunday Live. "I suspect that the enemies of this country do not wholly rely on the Mail on Sunday and Facebook for their information so I personally would get a little more calm."

The Liberal Democrats insisted that Gordon Brown should call an inquiry. Foreign affairs spokesman Ed Davey said: "Normally, I would welcome greater openness in Government for officials or politicians but this type of exposure verges on the reckless."

Although his daughter, Corinne, has chosen a career in the limelight, the fact that she is the daughter of the head of MI6 has now been placed firmly in the public domain by the disclosures. Even an actress in the Archers has been inextricably linked to the spymaster. Lady Sawers's failure to activate the simple privacy settings available on Facebook also raises questions about how the family is adapting to such a sensitive role.

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