New Chief at SIS

29 July: SIS, the UK’s foreign intelligence service, has a new Chief. He is Richard Moore, a senior Foreign Office official and former British ambassador to Turkey. He will take up his post in October. Moore beat Tom Hurd, the other front runner, in the final round of selection.

Moore’s pedigree is similar to that of John Sawers who led the organisation before the current ‘C’, Alex Younger. Like Sawers, Moore initially joined SIS, but switched to the Foreign Office. It seems that this will now become one of the standard routes to the leadership of the organisation rather than sticking doggedly in the ranks of the spooks. There is a feeling in Whitehall that the Chief of SIS needs experience of navigating the Whitehall jungle and spies do not get much experience of this. The other alternative is to appoint a secret service man such as Alex Younger or John Scarlett.

Tom Hurd was a strong candidate as the son of a former Foreign Secretary, a good friend of British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, and a Brexiteer, which is the dominant faction in the current British government. However, the clinching argument in favour of Moore was his Whitehall experience. There is a strong feeling in Whitehall that SIS is not performing as well as it should, principally that it is not providing sufficient quality intelligence on the Russian threat and on Brexit economic targets. The standard time for a Chief of SIS to serve is five years. Younger has been in place for six, but this was not a particular sign of confidence. It was simply a way of avoiding disruption during a General Election and Brexit. The head of MI5 was retained for an extra year on a similar basis.

With the appointment in April of Kenneth McCallum as head of MI5 and Lindy Cameron as head of the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC – which was announced earlier this week), this represents an almost complete change of leadership at Britain’s intelligence services. Taken together with the clear out of all the senior civil servants responsible for handling the British intelligence services (see earlier reports), it will be interesting to see what this new administration can achieve.

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