Page last updated at 13:26 GMT, Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Profile: Dame Stella Rimington

Dame Stella Rimington
Dame Stella was the first female head of the secret service

Dame Stella Rimington, former head of MI5 has accused the government of exploiting the fear of terrorism and trying to bring in laws that restrict civil liberties.

For a former security chief she has been surprisingly vocal since her retirement, particularly in her criticism of the government's anti-terror legislation.

Dame Stella was the first female director general of the security service and the first to be named and photographed.

When the makers of James Bond films decided to make 007's boss a woman, it was alleged that Judi Dench's character, M, was based on Dame Stella.

'Housewife spy'

Dame Stella was recruited by the secret service in 1967, whilst living in India, where her husband, John, had been posted to the British High Commission.

When the couple returned to the UK, she decided to apply for a permanent position at MI5. After working her way through the ranks of the organisation Dame Stella became director general of MI5 in 1992.

During her time in charge, tabloids called her the "housewife spy" - a nickname Dame Stella admits to detesting - when the secret service named her but did not supply a photograph of her.

It was only after a concerted campaign by the press that her identity was exposed.

In 1984 she and her husband separated, with Dame Stella maintaining custody of their two daughters.

ID cards may be helpful in all kinds of things but I don't think they are necessarily going to make us any safer
Dame Stella Rimington in 2005

The potential threat posed by the IRA at the time meant that the head of MI5 and her family had to move homes and schools.

Since leaving the MI5 in 1996, Dame Stella has made the headlines a number of times.

Firstly, for publishing her memoirs, Open Secret, which no secret service boss had ever done before. At the time Dame Stella called for the Official Secrets Act to be radically reformed, saying that its demand for the complete confidence of former spies was "unrealistic".

Dame Stella's latest comments will not have come as a big surprise as she has condemned much of the government's counter-terrorism legislation in recent years.

In 2005 she spoke out against the introduction of ID cards, saying that their potential for forgery made them "absolutely useless".

"ID cards may be helpful in all kinds of things but I don't think they are necessarily going to make us any safer," she said.

When the government attempted to extend the pre-charge detention limit to 42 days, Dame Stella was an outspoken critic of the proposals.

The former secret service chief also caused controversy when she described the US reaction to the 11 September attacks as a "huge overreaction".

Since Dame Stella's retirement she has worked as a director of Marks and Spencer and also the BG group. She has also written four spy fiction novels.

On the suggestion that Judi Dench's character M in the James Bond films is modelled on herself, Dame Stella said the depiction was "really very good. Both my daughters said so. One even noted that she holds her hands the way I do."

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