Page last updated at 10:34 GMT, Sunday, 5 July 2009 11:34 UK

MI6 boss in Facebook entry row

Sir John Sawers
Sir John Sawers is currently the UK's ambassador to the United Nations

Personal details about the life of the next head of MI6, Sir John Sawers, have been removed from social networking site Facebook amid security concerns.

The Mail on Sunday said his wife had put details about their children and the location of their flat on the site.

The details were removed after the paper contacted the Foreign Office.

Foreign Secretary David Miliband denied claims security had been compromised, saying: "You know he wears a Speedo swimsuit. That's not a state secret."

Privacy protection

Sir John Sawers is currently the UK's ambassador to the United Nations and is due to take up his new post in November.

The Mail on Sunday said information published on Facebook included the couple's friendships with senior diplomats and actors, including Moir Leslie from BBC Radio 4's The Archers.

Lady Sawers revealed the location of the London flat used by the couple and the whereabouts of their three grown-up children and of Sir John's parents, the paper said.

She had not imposed privacy protection on her account, allowing any of Facebook's four million users in the open-access "London" network to see the entries, it added.

Conservative MP Patrick Mercer, chairman of the counter-terrorism sub-committee, expressed concerns about the possible security risk.

He told the BBC: "It raises all sorts of worrying issues about the... personal life, in particular the location of flats, transport details, movement details, of an individual who is our most senior counter-terrorism officer abroad.

"A great deal of taxpayers' money has been spent over the past several decades making sure he and his family are protected from security compromises. Well, it doesn't seem to be very relevant any more, does it?"

He's a very able man, he's a very able appointment. It's pretty unfortunate that this has happened
Sir John Major

He added: "It's distressing and worrying therefore that these sorts of details should be appearing in the public domain. I would have hoped these sort of mistakes would not have been made by people like that."

Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman Edward Davey said the disclosure had the potential to damage the security of Sir John's family.

"We would be negligent if there wasn't an internal inquiry into the security implications, not just in relation to MI6 but to Sir John and his family," he said.

"We need to be reassured that this has been considered properly and there is nothing we need to worry about as a result of this."

'Grow up'

But Foreign Secretary David Miliband told the BBC's Andrew Marr programme: "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.

"He is an outstanding professional who will do a really good job in an outstanding organisation."

Lady Sawers' page on Facebook
Lady Sawers had no Facebook privacy protection, the Mail on Sunday says

Former Prime Minister Sir John Major said the issue had been "overblown".

He said: "I know John Sawers. He's a very able man, he's a very able appointment. It's pretty unfortunate that this has happened, I think that is true.

"But I think when you're faced with leaving Iraq possibly too early, huge problems in Afghanistan, the mess in Pakistan, the depth of the recession, I think this falls a long way below those."

Sir John Sawers is due to replace Sir John Scarlett as head of the overseas Secret Intelligence Service (MI6).

He has been the UK's Permanent Representative to the UN since 2007.

Before that he was political director at the Foreign Office, an envoy in Baghdad and a foreign affairs adviser to former Prime Minister Tony Blair.

He was in that post from 1999 to 2001 and was involved in the Kosovo conflict and Northern Ireland peace process.

Elsewhere overseas he worked in the British embassy in Washington, as an ambassador in Cairo and to South Africa from 1988 and 1991 when apartheid was ending.



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