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Last Updated: Tuesday, 26 August, 2003, 07:45 GMT 08:45 UK
Profile: John Scarlett
John Scarlett
John Scarlett was one of five directors at MI6
The new head of MI6 is breaking new ground simply because he has a public profile.

His picture is widely available and his biography, those bits we are allowed to know about, is well documented.

He was first exposed to the glare of publicity during last summer's Hutton inquiry into the death of weapons scientist Dr David Kelly.

Pictures of him arriving at the Royal Courts of Justice to give evidence on his role in overseeing the government's dossier on Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction were flashed around the world.

Yet as head of MI6 Mr Scarlett will, in accordance with long-held convention, not be making public appearances, or giving interviews.

Nevertheless publicity is precisely what his appointment will get as it immediately prompted something of a political row with the Lib Dems saying it was "highly controversial" and the Tories branding it "inappropriate".


That is in part because of Mr Scarlett's defence of the government's Iraq weapons dossier during Lord Hutton's Inquiry.

It does not help either that Tony Blair's former spindoctor, Alastair Campbell, apparently refers to Mr Scarlett as "mate".

In fact, many believed his chances of becoming the head of MI6 had effectively come to an end when his evidence at Hutton played such a key part in the government's defence of how it portrayed intelligence information when it made the case for war with Iraq.

Then, Mr Scarlett was chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, a body which includes all the chiefs of all the intelligence agencies, and was responsible for the September dossier.

Its main job, under normal circumstances, is to provide the prime minister with a weekly briefing on the security threats facing the UK and to advise the cabinet secretary on the funding needs of the intelligence agencies.

During the course of the Hutton inquiry, Mr Scarlett was criticised for agreeing to make key last minute changes in the dossier because Number 10 chief of staff Jonathan Powell feared it would play into the hands of anti-war groups.

Concerns were also raised that the JIC ignored warnings that the Iraq weapons claims were "over-egged".

Russian speaker

Prior to his exposure to the unfamiliar glare of the media, Mr Scarlett spent 30 years working for the Secret Intelligence Service, otherwise known as MI6, and ended up as one of its five directors.

A fluent Russian speaker, he joined MI6 in 1970 and during his early career served in Nairobi, Moscow, and Paris.

He went on to be in charge of Britain's station in Moscow.

On retiring in September 2001, he was appointed chairman of the Cabinet Office Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC), being in the job just a week when al-Qaeda mounted its 11 September attacks on New York and Washington.

Mr Scarlett let it be known that he approved of the September dossier's contents, denying claims that Downing Street had interfered with it and exaggerated the threat posed by Iraq.

He sent a note to Sir David Omand, the Cabinet Office security and intelligence co-ordinator, in which he said that Dr Kelly needed "a proper security-style interview" to clarify apparent inconsistencies in his statement about his meeting with Gilligan.

He is married with three daughters and a son. He was educated at Epsom College and Magdalen College, Oxford, where he obtained a first-class degree in history.

He lists his interests in Who's Who as history, medieval churches and family.

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