15 JULY 2009


When Sir John Sawers was appointed in August 2007 as the Permanent Representative of the United Kingdom to the U.N. word went around that the name should be pronounced differently than the way it was written. A veteran then observed that with such confusing spelling, Sir John would have a future at clandestine work. Apparently he does. Or he did, depending on whom you listened to.

And when it was reported that the relatively newly-appointed U.K. ambassador will be returning to London for another posting, it was assumed that it would be at the Foreign Office. Apparently it was not. Or perhaps it is, depending on who you listen to.

Confusing? Of course. Otherwise what's the point of designating a new Chief of MI6, the British external secret services, which, according to its website, yes website, collects "secret foreign intelligence in support of the British Government's policies and objectives." It is completely different from MI5, the internal set-up.

To you, James Bond movie viewers, it's "C". He appears selectively at crucial moments, that is, when an atomic bomb is seconds from exploding or when a martini (shaken, not stirred) is delightfully laid aside as 007 is persuading a female companion that the game was up.

To New York-based U.N. diplomats, it's Mr. S. Sir John, KCMG ("Kindly Call Me God") will be taking over his new secretive, though by now not so secret, assignments in October (or November, depending on who you listen to). Apparently, no one had informed Lady Sawers ("Shelley" to friends) in time to avoid showing off her beloved husband's fairly youthful body, clad in Speedo bathing suit on a Cornwall beach, proudly extolling the artistic talents of mother and daughter imitating Liza Minelli in "Cabaret." Grandma and the young ladies graduating from Oxford, as well as the home address, were all put out for the world to enjoy at Lady Sawers "Facebook" site.

The photos seemed disarmingly affectionate, showing three generations of a loving family having a jolly good time together.

However, London's Mail on Sunday which initially reported the story thought that such details like the bathing suit label or his mother's home address were "potentially useful to terrorists."

Now, that paper carried headlines like "British Scientists Grow Sperm in Laboratory," "I Told My Wife I Loved Her After She Tried to Kill Me," and "Why Guests Fled Queen's Garden Party" (because of flash floods and power cuts; but that was explained later). Why would it highlight a security question on a designated Security Chief?

We have no experience in the clandestine business. But anyone in New York's diplomatic community knows what MI6's future chief looks like. He not only was the representative of a prominent major country at the U.N.; he had chaired the Security Council and regularly briefed the press. His wife is a popular ? in all social activities; his family's whereabouts are no secret. His appointment had been announced, however cryptically, by the Foreign Office which stated that he will be "rejoining" (Aha!) MI6.

Perhaps someone, somewhere, is unhappy with the designation. Not only "potential terrorists," but possibly some source with enough influence to inspire a headline in a widely-read Sunday paper. Obviously, the designated "C" is better placed to know who, what or why. We don't.

But we offer our brief modest comment that someone like Sir John who so ably represented a permanent member of the Security Council, a country which is one of the most solid supporters of the U.N., will most likely be much better for a harmonious world than someone else who ponders why the Queen's party rained out.