Where is M when you need her? UK seeks new MI6 chief spymaster as John Sawers steps down

LONDON – Wanted: Spymaster. Discretion an asset.

Britain’s MI6 intelligence agency announced Thursday that director John Sawers will leave in November at the end of his five-year term.

It said the recruitment process for his successor would begin soon.

MI6, also known as the Secret Intelligence Service, is Britain’s foreign intelligence agency. Its most famous boss is the fictional M in the James Bond stories — although the real-life MI6 chief is known as C.

MI6 said Sawers — a former diplomat who advised Prime Minister Tony Blair on foreign policy — had done “an exceptional job as Chief of the Secret Intelligence Service.” It did not elaborate.

Until the 1990s, the identity of the MI6 chief was kept secret. Sawers brought an unprecedented openness to the job, delivering speeches and appearing at televised parliamentary hearings.

His 2009 appointment brought allegations of a security lapse when his wife posted photos of the master spy in his bathing suit on a beach, along with personal information, on Facebook.

Then-Foreign Secretary David Miliband dismissed fears of a security breach, saying: “It’s not a state secret that he wears Speedo swimming trunks.”

Sawers’ successor will lead an agency under increasing criticism in the wake of revelations by the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks and by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.