Although he worked for MI6 when young, serving in Yemen and Syria, Sawers spent most of his career as a diplomat working through a series of Foreign Office jobs, including foreign affairs adviser to Tony Blair and ambassador to the United Nations.
He was the first outsider to be appointed to the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS, also known as MI6) for decades. His appointment was opposed by senior MI6 officers who saw it as an attempt by the Foreign Office to increase its influence over the intelligence service as a result of the Iraq fiasco. The intelligence agencies claimed Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.
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