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Top British spymaster breaks silence to defend Secret Intelligence Service

PUBLISHED: 10:29 28 October 2010 | UPDATED: 12:45 28 October 2010

Britain's Secret Intelligence Service, SIS, chief John Sawers addresses a gathering of academics, officials and editors in London Thursday Oct. 28, 2010. The boss of Britain's MI6 spy agency has delivered his first public speech, one devoted to explaining his secretive organization's work and outlining the difficulties he faced in ensuring that foreign partners acted fairly. (AP Photo//Toby Melville, Pool) ... Britain-MI6 ... 28-10-2010 ... LONDON ... GBR XEN ... Photo credit should read: TOBY MELVILLE/AP.

Britain's Secret Intelligence Service, SIS, chief John Sawers addresses a gathering of academics, officials and editors in London Thursday Oct. 28, 2010. The boss of Britain's MI6 spy agency has delivered his first public speech, one devoted to explaining his secretive organization's work and outlining the difficulties he faced in ensuring that foreign partners acted fairly. (AP Photo//Toby Melville, Pool) ... Britain-MI6 ... 28-10-2010 ... LONDON ... GBR XEN ... Photo credit should read: TOBY MELVILLE/AP.

AP/Press Association Images

Britain's spymaster today broke silence for the first time to defend the work of the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS).

Sir John Sawers, known as “C” addressed an audience of journalists from the Society of Editors and took as his theme “Britain’s secret front line”.

Sir John posed the questions why we need a secret intelligence service and categorically denied any British intelligence agents had ever been involved in torture.

He said in some circumstances lives had probably been lost because of this stance.

“He said: “Secrecy is not a dirty word. Secrecy is not there as a cover up. Secrecy plays a crucial part in keeping Britain safe and secure.”

“Without secrecy there would be no intelligence services or indeed other national assets like our Special Forces. Our nation would be more exposed as a result.”

Sir John said that today millions of people in Britain are free of fear because of the British government’s work to stop terrorists and would be terrorists in their tracks.

Sir John was speaking a month after publication of the first authorised history of the SIS and in the wake of the national security review. His talk, the first ever to be given by a serving British spymaster, was delivered at Thomson Reuters building in Canary Wharf.

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