Libyan-born former ambassador to Turkey Richard Moore named as UK's spy chief

Downing Street chooses highly experienced Moore for the top Secret Intelligence Service position at a crucial time in Britain’s international relations

A photo of Richard Moore CMG, who was appointed as the new Chief of the Secret Intelligence Service, known as MI6, in this handout photo provided July 30, 2020. Foreign and Commonwealth Office/Handout via Reuters  ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES.

A Libyan-born former ambassador to Turkey has been appointed as head of Britain’s foreign security service MI6.

Richard Moore will take up the role of "C", a post made famous by the James Bond films, at a time of continued turbulence with China, Russia, Iran and a resurgent ISIS.

Mr Moore, 57, is fluent in Turkish and has said he will continue his tweets in both Turkish and English despite the top security role as head of the Secret Intelligence Service, also known as MI6.

His appointment has surprised some Whitehall commentators as it had been expected that Prime Minister Boris Johnson might appoint his former Eton schoolmate Tom Hurd, a senior official in the UK Home Office.

But having recently appointed an inexperienced new national security adviser in David Frost, it is understood that Downing Street wanted an experienced hand in the role at a crucial time in Britain’s international relations, particularly amid Brexit talks and the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr Moore, who was born in Tripoli, studied philosophy, politics and economics at Oxford University and was a Kennedy Scholar of government at Harvard.

He joined MI6 in 1987 and undertook a range of roles both in Britain and in overseas posts, the Foreign Office said in a statement.

He left the service a decade ago to become a diplomat, which included a post as ambassador to Turkey from 2014 to 2017.

Despite his secret background, Mr Moore has a Twitter feed that shows photographs of his wife on holiday. The couple have two children. Previously asked whether he resembled Roger Moore, the legendary, laid-back actor who played James Bond in seven of the 007 films, the real-life spy joked that he was “no relative” and added that Moore was a “wonderfully laconic Bond”.

During his time in Turkey, Mr Moore used his Twitter account to respond to an allegation in a Turkish paper suggesting that an Isis bombing was the work of a British agent. The front page featured a picture of the actor currently playing James Bond, Daniel Craig.

One Twitter user, Kuteybe bin Muslim, asked Mr Moore to "give an interview about this". The ambassador responded: “No, I don't think so... Someone tell them James Bond is fiction.”

Aside from watching Bond films, which feature in almost every MI6 officer’s top viewing, Mr Moore enjoys visiting historical sites, collecting Turkish carpets and porcelain and watching cricket.

Welcoming his new role, Mr Moore said: “SIS plays a vital role – with MI5 and GCHQ – in keeping the British people safe and promoting UK interests overseas. I look forward to continuing that work alongside the brave and dedicated team at SIS.”

The head of MI6 is the only publicly named officer in the service, and is informally referred to as "C", short for "chief", the title used since the organisation began in 1909.

Alex Younger, Chief of the Secret Intelligence Service, known as MI6, delivers a speech at the University of St Andrews, Scotland, Britain December 3, 2018.  Andrew Milligan/Pool via REUTERS

Dominic Raab, the UK foreign secretary and cabinet minister in charge of SIS, said: “He returns to SIS with tremendous experience and will oversee the work of a group of men and women whose tireless efforts are rarely seen in public, but which are critical for the security and prosperity of the UK.”

Mr Moore was briefly a deputy to Sir Mark Sedwill, the outgoing national security adviser and head of the civil service, in 2018 before being appointed political director at the Foreign Office.

He will replace Sir Alex Younger, 57, who will retire after nearly six years as director general of MI6.