Facebook: MI6 wife's photos

Head of MI6 has fotos placed on Facebook by social networking wife. Social media guidelines for staff do not always extend to family…

When people ask “why do young people post up photos of themselves drunk and throwing up at parties? Don’t they know it will impact their job chances later on?“, there are a number of responses. One is “they don’t take the photo and upload it,…their “friends” do – control of our personal brand is gone!”. I thought the Secret Service had follow up training for family? Or I have just read too much John le Carré …. From Times Online:

Wife of Sir John Sawers, the future head of MI6, in Facebook security alert

Diplomats and civil servants are to be warned about the danger of putting details of their family and career on social networking websites. The advice comes after the wife of Sir John Sawers, the next head of MI6, put family details on Facebook — which is accessible to millions of internet users.

Lady Sawers disclosed details such as the location of the London flat used by the couple and the whereabouts of their three children and of Sir John’s parents. She put no privacy protection on her account, allowing any of Facebook’s 200 million users in the open-access London network to see the entries.

MI6 John Sawer
MI6 John Sawer

Lady Sawers’ half-brother, Hugo Haig-Thomas, a former diplomat, was among those featured in family photographs on Facebook. Mr HaigThomas was an associate and researcher for David Irving, the controversial historian who was jailed in Austria in 2006 after pleading guilty to Holocaust denial.

Patrick Mercer, the Conservative chairman of the Commons counter-terrorism sub-committee, said that the entries were a serious error and potentially damaging.

“Sir John Sawers is in a very sensitive position and by revealing this sort of material his family have left him open to criticism and blackmail,” he told The Times. “We can’t have the head of MI6 being compromised by having personal details of his life being posted on Facebook.

“As a long-serving diplomat and ambassador, his family have been involved in his line of business for decades. I would have hoped they would have been much more sensitive to potential security compromises like this.”

He said that terrorists and hostile intelligence services could trawl through Facebook and Twitter websites to uncover personal details of diplomats and civil servants who might end up in highly sensitive jobs. All members of the Armed Forces are warned about Facebook and other social networking sights. Although they are not banned from the website, they have been told not to include details that could compromise their security. The same warning has been issued at MI5, MI6 and GCHQ, the Government’s eavesdropping centre in Cheltenham. Personnel will be reminded of it in a new circular this week in the wake of Lady Sawers’ Facebook entries.

David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, was dismissive yesterday of the security implications of the incident. Speaking on The Andrew Marr Show on BBC One, he said that it was “no state secret” that Sir John wore Speedo swimming trunks on family holidays, referring to one of the published photographs. “For goodness’ sake, let’s grow up,” he said.

He described Sir John as an “outstanding professional” and denied the episode would compromise his career.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office would not comment on whether the Sawers would have to move out of their London flat. Lady Sawers’s entries — now removed — would not have been considered a security risk had her husband followed a strictly Foreign Office path. However, Sir John started his career serving with MI6 in Yemen before switching to frontline diplomatic work, leading to his current post as Britain’s Permanent Representative at the United Nations in New York.

Sir John is not the first intelligence chief to fall victim to unwelcome publicity. When Alex Allan, former Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Justice, was announced as the next chairman of the Cabinet Office Joint Intelligence Committee in November 2007, it was discovered that he had a personal website on which there were photographs of him on holiday and windsurfing down the River Thames complete with pinstripe suit, bowler hat, briefcase and brolly.

Dame Stella Rimington was once photographed shopping near her home in London after she had been appointed Director-General of MI5 in 1991. She was advised to leave her family home for her personal safety and moved to a new address.

EDIT cos it was funny – from Twitter: RT @emilyadamsAU “Hunny, I’m going to be head of MI6″ ..”Thats nice dear, let me just update my status”

Here are 40 Social Media Staff Guidelines – though I do recommend education, not just a piece of paper. That way staff can go home and “have that talk” with family members.

My presentation on Managing Your Brand Online.

Could be worse : Richard Tomlinson from MI6 launched a blog. From V3.co.uk

A former MI6 officer who spent time in prison for breaking the Official Secrets Act has launched a blog to air his views.

Richard Tomlinson launched his Tomlinson v MI6 blog as part of a long-running campaign that began when he was sacked by the British intelligence service.

When I click on the link for his blog, I get a blank page. Not an error message, just like it’s been blocked. You don’t think… nah… we’re being paranoid… aren’t we?

Not really that bad, not sure how much personal stuff was revealed or how much danger his family is in.  And Lady Sawer shouldn’t feel too badly – if it wasn’t her posting the photos up, it would be some well meaning neighbour on holiday next to them. There is no control in a world where personal video cameras auto connect to YouTube these days.  Reputation wise, only a little damaging, I guess  – certainly not as bad as the President of the International Monetary Fund having a mistress which caused his wife – a journalist no less – to blog about it. Hell Hath No Fury, Like a Blogger Scorned….

By the way, I’ll be in Singapore in August to teach Government 2.0 workshops focussing on these kinds of issues to staff of Singapore, Brunei, Thailand, Malaysia and maybe Vietnam and China Governments. If you are in the area,  and want to attend (Gov consultant maybe?) let me know… will blog more later, will be week of 24th I think.

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  1. You do need to be careful with the information that you put online in any forum. Facebook gives you a level of comfort because you feel like you are talking with friends- but there is a lot of information that is public.

  2. Many people when they first sign up to Facebook have no idea what they have signed up for an with so much going on in Facebook they often never seem to consider the privacy issues.

    There are a lot of people who should consider going back into the settings section of their Facebook account and protecting some of the information that is there….

    My guess is that the wife of Sir John Sawers should have been told this point a long time ago… perhaps others will take notice now?? Or perhaps not!
    .-= Adirec Torytski´s last blog .. =-.

  3. This only goes to show how vulnerable you can be with the internet if you are new to it. With Facebook, I also make sure that I know a person when I accept their invitation to become friends.

  4. My real puzzle is why a man so powerful like john sawers would marry such an ugly/common looking spud or even allow her to have a FACEbook page! There should be a law against it for the sake of protecting the public’s sensory faculties. Mind you, he is no oil painting; has he never heard of fake tan? That curd like skin gives shivers of displeasure.

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