MI5 unveils its youngest-ever spy chief

MI5 unveils its youngest-ever spy chief… but his true age is his state secret Number One

  • Ken McCallum will take over as director general of MI5 from Sir Andrew Parker
  • Mr McCallum is in his mid-40s but MI5 has so-far refused to specify his exact age
  • Unclear why information is withheld but believed to be for his ‘personal security’

MI5 has appointed its youngest-ever director general – but the intelligence agency has refused to reveal the spy chief’s age. 

Ken McCallum will become director general of the security service when he takes over the top job from Sir Andrew Parker next month.

Mr McCallum, who led the investigation into the attempted assassination of former Russian agent Sergei Skripal in Salisbury in 2018, is in his mid-40s but MI5 has refused to specify his age.

It is unclear why the security service is withholding this information but it is believed to be related to his personal security, the Telegraph reported.  

Ken McCallum who has been appointed as the new director general of the security service

Mr McCallum, from Glasgow, has spent 25 years working for the security service and is understood to be well-liked by colleagues, personable, approachable, trusted and incisive.

He spent his first decade with MI5 focusing on Northern Ireland before battling Islamist militants, developing cyber security and ensuring the safety of the 2012 London Olympics. 

McCallum was in charge of all counter-terrorism investigations and risk management in the run-up to and throughout the London Olympics, MI5 said.

Then, after former Russian double agent Mr Skripal and his daughter Yulia were found poisoned with a Novichok in 2018, he led the agency’s response to the attempted murder. 

‘In 2018, Ken took charge of the MI5 response to the attempted assassination of Sergei Skripal, within the unprecedented UK-led international response from intelligence allies,’ MI5 said.

Britain blamed Russia for the attack in which a British citizen died. Russia denied any role, though Western powers expelled dozens of Russian spies working under diplomatic cover.

Director General of MI5 Sir Andrew Parker, who is stepping down from the top job in April

MI5 said one of Mr McCallum’s top priorities was enabling MI5 to seize the fast-moving opportunities provided by technology, including machine learning. He enjoys mountain hiking.

He succeeds Sir Andrew who will retire in April after leading the organisation since 2013. 

MI5, established in 1909 to counter German espionage ahead of World War One, is tasked with protecting British national security. 

Its main job is currently countering international terrorism though it is also a counter-intelligence agency.

‘MI5’s purpose is hugely motivating,’ McCallum said. ‘Our people – with our partners – strive to keep the country safe, and they always want to go the extra mile. 

‘Having devoted my working life to that team effort, it is a huge privilege now to be asked to lead it as Director General.’ 

Queen Elizabeth II with Director General Andrew Parker during a visit to the headquarters of MI5 at Thames House in London

The MI5 Building At Thames House 12 Millbank, South West London

Mr McCallum will become the eighteenth director general when he takes over from Sir Andrew, the seventeenth director general to have headed MI5 since the post was created in 1909.   

Sir Andrew was appointed deputy director general of the security service in April 2007, and succeeded Sir Jonathan Evans as director general in April 2013. 

In February, Sir Andrew sanctioned ITV documentary makers to be allowed inside the heart of the security service. 

During the ITV programme, he was asked about being MI5 chief during five UK terror attacks in 2017.

He said: ‘I think it would be right to say it becomes progressively more challenging when, and then another attack happens of a different sort in a different place.’

Asked if it has felt that the agency wasn’t in control, Sir Andrew said: ‘Well we’re not in control of it ever, are we? We’re not in control of…

‘To be in control would mean that somehow, we could, you know, manage this whole landscape and stop everything. We can’t. We can’t do that.’

The unprecedented TV access came as the capital faced terror attacks on London Bridge on November 29 last year and in Streatham on February 2.  

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