Director General of the Security Service (2002-2007)
Born 1948

Eliza Manningham-Buller, Dame Commander of the Order of the Bath, was the Director General of the Security Service, or MI5 as it is commonly known, between the 7th October 2002 and the 20th April 2007.

Early life and education

Born Elizabeth Lydia Manningham-Buller on the 14th July 1948, she was the daughter of Reginald Manningham-Buller, 1st Viscount Dilhorne, former Lord Chancellor in the Conservative administrations of both Harold Macmillan and Alec Douglas-Home, and Mary Lilian Lindsay, the prettiest of the six daughters of David Alexander Edward Lindsay, 27th Earl of Crawford. She was educated at Northampton High School and the Benenden School in Kent, the latter being an "exclusive" girls' public school, where she was a contemporary of Princess Anne and decided to adopt the name of Eliza. It was also said that she developed into a "forthright character", which led to her being given the same nickname of 'Bullying Manner' as had earlier been bestowed upon her father.

She went on to read English at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford where she was an active member of the Oxford University Dramatic Society and starred as the Fairy Godmother in a production of Cinderella. The production's director, Giles Brandreth described her preformance as "absolutely superb", whilst the choreographer, Michael Coveney described her as being "imposing". After graduating in 1971 Eliza did not, however pursue a dramatic career, but rather chose to become a teacher at the Queen's Gate School in London, where she taught a youthful Nigella Lawson amongst others.

The Spy

Eliza was apparently first approached by MI5 at Oxford (much to the distress of her father it is said) and although she declined the offer at that time, she subsequently succumbed when approached once more in 1974. Apparently her interest in the security services arose because her mother had herself been something of a spy, having trained carrier pigeons during World War II, which were then dropped by parachute in wicker baskets in Europe and returned to her loft bearing encrypted messages from various agents.

Fairly obviously, details about Eliza's subsequent career in the Security Service are somewhat sparse, and given the very similar phraseology adopted by all media accounts of her career it seems likely that everyone is working from the same official press release. According to these accounts Eliza began by typing transcripts of tapped telephone conversations between various Warsaw Pact diplomats before becoming a fully-fledged counter-espionage officer. As such she became one of only five people inside MI5 to know that Oleg Gordievsky, the deputy head of the KGB at the Soviet embassy in London, was in fact a double agent. Gordievsky was himself later to describe her "as a brilliant counter-espionage officer", an opinion that may well have been influenced by the fact that she kept her knowledge of Gordievsky's duplicity to herself and didn't share it with her assistants. Which was just as well as two of them shared an office with one Michael Bettany, who was himself a double agent working for the KGB.

She later made the decision to switch from counter-espionage to counter-terrorism, and became one of MI5's "key operatives" working on the investigation of the Lockerbie disaster that brought down Pan Am Flight 103 in 1988, and was then posted to Washington in 1990 to liaise with the US intelligence community. According to David Bickford, a former chief legal adviser to MI5, she "got on very well with the Americans" during her time in Washington which of course coincided with that of the First Gulf War. On her return to Britain in 1992, Eliza then became director of Irish counter-terrorism, an entirely new post, since MI5 had only recently taken over control of anti-IRA operations from the Metropolitan Police Special Branch. Again according to David Bickford, she succesfully "tore the guts out" of the IRA's active service units in a series of "brilliant operations", and as a result was put in charge of all of MI5's surveillance and technical operations and promoted to the service's management board in 1993. Having been appointed Deputy Director-General in 1997, she was therefore in line to succeeded Stephen Lander as Director-General on the 7th October 2002, becoming the second woman after Stella Rimington to head the Security Service.

The Director-General

On her appointment to the post of Director-General it was said that she had much more operational experience than either of her immediate predecessors, having run operations against both terrorists and Soviet spies. However it was her counter-terrorist experience that became more relevant, since by this time MI5's security role had been "recalibrated" as a result of 9/11 and the al-Qaeda threat. Indeed it has been said that she oversaw a transformation of MI5, with a dramatic increase in both the service's budget and staff levels, as it struggled to combat the threat of suicide bombing. Indeed it is believed that as of 2008 MI5 is twice the size it was in 2001.

Of course, as before actual details of her career as Director-General are largely conspicous by their absence, but Ms Buller did however appear at a conference held at the Royal United Services Institute on the 17th June 2003 where she certainly appeared to give her full backing to the War on Terror, and spoke of al-Qaeda as being "the first truly global threat". She also claimed that intelligence suggested "renegade scientists" had already passed on the necessary information needed to create chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapons, and that it was "only a matter of time before a crude version of such an attack is launched at a major Western city". Unfortunately her period in charge was to be overshadowed by the agency's failure to prevent the 7th July 2005 bombings, despite the fact that the ringleaders Mohammad Sidique Khan and Shehzad Tanweer had previously been picked up by MI5 surveillance as part of Operation Crevice. Nevertheless she followed a policy of making the Security Service far more open; the official terror risk assessments were made public for the first time, new agents were recruited through newspaper advertisements, whilst MI5 even launched its own website.

As part of the culture of a more open MI5, Eliza appeared at the Hague on 1st September 2005 to give a speech marking the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Dutch General Intelligence and Security Service. In what was described as "a break with tradition", the text was later published on the agency’s website on the 9th September and so revealed her contention that an erosion of civil liberties might be necessary to stop more British citizens from being killed by terrorists, although as The Times noted she failed to specify which civil liberties would need to be eroded to achieve this aim. Some clue as to what she might have meant by this was provided when the sworn witness statement she made in the case of A(FC) v Secretary of State for the Home Department before the House of Lords was widely leaked. Here she justified the use of intelligence from "dubious sources" (that is torture) on the grounds that any moral qualms should be "subservient to the need to take action to establish the facts, in order to protect life". As it turned out this case related to the information obtained by the Algerian intelligence services from questioning of a certain Mohammed Meguerba, which revealed the existence of the Ricin Plot, otherwise known as the plot that never was, as most of the alleged conspirators were acquited in April 2005.

The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights naturally wanted to question Ms Buller about the use of torture in intelligence gathering, as well as the practice of extraordinary rendition, specifically the CIA's habit of using the United Kingdom as a dropping off point for the various prisoners it occasionally flies around the world. Ms Buller declined to make herself available. She did however make an appearance at Queen Mary, University of London on the 9th November 2006, when she gave further information about the extent of MI5's activities and revealed that some that 200 terrorist groups and 1,600 individuals were under surveillance, and that they were montitoring some thirty ongoing terror plots.

On the 14th December 2006 she announced that she would be retiring with effect from April 2007. The usual "security sources" denied that her decision to retire had anything to do with MI5's performance before the July 7 bombings, and that she had in fact agreed her departure date with Charles Clarke when he was Home Secretary back in 2005. It later emerged in 2007 that she had held a private meeting of Labour whips at the Commons on the morning of the 6th July 2005, and informed them that there was "no imminent terrorist threat to London or the rest of the country", only twenty-four hours before the July 7 suicide bombings. The same "security sources" also denied that this had any bearing on her decision to resign.

Personal Life

Burke's Peerage simply notes that she was married in 1991, whilst Who's Who is completly silent on the matter. BBC News has however reported that Eliza "lives in Bath with her husband, David, a former Army lieutenant colonel and moral philosophy lecturer turned carpenter, who she married in 1991, and his five children from an earlier marriage." The Evening Standard added further detail by reporting that her husband had lectured at St Andrews University, where his contemporaries recalled him as a "complete hippie" who was "admired as much for his home-made beer as his scholarship", but that he later became disillusioned with academic life in the mid-Seventies and moved to Bath where he retrained as a carpenter; whilst The Independent stated that he was "an Irish Catholic who once held strong left-wing views" and that he "did not find out until they married what her job was".

It is perfectly possible that some of this information is even true.

Eliza was honoured by being made Dame Commander of the Order of the Bath in 2005, and was named as public servant of the year in the Dods and Scottish Widows Woman of the Year awards for 2007. She also made an appearance on Desert Island Discs broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in November 2007.


  • Chris Millar, Another woman set to be spy chief, Evening Standard, 29.04.02
  • Eliza Manningham-Buller: Life in the shadows, BBC News, 7 October, 2002
  • Michael Smith, New MI5 head picks her priorities, Daily Telegraph, 07/10/2002
  • Terror attack 'a matter of time', BBC News, 17 June, 2003
  • Eliza Manningham-Buller profile, BBC News, 10 June 2005
  • Michael Evans, Defeating terror may mean giving up rights, MI5 warns, The Times September 10, 2005
  • Joint Committee On Human Rights - Nineteenth Report, 18 May 2006.
  • Profile: Eliza Manningham-Buller 10 November 2006
  • Paul Vallely, Eliza Manningham-Buller: Spying dame, The Independent 11 November 2006
  • MI5 chief quits as full story of July 7 is about to emerge, Daily Mail, 15th December 2006
  • Anthony Browne, Dame Eliza stepping down as head of MI5 after only four years, The Times, December 15, 2006
  • Ian Cobain, David Hencke and Richard Norton-Taylor, MI5 told MPs on eve of 7/7: no imminent terror threat, The Guardian, Tuesday January 9 2007,,1985972,00.html

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