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Stella Rimington
Allegiance United Kingdom Flag of the United Kingdom.svg
Service MI5
Rank Director-General of MI5
Award(s) DCB
Birth name Stella Whitehouse
Born May, 1935
Nationality British
Spouse John Rimington
Occupation Intelligence officer
Alma mater University of Edinburgh

Dame Stella Rimington, DCB (born May 1935) is an author and was the Director-General of MI5 from 1992 to 1996. She was the first female DG of MI5, and the first DG whose name was publicised on appointment. In 1993, Stella Rimington became the first DG of MI5 to pose openly for cameras at the launch of a brochure outlining the organisation's activities.[1][2]


Early life

Born Stella Whitehouse in south London, England, Rimington's family moved from South Norwood to Essex in 1939, due to the danger of living in London during World War II. Her father got a job as chief draughtsman at a steel works in Barrow-in-Furness in Cumbria, and the family moved there after spending some time in Wallasey. When her father got a job in Ilkeston, Derbyshire, the family moved to the Midlands, where Stella attended Nottingham High School for Girls. She spent her last summer of secondary school working as an au pair in Paris, France, before enrolling at the University of Edinburgh in 1954 to study English. By chance, she met her future husband, John Rimington, whom she had known from Nottingham.

Completing her degree in 1958, she studied archive administration at the University of Liverpool, before beginning work as an archivist at the County Record Office in Worcester in 1959. In 1961, she married John Rimington and moved to London, where she successfully applied for a position at the India Office Library.

In 1965, her husband was offered an overseas posting as First Secretary (Economic) for the British High Commission in New Delhi, India, and the couple sailed to India in September.

India and MI5

In 1967, after two years in India, Rimington was asked to assist one of the First Secretaries at the High Commission with his office work. She agreed, and when she began, discovered that he was the representative in India of the British Security Service (MI5). Gaining her security clearance, she worked in the MI5 office for nearly two years, until the couple returned to London in 1969, where Stella decided to apply for a permanent position at MI5.

Between 1969 and 1990, Rimington worked in all three branches of the Security Service: counter espionage, counter subversion, and counter terrorism. In 1984, she and her husband John separated, with Stella retaining custody of their two daughters. In 1990, she was promoted to one of the Service's two Deputy Director-General positions, where she oversaw MI5's move to Thames House. In December 1991, she made a visit to Moscow to make the first friendly contact between the British intelligence services and their old enemies, now allies, the KGB. On her return from Russia, she was told she had been promoted to Director-General.


In her first months as Director-General, Rimington was subject to a determined campaign by the British press to identify her. The New Statesman and The Independent had obtained and published covert photographs of her, despite which Rimington oversaw a (largely successful) public relations campaign to improve the openness of the Service and increase public transparency. On 16 July 1993, MI5 (with the reluctant approval of the British Government) published a 36-page booklet titled The Security Service, which revealed publicly, for the first time, details of MI5's activities, operations and duties, as well as the identity and even photographs of Rimington as Director-General.

Stella Rimington retired from MI5 in 1996. She was made a Dame Commander of Order of the Bath (DCB) in the New Year Honours List in 1996.


Rimington's work after leaving MI5 has been as a non-executive director for companies such as Marks & Spencer and BG Group.

Rimington controversially continued her policy of openness about the Service by publishing full and frank memoirs titled Open Secret in 2001. In July 2004, her first novel, At Risk, about a female secret agent, was published. Her other novels are Secret Asset (August 2006), Illegal Action (August 2007), Dead Line (October 2008), and Present Danger (September 2009).[3] Her novels are part of a new trend of "insider" spy fiction appearing in both the U.K. and in the U.S.A.

In 2004, she continued her interest in archives, fostered by her early career, through involvement with the Archives Task Force, where she visited a number of archives through the country and contributed to the report for the future strategy of archives in the UK.[4]

In November, 2005 she spoke out against national ID cards.[5] She has also described the U.S. response to the 9/11 attacks as a "huge overreaction."[6] In remarks reported in 2009, Rimington expressed concerns that the Brown administration was not "recognizing that there are risks, rather than frightening people in order to be able to pass laws which restrict civil liberties, precisely one of the objects of terrorism: that we live in fear and under a police state.”[7]

On 5 October 2009 the B.B.C. broadcast a statement from Rimington who claimed that certain MI5 files collected by her predecessors had been destroyed, but without clarifying whether this took place during her appointment as Director-General, or as part of her later involvement with the Archives Task Force.




  • Rimington, Stella (2001). Open Secret: The Autobiography of the Former Director-General of MI5. London: Hutchinson. ISBN 0-09-179360-2. 


  • Rimington, Stella (2004). At Risk. London: Hutchinson. ISBN 0-09-179996-1. 
  • Rimington, Stella (2006). Secret Asset. London: Hutchinson. ISBN 0-09-180024-2. 
  • Rimington, Stella (2007). Illegal Action. London: Hutchinson. ISBN 0-09-179722-5. 
  • Rimington, Stella (2008). Dead Line. London: Quercus Publishing. ISBN 9781847243102. 
  • Rimington, Stella (2009). Present Danger. London: Quercus Publishing. ISBN 9781847249944. 


External links

  •, Stella Rimington talks about her life and writing spy fiction.
  •, 1993: Secret Service goes public.
  •, Stella Rimington Interview at The Agony Column Podcast with Rick Kleffel on 25 July 2008
Government offices
Preceded by
Sir Patrick Walker
Director-General of MI5
1992 - 1996
Succeeded by
Sir Stephen Lander


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