Every little detail in Sir Alex Younger’s office in the modern-day ziggurat building on the south bank of the Thames in London evokes intrigue. The spy chief has, for the past six years, run MI6, Britain’s secret intelligence service (SIS) , from a designer office that belongs more in a museum of modern art than a government building; it is an aesthetic designed to defy expectations and, perhaps, to put visitors off guard.

Meetings are held around a Scandinavian oak dining table; the desk is suspiciously free of paper or a computer and has only two landline phones. From his seat behind the desk, you can see the river, although it’s all but hidden by the vertical blinds that are almost fully drawn. The Swiss Mondaine clock on the wall is set five minutes fast, a tactic to get people out of meetings on time. Sometimes, says Younger, you want to play to spy chief central casting, but at other times, “it’s good to present in a different way”.

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