A career MI6 officer has been appointed as the new head of Britain's Secret Intelligence Service.

Alex Younger will succeed Sir John Sawers in the post.

Mr Younger has for the last two years been overseeing MI6's intelligence operations worldwide.

He will take on the role fictionalised in Ian Fleming's James Bond books and film series through the character M, most recently played by Judi Dench in Skyfall.

Mr Younger said: "I am delighted and honoured to become chief of SIS and lead one of the best intelligence agencies in the world."

Mr Younger's appointment comes after a turbulent period for Britain's intelligence services following disclosures made by former American National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden.

Mr Snowden's revelations triggered an unprecedented hearing of the Intelligence and Security Committee, at which the heads of MI6, the Security Service MI5 and listening post GCHQ appeared together in public for the first time.

Snowden supporters believe the release of top-secret documents exposed an abuse of powers among the security and intelligence services in the UK and US, while his detractors claim his actions aided terrorists.

Mr Younger, who is married with children, has had overseas postings in Europe and the Middle East and was the senior SIS officer in Afghanistan.

The former army officer has filled a range of operational roles in London, including leading the Service's counter terrorism work in the run up to the Olympic Games.

Sir John said: "I'm delighted that my colleague and friend is taking over from me.

"He has played a vital part alongside me in modernising SIS and ensuring it is in the best possible shape."