The man in charge of MI6 will quit next year, officials have revealed.
Sir Richard Dearlove will stand down in August 2004, the Foreign Office confirmed at the weekend.
Officials denied the decision was linked to the row over the war in Iraq.
Sir Richard, 58 will be leaving the Secret Intelligence Service - the official name for MI6 because he will have been in charge for five years.
This is the normal span for the post of "C" - the code name for MI6's boss. The name is derived from Mansfield Cumming who is credited with setting up the service.
A Foreign Office spokesman rejected media claims that the announcement was linked to the Iraq dossier row.
"Sir Richard Dearlove continues to enjoy the fullest possible confidence of the prime minister, the foreign secretary and the rest of the government on Iraq and all other intelligence issues," said a spokesman.
He was drawn into the row after it was revealed that he had given an off-the-record briefing to the BBC's Today programme.
When Lord Hutton announced his inquiry into the death of Iraq scientist Dr David Kelly, he made clear that he expected to hear from some witnesses behind closed doors and many predict that Sir Richard will be called as a witness.
The Foreign Office took the unusual step of clarifying a departure that in the past would barely have raised a mention in the press.
"Sir Richard Dearlove intends to leave is post as planned in August 2004 on completion of his normal tour of office. This is in no way connected to events relating to Iraq,'' the Foreign Office said.