GCHQ names Robert Hannigan as its new chief

Robert Hannigan Robert Hannigan said it was "a privilege" to be asked to lead GCHQ

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Robert Hannigan has been named as the new head of the UK's electronic surveillance agency GCHQ.

He will take over from Sir Iain Lobban when he steps down this autumn after six years as director, Foreign Secretary William Hague announced.

Mr Hannigan, 49, has been director general of defence and intelligence at the Foreign Office since 2010.

Cheltenham-based GCHQ came under scrutiny after disclosures from ex-US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden.

'Wealth of experience'

Mr Hague said: "As well as his impressive personal qualities, Robert brings to the job a wealth of relevant experience in the fields of national security, counter-terrorism and international relations.

"I'd also like to thank Sir Iain Lobban for his consistently strong and professional leadership as director of GCHQ since 2008."

Start Quote

He will bring energy, flair, deep knowledge and extensive experience to the role”

End Quote Sir Kim Darroch National Security Adviser

Mr Hannigan's appointment has been agreed with Prime Minister David Cameron in consultation with Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg.

Gloucestershire-born Mr Hannigan, a married father of two, has advised the prime minister on counter-terrorism, intelligence and security policy for a number of years.

He said of his appointment: "It is a privilege to be asked to lead GCHQ, an organisation which is so central to keeping the people of this country safe.

"I have great respect for the integrity and professionalism of the staff of GCHQ and for what they have achieved under the outstanding leadership of Iain Lobban.

"I am excited about meeting the challenges of the coming years with them."

GCHQ in Cheltenham Robert Hannigan starts work at the Cheltenham-based agency later this year

Mr Hannigan previously worked as principal adviser to then prime minister Tony Blair on the Northern Ireland peace process.

He was also responsible for the UK's first cyber security strategy and oversaw the first national security strategy, and has chaired Cobra emergency committee meetings on terrorist incidents.

National Security Adviser Sir Kim Darroch, who led the recruitment process, said: "I am delighted Robert Hannigan has been appointed director, GCHQ.

"He will bring energy, flair, deep knowledge and extensive experience to the role, and I look forward to working closely with him."

Sir Kim thanked Sir Iain for doing "an absolutely outstanding job at an exceptionally testing time for the organisation".

Sir Iain joined GCHQ in 1983, becoming director in June 2008.

Last November, he became the first head of the agency to give evidence in public when he appeared before MPs on the Intelligence and Security Committee, alongside the heads of MI5 and MI6.

They came under pressure to be more open after leaks by Mr Snowden revealed widespread spying by GCHQ and the US National Security Agency.

Sir Iain told the committee Mr Snowden's disclosures had done immense damage to Britain's counter-terrorism efforts.

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