GCHQ chief Sir Iain Lobban to stand down

Sir Iain Lobban Image copyright PA
Image caption Sir Iain Lobban will stand down as head of GCHQ later this year

The head of GCHQ - Britain's electronic intelligence gathering agency - is to step down, the Foreign Office has said.

Sir Iain Lobban will leave later this year, after six years as director.

The Foreign Office said Sir Iain, 53, was doing "outstanding job" and his departure was "planned".

Officials denied the move was linked to controversy over GCHQ and its US counterpart, the NSA, sparked by disclosures from former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden.

Sir Iain, who first joined GCHQ in 1983, became director in June 2008.

"Today is simply about starting the process of ensuring we have a suitable successor in place before he moves on as planned at the end of the year," a Foreign Office spokesman said.

Spying on 'majority'?

ln November, Sir Iain 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.

MPs asked Sir Iain why he felt it was necessary to "collect information on the majority of the public in order to protect us from a minority of evildoers".

He said GCHQ did not spend its time "listening to the telephone calls or reading the emails of the majority" of the public.

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