Head of GCHQ Robert Hannigan steps down for 'personal reasons'

Cites demand on his family, will be replaced by 2019

The Director General of GCHQ, Robert Hannigan, has announced his intention to step down as leader of the UK signals intelligence agency.

Citing "personal reasons", Hannigan informed the UK's Foreign Secretary of his decision in an exchange of letters. His departure comes at a difficult time for the agency as pro-torture President Trump is set to be on the other end of Cheltenham's phone.

Hannigan said he was proud of the "relentless 24-hour operational effort against terrorism, crime and many other national security threats. While this work must remain secret, you will know how many lives have been saved in this country and overseas by the work of GCHQ." He added:

Underpinning this is our world-class technology and, above all, our brilliant people. As you know, I have also initiated the greatest internal change within GCHQ for thirty years, and I feel that we are now well on the way to being fit for the next generation of security challenges to the UK in the digital age.

GCHQ will be celebrating what it regards as its centenary in 2019, having originated as the Government Code and Cypher School, by which time Hannigan hopes a successor will be appointed. He said he was lucky to have had "some extraordinary roles in public service over the last 20 years, from Northern Ireland to Number 10, the Cabinet Office and the Foreign Office" but that such roles "demanded a great deal of my ever-patient and understanding family, and now is the right time for a change in direction".

The Foreign Secretary responded by wishing Hannigan "the very best for your future career".

There will now be an internal competition within government to identify candidates (our guess) to succeed Hannigan for onward recommendation to the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister. In the meantime, the director and board will continue to oversee all the department's work. ®

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