U.K. Awards Top GCHQ Spy Job to Foreign Office Director Hannigan

The U.K. appointed Robert Hannigan as director of GCHQ, the national security listening post, as the organization faces fallout from leaks and tensions over how much access spies should have to civilian data.

Hannigan, who replaces Iain Lobban, has served as the Foreign Office’s director general of defense and intelligence since 2010. He advised former Prime Minister Tony Blair on Northern Ireland and has regularly headed the government’s emergency committee in the event of terrorist incidents.

“Robert brings to the job a wealth of relevant experience in the fields of national security, counter-terrorism and international relations,” Foreign Secretary William Hague said in an e-mail. Hannigan said in the same statement his appointment is a “privilege,” adding that GCHQ is “an organization which is so central to keeping the people of this country safe.”

The appointment came a day after the London-based Guardian and Washington Post shared the Pulitzer prize for journalism for their reporting of leaks by Edward Snowden on surveillance by the U.S. National Security Agency. The stories have sparked a debate in the U.K coalition government over intelligence agencies and police access to citizens’ mobile phone and internet records.

The latest figures from 2011-12 show GCHQ employed 6,132 people, compared to Britain’s domestic intelligence agency MI5, which employed 3,961 and its foreign agency MI6 which had 3,200. Based in Cheltenham, England, the agency provides signals intelligence gathering and other information.

Hannigan is married with a son and a daughter and follows hurling and Gaelic football along with rugby, tennis and golf, the Foreign Office said.

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