https://www.gchq.gov.uk/sites/default/files/gchq_poppy_air_9244_1.jpg - In memoriam, subtle psy-ops or bloodied eye? You decide.
The current head of Britain's communications interception organisation, GCHQ in Cheltenham, has announced his resignation "for personal and family reasons." Robert Hannigan (51) has only been in his high-powered job for two years. There is no suggestion of him being asked to resign for any reason and he will leave with an unsullied reputation of more than twenty years working for government in the security sphere.
He said, his 20-year career as a public servant had "demanded a great deal of my ever patient and understanding family and now is the right time for a change in direction". This flags up a slight discrepancy, in that Wikipedia biographical information states he was first employed by Government in 2000 - a period of barely seventeen years.
It is said Mr Hannigan joined the Civil Service from the private sector, becoming Director of Communications for the Northern Ireland Office, but virtually nothing can be discovered where or what this was between his time at Oxford University and his "first" Government appointment. In 2015 he was appointed as an Honorary Fellow at Wadham College, where he had graduated in 1983 in 'Classics'. In rather appropriate fashion therefore it would appear that the former seventeen years in question, is rather shrouded in mystery.
After an early career in the private sector, Hannigan became Deputy Director of Communications for the Northern Ireland Office in 2000, Director of Communications for the Northern Ireland Office in 2001 and Associate Political Director for the Northern Ireland Office in 2004. He served as the Director-General, Political at the Northern Ireland Office from 2005, taking over from Jonathan Phillips.
In 2007, he replaced Sir Richard Mottram as the Head of Security, Intelligence and Resilience at the Cabinet Office, responsible for co-ordinating between the intelligence services and government, and acting as Accounting Officer for the Single Intelligence Account which funds MI5, MI6 and GCHQ. During his time in post, Hannigan led the review into a major data breach incident, and the subsequent report which is informally called the "Hannigan Report".
Hannigan moved to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office as the Director-General of Defence and Intelligence with effect from 1 March 2010. He was appointed Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George (CMG) in the 2013 New Year Honours for services to national security.
The Government itself says this about him at https://www.gov.uk/government/news/appointment-of-the-new-director-of-gchq
Re. The Ditchley Conference on Intelligence, Security and Privacy. 14-16 May, 2015.
"The audience and participants at Ditchley Park, a conference centre near Oxford, included intelligence regulators and human rights specialists from Europe and English speaking countries. They were mixed in with twelve current or past directors or senior staff of Five Eyes intelligence and security agencies, including the German BND, France's DGSE, Sweden's sigint agency FRA, Australia's ASIO and ASIS, Canada's CSIS and a former Director and a former Director of Intelligence of the CIA, as well as GCHQ and SIS.
The conference conclusions, which will be published by the Ditchley Foundation shortly, are focussed on possible principles of accountability, regulation and oversight, not allegations of harm.
According to Ditchley's Director Sir John Holmes, he planned the event because "renewed terrorism threats and the Assange and Snowden revelations have put the intelligence debate back in political minds". The purpose of the conference, he said, was to explore "how can governments achieve the right balance between gathering enough information to keep their citizens safe, without those same citizens feeling that their privacy is being unreasonably invaded?"
One of the stipulations made by the intelligence officials and regulators alike at the conference was that there should be "no secret laws" about what agencies do, unavailable to the public. One of those attending, former GCHQ Director and Permanent Secretary Sir David Omand, has written elsewhere that "investigative activity should be regulated by 'black letter law'". Omand's further published suggestion that "not everything that technically can be done should be done" was not disputed.
Curiously, both supervisors and intelligence gathererers appeared to agree that even given the scale of the leaks about NSA and GCHQ activities, "relatively little embarassing information has emerged"; most of what had come out that was embarassing was about spying on friendly states. Other points of agreement were that agencies needed strong external controls, including supervision of internal ethical controls. Oversight should not govern just what was collected, but needed to expand to include the "combination of data" (such as massive metadata analysis), "information sharing", and the "use of intelligence collected". Internet companies should not have to face "ad hoc approaches and conflicts of law". Agencies were asked to use the front door in making requests for law enforcement data, and not (as hitherto) steal it from internal networks by hacking or by intercepting data flows. Unfortunately, Mr Hannigan and his Director of Strategic Policy and External Relation did not stay to hear all of the conference (at least, not in person).
Unhappily, in the big world outside, during the second day of the conference, the UK government was forced to reveal in court that it had just made new and until-then secret (or at least highly obscured) new laws, allowing intelligence and police agencies to hack anyone's computer in the UK without a warrant.
A summary of the discussions at Ditchley is to be published soon. The list of attendees will be included. My colleague Ryan Gallagher has mentioned key names in his report in The Intercept.
The day after the conference ended, GCHQ launched a rainbow-coloured charm offensive to proclaim its "proud" stance against homophobia, bathing the doughnut at the heart of its surveillance operations in the gay pride flag. Their website cites their award from Stonewall as "diversity champions". This is pink-washing, as Glenn Greenwald has commented. I agree - but it is still a welcome change from the 1980-90s when we campaigned against GCHQ throwing out gay staff, and when I was one of the founders of Stonewall. Then, GCHQ were extralegal, unrestrained, unsupervised, unacknowledged, and aggressively unwilling to be open about anything."
After all this I have one over-riding question. In view of the tremendous power of GCHQ's all-seeing eye, how could the British Government, and by extension the British people, have been so easily misled regarding the true cause and perpatrators of the 9/11 and 7/7 outrages and the whole Iraq escapade?