Robert Hannigan

Robert Peter Hannigan CMG (born 1965) is a cybersecurity specialist who currently serves as a senior executive of BlueVoyant, a US-based cyber security services company, and as an adviser to a number of international companies.[1] He was a senior British civil servant who previously served as the Director of the signals intelligence and cryptography agency the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ). He announced his resignation as Director on 23 January 2017 and stepped down at the end of April 2017 to pursue a career in private sector cyber security and academia.[2][3]

Robert Hannigan

Robert Hannigan.jpg
Director of the Government Communications Headquarters
In office
November 2014 – April 2017
Prime MinisterDavid Cameron
Theresa May
MinisterPhilip Hammond
Boris Johnson
Preceded byIain Lobban
Succeeded byJeremy Fleming
Personal details
Born1965 (age 55–56)
OccupationIntelligence officer

Early and family lifeEdit

Hannigan was born in Gloucestershire and brought up in Yorkshire, and studied classics at Wadham College, Oxford[4] and continued his education at Heythrop College, University of London.[5] He is married with a son and a daughter.[6]


Northern Ireland Peace ProcessEdit

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.[4][7] He served as the Director-General, Political at the Northern Ireland Office from 2005, taking over from Jonathan Phillips.[8][9]

Hannigan has not spoken of his role in the Northern Ireland peace process but he is the only British civil servant involved to be singled out in Tony Blair's autobiography, where Blair describes him as "a great young official who had taken over as the main Number 10 person [on Northern Ireland]" and cites him as an example of creativity.[10] Hannigan appears regularly in other accounts, notably by Blair's Chief of Staff Jonathan Powell, attending private crisis meetings with Irish Republican leaders, including Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness, at Stormont Castle and Clonard Monastery.[11][12] Powell describes his key role in brokering agreement with Ian Paisley and the Democratic Unionist Party during and after the St Andrews Agreement talks.[11] He is described as chairing the first meeting between the DUP and Sinn Fein and designed the diamond shaped table which brought Adams and Paisley together at a public meeting on 26 March 2007, which is widely regarded as marking the end of the Northern Ireland 'Troubles'.[12][13]

Number 10 Downing St and Cabinet OfficeEdit

In 2007, he was appointed to a new post of Prime Minister's Security Adviser in 10 Downing St,[14][15] as well as replacing 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,[7] and acting as Accounting Officer for the Single Intelligence Account which funds MI5, MI6 and GCHQ.[16] During his time in office, Hannigan led the review into the loss of the nation's child benefit data, a major data breach incident; the subsequent report is informally called the "Hannigan Report".[17]

Hannigan moved to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office as the Director-General of Defence and Intelligence with effect from 1 March 2010.[18]

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.[19][20] He was made an Honorary Fellow of Wadham College, Oxford in November 2015.[21] He became a Fellow of the Institute of Engineering and Technology in 2017 and is one of the few non-US citizens known to have been awarded the US National Intelligence Distinguished Public Service Medal.[22][23] He is a Senior Associate Fellow of the Royal United Services Institute[24] and a Senior Fellow of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University.[25]

Director of GCHQEdit

It was announced in April 2014 that Hannigan would succeed Iain Lobban as the Director of the signals intelligence and cryptography agency the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) in the autumn of the year,[26] taking over in November 2014[27] after revelations by the National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden in 2013 exposed mass surveillance by the agency.[28] As of 2015, Hannigan was paid a salary of between £160,000 and £164,999 by GCHQ, making him one of the 328 most highly paid people in the British public sector at that time.[29]

Dialogue with Silicon ValleyEdit

On his first day in the role, Hannigan wrote an article in the Financial Times on the topic of Internet surveillance, stating that "however much [large US technology companies] may dislike it, they have become the command and control networks of choice for terrorists and criminals" and that GCHQ and its sister agencies "cannot tackle these challenges at scale without greater support from the private sector", arguing that most Internet users "would be comfortable with a better and more sustainable relationship between the [intelligence] agencies and the tech companies". Since the 2013 surveillance disclosures, large US technology companies have improved security and become less co-operative with foreign intelligence agencies, including those of the UK, generally requiring a US court order before disclosing data.[30][31] However the head of the UK technology industry group TechUK rejected these claims, stating that they understood the issues but that disclosure obligations "must be based upon a clear and transparent legal framework and effective oversight rather than, as suggested, a deal between the industry and government".[32]


Hannigan developed this thinking in a speech at MIT in March 2016, in which he appeared to take a more conciliatory line with the tech companies.[33] He highlighted the importance of strong encryption and argued against 'back doors'.[34][35] He also set out the role of James Ellis and other GCHQ mathematicians in the invention of public key cryptography and published for the first time facsimiles of Ellis' original papers on the possibility of digital and analogue secure non-secret encryption.[36] Interviewed on BBC Radio 4's Today Programme in July 2017, Hannigan argued against further legislation on encryption and said 'back doors' would be a 'bad idea', suggesting instead that governments and companies should work together against those abusing strong encryption by targeting devices and the 'end of the network'.[37][38]

Terrorist material onlineEdit

Returning to the debate on terrorist material on the internet after the London Bridge attack in June 2017, Hannigan commented on the polarised stand-off between politicians and tech companies.[39] He noted an improved relationship between the Silicon Valley companies and government since 2014, but called on the big companies to come together to address extremism and to preserve the freedom of the internet from state control. Interviewed alongside his former counterpart Admiral Michael Rogers, Head of the NSA and US Cyber Command, at the 2017 Aspen Security Forum, Hannigan said that since 2014 the companies had accepted responsibility for the content they carried and were making progress on extremist material, pointing to Mark Zuckerberg's comments on the subject.[40]

Cyber SecurityEdit

Hannigan's major external change to the organisation during his tenure was the creation of the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) as an operational part of GCHQ.[41] The NCSC's London headquarters was officially opened by Queen Elizabeth II on 14 February 2017.[42] In a speech welcoming the Queen and Prince Philip, Hannigan described the historical line between Bletchley Park and the NCSC and set out the challenge of cyber security at a national level.[43][44] In a final interview with Financial Times editor Lionel Barber, at CyberUK 2017, Hannigan described his thinking in creating the NCSC and his involvement in cyber security over the years, from the creation of the first UK Cyber Security Strategy for Prime Minister Gordon Brown, to framing the coalition government's ambition of making the UK "the safest place to live and do business online"; against a '"rising tide" of cyber security incidents, governments could not do this alone but only "with industry".[45] Hannigan has made frequent interventions on cyber security issues. In a speech in November 2015, he said that the usual market mechanisms were failing on cyber security: "The normal drivers of change, from regulation and incentivisation to insurance cover and legal liability, are still immature".[46] He also pointed to a critical cyber skills gap,[47] and has called for a "culture shift" within Boardrooms to meet the cyber threat, with less reliance on the "well-meaning generalist".[48] Other Financial Times articles have covered the sophistication of cyber crime groups and the threat from North Korea.[49]

In July 2017 Hannigan blamed Russia for causing a "disproportionate amount of mayhem in cyberspace", identifying state-linked crime as a major problem: "There is an overlap of crime and state, and a deeply corrupt system that allows crime to flourish, but the Russian state could do a lot to stop that and it could certainly rein in its own state activity."[50][51] Asked at the 2017 Aspen Security Forum what had changed in Russian cyber behaviour, Hannigan referred to the "brazen recklessness" of Russian agencies who scarcely tried to hide their activity.[52] In December 2017 he joined General Lord Houghton in drawing attention to Russian threats to undersea internet cables, endorsing a report by Rishi Sunak MP for the Policy Exchange thinktank.[53] Hannigan was involved in monitoring Russian interference in the 2016 United States elections, including the Democratic National Committee cyber attacks.[54]

On 23 January 2017, Hannigan announced that he had decided to resign once a successor to his role as director had been found, explaining in a letter to the Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, that his resignation was for personal reasons.[55][56] This exchange of letters between Hannigan and Johnson revealed that he had "initiated the greatest internal change within GCHQ for thirty years"; no further details were given but the letters refer to a "focus on technology and skills", to make GCHQ "fit for the digital age". He was widely credited with bringing greater transparency to GCHQ, not least through the use of cryptographic puzzles; his Christmas card puzzle in 2015 inspired some 600,000 attempts worldwide to solve it.[57][58] This led to the publication of The GCHQ Puzzle Book in 2016, with Forewords by the Duchess of Cambridge and Hannigan. It became a Christmas best-seller,[59] and by April 2017 had raised £240k for the Heads Together mental health charities.[60] According to the Guardian, his resignation was sudden and prompted speculation that it might be related to "British concerns over shared intelligence with the US in the wake of Donald Trump becoming president."[28]

In February 2017, Hannigan was appointed to the UK Government's new Defence Innovation Advisory Panel, along with McLaren Chairman Ron Dennis and astronaut Tim Peake.[61] He has written about the shift in technological innovation from government to private sector and West to East, expressing some concern about the tone of the Brexit debate and its impact on the UK academic tech sector.[62]


  1. ^ "Summary of business appointments applications - Robert Hannigan". GOV.UK. Retrieved 18 September 2019.
  2. ^ "GCHQ director Hannigan resigns". BBC News. 23 January 2017. Retrieved 23 January 2017.
  3. ^ "Summary of Business Appointments". Cabinet Office.
  4. ^ a b Kelly Fiveash (15 April 2014). "Ex-Tony Blair adviser is new top boss at UK spy-hive GCHQ". The Register. Retrieved 5 November 2014.
  5. ^ "Heythrop College". The Complete University Guide. Retrieved 20 July 2015.
  6. ^ "Appointment of the new Director of GCHQ" (Press release). Government of the United Kingdom. 15 April 2014. Retrieved 5 November 2014.
  7. ^ a b A & C Black (December 2011). "HANNIGAN, Robert Peter". Who's Who 2012, online edn. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 21 December 2011.
  8. ^ Northern Ireland Office (December 2005). "Autumn Performance Report 2005" (PDF). p. 5. Archived from the original (PDF) on 15 April 2012. Retrieved 23 December 2011.
  9. ^ Northern Ireland Office (May 2005). "Departmental Report 2007" (PDF). p. 3. Archived from the original (PDF) on 15 April 2012. Retrieved 23 December 2011.
  10. ^ Blair, Tony (2011). A Journey. Arrow Books. p. 186. ISBN 9780099525097.
  11. ^ a b Powell, Jonathan (2008). Great Hatred, Little Room. The Bodley Head. pp. 272, 274, 278, 283–5, 287, 288, 290–2, 296, 302, 304, 305. ISBN 9781847920324.
  12. ^ a b Seldon, Anthony (2007). Blair Unbound. Simon & Schuster. pp. 311, 515, 518, 539. ISBN 9781847370785.
  13. ^ Walker, Peter (26 March 2007). "Paisley and Adams agree deal". The Guardian. Retrieved 28 December 2017.
  14. ^ Who's Who. London: A&C Black. 2017. p. 994. ISBN 978-1-472-91360-9.
  15. ^ "Appointment of the New Director of GCHQ". GCHQ Website. 15 April 2017. Retrieved 8 July 2017.
  16. ^ "Funding". MI5. Retrieved 5 November 2014.
  17. ^ Cabinet Office (June 2008). "Data Handling Procedures in Government: Final Report". Retrieved 21 December 2011.
  18. ^ Foreign and Commonwealth Office (30 June 2010). "Resource Accounts 2009–10" (PDF). p. 10. Retrieved 21 December 2011.
  19. ^ "No. 60367". The London Gazette (Supplement). 29 December 2012. p. 3.
  20. ^ New Year Honours lists 2013 Cabinet Office
  21. ^ "Honorary Fellowship for Robert Hannigan". Wadham College. 5 November 2015. Retrieved 8 July 2017.
  22. ^ "Who's Who". doi:10.1093/ww/9780199540884.013.245099. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  23. ^ "Aspen Institute". Aspen Institute. July 2017. Retrieved 12 January 2018.
  24. ^ "Robert Hannigan becomes RUSI Senior Associate Fellow". Royal united Services Institute. 4 January 2018. Retrieved 12 January 2018.
  25. ^ "Non-resident Senior Fellows - Belfer Center - Kennedy School - Harvard - Biography". Harvard Kennedy School.
  26. ^ "GCHQ names Foreign Office official Robert Hannigan as new chief". The Guardian. Press Association. 15 April 2014. Retrieved 15 April 2014.
  27. ^ "It is time to forge a post-Snowden settlement". Financial Times. 4 November 2014. Retrieved 4 November 2014.
  28. ^ a b MacAskill, Ewen (23 January 2017). "GCHQ chief Robert Hannigan quits". The Guardian. Retrieved 16 August 2018.
  29. ^ "Senior officials 'high earners' salaries as at 30 September 2015 – Government of the United Kingdom". Government of the United Kingdom. 17 December 2015. Retrieved 11 March 2016.
  30. ^ Robert Hannigan (3 November 2014). "The web is a terrorist's command-and-control network of choice". Financial Times. Retrieved 3 November 2014.
  31. ^ Sam Jones and Murad Ahmed (3 November 2014). "Tech groups aid terror, says UK spy chief". Financial Times. Retrieved 3 November 2014.
  32. ^ David Barrett (4 November 2014). "Tech giants reject GCHQ boss Robert Hannigan's call for deal with government". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 5 November 2014.
  33. ^ Bradshaw, Tim (8 March 2016). "UK's head of GCHQ seeks co-operation with tech groups". Financial Times. Retrieved 8 July 2017.
  34. ^ "Front doors and strong locks: encryption, privacy and intelligence gathering in the digital era".
  35. ^ Hannigan, Robert (7 March 2016). "Front Doors and Strong Locks". Retrieved 8 July 2017.
  36. ^ Ellis, James. "The Possibility of Secure Non-Secret Digital Encryption" (PDF). Retrieved 8 July 2017.
  37. ^ "Back Door a Bad Idea". BBC. 10 July 2017. Retrieved 27 July 2017.
  38. ^ Leyden, John (27 July 2017). "Former GCHQ boss backs end-to-end encryption". The Register. Retrieved 17 July 2017.
  39. ^ Hannigan, Robert (5 June 2017). "Silicon Valley leadership is key in the fight against terror". Financial Times. Retrieved 8 July 2017.
  40. ^ "Mission Possible". Youtube/MSNBC. 22 July 2017. Retrieved 27 July 2017.
  41. ^ Jones, Sam (18 March 2016). "UK launches National Cyber Security Centre". Financial Times. Retrieved 8 July 2017.
  42. ^ "National Cyber Security Centre: Queen opens new HQ as business warned it is unprepared for attacks". Press Association/ITV. 14 February 2017. Retrieved 8 July 2017.
  43. ^ "Speech at the opening of the NCSC". Retrieved 8 July 2017 – via YouTube.
  44. ^ Hannigan, Robert (14 February 2017). "Speech at opening of NCSC". Retrieved 8 July 2017.
  45. ^ Reeve, Tom (14 March 2017). "CyberUK 2017: GCHQ director explains NCSC ethos in parting interview". SC Magazine. Retrieved 8 July 2017.
  46. ^ Jones, Sam (9 November 2015). "GCHQ chief to say free market failing on cyber security". Retrieved 8 July 2017.
  47. ^ Hancock, Alice (14 March 2017). "Skills shortage exposes UK companies to cyber crime". Financial Times. Retrieved 8 July 2017.
  48. ^ Hannigan, Robert (13 March 2017). "A boardroom shift is required to counter cyber threats". Financial Times. Retrieved 8 July 2017.
  49. ^ "Financial Times – Robert Hannigan". Financial Times. Retrieved 12 January 2018.
  50. ^ "Russia causing 'cyber-space mayhem', says ex-GCHQ boss". BBC. Retrieved 27 July 2017.
  51. ^ Holden, Michael (10 July 2017). "Russia causing cyber mayhem, should face retaliation: ex-UK spy chief". Reuters. Retrieved 27 July 2017.
  52. ^ Dozier, Kimberley (24 July 2017). "Russian Election Hacking Pits U.S. Spy Against Spy". The Daily Beast. Retrieved 27 July 2017.
  53. ^ Sunak, Rishi (1 December 2017). "Undersea cables: Indispensable, Insecure". Retrieved 12 January 2018.
  54. ^ Sanger, David E. (3 July 2018). "The Brits Told Us the Russians Were Hacking Our Election". The Daily Beast. Archived from the original on 4 July 2018.
  55. ^ "Director GCHQ to step down | GCHQ Site". Government of the United Kingdom. Retrieved 23 January 2017.
  56. ^ MacAskill, Ewen (23 January 2017). "GCHQ chief Robert Hannigan quits". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 23 January 2017.
  57. ^ Grierson, Jamie (9 December 2015). "Can you solve GCHQ's infuriatingly complex Christmas puzzle?". The Guardian. Retrieved 8 July 2017.
  58. ^ Corera, Gordon (4 February 2016). "GCHQ Christmas card puzzle winners announced". Retrieved 8 July 2017.
  59. ^ Dugdale, John (31 December 2016). "Bestselling books 2016: the ghosts of Christmas charts past". The Guardian. Retrieved 8 July 2017.
  60. ^ "GCHQ donates £240,000 to Heads Together from puzzle book sales". GCHQ Website. 6 April 2017. Retrieved 8 July 2017.
  61. ^ "Defence Secretary Announces World Class Innovation Panel". 27 February 2017. Retrieved 8 July 2017.
  62. ^ Hannigan, Robert (25 June 2017). "Cyber attacks on Parliament and the NHS show criminals and dictators are teaming up – but we can fight back". The Telegraph. Retrieved 8 July 2017.

External linksEdit

Government offices
Preceded by
Jonathan Phillips
Director-General, Political,
Northern Ireland Office

Succeeded by
Hilary Jackson
Preceded by
Sir Richard Mottram
Permanent Secretary,
Intelligence, Security and Resilience
Prime Minister's Security Adviser, No10, and Director General, Security, Intelligence and Resilience
Cabinet Office

Succeeded by
Oliver Robbins
Deputy National Security Adviser,
Intelligence, Security and Resilience
Preceded by
Mariot Leslie
Director-General, Defence and Intelligence,
Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Succeeded by
Sarah Macintosh
Preceded by
Sir Iain Lobban
Director of GCHQ
Succeeded by
Jeremy Fleming