Robert Hannigan was Director of GCHQ, the UK’s largest intelligence and security agency, from 2014-17. He is a leading authority on cyber security, cyber conflict and the application of technology in national security. Robert established the National Cyber Security Centre as part of GCHQ in 2016, having been responsible for the UK’s cyber strategy in 2009, the first of any Western country. He set the Government’s ambition of making the UK ‘the safest place to live and do business online’ and was also responsible for leading, with military colleagues, the national offensive cyber programme.
Robert has spent much of his career in national security. He was the Prime Minister’s Security Adviser at No10 from 2007-10, with a particular focus on Islamist terrorism, and was responsible in the Cabinet Office for the Single Intelligence Account (covering MI5, GCHQ and SIS). He chaired ‘COBR’ through numerous crises and was a longstanding member of the Joint Intelligence Committee, which he chaired in 2011-12. As Director General for Defence and Intelligence in the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, he was the lead adviser on counter-proliferation and other defence policy areas, as well as advising Foreign Secretary William Hague on intelligence policy and operations. He came to London from Belfast, where he was Tony Blair’s senior official on the Northern Ireland peace process, responsible for negotiations with political parties, paramilitaries and with the Irish and US Governments.
Robert is credited with bringing greater openness to the work of GCHQ, not least in an effort to promote cyber skills across the UK; Boris Johnson also referred publicly to his internal transformation of the organisation to make it fit for the digital era. Robert caused international controversy on his first day in office in 2014 by criticising Silicon Valley companies in the Financial Times, but he has also spoken at MIT in defence of strong encryption and US technology leadership. He has a particular interest in Bletchley Park and the history of technology, computing and cryptology. He is a member of the Government’s new Defence Innovation Advisory Panel.