Anne Keast-Butler named as new director of GCHQ

The government has appointed current MI5 deputy director general Anne Keast-Butler to head signals and cyber agency GCHQ

MI5 deputy director general and long-serving intelligence expert Anne Keast-Butler has been named as the next director of GCHQ, succeeding the outgoing Jeremy Fleming.

Keast-Butler, who becomes the first woman to lead the UK’s signals intelligence and cyber security agency, within which sits the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), will take up the post from May 2023.

In her present role, Keast-Butler has been leading on MI5’s operational, investigative and protective security work, including the agency’s response to Russia’s war on Ukraine.

Over the years, she has held multiple operational roles within MI5, but has also spent time seconded to GCHQ as head of counter-terrorism and serious organised crime, and did a stint at Whitehall during which she was a key driver behind the National Cyber Security Programme – which established the NCSC in 2016.

“I am delighted to be appointed as the 17th director of GCHQ [whose] mission to keep the UK safe is as inspiring today as it was when it was founded more than 100 years ago, operating at the very heart of the UK and our allies’ response to some of the most challenging issues of our time,” said Keast-Butler.

“In just the last year, GCHQ has contributed vital intelligence to shape the West’s response to the illegal Russian invasion of Ukraine; helped disrupt terrorist plots; and worked tirelessly to tackle the ongoing threat of ransomware, the impact of which costs the UK dearly.

“I was privileged to work in GCHQ a few years ago, so I know I am again joining a world-class team of people from diverse backgrounds with a broad range of skills, who share a singular focus on making our country safer, more secure and more prosperous. I am passionate about continuing to ensure that GCHQ is an organisation where everyone can perform to their very best.

“I am so grateful for the vision and dedication Sir Jeremy Fleming has shown during his tenure, and the ways in which GCHQ has transformed under his leadership. I look forward to building on this in the months and years to come. I can’t wait to get started,” she said.

Jeremy Fleming added: “Anne’s appointment is fantastic news for the organisation. I have worked with Anne for decades and think she is a brilliant choice with deep experience of intelligence and security in today’s technology-driven world.”

Foreign secretary James Cleverly said: “Anne Keast-Butler has an impressive track record at the heart of the UK’s national security network, helping to counter threats posed by terrorists, cyber criminals and malign foreign powers.

“She is the ideal candidate to lead GCHQ, and Anne will use her vast experience to help keep the British public safe.” 

Representation in cyber

Anna Brailsford, CEO of Code First Girls, hailed what she described as a “momentous” moment for women’s representation in cyber security.

“Diversity in cyber security is key because we need a real mix of minds to provide solutions to oncoming threats and ensure our own systems are unpredictable. Women who may never have considered a career in codebreaking, intelligence and tech will now see a director who looks like them and think again.

“We’re proud of our existing partnership with GCHQ to increase the number of female codebreakers, and today’s news will help accelerate the mission to close the gender gap in the intelligence and tech industries even further,” said Brailsford.

Keast-Butler will work closely with NCSC CEO Lindy Cameron – who became the first woman to lead the unit in 2020, replacing Ciaran Martin, and is herself an advocate for gender diversity and representation in the security field.

Speaking to Computer Weekly last year, after she was named the UK’s most influential person in UK IT, Cameron reflected on the experience of attending an event recognising the schoolgirl winners of the NCSC’s annual CyberFirst Girls competition.

“One of the really lovely things for me, a quite humbling thing, was there were a couple who were physically excited to see some senior women in the industry and there was a sense that they could imagine themselves there in the future in a way that, if they just look at an industry and see people who don’t look like them, they won’t have a chance to do,” she said.

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