GCHQ to get first female chief

MI5 deputy DG Anne Keast-Butler will take helm of intelligence and security hub next month
Anne Keast-Butler. Photo: GCHQ

By Jim Dunton

12 Apr 2023

GCHQ is set to get its first female chief from next month with the appointment of Anne Keast-Butler as successor to current director Sir Jeremy Fleming.

Fleming has been director at the Cheltenham-based intelligence and cybersecurity agency for six years but in January announced plans to step down from the role.

Keast-Butler, who is currently deputy director general of domestic security service MI5, will take on the top job at the Government Communications Headquarters next month. Fleming held the same role in MI5 before he was appointed to lead GCHQ in 2017.

GCHQ said Keast-Butler’s appointment followed a cross-government recruitment process chaired by cabinet secretary Simon Case.

Keast-Butler has worked in national security for the past 30 years. Before taking up her current post, she held a number of key operational roles at MI5 and spent some periods on secondment to other parts of government, including a stint as head of counter-terrorism and serious organised crime at GCHQ. She also helped to launch the National Cyber Security Programme.

Foreign secretary James Cleverly said Keast-Butler had an “impressive track record” at the heart of the UK’s national security network, helping to counter threats posed by terrorists, cybercriminals 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,” he said.

National security adviser Sir Tim Barrow said Keast-Buler was “the exceptional candidate in a talented field”.

“She brings a wealth of experience from across the national security community, has the vision to take GCHQ into the future and will ensure that it continues its vital work to protect the UK,” he said.

"I am grateful to Jeremy for his service as director GCHQ and over a distinguished career in national security.

“Jeremy’s insights and analysis have been hugely valuable through one of the most demanding periods of our recent history.” 

Outgoing GCHQ director Fleming said Keast-Butler’s appointment was “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,” he said.

GCHQ was founded in 1919 and Keast-Butler will be its 17th director. She said the organisation had been at the heart of some of the most challenging issues faced by the nation, and had in the past year contributed vital intelligence to shape the West’s response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – as well as helping to disrupt terrorist plots and tackling the threat of ransomware.

“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,” Keast-Butler said.

“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.”

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