Anne Keast-Butler, GCHQ
Anne Keast-Butler. Image: GCHQ

Anne Keast-Butler: Britain appoints first woman to lead spy agency GCHQ

For the first time in more than a century, Britain’s cyber and signals intelligence agency GCHQ is going to be led by a woman.

The appointment of Anne Keast-Butler, currently the deputy director general at the U.K.’s domestically focused intelligence service MI5, was confirmed by Foreign Secretary James Cleverley on Tuesday.

Keast-Butler had been a favorite for the role, as The Record reported in February. She succeeds Jeremy Fleming, who announced his decision to step down in January after six years in the role.

Cleverley said: “Anne Keast-Butler has an impressive track record working 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.”

She was described as “an exceptional candidate in a talented field,” by Tim Barrow, the U.K.'s national security adviser.

Barrow also expressed his gratitude to Fleming “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.”

Fleming said: “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.”

Keast-Butler said she was “delighted to be appointed” as the agency’s 17th director.

Her appointment follows a career in which she has held a number of key operational roles in MI5, including most recently as the director general responsible for the agency's operational, investigative and protective security work.

She praised how 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.”

She had previously spent two years on secondment to the cyber and signals intelligence agency as the head of counterterrorism and serious organized crime.

“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,” said Keast-Butler, adding: “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.”

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Alexander Martin

Alexander Martin

is the UK Editor for Recorded Future News. He was previously a technology reporter for Sky News and is also a fellow at the European Cyber Conflict Research Initiative.