The Complex

In Break with Tradition, New British Surveillance Chief is an Intel Outsider

The United Kingdom's global surveillance agency is getting a new leader. But in a move widely seen as an attempt to bring the organization to heel following months of embarrassing leaks about its operations, the new director is a political operative who is more James Carville than James Bond.

Robert Hannigan, a career diplomat and former adviser to two prime ministers, was appointed director of the Government Communications Headquarters, the equivalent of the National Security Agency, earlier this week. Historically, all but two GCHQ directors have either climbed up the career ladder of the agency or had significant experience in signals intelligence. The most recent director, Iain Lobban, joined the agency in 1983. Hannigan, by contrast, is a political operative who has served as a government spokesman and was closely involved in the Northern Ireland peace process and other high-profile diplomatic negotiations.

While Hannigan has experience managing national security issues, it has been largely as a counselor to elected officials. When Gordon Brown was elected prime minister in 2007, he made Hannigan his adviser on intelligence and security at No. 10 Downing Street. Hannigan is currently the director general for defense and intelligence at the Foreign Office, the equivalent of the U.S State Department.

In the days leading up to Hannigan's appointment, speculation had focused on three candidates, including him, all of whom came from outside the agency and were close to Whitehall. Analysts said appointing any of them would be a signal that the British government wanted to bring the spy agency more tightly under the control of country's political leadership. "The perception is that Westminster is keen to take charge," Charlie Edwards, director of national security studies at the Royal United Services Institute, told the Financial Times earlier this month.

Like the NSA, the GCHQ has come under intense scrutiny and criticism for intelligence operations exposed by the former contractor NSA Edward Snowden. Many of the documents that Snowden leaked to journalists detail controversial British surveillance operations, including a program to collect webcam images from unsuspecting computer users and a plan to try and discredit Wikileaks and monitor people who visited the site. Some intelligence programs were done in conjunction with the NSA, with which the GCHQ has a long-standing and close relationship.

"This no doubt reflects that changed climate and a desire both to make sure that the agency doesn't do things just because it can, and the interest in representing what it does better, and more diplomatically," said Gregory Treverton, a former senior U.S. intelligence official who now works as a senior policy analyst with the RAND Corp.

The UK is a party to the so-called "five eyes" agreement, in which Britain, the U.S., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand share information and cooperate on operations. That relationship was strained after Snowden revealed the NSA was eavesdropping on the communications of foreign leaders whose countries weren't part of the spying pact, most notably German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

More broadly, the Snowden documents underscored the GCHQ's long-standing and close relationship with the NSA. And although Hannigan's appointment is being seen as a reaction to the overreach of GCHQ, he isn't likely to upset that special relationship between the two allies.

"He's very thoughtful and understands the American connection," said former NSA Deputy Director Chris Inglis, referring to decades-long relationship between the two countries. Inglis said Hannigan's appointment also reflects the British government's desire to have a closer handle on cyber security issues. GCHQ plays a leading role in computer network defense and warfare for the UK.

Foreign Secretary William Hague said in a statement that Hannigan "brings to the job a wealth of relevant experience in the fields of national security, counter-terrorism and international relations."

Hannigan's appointment means that both GCHQ and the UK's foreign intelligence service, MI-6, the equivalent of the American CIA, will both be headed by outsiders. Historically, MI-6 had also been led by career intelligence officers. But the appointment in 2009 of John Sawers as the Chief of the Secret Intelligence Service, as the agency is formally known, broke with a more than 40-year tradition. Sawers, like Hannigan, spent most of his career in diplomatic service.

The British set-up stands in stark contrast to the United States, where the CIA and the NSA are both headed by long-time intelligence officers who spent their careers in their respective disciplines. CIA Director John Brennan spent most of his early career in the agency's operations directorate, serving as the station chief in Riyadh and eventually rising to a senior post at Langley. He left government in 2005 but returned four years later as President Obama's counterterrorism and homeland security adviser and was confirmed as CIA director last year.

The new head of the NSA, Adm. Mike Rogers, spent his career in signals intelligence and cryptography, the agency's core disciplines. He was also most recently the head of cyber warfare and defense for the Navy, experience that will come in handy as Rogers is also now the commander of U.S. Cyber Command, responsible for all military cyber security operations.

Ministry of Defense

The Complex

Exclusive: Top Admiral Says China Likely to Keep Stealing Military Secrets

Chinese hackers are so good at stealing U.S. military secrets that they're likely to ignore official American protests and continue breaking into classified networks run by both the Pentagon and its most important contractors, the top U.S. military officer in the Pacific told Foreign Policy.

The United States is carefully watching the growing cyber capabilities of China, Russia, Iran and North Korea, Adm. Samuel Locklear, the chief of U.S. Pacific Command, said in an interview. But China has been the most effective at stealing U.S. secrets. The admiral did not cite specific examples, but it is known that Chinese hackers have stolen design data for warplanes like the F/A-18 and F-35 fighter jets, helicopters like the Black Hawk, and ballistic missile systems like the Navy's Aegis system. In remarkably candid comments, Locklear said China took advantage of holes in computer networks to steal secrets and stressed that Beijing doesn't much care about what Washington has to say about it.

"I think the sooner we come to the realization that if we expect the Chinese to behave... well as a nation in cyberspace just because we ask them to, it is not realistic," Locklear said. "I think we have to design into our own capabilities and our own systems things that protect our capabilities."

The comments come as senior White House officials including President Obama prepare to make a series of high-level visits to Asia in coming months as part of an effort to reassure jittery allies that the United States is still committed to the region's security and stability. Obama announced a so-called "pivot" to Asia several years ago, but the leaders of Japan, South Korea, and other American allies have voiced increasing alarm that Washington remains focused on the Middle East and isn't doing enough to deter China from taking increasingly aggressive steps throughout the region. In the past year alone, Beijing has unilaterally imposed an air defense identification zone over the East China Sea that requires commercial planes to maintain radio contact with Chinese authorities and taken steps to assert its sovereignty over disputed islands also claimed by Japan. Obama will visit China this fall in a trip certain to be closely watched throughout the region.

The hacking problem took center stage this month when Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel visited Beijing. U.S. defense officials acknowledged they had offered highly unusual unclassified briefings to Chinese military commanders to discuss the doctrine the Pentagon has under development to guide the United States' offensive and defensive cyber capabilities. U.S. officials wanted to ease Chinese fears about the U.S. increasing its number of military personnel engaged in cyber warfare to 6,000, but also get similar information from the Chinese. Thus far, it is not believed they have responded in kind.

Locklear said hackers were able to take advantage of the fact that an array of widely-used computer networks were built without adequate safeguards, making it easy for cyber thieves in China and elsewhere to tunnel in and steal information. Beijing has disputed that those thefts were sanctioned by the government and accused the United States of cyber-espionage, but Locklear said Chinese officials have also accused Washington of turning a blind eye to U.S.-based hacking by non-government groups.

The admiral, seen as a front-runner by some to eventually move to the Pentagon to a senior leadership position with the Joint Chiefs, has overseen Pacific Command since March 2012. He acknowledged there is skepticism at this point that a true pivot to the Pacific will occur, given continued hostilities in the Middle East and Africa. But he said the rise of China and India as world powers and a military buildup across the region will require American attention.

"I think it's a necessity," he said. "I think our children and our grandchildren, as you see the center of the global economic engine, you see where the rising populations in the world are. Yes, Africa as a continent has a population that is rising, but even in this century, it's projected that 7 of 10 people will live in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region. And certainly that's where the larger power structures are."

China isn't the only regional challenge Locklear is dealing with. The Obama administration's main foreign policy success in the Pacific came after then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Myanmar in late 2011 and hailed its transition from decades of military rule to a civilian-run government. But conditions in Myanmar have deteriorated rapidly in recent months, as sectarian violence explodes and the government turns its back on a number of reforms its promised. That has complicated engagements between the United States and Myanmar because the United States is typically reticent to interact with governments with an abusive human rights record.

Locklear said the dilemma is a "bit of a two-edged sword" because when the Pentagon sends troops to interact with foreign militaries, it frequently leads to them maturing and reforming more quickly. But Myanmar has not yet reached a baseline where the Pentagon feels comfortable deploying troops there for training missions.

"You've kind of got a chicken-and-an-egg thing here," Locklear said. "You want them to demonstrate a good level of reform in the human rights area and accountability so that you can move forward with a mil-to-mil relationship that they desire that will help them reform faster. The problem is, they have to reach a certain benchmark of human rights before we will give them that opportunity, and that is still under review."

The admiral highlighted the Philippines as an example of how the Pentagon may grow its presence in the Pacific in the future without establishing new bases on foreign soil. Washington and Manila have not yet finalized a deal, but are working toward an agreement that would allow more U.S. troops to rotate through the Philippines on a temporary basis. The move aligns Manila more closely with the U.S. military in the face of China's rise and an ongoing dispute between the two countries over fishing rights at a tiny shoal in the South China Sea that has recently gone to an international tribunal.

"The Philippines will benefit by having a lot easier access for us to flow forces through there in a [disaster] event," Locklear said. "It will allow them, I think, to focus their defense spending on areas that I think really matter to them."

The admiral tries to remain "pragmatic" about the rise of China, saying Beijing is entitled to expand peacefully to address issues outside their borders, such as counter-piracy missions they perform in the Gulf of Aden. Chinese officials said in March that they will boost their already expanding military budget by 12.2 percent in 2014, to $131.6 billion. Some Capitol Hill lawmakers, including Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, have hammered the Obama administration for being asleep at the wheel as China's military power grows, but Locklear said China is entitled to expand peacefully. More concerning, however, is China's lack of transparency about its plans for the future and moves it has made to stifle movement in international waterways in the Pacific, Locklear said.

"If you take a look at our relationship as nations, I would say there is a majority of places where we converge with China on issues, the admiral said. "Not a vast majority, but a majority. But, there are a number of key areas where we diverge, and that divergence can potentially cause friction. And so the question is, how will that friction be managed."

Defense Department photo