LONDON (Reuters): Britain named Anne Keast-Butler as the first female director of its intelligence communications agency GCHQ on Tuesday, tasked with protecting the country from terrorists, cyber-criminals and malign foreign powers.
She will take over the role in May, succeeding Jeremy Fleming who is stepping down after a six-year tenure.
Foreign Secretary James Cleverly, who made the appointment, said Keast-Butler had an impressive track record at the heart of Britain’s national security network. “Anne will use her vast experience to help keep the British public safe,” he said.
She is currently deputy director general at Britain’s domestic intelligence agency, known as MI5.
GCHQ is Britain’s main eavesdropping agency and has a close relationship with the US National Security Agency as well as with counterparts in Canada, Australia and New Zealand in a consortium called “Five Eyes.”
GCHQ, which traces its roots back to the early 20th century after the outbreak of World War One, follows MI5, three decades later, in appointing a female head.
Stella Rimington became the first woman to lead MI5 in 1992 and was said to have inspired the casting of Judi Dench in the role of “M,” head of Britain’s foreign intelligence service known as MI6, in the James Bond movies a couple of years later.
GCHQ provided a rare statement on its offensive cyber work earlier this month, revealing that its hackers had launched operations against militants, state-backed disinformation campaigns and attempts to interfere in elections.
The group also works with MI6, MI5, police, the government’s defense department and overseas partners, and in the private sector and academia.