The Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament claimed that it was’misled’ by the resignation of a former Director of GCHQ. 

Today, the ISC published its annual report. It expressed concern about senior intelligence personnel’s behavior.

The ISC said it had not been told the full story over the circumstances under which Robert Hannigan quit the spy agency in 2017. 

After less than three years, Mr Hannigan resigned as Director of GCHQ due to ‘family reasons.

The Mail on Sunday reported that his departure came after he was accused of giving a character referral for a Catholic priest in 2013, which he admitted to having child pornography. 

In its report, the ISC stated that the Intelligence Community oversight committee “must be completely informed about the circumstances surrounding senior figures’ departures.” 

You also read that, “given the investigative capabilities with which we trust our Intelligence Community,” it was imperative that they be above any suspicion.  

Robert Hannigan stood down as director of GCHQ in 2017 after less than three years in the post

Robert Hannigan stood down as director of GCHQ in 2017 after less than three years in the post

Parliament's powerful Intelligence and Security Committee has claimed it was 'misled' over the resignation

It was claimed by Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee that the resignation was fraudulent

The 2017 escape of the spy chief was surrounded by mystery until Sunday’s Mail discovered that he had given a character reference to a paedophile priest, allowing him to get out of jail. He then reoffended.

Then-PM Theresa May was accused of a cover-up after allowing the powerful director of Britain’s listening station and largest spy agency to quietly resign when alerted that Mr Hannigan’s connection to Father Edmund Higgins had been unearthed by a sister intelligence agency.

Hannigan claimed that his departure was due to ‘family factors’. However, the Higgins link, which is crucial for the child abuse victim, had been kept secret by Hannigan even after he was sentenced in 2018 for child abuse.

The report said that the previous Intelligence and Security Committee had asked the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in 2017 following the resignation ‘whether there was anything surrounding the resignation of which the Foreign Secretary considered the Committee should be aware’.

According to the report, the FCO assured the Committee there were no additional reasons beyond those cited publically.  

After the publication of the Mail on Sunday in February 2019, ISC sent a letter to National Security Adviser asking why this matter had been misled. 

The committee sought answers and asked whether Mr Hannigan  – at the time a Foreign Office official – had ‘given a character reference in his official capacity’ in the form of a 2013 letter.   

The letter was written before he was promoted to his role at GCHQ in November 2014 and the letter helped Higgins receive a suspended sentence.

After a few months, he was back on the streets, selling sick child abuse pictures online to make a profit, and then was caught by The National Crime Agency. 

According to the report, ISC received a brief response at first which didn’t answer any of its questions or concerns.   

Further inquiries revealed that the committee was told by Hannigan that the reference had been given in his personal capacity. However, he also included his FCO title within the reference. 

According to the ISC it was told by another source that ‘a second criminal investigation into Father Higgins was ongoing at the time his resignation as Director’. A limited number of staff from GCHQ and Cabinet Office were also aware of Father Higgins’ association and that it would have been inappropriate to share this information with anyone outside of this group (including the ISC) during the investigation.

The GCHQ headquarters is pictured in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire in October 2005

Pictured in Cheltenham (Glouchshire) in October 2005 is the GCHQ Headquarters

According to the ISC, it reported: “While acknowledging the existence of a criminal probe, the Committee believes that, if the Head of an intelligence Agency is forced to resign unexpectedly, then the Committee as the body responsible for monitoring the Intelligence Community (and ensuring their probity) must be completely informed about the situation. 

“Given the investigative capabilities with which we trust our Intelligence Community it is imperative that they be above all suspicion.”

According to the ISC, the agency is also concerned about “the actions of senior staff members when they depart agencies and the extent that they remain bound by former duties.”

According to the report of the committee, there are particular concerns regarding former intelligence personnel speaking with media outlets and becoming ‘talking heads. 

Julian Lewis, Tory chair of the ISC said that:2017: The committee was misled about the circumstances surrounding the sudden departure from Head of GCHQ. This is because the Intelligence Community has entrusted the oversight and probity of this Committee. 

“Given the investigative capabilities with which we trust our Intelligence Community it is imperative that they be above all suspicion.”