Not according to officials at the Foreign Office who have denied that the resignation of Sir Iain Lobban has anything to do with public sentiment following a string of revelations made by ex-NSA and whistle blowing contractor Edward Snowden.
Fifty-three-year-old Lobban is stepping down as director of the British intelligence agency after a five and a half year tenure as part of a long-planned move the officials say:
“Sir Iain Lobban is doing an outstanding job as director of GCHQ. Today is simply about starting the process of ensuring we have a suitable successor in place before he moves on as planned at the end of the year.”
Lobban’s purely coincidental departure comes at a time when he, and GCHQ at large, are subject to far more public interest than ever before as the continued leaks from Snowden show the extent to which the agency goes in terms of surveillance.
Just this week it has been revealed that GCHQ and the NSA have been taking an interest in YouTube and Facebook, as well as becoming more involved than you or I ever would in games such as Angry Birds.
Other leaks, including allegations of email snooping, telephone surveillance and web watching have brought a huge amount of attention to an intelligence agency which normally gets largely overlooked in favour of its far more sexy brothers; MI5 and MI6.
Last November, though, Sir Iain was forced to defend GCHQ in front of a parliament intelligence and security committee, telling MPs that,
“What we have seen over the last five months is near daily discussion by some of our targets . . . on how to avoid what they now perceive to be vulnerable communications methods.
He also warned that the constant leaks and subsequent media attention were hampering UK security efforts:
The cumulative effect of the media coverage, the global media coverage, will make the job we have far, far harder for years to come.”
Lobban also said that GCHQ did not listen to phone calls, or read emails, between the majority of the British public, despite the fact that I suspect the perception of the matter here in the UK is somewhat different.
Sir Iain, who joined the intelligence agency in 1983, is expected to remain in his post until late in 2014 though his position is already being advertised.
Interestingly, his US counterpart General Keith Alexander of the NSA, along with his deputy, John Inglis, are also stepping down later this year.
Call me cynical if you like, but I feel this looks like the beginning of a change of management – to bury bad press – as intelligence agencies both domestic and foreign perhaps look to repair some of the public trust they have done so very well to obliterate in recent times.