Former head of GCHQ 'let slip Isis secrets to TV crew'

Former spy boss ‘let slip Isis secrets to TV crew’: Former head of GCHQ wrongly escaped censure after revealing secret information about the hunt for Jihadi John

  • Robert Hannigan gave away secret information about hunt for Jihadi John
  • Parliamentary report says he gave away insight in a Channel 4 documentary
  • In the new report, MPs expressed their dismay about Mr Hannigan’s remarks

A former head of GCHQ wrongly escaped censure after revealing secret information about the hunt for Jihadi John, a parliamentary report has said.

Robert Hannigan gave away tactically significant details about attempts to track down the British-raised Islamic State executioner in a Channel 4 documentary, according to the Commons intelligence and security committee (ISC).

In the report, released yesterday, MPs expressed their dismay about Mr Hannigan’s remarks – seemingly in breach of the Official Secrets Act – and the apparent failure to hold him to account.

Mr Hannigan’s tenure as director of the government spy agency coincided with its bid – along with the CIA and other international intelligence agencies – to ‘find, fix and finish’ Jihadi John.

Former head of GCHQ Robert Hannigan (pictured) wrongly escaped censure after revealing secret information about the hunt for Jihadi John, a parliamentary report has said

 Mr Hannigan, who has built a lucrative second career as a security expert, headed GCHQ from 2014 until 2017. Pictured: The GCHQ building

The security expert told documentary makers about the lengths the terrorist, real name Mohammed Emwazi, went to shield his whereabouts. He also revealed the tactics used by the agencies to find him.

The report indicates Mr Hannigan gave his account without getting prior approval. Afterwards he received a letter from his GCHQ successor requesting he refrain from repeating what he divulged – but he was not subject to a criminal investigation.

Kuwaiti-born Emwazi, who grew up in west London, became the world’s most wanted man in 2014 when he was filmed beheading IS hostages in Syria, including British aid workers David Haines and Alan Henning. 

He went on the run and was eventually killed, aged 27, in a drone strike on Raqqa, Syria, in November 2015. 

The security expert told documentary makers about the lengths ‘Jihadi John’, real name Mohammed Emwazi, went to shield his whereabouts. He also revealed the tactics used by the agencies to find him

Mr Hannigan said in the documentary: ‘He [Emwazi] had taught himself a lot. He communicated very rarely and when he did, mainly around the hostages, he used a series of commercially available products to obscure his identity. These encryption products made it very difficult for an agency to tackle him. He was layering these products on top of each other.’

Mr Hannigan also revealed that Emwazi was identified by ‘his size, his hands and above all his voice’, which were so distinctive it was ‘quite easy’ to find out who he was. The difficult part was finding him.

The ISC report said: ‘It is very surprising to this committee that a previous head of one of those organisations [ie part of the Secret Intelligence Services] can appear on television and divulge secrets and yet no substantive action be taken.

‘It sends entirely the wrong message to those who may be tempted to breach those obligations themselves, and to those who risk their lives to protect them.’

Mr Hannigan, who has built a lucrative second career as a security expert, headed GCHQ from 2014 until 2017.

He was unavailable for comment last night.

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