In order to forget private keys passphrase (id_rsa) i usually run:

ssh-add -D # to forget all loaded identities
ssh-add -d # to forget primary identity ($HOME/.ssh/id_rsa)

Now with macOS Sierra v10.12.1 i get this error:

$ ssh-add -D
All identities removed.
$ ssh-add -d
Could not remove identity "/Users/user/.ssh/id_rsa": agent refused operation
Could not remove identity "/Users/user/.ssh/id_dsa": agent refused operation

I searched google with no luck!

6 Answers 6


I had the same issue with Sierra. Try removing id_rsa from $HOME/.ssh/ and then restarting (I removed id_rsa.pub as well - therefore the two keys private and public). It solved my problem.

  • That helped (High Sierra), thanks a lot! I have custom host redirects in ~/.ssh/config that weren't working coreclty. No restart needed... Jul 18, 2018 at 12:15

This error happened to me when the identity being referenced was different from the one that was added. The -d option removes a specific key. If that key was never loaded it refuses to remove it. You can check the keys loaded with ssh-add -l and check key signatures with ssh-keygen -lf <path-to-private-key>


In my case, I had a slightly different problem. When I invoked ssh-add -D the agent appeared to succeed and responded with All identities removed. but in fact, when listing the agent keys ssh-add -l the unwanted keys remained listed, and of course, when attempting to use the agent to authenticate to a remote host the agent would prompt me using my configured pin program for a passphrase to the unwanted keys. Annoying.

The cause of the problem was that my gpg-agent daemon had cached the keys in a file at the path ~/.gnupg/sshcontrol:

$ cat ~/.gnupg/sshcontrol
# List of allowed ssh keys.  Only keys present in this file are used
# in the SSH protocol.  The ssh-add tool may add new entries to this
# file to enable them; you may also add them manually.  Comment
# lines, like this one, as well as empty lines are ignored.  Lines do
# have a certain length limit but this is not serious limitation as
# the format of the entries is fixed and checked by gpg-agent. A
# non-comment line starts with optional white spaces, followed by the
# keygrip of the key given as 40 hex digits, optionally followed by a
# caching TTL in seconds, and another optional field for arbitrary
# flags.   Prepend the keygrip with an '!' mark to disable it.

# RSA key added on: 2021-06-03 16:23:25
# Fingerprints:  MD5:c1:[elided]:24
#                SHA256:+Mj[elided]E4
21[elided]C9 0
# Ed25519 key added on: 2021-06-03 22:11:36
# Fingerprints:  MD5:[elided]:24:da
#                SHA256:EL[elided]Zs
E0[elided]47 0

Deleting those keys from the ~/.gnupg/sshcontrol allowed me to resume use of the gpg-agent to authenticate to remote hosts without the agent demanding a passphrase for keys which I was no longer using.

  • 1
    This is absolutely underrated. Thank you a lot. Dec 22, 2021 at 13:55

Had the same Issue, fixed with

 🤖 killall ssh-agent

 🤖 ssh-add -l

The agent has no identities.

I found that Ubuntu 18.04 still have this bug.

Here is my simple way to remove unwanted key(s) from ssh-agent without any significant effort:

  1. Find the key you want to remove

    ssh-add -l
    2048 SHA256:qzJYF7AJAJsLsJn7ZFPcJ+w78ZJVoPZI9TzXCq2cf5 .ssh/bad-key.pem (RSA)
  2. Go into your ~/.ssh directory and create sub-directory called for example, disabled

    cd ~/.ssh
    mkdir disabled
  3. Move the key you want to disable into that directory.

    mv bad-key.pem disabled/

That's it. The key should be no longer available in the ssh-agent, but you can still have it and add it back if you need to.


If none of the above works, for me it was the ~/.gnupg/sshcontrol where the keys got "cached".


  • Welcome to the site and thank you for your contribution. Would you mind editing your post to summarize the steps necessary to solve the OPs problem? Answers that rely (mostly) on external links are less useful because the link (and the linked content) can change, making the answer invalid.
    – AdminBee
    Jun 29, 2020 at 8:55

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