A century of protecting Britain: How GCHQ has evolved from a naval intelligence office in Whitehall to a world-beating surveillance operation
- GCHQ was founded on November 1, 1919 when the government combined two rival intelligence bodies
- The Admiralty’s Room 40 and the War Office’s MI1(b) were merged in the Government Code & Cypher School
- The Queen has been receiving GCHQ intelligence briefings for longer than anyone else in the world
- The organisation was not publicly acknowledged until 1983 when the government admitted its existence
Rapid changes in technology are posing ‘unique challenges’ to the security services which will face ‘enormous complexity’ in the future, the boss of GCHQ has said.
Speaking 100 years since Government Communications Headquarters was formed, director Jeremy Fleming described society as being in a ‘period of accelerated change’ with technological advances leaving the spy agency needing to alter the way it works.
GCHQ, which rarely speaks publicly about its work but has tried to become less secretive in recent years, is marking its centenary with a series of events including an exhibition at the Science Museum in London.
The Government Communications Head Quarters – more commonly known as GCHQ – will today celebrate its 100th anniversary after a decision was made on November 1, 1919 to combine the Admiralty’s Room 40 – where the code breakers worked – and staff from the War Office’s MI1(b). This photograph was taken in October 1982 – shortly before the organisation’s official existence was announced
This photograph taken on November 17, 2015 shows three analysts monitoring their work stations in the 24-hour Operations Room at the heart of GCHQ
GCHQ monitors communications around the world around the clock and provides signal intelligence to the armed forces and the government. Speaking today, it’s director director Jeremy Fleming described society as being in a ‘period of accelerated change’ with technological advances leaving the spy agency needing to alter the way it works
For much of its existence, the government refused to publicly acknowledge GCHQ’s existence or the vital role it played during WWII with its site at Bletchley Park, which was used to decode German naval signals
Jeremy Fleming, director of GCHQ said: ‘Throughout our history we have always tackled developments in communications to stay one step ahead. ‘We have always risen to the challenge that change brings’
Mr Fleming said: ‘We’re living through a period of accelerated change in terms of technology: that comes with huge advantages and unique challenges for society. It means the way we work is changing.
‘But throughout our history we have always tackled developments in communications to stay one step ahead.
‘We have always risen to the challenge that change brings.’
GCHQ: The key facts
- GCHQ was formed on November 1 1919, under the original name of the Government Code & Cypher School, by merging Room 40 (naval intelligence) and MI1(b) (military intelligence).
- The Queen has been receiving GCHQ intelligence reports for longer than anybody else in the world.
- Its apprentices are three to four times more likely to have dyslexia than the national average.
- Sigint, intelligence gathering by interception of signals, began in 1914 to support the UK’s military.
- Bletchley Park in Milton Keynes was famously home to GCHQ as it became the centre for code breaking during the Second World War.
- During its time there women filled 76 per cent of roles.
- The organisation’s main base moved to Cheltenham in 1950 where it remains today.
- There are also sites across the country including in Bude, Scarborough, Harrogate, Lincolnshire as well as London. Another office is opening in Manchester before the end of the year.
- GCHQ was not avowed, acknowledged publicly – until 1983.
- The National Cyber Security Centre, a part of GCHQ, was established in 2016 to tackle online threats to safety and business.
Mr Fleming described the Five Eyes intelligence group – made up of the UK, Australia, New Zealand, the US and Canada which will mark its 75th anniversary in 2021 – as an ‘extraordinary partnership that plays a pivotal part in global security and stability, and still stands strong today.’
GCHQ was set up on November 1 1919 as a peacetime ‘cryptanalytic’ unit made up from staff from the Admiralty’s Room 40 and the War Office’s MI1(b).
During the Second World War, personnel moved to Bletchley Park where they decrypted German messages, most famously by breaking the Enigma code.
The agency’s best-known former member of staff is Alan Turing, the wartime code-breaker and pioneer of computer science who had a ‘fearless approach to daunting problems’.
Turing, who is to appear on the Bank of England’s next £50 note when it enters circulation by end of 2021, played a pivotal role at Bletchley Park in breaking the code which is said to have helped to shorten the length of the Second World War by years, saving millions of lives.
GCHQ regards his technical innovations as ‘ahead of their time’ and they still inform its work today.
In the early 1950s, the service moved its headquarters from the London suburbs of Eastcote to Cheltenham but it also moved to other offices in the centre of the capital to keep a base for handling secret paperwork.
In April the location, which had been the London base for more than 65 years, was revealed.
GCHQ has developed a Centenary Kitchen Garden to celebrate it’s 100th anniversary
Known as Britain’s listening post, it also has bases in Bude in Cornwall, Scarborough, Lincolnshire and Harrogate, with another office in Manchester due to open by the end of the year
Working alongside MI5 and MI6, over the years GCHQ has looked to tackle serious cyber, terrorist, criminal, and state threats and attacks, including investigating the Novichok poisoning in March last year
It helped foil 23 attacks against the nation in the last four years and over 2017/18 it helped disrupt terrorist operations in at least four European countries
Unknown to the public, intelligence officers worked to protect national security from the drab-looking building on Palmer Street, opposite St James’s Park Tube station in Westminster, since 1953.
Known as Britain’s listening post, it also has bases in Bude in Cornwall, Scarborough, Lincolnshire and Harrogate, with another office in Manchester due to open by the end of the year.
Its existence was not publicly acknowledged until 1983.
GCHQ – A century of protecting Britain
1919: GCHQ is formed under the original name of the Government Code & Cypher School (GC&CS) after a merger between Room 40 (naval intelligence) and MI1(b) (military intelligence). Its first home was in London at Watergate House.
1926: GC&CS buys its first Enigma machine.
1939: GC&CS is given the cover name GCHQ to better disguise its secret work when it moved to its wartime home at Bletchley Park.
1946: The UKUSA agreement was signed and became the ‘cornerstone’ of the Five Eyes partnership in which the UK, Australia, New Zealand, the US and Canada now share intelligence.
– GCHQ moves to Eastcote, in Greater London.
1950: GCHQ moves to Cheltenham (completed 1954).
1983: GCHQ is avowed – publicly acknowledged – in Parliament for the first time.
1984: Trade unions are banned at GCHQ.
1994: The Intelligence Services Act puts new legal duties on GCHQ.
1997: Trade Union ban lifted for GCHQ workers.
2016: Investigatory Powers Act is brought in to provide oversight of the intelligence agencies.
2019: GCHQ’s office in Manchester set to open.
– November 1: GCHQ turns 100.
Working alongside MI5 and MI6, over the years GCHQ has looked to tackle serious cyber, terrorist, criminal, and state threats and attacks, including investigating the Novichok poisoning in March last year.
It helped foil 23 attacks against the nation in the last four years and over 2017/18 it helped disrupt terrorist operations in at least four European countries.
It has also to the arrests prolific child sex abusers Matthew Falder and James Alexander and prevented about £1.5 billion of tax evasion between 2018-2019 as well as raising £1.4million for charity over the last decade.
Mr Fleming said: ‘For GCHQ, it has been a century of shortening wars, saving lives and giving the UK a technical edge.
‘Our centenary is a chance to celebrate those achievements and to thank those men and women who have given themselves to this work. But it is also a chance to look forward.
‘I can’t predict what GCHQ will look like 100 years from now.
‘Who we are has been shaped by the changing threats and technology around us.
‘In the future we will continue to face enormous complexity but also enormous opportunity.’
He said although hugely different to the organisation that began back in 1919, there was ‘much that is recognisable in our DNA’.
He added that while GCHQ ‘cannot shout about our mission’, he welcomed a shift towards it being ‘increasingly transparent’.
In 2016, GCHQ became the first of the country’s spy agencies on Twitter and has since joined Instagram.
Analysts can intercept communications from around the world from GCHQ, providing advance warning on possible threats in Britain and around the world
Mr Fleming said: ‘For GCHQ, it has been a century of shortening wars, saving lives and giving the UK a technical edge. Our centenary is a chance to celebrate those achievements and to thank those men and women who have given themselves to this work. But it is also a chance to look forward. I can’t predict what GCHQ will look like 100 years from now’
GCHQ allowed access to their facility – which remained a state secret until 1983 on the anniversary of their creation
An area known as ‘The Street’ offers staff at GCHQ different food options while working on their highly sensitive projects
Some high-profile successes from GCHQ’s archives
German Foreign Minister Arthur Zimmermann, pictured, proposed an alliance with Mexico if the United States joined the war on the side of the allies. Mexico was told they would receive Texas, New Mexico and Arizona in the event of an allied defeat. Experts in Room 40 of the Admiralty intercepted the telegram and it was later leaked to US newspapers
Tony Comer – who has worked for GCHQ for 36 years and has spent the last 10 as its historian – picks high-profile moments from its history.
The Zimmermann telegram:
In January 1917, GCHQ’s predecessors in Room 40 of the Admiralty produced an intelligence report that contributed to the United States, which was still neutral at that point, entering the First World War on the Allied side.
The German Foreign Minister, Arthur Zimmermann, proposed an alliance with Mexico: if the US joined the Allied side in the war and Mexico would ally itself with Germany, it would receive Texas, New Mexico and Arizona as prizes after the defeat of the Allies.
The message was intercepted by the UK and read on January 17, with its importance quickly realised.
A copy of the message between the German Embassies in Washington and Mexico City was shown to the US Embassy in London.
It was leaked to the US press and was front page in most US newspapers on March 1 1917.
Zimmermann publicly announced that the telegram was authentic, and in April the United States declared war on Germany.
Breaking the Enigma code:
The Enigma machine was invented by a German engineer Arthur Scherbius shortly after the First World War.
Dilly Knox, one of the former British First World War codebreakers, was convinced he could break the military version of the system and set up an Enigma Research Section, comprising himself and Tony Kendrick, later joined by Peter Twinn, Alan Turing and Gordon Welchman: their success was built on a foundation of the success of Polish cryptanalysts before them.
They worked in the stable yard at Bletchley Park and that is where the first wartime Enigma messages were broken by the UK in January 1940 during the Second World War.
Details of those who worked at Bletchley Park have been preserved and used as an exhibit in GCHQ’s head quarters
Code breakers at Bletchley Park used Enigma machines to crack German naval signals during the Second World War. This Enigman machine is located in GCHQ’s headquarters building in Cheltenham
The forerunner for GCHQ sought volunteers during 1938 who could be recruited at the outbreak for war. They wanted people who were promising mathematicians and linguists – as well as those with code breaking experience from the First World War
Cuban Missile Crisis:
The Admiralty built a wireless telegraphy station at Scarborough in 1912.
From 1914 onwards it had responsibilities for Sigint, intelligence gathering by interception of signals, as well as its ordinary communications mission.
In 1962 the US learned that the Soviet Union was secretly shipping nuclear missiles on to the island of Cuba, just 90 miles from America.
During the Cuban Missile Crisis, GCHQ was intercepting position reports from Russian ships such as the Kasimov, pictured, to determine whether the Soviets were planning to run the US blockade imposed by President John F Kennedy
The Soviet freighter Anosov, rear, being escorted by the USS Barry and a US Navy plane was one of the vessels seeking to run the blockade. GCHQ’s station in Scarborough compiled position reports from Soviet vessels heading to Cuba. These reports showed the moment when the Russian ships turned around
The world was facing nuclear conflict after a Soviet missile base was spotted in Cuba by US Air Force intelligence flights
President John F Kennedy’s advisers pushed for an immediate invasion of the island but Kennedy opted instead for a naval blockade on further shipping arriving.
Some Soviet ships were already on their way to the island.
The question was whether they would break through the blockade. If they did, the risk was a conflict which could escalate into nuclear war.
One of the missions of the Scarborough station was to intercept position reports of Soviet merchant shipping.
This meant that it could say exactly where these vessels were, when they stopped sailing towards Cuba and when they turned around and headed back to the Soviet Union.
Reports gradually showed more ships originally bound for Cuba alter their course to return to Soviet ports.
A key report from this series – which shows the first report of a ship changing course- has just been declassified.
Who was Alan Turing and why was he so vital for the war effort that he has been named as the face of the Bank of England’s new £50 note
Alan Turing, pictured, was born on June 23, 1912 and studied maths at King’s College, Cambridge. He is considered the father of modern computing and was a vital part of the Bletchley Park code breakers
Alan Turing was a wartime hero whose later life was overshadowed by a conviction for homosexual activity, which was later considered unjust and discriminatory.
Often considered to be the father of computer science, Turing played a pivotal role in breaking the Enigma code and his legacy has a lasting impact on the way we live today.
Born on June 23 1912, Turing studied mathematics at King’s College, University of Cambridge, gaining a first-class honours degree in 1934. He was later elected a Fellow of the College.
In 1936 his work on Computable Numbers is seen as giving birth to the idea of how computers could operate.
His ‘Turing test’ also examined the behaviour necessary for a machine to be considered intelligent – the foundation for artificial intelligence.
Perhaps Turing’s best-known achievement was his role in cracking the Enigma code.
It has been said this helped to shorten the length of the Second World War by at least two years – saving millions of lives.
The Enigma enciphering machine, adopted by the German armed forces to send messages securely, was believed to be unbreakable as the cipher changed continuously.
Turing was part of an Enigma research section, which worked in the stable yard at Bletchley Park.
The first wartime Enigma messages were broken in January 1940 and Enigma traffic continued to be broken routinely at Bletchley Park for the remainder of the war.
Turing was later convicted of gross indecency for his relationship with a man.
His conviction led to the removal of his security clearance and meant he was no longer able to work for Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) where he had continued to work following service at Bletchley Park during the war.
He was chemically castrated following his conviction in 1952 and he died aged 41 in 1954.
Turing died of cyanide poisoning and an inquest recorded a verdict of suicide, although his mother and others maintained his death was accidental.
He was later given a posthumous royal pardon, following a request from the then Justice Secretary Chris Grayling.
In September 2009, then-prime minister Gordon Brown issued the apology to Turing for the prosecution following a petition calling for such a move.
A petition, Grant a pardon to Alan Turing, previously received more than 37,000 signatures.
In July, the Governor of the Bank of England announced that Alan Turing would appear on the new £50 note in honour of his wartime exploits. His work is believed to have saved the lives of millions of people
Alan Turing’s work on cracking the Enigma code machine is believed to have shorted the Second World War by two years
Source: Read Full Article