Government Communications Headquarters

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Government Communications Headquarters
Government Communications Headquarters logo.svg
Agency overview
Formed 1919 as the GC&CS
Preceding agencies MI1b (Army)
NID25 (Royal Navy)
Jurisdiction Her Majesty's Government
Headquarters The Doughnut, Cheltenham, UK
51°53′58″N 2°07′28″W / 51.89944°N 2.12444°W / 51.89944; -2.12444
Employees 6,132 (fy 2012–13)[1]
Annual budget Single Intelligence Account
Minister responsible Philip Hammond, Foreign Secretary
Agency executive Sir Iain Lobban, Director of GCHQ
Website www.gchq.gov.uk
"The Doughnut", the headquarters of the GCHQ.

The Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) is a British intelligence and security agency responsible for providing signals intelligence (SIGINT) and information assurance to the British government and armed forces.[2] Based in "The Doughnut", in the suburbs of Cheltenham, it operates under the formal direction of the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) alongside the Security Service (MI5), the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) and Defence Intelligence (DI). GCHQ is the responsibility of the UK Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, but it is not a part of the Foreign Office and its Director ranks as a Permanent Secretary.

GCHQ was originally established after the First World War as the Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS) and was known under that name until 1946. During the Second World War it was located at Bletchley Park, where it was famed for its role in the breaking of the German Enigma codes. Currently there are two main components of the GCHQ, the Composite Signals Organisation (CSO), which is responsible for gathering information, and the CESG, which is responsible for securing the UK's own communications. The Joint Technical Language Service (JTLS) is a small department and cross-government resource responsible for mainly technical language support and translation and interpreting services across government departments. It is co-located with GCHQ for administrative purposes.

In 2013, GCHQ received considerable media attention when NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed that the agency was attempting to collect all online and telephone data in the UK via the Tempora programme.

Structure[edit]

GCHQ is led by the Director of GCHQ, currently Sir Iain Lobban, and a Corporate Board, made up of Executive and Non-Executive Directors. Reporting to the Corporate Board is:[3][4]

  • Sigint missions: comprising maths and cryptanalysis, IT and computer systems, linguistics and translation, and the intelligence analysis unit
  • Enterprise: comprising applied research and emerging technologies, corporate knowledge and information systems, commercial supplier relationships, and biometrics
  • Corporate management: enterprise resource planning, human resources, internal audit, and architecture
  • Communications-Electronics Security Group

History[edit]

Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS)[edit]

During the First World War, the United Kingdom's Army and Navy had separate signals intelligence agencies, MI1b and NID25 (initially known as Room 40) respectively.[5][6] In 1919, the Cabinet's Secret Service Committee, chaired by Lord Curzon, recommended that a peace-time codebreaking agency should be created, a task given to the then-Director of Naval Intelligence, Hugh Sinclair.[7] Sinclair merged staff from NID25 and MI1b into the new organisation, which initially consisted of around 25–30 officers and a similar number of clerical staff.[8] It was titled the "Government Code and Cypher School", a cover-name chosen by Victor Forbes of the Foreign Office.[9] Alastair Denniston, who had been a member of NID25, was appointed as its operational head.[7] It was initially under the control of the Admiralty, and located in Watergate House, Adelphi, London.[7] Its public function was "to advise as to the security of codes and cyphers used by all Government departments and to assist in their provision", but also had a secret directive to "study the methods of cypher communications used by foreign powers".[10] GC&CS officially formed on 1 November 1919,[11] and produced its first decrypt on 19 October.[7]

Allidina Visram school in Mombasa, pictured above in 2006, was the location of the British "Kilindini" codebreaking outpost during World War II

Before the Second World War, GC&CS was a relatively small department. By 1922, the main focus of GC&CS was on diplomatic traffic, with "no service traffic ever worth circulating"[12] and so, at the initiative of Lord Curzon, it was transferred from the Admiralty to the Foreign Office.[13] GC&CS came under the supervision of Hugh Sinclair, who by 1923 was both the Chief of SIS and Director of GC&CS.[7] In 1925, both organisations were co-located on different floors of Broadway Buildings, opposite St. James's Park.[7] Messages decrypted by GC&CS were distributed in blue-jacketed files that became known as "BJs".[14]

In the 1920s, GC&CS was successfully reading Soviet Union diplomatic ciphers. However, in May 1927, during a row over clandestine Soviet support for the General Strike and the distribution of subversive propaganda, Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin made details from the decrypts public.[15]

Main article: Ultra (cryptography)

During the Second World War, GC&CS was based largely at Bletchley Park in present-day Milton Keynes working on, most famously, the German Enigma machine and Lorenz ciphers,[16] but also a large number of other systems. In 1940, GC&CS was working on the diplomatic codes and ciphers of 26 countries, tackling over 150 diplomatic cryptosystems.[17] Senior staff included Alastair Denniston, Oliver Strachey, Dilly Knox, John Tiltman, Edward Travis, Ernst Fetterlein, Josh Cooper, Donald Michie, Alan Turing, Max Newman, William Tutte, I. J. (Jack) Good, Peter Calvocoressi and Hugh Foss.

An outstation in the Far East, the Far East Combined Bureau was set up in Hong Kong in 1935, and moved to Singapore in 1939. Subsequently with the Japanese advance down the Malay Peninsula, the Army and RAF codebreakers went to the Wireless Experimental Centre in Delhi, India. The Navy codebreakers in FECB went to Colombo, Ceylon, then to Kilindini, near Mombasa, Kenya.

GC&CS was renamed the "Government Communications Headquarters" in June 1946.[18]

Post Second World War[edit]

GCHQ was at first based in Eastcote, but in 1951[19] moved to the outskirts of Cheltenham, setting up two sites there – Oakley and Benhall. GCHQ had a very low profile in the media until 1983 when the trial of Geoffrey Prime, a KGB mole within GCHQ, created considerable media interest.[20]

Since the days of the Second World War, US and British intelligence have shared information. For the GCHQ this means that it shares information with, and gets information from, the National Security Agency (NSA) in the United States.[21]

Public key encryption[edit]

Early in the 1970s, the asymmetric key algorithm was invented by staff member Clifford Cocks, a mathematics graduate. This fact was kept secret until 1997.[22]

Trade union disputes[edit]

NUCPS banner on march in Cheltenham 1992

In 1984, GCHQ was the centre of a political row when the Conservative government of Margaret Thatcher prohibited its employees from belonging to a trade union. It was claimed that joining a union would be in conflict with national security. A number of mass national one-day strikes were held to protest this decision, seen as a first step to wider bans on trade unions. Appeals to British Courts and European Commission of Human Rights[23] were unsuccessful. The government offered a sum of money to each employee who agreed to give up their union membership. Appeal to the ILO resulted in a decision that government's actions were in violation of Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention.[24] The ban was eventually lifted by the incoming Labour government in 1997, with the Government Communications Group of the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) Union being formed to represent interested employees at all grades.[25] In 2000, a group of 14 former GCHQ employees, who had been dismissed after refusing to give up their union membership, were offered re-employment, which three of them accepted.[26]

Post Cold War[edit]

1990s: Post-Cold War restructuring[edit]

The Intelligence Services Act 1994 placed the activities of the intelligence agencies on a legal footing for the first time, defining their purpose, and the British Parliament's Intelligence and Security Committee was given a remit to examine the expenditure, administration and policy of the three intelligence agencies.[27] The objectives of GCHQ were defined as working as "in the interests of national security, with particular reference to the defence and foreign policies of Her Majesty's government; in the interests of the economic wellbeing of the United Kingdom; and in support of the prevention and the detection of serious crime".[28] During the introduction of the Intelligence Agency Act in late 1993, the former Prime Minister Jim Callaghan had described GCHQ as a "full blown bureaucracy", adding that future bodies created to provide oversight of the intelligence agencies should "investigate whether all the functions that GCHQ carries out today are still necessary."[29]

In 1993, in the wake of the "Squidgygate" affair, GCHQ denied "intercepting, recording or disclosing" the telephone calls of the British Royal family.[30]

In late 1993 civil servant Michael Quinlan advised a deep review of the work of GCHQ following the conclusion of his "Review of Intelligence Requirements and Resources", which had imposed a 3% cut on the agency.[31] The Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Jonathan Aitken, subsequently held face to face discussions with the intelligence agency directors to assess further savings in the wake of Quinlan's review. John Adye, the Director of GCHQ performed badly in meetings with Aitken, leading Aitken to conclude that GCHQ was "suffering from out-of-date methods of management and out-of-date methods for assessing priorities".[32] GCHQ's budget was £850 million in 1993, (£1.51 billion) as of 2014)[33] compared to £125 million for MI5 and SIS. In December 1994 the businessman Roger Hurn was commissioned to begin a review of GCHQ, which was concluded in March 1995.[34] Hurn's report recommended a cut of £100 million in GCHQ's budget, such a large reduction had not been suffered by any British intelligence agency since the end of World War II.[34] The J Division of GCHQ, which had collected SIGINT on Russia, disappeared as result of the cuts.[34] The cuts had been mostly reversed by 2000 in the wake of threats from violent non-state actors, and risks from increased terrorism, organised crime and illegal access to nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.[35]

David Omand became the Director of GCHQ in 1996, and greatly restructured the agency in the face of new and changing targets and rapid technological change.[36] Omand introduced the concept of "Sinews" (or "SIGINT New Systems") which allowed more flexible working methods, avoiding overlaps in work by creating fourteen domains, each with a well-defined working scope.[36] The tenure of Omand also saw the planning and the creation of The Doughnut, GCHQ's modern headquarters.[36] Located on a 176-acre site in Benhall, near Cheltenham, The Doughnut would be the largest building constructed for secret intelligence operations outside the United States.[37]

Operations at GCHQ’s Chum Hom Kwok listening station in Hong Kong ended in 1994.[38] GCHQ's Hong Kong operations were extremely important to their relationship with the NSA, who contributed investment and equipment to the station. In anticipation of the transfer of Hong Kong to the Chinese government in 1997, the Hong Kong stations operations were moved to Geraldton in Australia.[39]

Operations that utilised GCHQ's intelligence-gathering capabilities in the 1990s included the monitoring of communications of Iraqi soldiers in the Gulf War, of dissident republican terrorists and the Real IRA, of the various factions involved in the Yugoslav Wars, and of the criminal Kenneth Noye.[35][39][40] In the mid 1990s GCHQ began to assist in the investigation of cybercrime.[41]

2000s: Coping with the internet[edit]

At the end of 2003, GCHQ moved to a new circular HQ (popularly known as "The Doughnut"): at the time, it was the second-largest public-sector building project in Europe, with an estimated cost of £337 million. The new building, which was designed by Gensler and constructed by Carillion,[42] is the base for all of GCHQ's Cheltenham operations.

The public spotlight fell on GCHQ in late 2003 and early 2004 following the sacking of Katharine Gun after she leaked to The Observer a confidential email from agents at the United States' National Security Agency addressed to GCHQ agents about the wiretapping of UN delegates in the run-up to the 2003 Iraq war.[43]

GCHQ gains its intelligence by monitoring a wide variety of communications and other electronic signals. For this, a number of stations have been established in the UK and overseas. The listening stations are at Cheltenham itself, Bude, Scarborough, Ascension Island, and with the United States at Menwith Hill.[44] Ayios Nikolaos Station in Cyprus is run by the British Armed Forces for GCHQ.[45]

In March 2010, GCHQ was criticised by the Intelligence and Security Committee for problems with its IT security practices and failing to meet its targets for work targeted against cyber attacks.[46]

As revealed by Edward Snowden in The Guardian, GCHQ spied on foreign politicians visiting the 2009 G-20 London Summit by eavesdropping phonecalls, emails and monitoring their computers, and in some cases even ongoing after the summit via keyloggers that had been installed during the summit.[47] Some of the information gained has been passed on to British politicians.

According to Edward Snowden, GCHQ has two principal umbrella programs for collecting communications:

GCHQ also has had access to the US internet monitoring programme PRISM since at least June 2010. PRISM is said to give the National Security Agency and FBI easy access to the systems of nine of the world's top internet companies, including Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple, Yahoo, and Skype.[49]

More recently in February 2014, Snowden revealed that GCHQ had indiscriminately collected 1.8 million private Yahoo webcam images from users across the world.[50]

CESG[edit]

CESG (originally Communications-Electronics Security Group) is the group within GCHQ which provides assistance to government departments on their own communications security: CESG is the UK National Technical Authority for information assurance, including cryptography. CESG does not manufacture security equipment, but works with industry to ensure the availability of suitable products and services, while GCHQ itself can fund research into such areas, for example to the Centre for Quantum Computing at Oxford University and the Heilbronn Institute at the University of Bristol.[51]

CESG runs a number of schemes such as CHECK, CLAS, Commercial Product Assurance, and CESG Claims Tested Mark and CAPS.[52]

Joint Technical Language Service[edit]

The Joint Technical Language Service (JTLS) was established in 1955,[53] drawing on members of the small Ministry of Defence technical language team and others, initially to provide standard English translations for organisational expressions in any foreign language, discover the correct English equivalents of technical terms in foreign languages and discover the correct expansions of abbreviations in any language. The remit of the JTLS has expanded in the ensuing years to cover technical language support and interpreting and translation services across the UK Government and to local public sector services in Gloucestershire and surrounding counties. The JTLS also produces and publishes foreign language working aids under crown copyright and conducts research into machine translation and on-line dictionaries and glossaries.

The JTLS is co-located with GCHQ for administrative purposes.

International relationships[edit]

GCHQ operates in partnership with equivalent agencies worldwide in a number of bi-lateral and multi-lateral relationships. The principal of these is with the United States (National Security Agency), Canada (Communications Security Establishment), Australia (Australian Signals Directorate) and New Zealand (Government Communications Security Bureau), through the mechanism of the UK-US Security Agreement, a broad intelligence-sharing agreement encompassing a range of intelligence collection methods.

Relationships are alleged to include shared collection methods, such as the system described in the popular media as ECHELON, as well as analysed product.[54]

Legal basis[edit]

GCHQ's legal basis is enshrined in the Intelligence Services Act 1994 Section 3 as follows:

(1) There shall continue to be a Government Communications Headquarters under the authority of the Secretary of State; and, subject to subsection (2) below, its functions shall be—

(a) to monitor or interfere with electromagnetic, acoustic and other emissions and any equipment producing such emissions and to obtain and provide information derived from or related to such emissions or equipment and from encrypted material; and
(b) to provide advice and assistance about—
(i) languages, including terminology used for technical matters, and
(ii) cryptography and other matters relating to the protection of information and other material, to the armed forces of the Crown, to Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom or to a Northern Ireland Department or to any other organisation which is determined for the purposes of this section in such manner as may be specified by the Prime Minister.

(2) The functions referred to in subsection (1)(a) above shall be exercisable only—

(a) in the interests of national security, with particular reference to the defence and foreign policies of Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom; or
(b) in the interests of the economic well-being of the United Kingdom in relation to the actions or intentions of persons outside the British Islands; or
(c) in support of the prevention or detection of serious crime.

(3) In this Act the expression "GCHQ" refers to the Government Communications Headquarters and to any unit or part of a unit of the armed forces of the Crown which is for the time being required by the Secretary of State to assist the Government Communications Headquarters in carrying out its functions.[55]

Interception of communications operations are authorised under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000. Warrants authorising such interception can only be issued by a Secretary of State. The Human Rights Act 1998 requires public bodies, like GCHQ, to protect citizens' rights under the European Convention on Human Rights.[56]

Oversight[edit]

The Parliament of the United Kingdom appoints an Intelligence and Security Committee. The remit of the Committee includes oversight of intelligence and security activities and reports are made directly to Parliament.[57] Its functions were increased under the Justice and Security Act 2013 to provide for further access and investigatory powers.

The UK also has an independent Intelligence Services Commissioner and Interception of Communications Commissioner, both of whom are former senior judges.[58]

Constitutional legal case[edit]

A controversial GCHQ case determined the scope of judicial review of prerogative powers (the Crown's residual powers under common law). This was Council of Civil Service Unions v Minister for the Civil Service [1985] AC 374 (often known simply as the "GCHQ case"). In this case, a prerogative Order in Council had been used by the prime minister (who is the Minister for the Civil Service) to ban trade union activities by civil servants working at GCHQ. This order was issued without consultation. The House of Lords had to decide whether this was reviewable by judicial review. It was held that executive action is not immune from judicial review simply because it uses powers derived from common law rather than statute (thus the prerogative is reviewable). Controversially, they also held that although the failure to consult was unfair, this was overridden by concerns of national security.

Leadership[edit]

The following is a list of the heads of the operational heads of GCHQ and GC&CS:

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament Annual Report 2012–2013. 2013. p. 40. ISBN 978-0-10-298652-5. Retrieved 29 December 2013. 
  2. ^ GCHQ – Welcome to GCHQ, gchq.gov.uk. Retrieved 7 July 2014.
  3. ^ Aldrich, 2010, p. 565
  4. ^ (secondary) Leong, Angela (2007). The Disruption of International Organised Crime: An Analysis of Legal and Non-Legal Strategies. Ashgate Publishing. ISBN 0-7546-7066-X. Retrieved 19 April 2012. 
  5. ^ Gannon, Paul (2011). Inside Room 40: The Codebreakers of World War I. Ian Allen Publishing. ISBN 978-0-7110-3408-2. 
  6. ^ Johnson, 1997, p. 27
  7. ^ a b c d e f Johnson, 1997, p. 44
  8. ^ Johnson, 1997, p. 45 and Kahn, 1991, p. 82; these sources give different numbers for the initial size of the GC&CS staff
  9. ^ Macksey, Kenneth (2003). The Searchers: How Radio Interception Changed the Course of Both World Wars. Cassell Military. p. 58. ISBN 0-304-36545-9. 
  10. ^ Smith, 2001, pp. 16–17
  11. ^ Kahn, 1991, p. 82
  12. ^ Denniston, Alastair G. (1986). "The Government Code and Cypher School Between the Wars". Intelligence and National Security 1 (1): 48–70. doi:10.1080/02684528608431841. 
  13. ^ Smith, 2001, pp. 20–21
  14. ^ Smith, 2001, pp. 18–19
  15. ^ Aldrich, 2010, p. 18
  16. ^ Gannon, Paul (2006). Colossus: Bletchley Park’s Greatest Secret. Atlantic Books. ISBN 978-1-84354-331-2. 
  17. ^ Alvarez, David (2001). "Most Helpful and Cooperative: GC&CS and the Development of American Diplomatic Cryptanalysis, 1941-1942". In Smith, Michael; Erskine, Ralph. Action This Day: Bletchley Park from the Breaking of the Enigma Code to the Birth of the Modern Computer. Bantam Press. ISBN 978-0593049105. 
  18. ^ Smith, Michael (1998). Station X. Channel 4 books. p. 176. ISBN 0-330-41929-3. 
  19. ^ "History of GCHQ Cheltenham". GCHQ website 'About Us' pages. Archived from the original on 5 October 2006. Retrieved 29 June 2006. 
  20. ^ Aldrich, 2010, p. 382
  21. ^ Murray, Craig (16 October 2007). Dirty Diplomacy. Scribner. p. 332. ISBN 978-1416548010. 
  22. ^ Singh, Simon. "Unsung Heroes of Cryptography".  (originally published in The Sunday Telegraph)
  23. ^ "EComHR Inadmissibility decision of EComHR on application no. 11603/85". 1987. 
  24. ^ "EComHR Inadmissibility decision of EComHR on application no. 11603/85 — The Facts".  para. IV
  25. ^ "Union representation". GCHQ website. Retrieved 12 April 2006. 
  26. ^ "Sacked GCHQ workers win compensation". BBC News. 1 February 2000. Retrieved 12 April 2006. 
  27. ^ "ISC - About". The Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament - About the Committee. Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament. Retrieved 1 December 2013. 
  28. ^ "Intelligence Services Act 1994". Intelligence Services Act 1994. The National Archives. Retrieved 1 December 2013. 
  29. ^ "Hansard: December 1993 Intelligence Services Bill". Hansard. 9 December 1993. 
  30. ^ Aldrich 2011, p. 483
  31. ^ Aldrich 2011, p. 493
  32. ^ Aldrich 2011, p. 494
  33. ^ UK CPI inflation numbers based on data available from Gregory Clark (2014), "What Were the British Earnings and Prices Then? (New Series)" MeasuringWorth.
  34. ^ a b c Aldrich 2011, p. 495
  35. ^ a b Aldrich 2011, p. 505
  36. ^ a b c Aldrich 2011, p. 496
  37. ^ Aldrich 2011, p. 9
  38. ^ Aldrich 2011, p. 475
  39. ^ a b Nigel West (31 August 2012). Historical Dictionary of Signals Intelligence. Scarecrow Press. pp. 27–. ISBN 978-0-8108-7391-9. 
  40. ^ Aldrich 2011, p. 473
  41. ^ Aldrich 2011, p. 489
  42. ^ "Carillion set for growth". BBC News. 19 September 2000. 
  43. ^ Aldrich, 2010, p. 521
  44. ^ Campbell, Duncan (1981). "Phone tappers and the state". New Statesman: 54. 
  45. ^ Aldrich, 2010, p. 471
  46. ^ "‘Cavalier’ GCHQ online spy centre loses 35 laptops". Computerworld UK. 12 March 2010. 
  47. ^ The Guardian: GCHQ intercepted foreign politicians' communications at G20 summits, 16 June 2013
  48. ^ Philip Bump (21 June 2013). "The UK Tempora Program Captures Vast Amounts of Data – and Shares with NSA". The Atlantic Wire. Retrieved 23 June 2013. 
  49. ^ "Scale and significance of NSA snooping claims". BBC. 11 June 2013. 
  50. ^ "Optic Nerve: millions of Yahoo webcam images intercepted by GCHQ". 28 February 2014. Retrieved 2 March 2014. 
  51. ^ "Heilbronn Institute for Mathematical Research". University of Bristol. Retrieved 30 August 2008. 
  52. ^ "Information Assurance & Consultancy Services (IACS)". Retrieved 2 November 2010. 
  53. ^ Newmark, Peter (1991). About Translation. Multilingual Matters. p. 40. ISBN 1-85359-118-1. 
  54. ^ Schmid, Gerhard (11 July 2001). "On the existence of a global system for the interception of private and commercial communications (ECHELON interception system) – Temporary Committee on the ECHELON Interception System, (2001/2098(INI))" (pdf). European Parliament: Temporary Committee on the ECHELON Interception System. p. 194. Retrieved 27 March 2008. 
  55. ^ Copy of section 3 of the Intelligence Services Act 1994, from Legislation.gov.uk
  56. ^ "The Law". GCHQ. Retrieved 17 December 2013. 
  57. ^ "The Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament". Retrieved 14 December 2013. 
  58. ^ "Intelligence Commissioners". Retrieved 14 December 2013. 

Bibliography[edit]

  • Aldrich, Richard J. (10 June 2010). GCHQ: The Uncensored Story of Britain's Most Secret Intelligence Agency. HarperCollins. ISBN 978-0007278473. 
  • Johnson, John (1997). The Evolution of British Sigint: 1653–1939. HMSO. ASIN B002ALSXTC. 
  • Kahn, David (March 1991). Seizing the Enigma: The Race to Break the German U-Boats Codes, 1939–1943. Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 978-0395427392. 
  • Smith, Michael (2001). "GC&CS and the First Cold War". In Smith, Michael; Erskine, Ralph. Action This Day: Bletchley Park from the Breaking of the Enigma Code to the Birth of the Modern Computer. Bantam Press. ISBN 978-0593049105. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 51°53′58″N 2°07′28″W / 51.89944°N 2.12444°W / 51.89944; -2.12444