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GCHQ Celebrates Centenary

GCHQ Celebrates Centenary

Published by Karen Liu at 11:11am 1st November 2019. (Updated at 1:22pm 1st November 2019)

Intelligence, security and cyber agency GCHQ today celebrated its centenary – marking 100 years of helping keep the country safe.

From its origins in Room 40 of the Admiralty to Bletchley Park through to today’s sites across the UK - including Scarborough - the agency has been at the heart of the nation’s security.

Over the past 100 years GCHQ has helped to shorten wars and save countless lives as well as tackling the most serious cyber, terrorist, criminal and state threats.

At an event later today, representatives from the international Five Eyes intelligence alliance, US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, will join Director GCHQ Jeremy Fleming to celebrate past achievements and reflect on the role GCHQ continues to play today in national security.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said:

“GCHQ has been home to some of the brightest people in the country who quietly, and without fanfare, work day and night to keep us safe.

The Centenary provides an opportunity to recognise their enormous contribution to the security of the UK and I thank them for all that they do.”

Director GCHQ Jeremy 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.

Although hugely different to the organisation that began back in 1919, there is much that is recognisable in our DNA. So, what I can say with confidence is that GCHQ will continue to keep the country safe with the help of amazing partners and will at its heart, have a future workforce that continues to build on the legacy of those who have come before.”

He added:

“Organisations like ours that seek to keep the country safe cannot shout about our mission. We work against the most severe problems that the country faces: we tackle serious cyber, terrorist, criminal, and state threats. And we’re doing that in an increasingly transparent and open way. I welcome this shift.

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.”

Speaking about our Five Eyes partnerships he said:

“In World War Two, we developed partnerships with intelligence agencies from the US and the Commonwealth countries that have stood the test of time…. The UK USA agreement was signed in 1946 and in the following ten years, the Canadians, Australians and New Zealanders would become full partners too.

In 2021 we will mark the 75th anniversary of the UKUSA agreement that became the cornerstone of the Five Eyes relationship. It goes beyond the sharing of tradecraft, data and intelligence reporting. People take up roles in each other’s organisations, further strengthening the understanding between our agencies. It’s a quite extraordinary partnership that plays a pivotal part in global security and stability, and still stands strong today.”

GCHQ has celebrated its centenary throughout the year.

In February, Her Majesty The Queen unveiled the GCHQ centenary plaque at Watergate House, GCHQ’s first home between 1919 and 1921. Following the great success of the GCHQ Puzzle Book, GCHQ released its Puzzle Book II with profits going to one of the centenary charities Heads Together.

In July this year a free exhibition ‘Top Secret: From Ciphers to Cyber Security’, began at the Science Museum in London, giving visitors the chance to explore the history of communications intelligence with previously unseen artefacts. Also in July, His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales visited GCHQ’s Cheltenham Headquarters accompanied by a Red Arrows flypast.

And finally, in October GCHQ partnered with the Royal British Legion to launch this year’s Poppy Appeal, highlighting the unseen contributions of our Armed Forces which GCHQ has supported throughout its 100-year history.

GCHQ has revealed the ground-breaking work done at five former secret sites for the first time today too.

These locations, dotted around the UK, have long since closed down – to be replaced by the organisation’s better known sites in Cheltenham, Bude and Scarborough, and the National Cyber Security’s offices in Victoria, London.

Here is the Scarborough one:

Croft Spa: Farming for enemy signals

Details: Located in the Scarborough countryside this site was operational between 1940- 75 and was home to up to 20 operators.

Operations: Croft Spa was a direction-finding station – which meant it worked in conjunction with other sites to pinpoint the location of enemy signals from ships in the North Sea.

Interesting fact: This tiny rural station, on the edge of a military facility, was the perfect place to locate a listening station to the low noise floor. However, when agriculture became more mechanised, the staff frequently had to ask local farmers to stop their work (but not told why) so noise from the machinery did not interfere with the collection of important communications.


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