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GCHQ Government Communications Headquarters

New GCHQ logo as of May 1, 2002GCHQ is a Civil Service Department under the Ministerial responsibility of the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. GCHQ provides Government Departments and Military Commands with signals intelligence (Sigint) in accordance with requirements laid upon it by the JIC (as for SIS) in support of HMG's security, defence, foreign and economic policies.

GCHQ was established in 1946 as the post-War successor of the Government Code and Cipher School which had been the central Sigint organisation since 1919 and had made an outstanding contribution to the War effort at Bletchley Park, for example by decrypting German messages enciphered by the ENIGMA machine. In 1953, GCHQ moved to two sites on the outskirts of Cheltenham, where it continues to be based. The Director of GCHQ is responsible to the Foreign & Commonwealth Secretary for all aspects of its work.

Old GCHQ logoGCHQ derives signal intelligence by monitoring a variety of communications and other signals, such as radars. For this purpose it controls and administers the Composite Signals Organisation which operates from a number of locations in the UK and overseas. The Composite Signals Organisation Station, Morwenstowe [Bude, Cornwall] is directly subordinate to GCHQ. Like SIS and the Security Service, it also works in liaison with a range of foreign intelligence and security services.

In addition to providing signals intelligence, GCHQ also provides advice and assistance to Government Departments and the Armed Forces on the security of their communications and information technology systems. This task is undertaken by the Communications Electronics Security Group of GCHQ, which works closely with their customers and industry, as well as with the Security Service, to ensure that official information in such systems is properly protected. CESG is the UK's National Authority for the official use of cryptography, and the National Technical Authority for information security more generally.

CESG's primary customers are people handling and processing official information - usually within government departments large and small and the three services, but also in agencies and firms carrying out work on government's behalf. CESG is in principle open to requests for advice from other sectors, but are not currently resourced to service these on any large scale. CESG now operates on a cost-recovery basis, charging for customer-specific services while providing general national authority services (policy, standards, etc) to the official community at large at no direct cost. Generally, CESG does not manufacture security equipment, but rather works closely with industry to ensure the availability of a range of suitable products and services to meet official needs, and of the infrastructures to support those services.

David Omand was appointed Permanent Secretary, as Director of GCHQ, in July 1996. He held that post until the end of 1997 when he was appointed Permanent Secretary, Home Office. The present director of GCHQ is Francis Richards, CMG, CVO.

At the end of the Cold War some 6,000 people worked for GCHQ, with the total staff having declined to some to 4,500 by 1997. GCHQ's annual budget is in the neighborhood of 400M-500M. GCHQ is headquartered in Cheltenham. To reach GCHQ from M5 Junction 11 (northbound) motorway exit one takes the third exit off the roundabout signposted Cheltenham A40 to the third exit at the next roundabout staying on for A40. The government has announced plans to amalgamate the two Cheltenham sites into one "super GCHQ", though at present no details are available.

Plans are underway to amalgamate GCHQ's two sites - Oakley and Benhall - by means of a major new construction project. In May 1999, the Foreign Secretary announced that the Benhall site had been chosen for GCHQ's new accommodation. 800m are to be spent on the new headquarters which will be bagel-shaped complex, the size of Wembley stadium, with construction expected to take about four years. The radical design, known locally as the Doughnut (due to its shape), is due to complete in 2002 ready for occupation, post IT fit, in 2003.

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Page last modified: 28-07-2011 00:55:11 ZULU