I Spy: GCHQ reaches out to Mumsnet generation in new recruitment drive

GCHQ director Robert Hannigan
GCHQ director Robert Hannigan

THE DIRECTOR of GCHQ has announced a multi-million pound investment to transform a Yorkshire base into the North of England’s training hub as the spy agency looks to recruit more middle-aged women from the Mumsnet generation.

The £42m package was outlined yesterday by Robert Hannigan, the director of the UK’s Government Communications Headquarters, on a visit to its base on the outskirts of Scarborough.

Staff at GCHQ Scarborough.

Staff at GCHQ Scarborough.

The base is to be the training and skills hub of the northern network of GCHQ, the intelligence and security organisation which monitors radio and signals communications and protects against a wide range of threats, from terrorism and cyber crime to child sex exploitation and hacking.

Along with MI5 and MI6, there will be an emphasis on recruiting more women, especially those who middle-aged and also mid-career, dubbed “Jane Bonds”, and the organisation has used Mumsnet for that purpose.

Of the £42m that is being invested in the next four years, £30m will go towards the base’s infrastructure - modernising and improving the current environment - and £12m to skills training.

The current staff of about 200 will also be “upskilled”.

Scarborough GCHQ

Scarborough GCHQ

During yesterday’s visit, Mr Hannigan opened the Alan Turing Training and Innovation Centre (the ATTIC), a transformation of some of the existing main block into bright, airy training rooms.

Earlier, 94-year-old Sister Pamela Hussey cut the ribbon on a new museum showcasing the base’s proud history.

Sister Hussey, who signed up to be a Wren in 1942, was a station operative during the Second World War, and was part of the team who intercepted radio messages from German U-boats.

Scarborough’s role was fundamental in the conflict - the sinking of the Bismarck was down to messages which had been picked up at the North Yorkshire listening base.

In front of an audience of current staff and 30 or so guests, including dignitaries and GCHQ veterans, Mr Hannigan said the Scarborough base, since its inception early last century, had been one of the “collection sites - the crown jewels of intelligence gathering”. The amazing work it had done throughout the last century, in two world wars and the Cold War, was continuing.

“We will not be able to face the threats and conflicts without the right skills and talents,” he said. “We need to redress the balance to 50-50 (only 35 per cent of employees are women).

“We need people with the right aptitude, attitude and passion.”

The surveillance organisation is now broadening its reach away from just graduates and it is also looking to recruit young school leavers into apprenticeships.

The Scarborough base already runs cyber summer schools aimed at young people who have an interest in science and technology.

Of the upcoming intake, which starts on July 11, there are 18 men and 14 women, reflecting a greater emphasis on recruiting both sexes.

The ATTIC Centre is named after the Second World War codebreaker who, after ground-breaking work by Polish mathematicians, cracked the Enigma code which had been developed by the Germans.

A short walk away from the new centre, the new “Y” Museum houses an Enigma machine and several other artefacts.

Sister Hussey, a nun since shortly after the war who now lives in a community in Harrogate, recalled about working in the underground bunker above which the museum now stands.

She said: “There were rows and rows of tables, the Wrens at one end, the sailors at the other, all with headphones on for hours and hours - but they used to throw paper planes at us.

“It was deadly serious work, though ... work which the spy organisation is hoping today’s women will take up, for the country’s sake.”