Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Government Communications Headquarters
GCHQ is the responsibility of the UK Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. Its role is to provide the Government and armed forces with SIGINT as required under the guidance of the Joint Intelligence Committee in support of government policies.
GCHQ was established in 1946 as the successor to the GC&CS, which had been the government cryptographic organisation since 1919 (sometimes referred to as the Golf, Cheese, and Chess Society). It ran the famous organization at Bletchley Park during the Second World War, which broke the German Enigma and Tunny codes.
GC&CS in turn was the successor to the Room 40 group under Admiral Reginald (Blinker) Hall .
After World War II
GCHQ was at first based in London, but in 1953 moved to the outskirts of Cheltenham, setting up two sites there - Oakley and Benhall. It was not officially avowed until 1983. The following year GCHQ was the centre of a political row when the Conservative government of Margaret Thatcher prohibited its employees from joining a Trade Union. It was claimed that joining such a union would be in conflict with national security. The ban was eventually lifted by the incoming Labour government in 1997.
Post Cold War
Post-Cold War, the aims of GCHQ were set out by the Intelligence Services Act (1994). At the end of 2003, GCHQ moved to a new 'doughnut' shaped HQ, at the time the second largest public sector building project in Europe with an estimated cost of just under £350 million. The new building is the base for all of GCHQ's Cheltenham operations.
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 which are run by the Composite Signals Organisation for GCHQ. The Composite Signals Organisation Station, at Morwenstowe in Bude, Cornwall is directly subordinate to GCHQ. The listening stations are at Cheltenham itself, GCHQ CSO Morwenstowe, GCHQ CSO Ascension Island, with the Americans at Menwith Hill, and the Columbia Annex (CANX).
In addition to SIGINT, GCHQ provides assistance to Government Departments on their own communications security. This task is given to the Communications-Electronics Security Group (CESG) of GCHQ. 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.
The public spotlight fell on GCHQ in late 2003 and early 2004 following the sacking of Katharine Gun after she leaked a confidential email from agents at the American National Security Agency to GCHQ agents about the wire-tapping of UN delegates in the run-up to the 2003 Iraq war.
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