Over 1400 military and civilian employees at the Cheltenham based Government Communications Headquarters created a giant human poppy in the centre of the doughnut on the 23rd October, to launch the 2014 RBL Poppy Appeal in Gloucestershire.
“GCHQ has a long history of supporting the military, stretching back to 1914. Whenever and wherever British forces have deployed, GCHQ has been ready to assist, providing intelligence to help to keep UK troops safe. Sometimes this involves our staff deploying to warzones to help support the military. 90 GCHQ staff have received the medal for service in Iraq, 156 for service in Afghanistan.
The History of GCHQ
Britain’s Signals Intelligence effort essentially dates from the beginning of World War I. A number of radio intercept stations were then created, and an increasing number of cryptanalysts, linguists and radio traffic analysts enjoyed considerable success in decrypting messages sent by Germany and its allies and in disseminating this intelligence to where it was needed.
The most famous Sigint report of World War I came from the decryption of a telegram sent by the German Foreign Minister, Count Zimmermann, in early 1917. It stated that as Germany was to undertake unrestricted submarine warfare against vessels (including neutral American ones) trading with the British, which might bring the USA into the War on the British side, Mexico would be rewarded with the recovery of its territories of Arizona, New Mexico and Texas if it joined the conflict. Release of the Zimmerman Telegram to the US authorities was one of the deciding factors in the USA joining the War on the side of the Allies.
Sigint’s success in World War I and the interest of politicians such as Lloyd George, Lord Curzon, and Winston Churchill in Sigint reporting, led to the creation of a peacetime organisation in the Admiralty called the Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS). It was initially a small organisation of 30 cryptanalysts and a similar number of support staff. Its job was “Construction, Destruction and Instruction”: providing advice on the security of British governmental codes and ciphers; the study of the methods of encryption used by foreign powers; and the training of British officials in the use of secure communications.
In 1922, the School was transferred from Admiralty control to the Foreign Office. It came under the administrative control of ‘C’, the Chief of the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), though it remained completely autonomous of SIS in terms of what it collected and reported, and how it developed its capabilities. Naval, Military and Air Sections were added in the following years, and, after the Italian invasion of Abyssinia in 1935 and the start of the Spanish Civil War in 1936, GC&CS began to expand as the slide towards war began, and developed closer cooperation with naval and military collection sites worldwide, and, from 1938 onwards, with the Dominions. Most importantly, contact made with Poland and France led to a Conference in July 1939 at which the Poles shared all of the progress they had made against the German Army Enigma.
Bletchley Park, a country house in Buckinghamshire, was bought by the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) in 1938 as a site to which the Government Code & Cypher School (GC&CS) and MI6 could be evacuated when war came. It was widely expected that London would be the target of a massive aerial assault at the very start of any war. During the Munich Crisis in the autumn of 1938 the Service sections were moved to Bletchley Park. They returned to London after the crisis had passed, but Bletchley Park was fitted out with communications and power, and the first wooden huts were erected in its grounds to cope with the size of the ever-expanding GC&CS.
On 15 August 1939, about 180 GC&CS people moved from London to Bletchley Park while about 20, who produced Communications Security materials (cipher keys, code books, one time pads etc), moved to Mansfield College Oxford to be nearer their main printers, the Oxford University Press. By the end of 1944, some 10,000 people were employed at Bletchley Park itself, with a larger number engaged on Sigint collection and dissemination tasks around the world.
Bletchley Park’s great success was due to the mechanisation of the decryption process keeping pace with the mechanisation of encryption. Although the decryption of Enigma is the best known of Bletchley Park’s exploits, other successes, such as the decryption of Luftwaffe hand ciphers, and the development of COLOSSUS, the world’s first computer, to solve enciphered German teleprinter, made a significant contribution to allied victory.
In parallel with the growth of decryption, World War II saw the development of a handling system for Sigint reports which was designed to protect the source of the intelligence and restrict knowledge of it. This meant that the reporting could continue to provide uniquely valuable intelligence to allied commanders throughout the war.
After World War II, the Government Code & Cypher School (GC&CS) changed its name officially to GCHQ and moved its headquarters to Eastcote in Middlesex (1946) and later to Cheltenham (1950s). The Central Training School stayed at Bletchley Park until 1987, when it moved to Culmhead (near Taunton in Somerset).
The entire site (apart from the Listed mansion), including all the wartime GC&CS buildings, was in danger of being sold for development. However, a group of enthusiasts set up the Bletchley Park Trust which saved the central part of the site. This has developed into a major heritage site commemorating the work done at Bletchley Park during World War II.
GCHQ has supported Trust-sponsored construction of working replicas of both COLOSSUS and a Bombe, and is supporting work on the building of a reconstruction of DELILAH, a post-war secure speech system.
The Bletchley Park Trust preserves part of the history of British Sigint. GCHQ supports the Trust by providing significant numbers of artefacts and documents for display. Members of staff new to GCHQ visit Bletchley Park as part of their induction process to learn something of the skills and values of our predecessors. The innovative and inspiring work of Bletchley Park remains an inspiration to all who work in Intelligence.
GCHQ Post War
From VJ Day 1945 until the collapse of the Warsaw Pact in 1991, the dominant military threat to the United Kingdom was the armed forces of the Soviet Bloc. These were therefore the main focus of GCHQ’s Sigint efforts, while CESG was responsible for developing defensive systems to protect UK government communications against foreign Sigint services. Since November 2007, GCHQ has been releasing copies of its intelligence reports on Soviet Bloc military and paramilitary activities up to 1950 to The National Archives at Kew.
Since 1946, GCHQ has always provided intelligence and Information Assurance support to military, diplomatic and law enforcement Departments of the UK Government and its Allies.
One of the enduring legacies of World War II is the Sigint relationship between the UK and the US, to which the Sigint agencies of Canada, Australia and New Zealand have also signed up. Details of the UKUSA Agreement and its development were released to the National Archives in 2009.
–From the GCHQ Website