British spy agency speeds up hiring process to compete with private firms

GCHQThe Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), one of Britain’s most powerful intelligence agencies, says it plans to accelerate its vetting process because it is losing top recruits to the private sector. Founded in 1919 and headquartered in Cheltenham, England, the GCHQ is tasked with communications interception. It also provides information assurance to both civilian and military components of the British state. It primarily hires people with technical expertise in communications hardware and software. But in the past fiscal year, the agency fell notably short of its recruitment target, according to a new government report published this week.

The information is included in the annual report of the Intelligence and Security Committee of the British Parliament. According to the document, GCHQ’s recruitment shortfall during the past fiscal year exceeded 22 percent, as the agency hired 500 new staff, 140 short of its initial goal of 640. Because of its mission, the agency must have the “ability to recruit and retain cyber specialists”, says the report. However, GCHQ officials told the parliamentary committee that they “struggle to attract and retain a suitable and sufficient cadre of in-house technical specialists”. The latter are lured away by large hi-tech companies, for two reasons: first, because the salaries are higher; and second, because the hiring process is faster. Due to its security requirements, GCHQ has a lengthy vetting process for all potential employees, which sometimes takes more than a year. In recent times, the process has suffered backlogs, a phenomenon that has negatively impacted on the agency’s ability to recruit top talent.

In response to its recruitment shortfall, GCHQ told the parliamentary committee that it plans to speed up its vetting process by addressing its “lack of security vetting capacity”. In July of 2016, the agency had 51 vetting officers in its ranks. It hopes to raise this number to 110 by the summer of 2018, according to the parliamentary report. This will allow it to clear hiring backlogs by December of next year and thus be able to bettercompete with hi-tech firms in the private sector. Other British intelligence agencies have faced recruitment challenges in recent years. In 2010, the then Director-General of MI5, Jonathan Evans, told the British Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee that “some [MI5] staff perhaps aren’t quite the ones that we will want for the future”. He added that the lack of even basic computer skills among MI5’s aging officer ranks have sparked the introduction of a program of “both voluntary and compulsory redundancies”. And in 2016, MI6 said that it would increase its staff size by 40 percent by 2020, reflecting a renewed emphasis in foreign intelligence collection using human sources, which is the primary task of the agency.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 28 December 2017 | Permalink


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