British SIGINT agency criticized for ‘vanity project’ that went 83% over budget

GCHQBRITAIN’S SIGNALS INTELLIGENCE AGENCY has been severely criticized in a report for undertaking a pointless “vanity project” that exceeded its allocated funds by 83 percent and needlessly cut into its operational budget. The agency, known as the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) is responsible for collecting signals intelligence (SIGINT) and protecting the information systems of the British government and Armed Forces.

In 2015, the country’s Conservative government announced the establishment of the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), under the GCHQ, whose mission would be to protect Britain from cyber-espionage, cyber-terrorism and cyber-sabotage, among other cyber-security goals. Soon after the announcement was made, the then-Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, appointed a planning committee whose chief priority was to decide where to house the NCSC. The decision was made to house it in London, rather than the GCHQ’s Cheltenham base in southwestern England, so as to place it in close proximity to government and business centers.

But the planning committee rejected an initial plan to house the NCSC in Canary Wharf, one of London’s primary business districts, located on the Isle of Dogs. The reasons were that Canary Wharf is not close to the Palace of Westminster —Britain’s seat of government— and that Canary Wharf would be “very unpopular” with NCSC personnel. Instead, the committee chose Nova South, a luxury building situated near London’s Victoria station, which is one of the world’s most expensive urban areas. The government’s National Security Adviser, Mark Lyall Grant, rejected the Nova South option, arguing it would be too costly without adding any real benefits to the NCSC’s operations. But in May of 2016 Osborne overruled Grant’s decision and unilaterally decided to house the NCSC at Nova South.

Now a report (.pdf) from the British Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee has described Osborne’s role in the decision-making process as “highly unsatisfactory”, and his choice to house the NCSC at Nova South as “unacceptable”. According to the report, Osborne viewed the NCSC’s location as “a pet project” that prioritized image over cost and operational effectiveness. The result was that the NCSC housing project “considerably over-shot the funds originally allocated”, by over 80 percent. What is worse, according to the report, the money shortfall has been affecting the GCHQ’s operational budget by nearly £3 million ($4 million) a year since 2016.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 20 November 2020 | Permalink

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