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back to article INSIDE GCHQ: Welcome to Cheltenham's cottage industry

For staff at the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) in Cheltenham, there’s an air of Fight Club about the place. The first rule about GCHQ is you don’t talk about GCHQ. It’s a well observed tradition, even though there are road signs and a bus route directing you to this highly secret establishment, the nerve centre …

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I see what you did there...

"The polite response to the latter request was that pictures would be considered on condition the article could be viewed before publication. That's against our editorial policy, but chances are they've done that already."

Subtle.

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Coat

"you might wonder if it inspired Steve Jobs’ plans for a new circular Apple building"

Actually I think they're both inspired by something rather earlier.

"One ring to rule them all......."

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Anonymous Coward

Re: "you might wonder if it inspired Steve Jobs’ plans for a new circular Apple building"

Maybe it's simply inspired by an arsehole. Older still. That would suit Apple.

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Re: "you might wonder if it inspired Steve Jobs’ plans for a new circular Apple building"

I noticed the same thing.

Uncanny, innit?

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Big Brother

Re: "you might wonder if it inspired Steve Jobs’ plans for a new circular Apple building"

Which is ahead, in terms of amount of personal information held on everybody: GCHQ, Apple ...or Google?

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This post has been deleted by a moderator

you forgot to mention RAF Boddington.. an MOD Communications bunker in Barrow - a 'very small' village just outside Cheltenham. According to Wikipedia it was active from 1950 until 2007 under various names - and whose proximity to GCHQ cannot be a co-incidence !

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Anonymous Coward

Barrow & Boddington

Funny little area, so hidden, quiet little roads between Staverton and the Coombe Hill road. I have walked and cycled around there. Probably the quietest roads in that area, as no logical reason to go there except to go to the villages.

I have stories but probably not that interesting.

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Holmes

Or .......

The RAF HQ moved out of RAF Innsworth (nearer still to Boddington) at this time and the rest of the personnel archives not long after that :)

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9SU(Signals Unit) Boddington, had nothing to do with GCHQ it was more to do with RAF Innsworth (now Imjen Barracks) which was also just down the road in Churchdown. Boddington was the major comms exchange linking various Commcens (Communications Centres) at every camp in the UK and overseas. It was used for the formal messenging systems that were in use by the Armed Forces before email was used for everything.

(Former TCO (Telecommunications Operator) RAF, worked at both Innsworth and Boddington)

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Anonymous Coward

"I’d be interested to know how the organisation deals with the abundance of smartphones today. Are they banned or is the place more trusting now, I wonder?"

There are personal lockers outside the outer secure perimeter, into which you must deposit any "external equipment" before you're allowed to sign for your on-site pass.

AC, because, well....

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Anonymous Coward

Great read, thanks.

I'm half thinking of applying for an apprenticeship there when they open in the autumn. I'd love to work in that environment.

Or maybe stating my intention has already voided my application...

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Anonymous Coward

First rule of fight club is....

If you are interested in applying don't tell anyone, even your family, it's just easier. Just say it's for an Aerospace company near Gloucester ;-).

When they "interview" you tell them everything they ask for. Everyone has vices, they just want to know so that you cannot be pressurised. If they think you are lying or find out you did (even a tiny white lie) you will be out as you cannot be trusted. Simple as.

The pay isn't great but the job security and pension is better than the real world.

Finally, chances are it's going to be a lot more Basildon Bond than James Bond. Think of it like a "real job" with more paperwork and more inaction. Remember, no one ever got fired for saying "No"; it is the Civil Service after all.

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What delights for the future does the Doughnut have in store/in the pipeline?

Finally, chances are it's going to be a lot more Basildon Bond than James Bond. Think of it like a "real job" with more paperwork and more inaction. Remember, no one ever got fired for saying "No"; it is the Civil Service after all. … Anonymous Coward Posted Friday 24th May 2013 08:55 GMT

Methinks, AC, accepting and expecting that sort of mindset to prevail and permeate the intelligence services, has them in their current dire straits positions, with politicking plonkers in suits in the Palace of Westminster and Downing Streets thinking they have a better intelligence with sexed up dossiers which leads, rather than, as we now all surely know all too well, fails spectacularly to deliver anything that is needed for peace and prosperity, harmony and great future development.

Which sort of puts the heads of intelligence supply on the spot, with one quite reasonably asking why on earth they allowed it to happen on their watch, with serial incompetence and a lack of valuable intelligence the most likely pathetic excuse.

A highly edutaining article though, Bob Dormon. Most informative. Thanks.

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Anonymous Coward

Aerospace company near Gloucester

Sounds like Dowty

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Anonymous Coward

" Just say it's for an Aerospace company near Gloucester ;-)."

Or: a government agency outside Scarborough :)

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Devil

Re: more inaction

That would have suited me. I love inaction almost as much as inertia.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Aerospace company near Gloucester

Or Smiths industries - are they still going? It's been 25 years since I worked in Cheltenham.

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Anonymous Coward

Memories

I never worked there but I knew people who did. Including one of my best friends.

One thing he said was that you are allowed to say your job title, but not your details, he also said the people who said official secrets were normally secretaries and librarians.

He asked my advice on a few occasions, he worked with electronics and needed some hydraulic advice.

Harry Bucklands, spent many hours there, stripping out cars for the interesting bits, better trim, replacement engine for my mums car, once left my tools for one minute while I grabbed something, had to rescue them from another person, he got a mouth full!

Skyfame, this was home to one of the last flying Mosquitos, which was the star of 633 Squadron.

Anonomous because I would otherwise be easily indentifiable, from this and other posts made with my name. Even mentioning the car make would ID me.

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Terminator

Smartphones

I’d be interested to know how the organisation deals with the abundance of smartphones today. Are they banned or is the place more trusting now, I wonder?

A bit off topic, but I think that question could make an interesting article - How do organisations handle camera phones? Are they tolerated? Do you have to put a sticker on the lens? Outright forbidden?

My experience in this regard is quite mixed. Some customers I visit are surprisingly relaxed, while others are extremely strict and even do body searches when you leave the premises.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: "How do organisations handle camera phones?"

The most mono-gluteal approach I've seen was $FRENCH_COMPANY, which required camera-phones to be put in a translucent bag, which had a tamper-evident seal. You could still use the phone, but any pictures would be a blurry mess.

When we left the site, no one checked the seals.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: "How do organisations handle camera phones?"

Curries/PC world repair center

Metal detectors at the door, random on the spot searches at least twice a week. Phones are only allowed under extreme circumstances and the IMEI has to be looged before getting through the gates. And dont even think about getting caught with a USB stick. Its a company thats truly paraniod, to the extent that they search the bins outside on reqular basis.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: "Curries/PC world repair center"

So, it's not that their sales people don't know anything, it's that they are not allowed to tell anyone what they do know?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Smartphones

You leave them at the door - actually you leave any electronics (including quartz watches) at the door - at least that's been the case at every sensitive facility I've ever been to. And there are generally one or more nice gentlemen with machine guns to enforce the rule....

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Anonymous Coward

How some deal with devices

I've had the pleasure of delivering some kit to the local mil hq and basically had to deposit all electronic devices in a secure locker outside the secure area so I assume it's similar to this.

No clue why but stuff like this always interests me.

Very interesting article and I enjoyed reading it a lot - stuff like this keeps bringing me back to el-reg.

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Re: How some deal with devices

>No clue why but stuff like this always interests me.

GCHQ et al have been in the security business a long time - they have seen so many tricks and tried so many tactics that it's interesting to see what has survived as a simple, understandable ad effective system to ensure as secure an environment as reasonably possible.

Having people grow up in a family/ dynasty that takes secrecy as the normal way of doing things is part of the picture, but it's all the physical, technical, psychological and behavioural layers that reinforce each other.

I guess it's the engineers view of a well-designed system that gets the attention - it is that for me anyway.

ttfn

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Boffin

Been there a couple of time for conferences in the outer protected zone. I found the gatehouse staff especially unhelpful.

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Anonymous Coward

Training Edge

"Yes, I would finally have a crack at Star Trek and get to the Emeritus level, if only I could find a PDP-11 handy."

http://simh.trailing-edge.com/

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Nostalgia

A great read, and also a lot of happy memories. I grew up living on Battledown and would regularly cycle Harp Hill and also Aggs Hill up to Cleeve Common. And you're right; Aggs Hill is intense both up and down. :o)

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Nostalgia

Cleeve

The hill, I remember doing a 3 figure speed on it going up on a bike, another time at the top with a friend testing his home made car phone. And coasting a car from the top all the way to the traffic lights at Bishops Cleeve.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Nostalgia

BTW the reasonn I am anon is because the car phone builder was a worker there and it is to protect his ID, and if anyone knew me, they would know who.

His boot was full of transmitter and receiver, old phone in car, used pulse dialing (no tone then), TX and RX at his parents.

Then there was the TV transmitter. somewhere there is a tape of me standing on a gate holding the aerial. And we also watched a home video in a pub, another drinker said "He looks like your mate." mentioning our other drinking partner. The thing you get up to when you are young.

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Linux

I bet GCHQ Oakley has a room full of lost footballs.

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Coffee/keyboard

"anyone can get their balls out and whack them off among the sheep"

Naughty!

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Anonymous Coward

Re: "anyone can get their balls out and whack them off among the sheep"

No that is the Forest of Dean

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Unhappy

Re: "anyone can get their balls out and whack them off among the sheep"

Hey, unfair. We have three golf courses and no sheep on them. Loads in the road, and occasionally my garden, but not the golf course.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: "anyone can get their balls out and whack them off among the sheep"

Well not all of you just some, I am not naming them, but there were a few oddities, saw a very weird person in a pub you had to go over a disused railway bridge to get to in Redbrook.

.

But used to go to The Junction Inn a lot, occasionally the Glasshouse and Red Hart before it got sold off.

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Test the secret ballot

If you want to vote communist to test the secret ballot, I advise you to vote in person, not by post. There is a preliminary vetting of postal votes which the candidates (I was one) are not allowed to see because it is essentially checking the ID behind the postal vote.

They are supposed to check only the outer envelope with the voter ID, and not the inner envelope with the actual ballot paper.

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Re: Test the secret ballot

I don't know what happens currently, but friends in the generation above me who were involved in invigilating ballot counting(*) during the 60s and 70s have told me that at the end of the count, when all was done and dusted, the small pile of ballot papers for the communist candidate used to be handed over to a nice gentleman from Special Branch for "safe disposal". There have also been cases when people just under eighteen voted and were subsequently prosecuted using their ballot papers as evidence. The number that gets logged in the polling station as you're handed the paper ties you directly to your vote. The ballot is only secret against other people, not the state.

(*) Ballot counters are often party political activists, and some are prone to adding votes for other parties to their candidate's pile if not watched, hence any sensible party supplies invigilators as well as counters.

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Re: Test the secret ballot

"(*) Ballot counters are often party political activists, and some are prone to adding votes for other parties to their candidate's pile if not watched, hence any sensible party supplies invigilators as well as counters."

No, party activists are specifically *banned* from being ballot counters. The party activists are the count *observers* who (along with everybody else on the outside of the table) are legally banned from touching any of the ballot papers.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Test the secret ballot

The government receives *all* of the ballot papers and counterfoils so they can certainly check who voted for whom if they care to.

And according to this, it's common knowledge that they did:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/notesandqueries/query/0,,-1051,00.html

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Test the secret ballot

My memories of Cheltenham are almost fifty years old, and largely consist of beautiful buildings, gentile tea rooms, and an excellent bookshop. Against this background, I can't imagine the place having a communist candidate!

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Anonymous Coward

How about the Golden Valley By Pass?

Runs straight up to GCHQ from Gloucester.

Dead straight, great for going fast on. Right next to the Police traffic centre on the big woundabout over the M5.

So people from that area, what's your record?

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Re: How about the Golden Valley By Pass?

I wrote a car off on that roundabout in the 90's. Does that count? :)

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Anonymous Coward

Re: How about the Golden Valley By Pass?

No but I know of someone who had a chasing car roll on it.

Idiot in car hassling a bike, bike took that roundabout at speed, car rolled

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Anonymous Coward

I was part of the team that built the doughnut.

Got to work in just about every possible space in the building.

The computer hall really is ginormous...

anonymous for obvious reasons

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Holmes

Re: I was part of the team that built the doughnut.

"anonymous for obvious reasons"

You think?

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Happy

Doughnut nav

I used to fly out of Staverton (Staverton Flying School in the old station commanders hut before it became the flying shack) and the Doughnut was a great navigation reference point, you turned right over the top of it to line up on final for runway 27. It was even more useful at night being lit up and visible for miles, unlike the landing lights which are only visible from head on. People were always amazed that we were allowed to fly over such a sensitive location. Oh and I'll admit to doing Vne along the Golden Valley By Pass, but I'm not saying on or above!

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Doughnut nav

The Russian equivalent of the building in question allegedly has a large no-flight zone above it. Imagine what could happen if an overflight scared these people....

When the Russian employees of said building travel into foreign lands, they are allegedly always escorted by security forces who know how to protect people against "interference". You don't want the Goose Which Lays Golden Eggs to lay these eggs into your neighbour's nest, ya know.

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GCHQ - Just

Shut the place down.... What a waste of money. Don't do anything useful.... Self-justifying organization GCHQ !!

The Register is getting more like a front for the MOD - blightty -boffins..

Bring back IT!!!!!

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