Government Communications Headquarters

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United KingdomUnited Kingdom Government Communications Headquarters
- GCHQ -
Government Communications Headquarters logo.svg
Consist since 1919 as Government Code and Cypher School
Headquarters Cheltenham
Authority management Jeremy Fleming

The Government Communications Headquarters ( GCHQ , German government communications center ) is a British government agency ( intelligence and security service ) that deals with cryptography , procedures for data transmission and telecommunications intelligence .

The UK's other intelligence services, MI5 (Domestic Intelligence) and MI6 (International Intelligence), use predominantly non-technical ( HUMINT ) intelligence methods . A very close cooperation between the police, GCHQ, MI5, MI6 and the armed forces can be assumed. However, only the police (including the British Army to a limited extent ) have an internal executive function. In addition, the police are bound by the decisions of the judiciary, for example with regard to arrest warrants and lengthy detentions.


The GCHQ was preceded by the Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS). The latter was of enormous importance for the Allied war efforts in the Second World War , as practically all important German encryption methods (such as Enigma , SZ 42 and T52 ) were broken by it and consequently the secret German communications could be read . The theorist Alan Turing , who was important for computer science, worked for the GC&CS during this time and was in charge of the breakdown of the Enigma . In 1952 he had to leave the facility after his safety rating was revoked because of his homosexuality, which was still a criminal offense at the time . He died, most likely by suicide , in 1954 at the age of 42.


GCHQ (specifically the Communications Electronics Security Group , CESG) is responsible for securing electronic communications and computer systems in the United Kingdom. This is ensured by developing our own ciphers (also called crypto algorithms ). CESG invented public key cryptography in the 1970s, but kept it a secret until 1997. This process was later rediscovered under the name RSA by Ronald L. Rivest , Adi Shamir and Leonard Adleman .

GCHQ operates in close cooperation with the American National Security Agency and other Anglo-Saxon organizations (so-called UK / USA / CA / AU / NZ Alliance) a global system for technical intelligence gathering. One component are e.g. B. the satellite listening stations " RAF Menwith Hill " (near Harrogate ), Ascension Island (South Atlantic) or Diego Garcia (Indian Ocean). It is also assumed that GCHQ may also use listening stations in the other countries of the alliance. GCHQ tries to decipher encrypted communication from "opponents" using mathematical methods ( cryptanalysis ) .

The success of these efforts is subject to the highest level of secrecy (“Top Secret Codeword”). Decrypted messages are only distributed to a very limited, precisely defined group of people.

The countries of the alliance generally work closely together in the field of intelligence gathering and (information) security and exchange messages and methods.


GCHQ headquarters in Cheltenham

The GCHQ is headquartered in Cheltenham . In 2003 a new building ("donut") was completed for GCHQ. The construction costs for the striking structure amounted to approx. 450 million euros.

According to the renowned weekly magazine Economist , Great Britain spent 1.3 billion pounds (approx. 2 billion euros) in 2005 on the three intelligence services GCHQ, MI5 and MI6.

Great Britain spends significantly more on secret intelligence than it does on non-secret diplomatic services.

In 1984, according to New Scientist magazine, the GCHQ had six listening stations in the UK:

There were also three overseas stations:

  • Washington DC
  • Hong Kong
  • Island Ascension in the Atlantic

The Office of Cyber ​​Security and the Cyber ​​Security Operations Center

As Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced on June 25, 2009, the Office of Cyber ​​Security (OCS) will be established under the aegis of the Government Communications Headquarters .

The basis is the new version of the National Security Strategy of the United Kingdom, in which a Cyber ​​Security Strategy was formulated for the first time in 2009 . The Cyber ​​Security Operations Center (CSOC) , based in Cheltenham, is affiliated to the OCS, for which a multi-government agency work program based on the American model was designed . The CSOC is supposed to guarantee the protection of vital network infrastructures and computer systems.

The OCS should expressly also have the ability and competence to deal with cyber attacks . In this context, the government in London emphasizes that these skills will not be used for activities such as industrial espionage. According to reports, the OCS will initially have 16 to 20 employees, the CSOC 20 to 25.

The Tory - Shadow Minister for Security, Pauline Neville-Jones , criticized the intention of the Labor -Regierung on BBC TV as "overdue" and "inappropriate".

Public controversy

Wiretapping of politicians at the G20 summits

According to documents passed on to the Guardian by Edward Snowden , the GCHQ systematically spied on and wiretapped politicians from other nations at the G20 meeting in London in 2009 and is planning to do the same for future G20 and G7 / 8 meetings. Among other things, cell phone connections, e-mails and computers were spied on, and some data was obtained using keyloggers, even after the G20 summit, and passed on to British politicians.

Tapping of overseas cables

Edward Snowden's documents show that the GCHQ spied on the TAT-14 fiber optic cable , which is used for a large part of German overseas communications. The TAT-14 fiber optic cable goes from the East Frisian city of Norden via the British city of Bude in Cornwall to the USA. The GCHQ, which operates the Echelon network there, was supported by Vodafone and BT . Overall, the GCHQ is said to have gained access to more than 200 fiber optic cables worldwide, which are jointly monitored by more than 500 analysts from the NSA and the GCHQ.

The GCHQ maintains a secret internet monitoring station in the Middle East, which eavesdrop on several local underwater fiber optic cables and forwards the data to the GCHQ headquarters. The NSA then also has access to the data there.

The monitoring of worldwide telecommunications and Internet data traffic goes under the code name Tempora .

Monitoring of webcams

Edward Snowden documents show that the GCHQ has been monitoring millions of webcams indiscriminately over the years. According to the Guardian, still images were captured from video chats on the Yahoo platform. Millions of users were monitored without suspicion. There was also no way of excluding the British and Americans. Images of a sexual nature were also captured. One document quoted: “Unfortunately (…) it appears that an astonishing number of people use webcam conversations to reveal intimate parts of their bodies. The fact that the Yahoo software allows more than one person to watch a webcam stream without necessarily sending a signal in the opposite direction makes it appear to be used at times to broadcast pornography. "

Intimidation attempts at the British Guardian

The GCHQ came into public focus in August 2013 when it became known that several GCHQ employees, on direct behalf of the British Prime Minister, David Cameron , had telephone and personal contact with Alan Rusbridger , the chief editor of the British newspaper The Guardian , for weeks , Recordings. Rusbridger said the GCHQ staff said “You've had your fun. Now we want the stuff back. " (Eng .: "You had your fun. Now we want that stuff back.") wanted to destroy or destroy the data the Guardian had received from the US whistleblower Edward Snowden as part of the surveillance and espionage affair in 2013 to be handed over to the GCHQ. The attempts of the GCHQ finally culminated in August 2013 when two GCHQ employees visited the editorial offices of the Guardian and forced Rusbridger and two other Guardian employees, under threat of criminal action, to put the hard drive with the data transmitted by Snowden under their supervision in the basement to destroy the building with drilling and grinding machines . Rusbridger stated that he had finally obeyed these requests because the Guardian had further copies of the data in the USA and Brazil and he also wanted to prevent the hard drive and the data from falling into the hands of the GCHQ and thus knowing that which specific data are involved. Since the GCHQ and David Cameron had to know that the Guardian still has further copies of the data in other parts of the world and that the destruction of this one hard drive could not prevent the Guardian's reporting, Rusbridger and other participants and observers suspect that it is the GCHQ action was a targeted intimidation and harassment measure by the British government and the GCHQ.

Online manipulation

In July 2014, the Guardian reported on a series of programs that allow the GCHQ to manipulate the outcome of online votes, artificially increase traffic on websites or automatically automate postings on social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+ publish.

The FAZ reported in early 2014 that the GCHQ was planning to destroy or damage people and companies through misinformation, sex traps and targeted damage to their reputation. According to Snowden documents, one of the methods is to lure people with sex offers into compromising situations (honey trap), to publish false information on the Internet under their names or to send emails to friends and colleagues under their identity. Another tactic is to pose on forums as the victim of someone whose reputation you want to damage.

Concealed access to networks of German companies

According to the Snowden documents, the GCHQ, together with the NSA, has access to internal networks of Deutsche Telekom , NetCologne , STELLAR Professional Communication Systems GmbH, Cetel GmbH and IABG . The GCHQ has detailed lists and overview diagrams of the internal network structure, which among other things contains server passwords and names of the responsible administrators. The public prosecutor's office in Cologne initiated investigations in 2014 on suspicion of "spying on data".

Boycott threat

On February 5, 2015, it became known that the British secret service Government Communications Headquarters threatened to cut off all contacts with its German partners. According to the weekly Focus, the President of the Federal Intelligence Service, Gerhard Schindler, informed the parties' supervisors in the NSA committee of inquiry on the evening of February 4th about the unusually tense relations with the British partner authorities. The reason for this is the fear that the NSA investigative committee of the Bundestag will discover sensitive information about German-British agent cooperation. A boycott by the British would particularly affect the exchange of relevant information on counter-terrorism and counter-espionage. "Without the information from the British from the radio reconnaissance, we would be blind," said a high-ranking intelligence service to the newspaper Focus.

Theft of cryptographic keys for SIM cards

Together with the NSA, the GCHQ was involved in a massive theft of private keys for SIM cards from the Dutch manufacturer Gemalto, which also supplies German mobile phone companies. Anyone who has such a private key can use it to decipher and manipulate the mobile communications of the user of the respective SIM card unnoticed.

Illegal mass surveillance, specifically from 1998 to 2015

For seventeen years the GCHQ illegally collected and analyzed connection and location data not only from its own citizens, although such data retention has only been allowed in Great Britain since 2015. In 2006, a much more far-reaching program was started, with which biographical and financial details were also researched and which was admitted in March 2015. In April 2016 it became known that British agents were repeatedly using the immense databases for private research. It is unclear whether the data was ever deleted.



Web links

Commons : Government Communications Headquarters  - Collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. BBC News: Thousands call for Turing apology . Retrieved August 31, 2009.
  2. Example: excerpt from a 17-page declassified ex-parte in camera NSA declaration
  3. GCHQ - a Look Inside ( Memento from July 10, 2013 in the Internet Archive )
  4. Britains intelligence services: Cats' eyes in the dark on (March 17, 2005)
  5. New Scientist , Issue 1404, April 5, 1984, page 8, article "How Cheltenham entered America's back yard" ( Online on Google Books )
  6. Great Britain presents strategy for cybersecurity (heise online, June 29, 2009)
  7. Tom Espiner and Jan Kaden: Great Britain sets up office for cybersecurity (, June 26, 2009)
  8. Cyber ​​crime plan 'inadequate' (BBC, June 25, 2009 - video stream, 3:03 min. )
  9. The Guardian: GCHQ intercepted foreign politicians' communications at G20 summits (June 16, 2013) , accessed June 16, 2013
  10. ^ A b John Goetz , Hans Leyendecker , Frederik Obermaier : British skim off German Internet. In: Süddeutsche Zeitung , June 24, 2013.
  11. Tagesschau from June 24, 2013: Apparently fiber optic cables tapped: British spy out German data ( Memento from June 27, 2013 in the Internet Archive )
  12. Volker Briegleb: Report: GCHQ siphons off German Internet on the overseas cable. In: heise online , June 24, 2013.
  13. of June 22, 2013: UK 'biggest spy' among the Five Eyes
  14. Duncan Campbell , Oliver Wright, James Cusick, Kim Sengupta: Exclusive: UK's secret Mid-East internet surveillance base is revealed in Edward Snowden leaks. In: The Independent , 23 August 2013 (English).
  15. Spencer Ackerman, James Ball: Optic Nerve: millions of Yahoo webcam images intercepted by GCHQ ( English ) In: The Guardian . February 27, 2014. Retrieved March 1, 2014.
  16. Kilian Froitzhuber: GCHQ viewed 1.8 million Yahoo users through their webcams . In: . February 27, 2014. Retrieved March 1, 2014.
  17. a b James Cusick, Oliver Wright: David Cameron told Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood to 'warn' Guardian over Edward Snowden documents. The Independent , August 20, 2013, accessed August 21, 2013 .
  18. a b Oliver Trenkamp: Cameron is said to have ordered harassment. In: Spiegel Online . August 21, 2013. Retrieved August 21, 2013 .
  19. ^ A b c Julian Borger: NSA files: why the Guardian in London destroyed hard drives of leaked files. The Guardian , August 20, 2013, accessed August 21, 2013 .
  20. ^ Alan Rusbridger: David Miranda, schedule 7 and the danger that all reporters now face. The Guardian , August 29, 2013, accessed August 21, 2013 .
  21. ^ A b Martin Holland: Guardian: British secret service had hard drives with Snowden material destroyed. In: heise online . August 20, 2013. Retrieved August 21, 2013 .
  22. James Ball: GCHQ has tools to manipulate online information, leaked documents show. In: The Guardian . July 15, 2014, accessed February 20, 2015 .
  23. GCHQ is planning character assassination online. In: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung . February 25, 2014, accessed January 21, 2015 .
  24. NSA and British secret service apparently have access to telecom networks. In: Spiegel Online , September 13, 2014.
  25. Chokepoint. In: Spiegel Online , September 14, 2014 (video).
  26. Irene Berres: Public Prosecutor's Office is investigating a suspected cyber attack on a German company. In: Spiegel Online , September 21, 2014.
  27. ^ Josef Hufelschulte: The British are threatening to break off all contacts with Germany. In: Focus . February 5, 2015, accessed February 20, 2015 .
  28. Secret services hack SIM card manufacturers. In: Spiegel Online , February 19, 2015.
  29. Court: British intelligence agencies illegally hoarded metadata for 17 years. In: heise online . Retrieved October 18, 2016 .
  30. ^ Ryan Gallagher: UK's Mass Surveillance Databases Were Unlawful for 17 Years, Court Rules. In: The Intercept . Retrieved October 18, 2016 .

Coordinates: 51 ° 53 '58.2 "  N , 2 ° 7' 28.2"  W.