GCHQ head to face questions




By Mark Huband, Security Correspondent

Financial Times, 12 November 2003

The head of GCHQ, the government’s top secret electronic eavesdropping agency, is to end years of anonymity by becoming the first head of a UK intelligence agency to appear in public before a parliamentary committee.

David Pepper, GCHQ director, is to give evidence to the public accounts committee on December 1 regarding the financing of GCHQ’s new £1.62bn headquarters in Cheltenham.

The top secret facility, which forms a key part of the UK intelligence machinery along with MI5, the security service, and MI6, the secret intelligence service, takes the lion’s share of the intelligence budget, which will total £1.63bn in 2003-04.

Mr Pepper’s appearance marks a further lifting of the veil of secrecy surrounding intelligence operations.

Unlike the parliamentary intelligence and security committee, the public accounts committee does not operate within the “ring of secrecy”, and has agreed to restrict questions to the cost of the GCHQ building.

The building, which was opened in September and houses 1,000 of GCHQ’s 4,200 staff, was funded by the UK’s largest private finance initiative. The cost was criticised in a report by the National Audit Office in July, after the expense of relocating GCHQ’s network of computer systems – the largest in Europe – rose by seven times the original estimate, to £308m.

The NAO report, which took two years to prepare, recognised that the construction cost of the building, which was completed seven weeks ahead of schedule, was well within budget.

* Sir Richard Dearlove, the MI6 chief, will become master of Pembroke College, Cambridge, when he retires from the intelligence service in July, the Foreign Office announced yesterday. A successor will be announced closer to his retirement.


© Copyright The Financial Times Ltd 2008.