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GCHQ losing its 'internet whizzes' to Microsoft, Google

'Mission Fantastic' tech-spooks lured away by triple pay

British spooks, who are increasingly being tasked with wading into the so-called cybersecurity threat, have been fretting about the dearth of internet experts at GCHQ because the intelligence agency can't compete for expertise with the likes of Microsoft and Google.

The agency's director told the Intelligence and Security Committee in an annual report published yesterday that GCHQ was struggling to match the private sector's pay scale for such talent.

"I need some real internet whizzes in order to do cyber and I am not even sure they are even on the contractor market, so I need to work on that. They will be working for Microsoft or Google or Amazon or whoever. And I can't compete with their salaries; I can offer them a fantastic mission, but I can't compete with their salaries," the cash-strapped director told the committee.

"But I probably have to do better than I am doing at the moment, or else my internet whizzes are not going to stay ... and we do have a steady drip, I am afraid.

"Month‑on‑month, we are losing whizzes who'll basically say: 'I'm sorry, I am going to take three times the salary and the car and whatever else'."

The committee said it was worried about the spook agency's "inability to retain a suitable cadre of internet specialists to respond to the threat".

It called on GCHQ to look at current pay constraints within the agency to see if could "improve the situation" and recommended that the Cabinet Office should consider the introduction of bonuses for specialist skills.

Earlier this week, the Coalition rebranded GCHQ's internet spook-tech plans by resurrecting Labour's Interception Modernisation Programme (IMP) under the Communications Capabilities Development Programme (CCDP) moniker.

Under that plan, Home Secretary Theresa May wants to tackle P2P threats, encryption technology for voice and text mobile communication, and the thorny topic of e-borders.

All of which probably demands a top-bracket geeky gaggle of internet gurus on the case. So good luck with that one, lads. ®

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