GCHQ: The Uncensored Story of Britain’s Most Secret Intelligence Agency (RCAF Journal - WINTER 2015 - Volume 4, Issue 1)

Cover of GCHQ: The Uncensored Story of Britain’s Most Secret Intelligence Agency

GCHQ: The Uncensored Story of Britain’s Most Secret Intelligence Agency

By Richard Aldrich

London, United Kingdom: Harper Collins, 2011
666 pages
ISBN 978-0-00-731266-5

Review by Lieutenant-Colonel Doug Moulton, CD, MBA

As the Canadian Forces Liaison Officer to the United Kingdom Air Warfare Centre at Royal Air Force (RAF) Waddington, I have been privileged and honoured to view the United Kingdom from a unique perspective. One of the truly outstanding opportunities I have had was to participate in a Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) introduction course. The result has been an ongoing curiosity about the history of British intelligence agencies. The acquisition of Richard Aldrich’s GCHQ: The Uncensored Story of Britain’s Most Secret Intelligence Agency has provided another opportunity to gain perspective on the topic. Mr. Richard J. Aldrich is a Professor of International Security at the University of Warwick and has written a number of books dealing with intelligence matters.

Despite being a secret intelligence organization, GCHQ is probably as well known to the British public as the Royal Mail. Although, this was not always the case; in fact, the existence of GCHQ as an intelligence organization was not publicly acknowledged until the mid-1980s.

The book, written chronologically, takes the reader decade by decade through the organization’s amazing history. Starting with the Second World War, Aldrich provides insights into the Bletchley Park creation of GCHQ from its Government Code & Cypher School (GC&CS) origins and the critical breaking of Axis codes to the challenges of keeping up with today’s ubiquitous computing.

An extensively researched book, Aldrich has taken the opportunity to provide a unique insight into the story behind the public identity of GCHQ. Focusing on the main historical events that shaped the organization’s development, Aldrich puts into context the ongoing requirements of governments to maintain an edge against their competitors. This requirement then, in turn, drives the creation of new capabilities to meet these ever-changing needs.

The appropriate maps, figures and photographs complete Aldrich’s effort in the telling of the GCHQ story. Aldrich also takes the time to delve into the personalities that shaped the organization, from the first GCHQ director, Sir Alastair Denniston, to the current Sir Iain Lobban. These personalities, in historical context, provide an understanding of GCHQ’s successes and failures. Additionally, the inclusion of a detailed timeline allows the reader to see, at a glance, the major events that shaped GCHQ’s development.

GCHQ: The Uncensored Story of Britain’s Most Secret Intelligence Agency is a well-researched and well-written book that will prove an enjoyable and easy read for the intelligence enthusiast.


Lieutenant-Colonel Moulton, a Sea King pilot, is currently the Chair of the Department of Program Support, Canadian Forces College, Toronto.

Abbreviation

GCHQ―Government Communications Headquarters

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