The art of spying in the digital age

The 24-hour Operations Room inside GCHQ, Britain's biggest intelligence service, in Cheltenham. As the nature of intelligence work becomes increasingly digital, GCHQ is no longer a passive collector and distributor of intelligence, but is transformin
The 24-hour Operations Room inside GCHQ, Britain's biggest intelligence service, in Cheltenham. As the nature of intelligence work becomes increasingly digital, GCHQ is no longer a passive collector and distributor of intelligence, but is transforming into a key player in offensive combat operations.PHOTO: REUTERS

Britain's spymasters are recruiting and gearing up for battle in a new world of cyber weapons and AI threats - but the spooks they want are not James Bond types, but maths geeks

Five years ago, Rob, a 38-year-old father of two, was fitting kitchens and bathrooms for a living. Now he is a digital spy. As one of GCHQ's army of cyber analysts in the United Kingdom, he monitors global counter-intelligence targets in countries he cannot disclose for national security reasons.

"You're always looking for that key or that nugget that's going to really help progress the operation," he says, before adding proudly that his work often makes the headlines. "I could be having my tea at home, and the news will be on, and I want to turn around to my wife and say, 'I helped on that one.' It feels great. But then you realise you can't share it with anybody outside of work."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 26, 2019, with the headline 'The art of spying in the digital age'. Print Edition | Subscribe