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GCHQ losing tech "whizzes" to Google, Microsoft


By Reuters

Posted on 14 Jul 2011 at 15:52

British intelligence eavesdroppers are suffering a steady loss of internet experts to the private sector because the likes of Google and Microsoft offer much higher wages, MPs said.

The Intelligence and Security Committee, a group of MPs that monitors the work of British intelligence, said it was concerned that a cut in real terms of 11% in funding over the next four years for its three main agencies could harm their work.

I can offer them a fantastic mission, but I can't compete with their salaries

In an annual report, the committee quoted the head of the signals intercept agency, the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), as saying his organisation was losing "whizzes" to better-paying employers.

"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," the director, Iain Lobban, was quoted as saying in evidence to the committee.

"And I can't compete with their salaries; I can offer them a fantastic mission, but I can't compete with their salaries. 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."

"Three times the salary"

"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, which reports not to parliament but to Prime Minister David Cameron, said the Single Intelligence Account that funds the three agencies had risen from about £800 million pounds to £2 billion in cash terms in the past decade.

But for the four-year period from April 2011 spending was going to be kept level, implying an 11.3% reduction in budgets in real terms over that period because of inflation.

This "will inevitably have an impact on the ability of all three Agencies to maintain current levels of coverage of all aspects of the threat, and that this may worsen if inflation remains at its current levels. This will require tough decisions in the coming years."

As well as GCHQ, the committee reviews MI6 and MI5.

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User comments


People shouldn't be working for the government just for a good salary, and especially so when it comes to national security.

If such people are so easily influenced by cash I would say they are not suitable for such positions where possibility of bribery and embezzlement is very high.

I have no doubt that if MP's didn't receive such high wages and benefits we wouldn't have had the recent "expenses" (read: theft) debacle.

They would have been off defrauding cash incentive based businesses instead; and people who actually care about the subjects at hand would have been in the job.

By Anonymouse on 14 Jul 2011

Indeed, but people still need to provide for their families, futures etc. With the government giving public sector working a kicking left right and centre (while not worrying about those banker chaps), I can quite easily see how whatever the ethics of the situation, some workers will up camp and move.

By Aspicus on 14 Jul 2011


But I have little doubt the positions they are referring to in the article are already on very good money.

To suggest a government office should compete with private sector wages is not right imo.

To further my point on MP's...

They receive £60,000+ a year for what is basically a pert time job that enables them to work several other Private sector jobs at the same time as they a are milking the tax payers.

IF I had my way, MP's would get something akin to minimum wage with all *actual* expenses fully covered. as the job allows and promotes the ability to work elsewhere at the same time, this shouldn't be a problem for anyone who wants to do the job for the right reasons.

Obviously such skilled full time workers as the ones the article refer to should be rewarded with *much* higher than minimum wage, [and almost definitely are already] but suggesting a competitive wage with what google can pay is just insane.


While it obviously doesn't compare to the jobs above...

I could be making a lot more money if I wanted to lower my standards and ignore my ethics, but my pride in my work and the loyalty to my customers is far more important to me than money is.

I would hope any government employee with much more serious responsibilities than those I have; which affect millions of peoples lives; would be more interested in ethics and pride than cash.

By Anonymouse on 14 Jul 2011

@ Anonymouse

Wages are actually fairly low at MI5 and MI6, particularly considering the London location for most positions - starting salaries for Desk Officers (analysts) and Intelligence Officers (what would be considered spies but aren't really) is around 23-26k.

IT-related salaries start around 25-26k, but the job specs usually require several expensive qualifications and extensive experience too.

Taking into account the fact that neither organisation wants individuals to tell even family members that much, house-sharing isn't really a practical option for those finding it tough to pay rent alone.

Plus hours are all over the place - shifts can quite frequently change at short notice and many roles often require early starts (pre 06:00) - meaning that public transport is an impractical option for those living outside London.

Not sure about GCHQ, but I'd imagine Cheltenham is quite a bit cheaper than London! So things could well be different there, although I have no knowledge of typical wages for roles in that branch.

In a perfect world people would do the jobs they want because they want to do them irrespective of pay, but at the end of the day we all have bills to pay and I honestly couldn't blame people if they decided to move to a significantly better-paid role with a corporation.

By bioreit on 14 Jul 2011

Another consideration

If they are not getting a good salary wouldn't that leave them more susceptible to bribery & corruption?

Yes, while there will likely be a lot more people in position doing so for the 'privilege' of the job, the temptation to take backhanders will also be vastly greater. As bioreit points out, the simple cost of rent may put a lot of people off the idea of working in such jobs.
No matter how idealistic they may be when leaving uni, they still will want to buy a house, car, go on holiday, eat...

By greemble on 14 Jul 2011

Fair points....

But I struggle to believe they are on £25k tbh, and a quick google just turned up this...

Which says they were starting on £27k 4yrs ago, I think it would be a safe bet to say that was minimum pay for the lowest role.

I would be confident saying the lowest role on minimum pay start on at least £30k+ by now and move up year on year, get a housing allowance proportianate to the area, aswell as other benefits and bonuses (even lowly police officers get such things)

And I also have little doubt that after a good few years service, they will be on a handsome wage by any standards.

I don't think they would have any trouble being able to pay bills and eat :p

If I'm wrong and they do get stuck on

By Anonymouse on 15 Jul 2011

oops, I cut the end off my post......

...If I'm wrong and they do get stuck on

By Anonymouse on 15 Jul 2011

WTF!!!! is happening to my posts?

My posts keep getting cut off when I post

By Anonymouse on 15 Jul 2011

oops, I cut the end off my post......

...If I'm wrong and they do get stuck on

By Anonymouse on 15 Jul 2011

I'll try again!

If I'm wrong and they do get stuck on less than £30k, then they do deserve a payrise, but it should not be on par with what they would get at a profit driven private sector company.

If they want to earn the big bucks, and they have the skills then they should get a job at Google or MS [or countless other companies]

I would also bet my left arm (not my right one though :P) that they get a belter of a pension, I know the Police like to whinge about the "rough deal" they get with theirs, but they can retire after 30yrs, so if they start at 18 they can go at 48 and they get something like 70% of final wage for life [with frequent pay rises throughout those 30yrs]

I have little doubt that "spies" get to go earlier and get better package than PC Plod.

*this bit was mean to be a few posts up...

Google, MS "mid career salary"
$120000 - $140000

(i may have to post again cos I'm sure I have missed some points that got dropped from previous posts)

By Anonymouse on 15 Jul 2011

Ignore-Test-post Ignore-Test-post

Ithink it is the "less than" symbol that is causing posts to be cut off... Test Test Test Test Test Test Test < Test Test Test Test Test Test Test Test Test Test Test Test Test Test Test Test Test Test Test Test Test Test Test Test Test

By Anonymouse on 15 Jul 2011

@ Anonymouse

"I would be confident saying the lowest role on minimum pay start on at least £30k+ by now."

If only:

Scale is 27-36k - for a Computer and Network Forensic Specialist. Not exactly the bottom rung of the ladder in terms of job-role.

Incremental increases are fairly regular, but there's an upper limit which stays put except for inflationary increases - hint: this has been frozen for the last year and likely to remain so.

There are some fairly good benefits, such as access to a gym and an interest-free loan for an annual season ticket, but that's about it. Unless it's changed massively in the last 5 or 6 years and they've started to offer housing assistance...

By bioreit on 15 Jul 2011

I don't know...

That could be read as; you will start on £27000 - £36000 depending on exp', for what is essentially a desk job that will likely have a three 8hr shifts - shift pattern.

Sounds decent to me.

And in no way do I think they should be matching Googles $140000 (approx £90000 i think)

I will admit I'm a bit surprised that the Police seem to get a much better deal than MI5.

Although, just looked at a different post...

Upto £45000, and I am pretty sure that is starting salary depending on experience.

It all sounds pretty fair to me.
One big thing that would come with working for MI5 is you have Job security, they can't exactly go bust...

Although they might if they try to match a billion doolar corp like google :P

By Anonymouse on 15 Jul 2011


That job is the lowest listed salary, so it could be 'bottom rung of the ladder'

It might just be a fancy title for a relatively mundane tech job.

They list several other jobs as "competitive fixed 3yr contract"

Competitive with whom?

By Anonymouse on 15 Jul 2011

Well well..

It seems I might make a good spy!

They have a little observation test you can take, here..

Her is my results...

And I have been awake all night, had a couple of shandy's; and am generally a dopey f***er.


By Anonymouse on 15 Jul 2011

"If they want to earn the big bucks, and they have the skills then they should get a job at Google or MS"

That's precisely the problem being reported on. Still, why have well paid whizzes working on national security when we can have average workers grateful to be doing average work for average money. Nothing bad happens if they screw up - it's only national security.

By Mark_Thompson on 17 Jul 2011

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