For the first time CGHQ reveal the secret London site we have operated from for over 66 years
Over our 100 year history GCHQ has had a presence in London. For the past 66 years we have been operating from a secret location tucked away on a busy street in Westminster opposite St James’ Park tube station. For the first time, we are able to reveal the role our Palmer Street office has played in keeping the capital and the country safe.
Today’s revelation is possible as GCHQ, whilst maintaining a London presence, will no longer operate from the building. It comes as we look to further extend our network of sites in the UK, with a new secure facility in Manchester opening later this year, bringing hundreds of jobs to the region.
As well as its headquarters in Cheltenham, GCHQ also has offices in Bude in Cornwall, Scarborough, Lincolnshire and Harrogate. In 2017, the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), which is part of GCHQ, opened its new headquarters near Victoria in London.
And earlier this year, Her Majesty the Queen, commemorated GCHQ’s 100-year anniversary by unveiling an historic plaque at a different London site – Watergate House, the first home and birthplace of the organisation.
Director of GCHQ, Jeremy Fleming said:
“As we depart our Palmer Street site after 66 years, we look back on a history full of amazing intelligence, world-leading innovation, and the ingenious people who passed through those secret doors. Then, as now, it’s a history defined by the belief that with the right mix of minds, anything is possible.”
GCHQ, or the Government Code & Cypher School (GC&CS) as it was known at the time, was established on 1 November 1919 as a peacetime cryptanalytic unit made up from staff from the Admiralty’s Room 40 and the War Office’s MI1(b).
During WWII, GCHQ staff moved to Bletchley Park where they decrypted German messages, most famously by breaking Enigma-encrypted communications, making a significant contribution to the Allied victory.
In the early 1950s, GCHQ moved its headquarters from the London suburbs of Eastcote to Cheltenham, meaning a suitable central London location was needed for the handling of secret paperwork and as a regular base for the Director. After a substantial search, the Ministry of Works provided a newly-built, Government leased building on Palmer Street. GCHQ moved into their new, secret London home in Spring 1953, housing a range of different teams there over the following decades.
The Palmer Street hub has played its part in significant events over the years, such as the 2012 London Olympics, working with our partners, MI6, MI5 and the Metropolitan Police to counter terrorist activities and serious and organised crime whilst keeping Ministers up to date with security briefings.
Reinvention and change is crucial if the agency is to remain ahead of adversaries in the cyber age. Earlier this year, Mr Fleming spoke of GCHQ’s need to keep reinventing itself. He said:
“It’s clear to us all that the world is changing at an unprecedented rate. It’s more interconnected than ever before.
“This is driving extraordinary opportunity, innovation and progress. It’s also unleashing amazing complexity, uncertainty and risk. To keep up in this digital era — to optimise the potential of technologies such as artificial intelligence and quantum computing — we know we need to keep reinventing.
“If we get this right — and I’m confident we will — the prize is a new kind of security and intelligence mission fit for our second century.”
GCHQ works alongside MI5 and the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) to keep Britain safe. The ingenuity and problem-solving of its wartime founders is still abundant today in how its people help to counter online and real-world threats from nation states, criminal groups, terrorists, and individuals.