An investigation is underway after a hoax caller managed to breach telephone security protocols and speak to both the Director of GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters, the British intelligence and security agency that handles signals intelligence) and the Prime Minister of the U.K, David Cameron, before bragging about it to a national newspaper. In addition to speaking personally to the leader of the country, the BBC reports that the unidentified caller was able to obtain a mobile phone number for Robert Hannigan – the GCHQ chief.
Both Downing Street and GCHQ insist that no sensitive information was disclosed, and the mobile phone number obtained is not used for classified conversations – but the high profile nature of the breach has led to an official statement by a government spokesperson, reported by The Independent.
“Following two hoax calls to Government departments today, a notice has gone out to all departments to be on the alert for such calls.”
“In the first instance, a call was made to GCHQ which resulted in the disclosure of a mobile phone number for the director. The mobile number provided is never used for calls involving classified information.”
“In the second instance, a hoax caller claiming to be the GCHQ director was connected to the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister ended the call when it became clear it was a hoax. In neither instance was sensitive information disclosed.”
“Both GCHQ and Number 10 take security seriously and both are currently reviewing procedures following these hoax calls to ensure that the government learns any lessons from this incident.”
The embarrassment of David Cameron was compounded by the fact that the caller contacted the national newspaper The Sun to detail his exploits as reported by Sky News.
“I’ve just made complete monkeys out of GCHQ. I’ve got the mobile phone number of the director. What’s more, I am off my face on booze and cocaine. I’m definitely going to do it again. It was so easy.”
In addition to 2015 being a U.K General Election year, this incident comes at a time when national security is uppermost in the minds of most citizens. As reported by The Telegraph, the U.K terror threat level currently stands at “severe,” meaning “an attack is highly likely.” The threat level is determined by the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre in conjunction with the Security Service and MI5. It results from an assessment entirely independent of the government and has been set at “severe” since August 2014 as a direct result of the threat posed to Britain by Islamic extremists.
In this specific climate, it is of grave concern to David Cameron and the agencies of the U.K government that telephone security protocols could be breached with such apparent ease, given the significance of GCHQ as an institution. Established after the First World War to focus on cracking codes, it became famous for its part in breaking German Enigma codes at Bletchley Park in World War Two – as currently memorialised in the film The Imitation Game. In modern times, it is better known as the Government Communications Headquarters, operating under the direction of the Joint Intelligence Committee. It made headlines in 2013 as the actions of GCHQ came under fire through documentation released by U.S whistleblower Edward Snowden. GCHQ Director, Robert Hannigan, details the unique position held by both himself and the organisation in his introduction to the GCHQ website.
“News bulletins at the moment are filled with the brutal advance of ISIL in the Middle East, the clash between Russia and Ukraine, and the rise of cybercriminals and online paedophiles.
“GCHQ is a security and intelligence organisation tasked by Government to protect the nation from threats like these. Working with our partners in SIS and MI5, we are responsible for giving the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary the information needed for their decisions, and I personally attend the National Security Council to ensure that happens.”
It is this vital and close connection between Hannigan of GCHQ, and senior U.K government figures – including David Cameron – that has these agencies reviewing their protocols in the wake of a hoaxer impersonating Hannigan to reach the Prime Minister on an official mobile phone.
[Image via colin-bloom.blogspot.com]