It is known as Britain’s listening post, operating secretly to detect threats against national security. But now GCHQ has emerged from the shadows of cyber space to become the first of the country’s spy agencies on Twitter.
Its debut post, sent at 11.02am yesterday from the account @GCHQ, simply said: “Hello, world.”
Twitter may be more than a decade old and firmly embedded in the lives of hundreds of millions, but joining the site represents a departure for an organisation whose ventures on to the public stage have traditionally been rare.
The move is the latest step in a drive towards greater transparency after the service came under intense scrutiny in the wake of revelations by Edward Snowden in 2013.
A GCHQ spokesman said: “We know that some will say we’re joining the Twitter party slightly late but we’re the first intelligence agency in the UK to do this and it’s a big step for the organisation as we become more open about the work we do to keep Britain safe.”
Andrew Pike, director of communications at GCHQ, added: “In joining social media, GCHQ can use its own voice to talk directly about the important work we do in keeping Britain safe.”
However, the agency’s followers should not expect real-time updates on its activities combatting terrorism or cyber crime.
“Some things have to stay secret – sorry – so we won’t be providing intelligence updates but we will be tweeting about our history, mission outcomes, languages, maths, cyber security, technology and innovation, information about GCHQ in general, job opportunities and yes, there will be puzzles!” the spokesman said.
More than 600,000 people entered a Christmas card cryptography challenge issued by GCHQ in December.
The Twitter account will also be used to highlight events, publications, news blogs and opinion pieces.
GCHQ – Government Communications Headquarters – has some way to go if it is to catch up with its US equivalent the National Security Agency, which joined Twitter in December 2013 and has more than 200,000 followers. After about an hour, GCHQ had attracted more than 4,000 followers, while its post was retweeted more than 500 times.
The official James Bond account was among the first to be followed by the agency, as well as, more prosaicly, government, law enforcement and the Royal Family.