Wednesday, August 14, 2013

GCHQ: inside the top secret world of Britain's biggest spy agency

A couple years back, GCHQ held its yearly sports fest on Wednesday, 15 June at London’s Civil Service Sports Club. A gender-friendly, six-a-side football match was the main event of the activity, with games kicking off at exactly 11 A.M..

The day was a cheerful experience for those normally ensconced in the agency's unique doughnut-shaped command centre in Cheltenham. Participants were given a six-page list of rules and regulations to ascertain that people played fair.
"Each team MUST field at least ONE lady player at all times," the note said. "Proper footwear shall be worn. Crocs, sandals or flip-flops are not allowed. The wearing of shin-pads is REQUIRED."
Among all the extremely confidential papers about GCHQ exposed by the whistleblower, Edward Snowden, this has to be one of the least delicate. But it provides a peek into the world of the 6,100 people packed into the open-plan and underground GCHQ offices; that there is a sports activity at all shows something about the agency which many people outside their world could not appreciate.

Last year, GCHQ also made trips to the Paris Disneyland, and its sailing club participated in an offshore regatta at Cowes. The agency also has a chess club, regular pub quiz nights, cake bazaars and an in-house puzzle newsletter named Kryptos. A member of Stonewall beginning last year, GCHQ has its own Pride group for employees who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.

There is also a paranormal group that describes itself as "GCHQ's ghost-hunting group". It is open to staff and their partners either "sceptics or believers" who want to explore "supposedly haunted properties".

Employees reckon their age on the internal directory, "GCWiki", by their "internet age", a gage of how long they have been experts on the web.

They meet friends during yearly family open-days, or through messages on the agency's own version of MySpace, aptly titles SpySpace.
Colleagues are bound to meet others cut from the same fabric. The agency's 2010/11 recruitment guide states that GCHQ hires top-calibre technologists and mathematicians familiar with the intricate algorithms that fuel the Internet. But it has space for a few accountants and librarians. No vacancies available for classicists, however.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

26 Million People Struggling Financially

Approximately 26 million Britons are presently having money problems because the economic

slump has induced a “live for the moment” mentality, based on a major report on the wellbeing of the country’s finances.

Over fifty percent of UK adults stated that they were struggling with their finances, the

government-sponsored body, Money Advice Service (MAS), bared. This is a sudden increase

from 35 percent of people who were undergoing a hard time paying their bills compared to the

previous time a similar study was conducted in 2006.

Hourly salary has plummeted by 6 percent in real value since the previous research was carried

out, making it more difficult for people to eke out a living.

A “live for the moment” culture and lack of financial smarts were also discovered to be possible


Twenty percent of those polled stated that they would prefer to have £200 at present than

£400 after four months, with twenty-five percent of people replying they choose to live for the

present rather than plan for the future.

The report also showed that a disturbing number of Britons are deficient in financial awareness.

About 12 percent of those asked believed the Bank of England’s base rate, which has been at a

remarkable 0.5 percent low for over four years, was over 10 percent.

Over one third of the people asked did not comprehend the great effect that inflation has on

their savings and 16 percent could not tell the right balance on a bank statement.

Nevertheless, more encouraging result from the survey revealed that the number of people

checking their bank account statements had grown since 2006 and almost 84 percent of people

said they constantly monitored their finances.

40 percent of those questioned said they stay clear of doubtful dealings and 85 percent said

they were laying aside some money in savings.

Caroline Rookes, chief executive of the MAS, said: “In principle, financial management is easy –

spend less than you make and think about your future – but the challenge comes from how we

apply it in actual life.”

The MAS, an autonomous body established by the Government, has a legal duty of enhancing

public awareness and knowledge about financial issues. It plans to publish a method to assist

citizens improve their financial condition next year.

Over 5,000 people participated in the survey, with more than 70 families monitored over the

period of one year for the Financial Capability of The UK Report, which uncovered “a common

sentiment that people worry about their capability to endure until the next payday”.