November 1, 2019 / 1:33 PM / 18 days ago

Britain's GCHQ eavesdropping spies celebrate 100 years of cracking codes

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain’s GCHQ eavesdropping agency, one of the world’s most sophisticated spy services, celebrates its 100th birthday on Friday with a party for allied spies from the U.S.-led “Five Eyes” intelligence alliance.

GCHQ, which gathers communications from around the world to identify and disrupt threats to Britain, traces its history back to 1919 and is best known for breaking Germany’s Enigma code during World War Two.

“For GCHQ, it has been a century of shortening wars, saving lives and giving the UK a technical edge,” said GCHQ Director Jeremy Fleming, who used to work at Britain’s MI5 security service.

“Who we are has been shaped by the changing threats and technology around us. In the future we will continue to face enormous complexity but also enormous opportunity.”

As the British sought to crack German signals during World War One, the need for a formal signals organisation became apparent and the Government Code and Cypher School was formed in 1919.

It is now based at the futuristic “doughnut” headquarters is in the English city of Cheltenham. It works closely with the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) and the MI5 Security Service.

Fleming has invited spies from the “Five Eyes” intelligence alliance - which includes the United States, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand - to a special party to celebrate the centenary.

“GCHQ has been home to some of the brightest people in the country who quietly, and without fanfare, work day and night to keep us safe,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson said.

“The Centenary provides an opportunity to recognise their enormous contribution to the security of the UK and I thank them for all that they do.”

Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge; editing by James Davey

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