British spy agency losing graduate 'whizzes' to Microsoft, Google

Summary:Britain's high-tech intelligence agency is losing "internet whizzes" to Microsoft, Google and Amazon, a report by Parliament warns.

One of Britain's intelligence agencies, GCHQ, is losing out on graduates to Microsoft, Google and Amazon, warns the spy agency's director in the annual report of the UK Intelligence and Security Committee.

Iain Lobban, the director of GCHQ, said the recruitment drive to the public sector organisation is being hampered by competitive salaries to leading private sector technology firms.

GCHQ focuses all but entirely on signals interception and electronic threats to the United Kingdom's national security; similarly to the United States' National Security Agency.

(Image via BBC)

His statement in full highlighted the issues that the government agency has to contend with; in particular focusing on the issues of salaries offered by leading technology companies:

"I need some real internet whizzes in order to do cyber and I am not even sure they are even on the contractor market, so I need to work on that. They will be working for Microsoft or Google or Amazon or whoever. And I can't compete with their salaries; I can offer them a fantastic mission, but I can't compete with their salaries.

But I probably have to do better than I am doing at the moment, or else my internet whizzes are not going to stay... and we do have a steady drip, I am afraid. Month-on-month, we are losing whizzes who'll basically say: "I'm sorry, I am going to take three times the salary and the car and whatever else".

GCHQ, according to figures obtained by The Telegraph, show that just shy of 500 new staff were hired in the past year, but lost nearly 300 contractors. 

The inability to hold onto staff, particularly the younger 'brighter' gradates, is a problem highlighted by the committee in the annual report.

In the post-recession climate we find ourselves in, GCHQ cannot feasibly raise its salaries without sacrificing crucial budgetary measures from other areas -- such as active operations and research and development.

Another issue for prospective employees of the intelligence community is vetting: the security clearance allowing new employees access to some of the highest levels of state secrecy.

The Generation Y is in danger of putting their own futures in jeopardy for work with government departments and agencies -- with an increasingly social and open generation spilling their secrets and identifiable information on social networking sites.

Whether this will impact recruitment, it will only become clear in the long term.

Topics: Microsoft, Google

About

Zack Whittaker writes for ZDNet, CNET, and CBS News. He is based in New York City.

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