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29/1/2008

GCHQ SUFFERED DURING THE SUMMER FLOODS

Cheltenham-based spy agency GCHQ suffered "significant disruption" as a result of last summer's floods, it was disclosed today.

The Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee - which oversees the work of the intelligence agencies - said that the "unprecedented conditions" in Gloucestershire, where GCHQ is based, had caused "severe problems" for the agency.

While GCHQ had been able to keep its most important operations going, the committee said that the disruption could have been even more severe if the flooding had become any worse.

The committee said that it would now be reviewing the "business continuity" arrangements of all the agencies - MI5, MI6 and GCHQ - in the light of events last summer.

"The summer floods in the Gloucestershire region caused significant disruption to GCHQ and its staff," the committee said in its annual report.

"Despite some serious problems in unprecedented conditions, GCHQ was able to maintain its most important operations and we commend management and staff for the tenacity and dedication they demonstrated during such a difficult period.

"We are concerned that had the flooding continued for very much longer or been more severe, GCHQ's operations could have been even more severely disrupted.

"In the light of these events, the committee intends to undertake a review of business continuity arrangements of all three agencies in the coming year."

GCHQ, which is based near Cheltenham, plays a key role in counter-terrorism operations, supplying vital information from electronic intercepts to the Security Service, MI5.

At the time officials sought to play down the disruption caused by the floods.

Although GCHQ is powered by the Walham electricity sub-station - which came within just two inches of flooding - officials said it would have been able to carry on by using back-up generators.

In its response to the committee's report, the Government said GCHQ had carried out a "lessons learned" exercise which would improve its ability to respond to future crises.

The committee also highlighted the pressure that counter-terrorism work was imposing on the agencies at the expense of other operations.

MI6 chief John Scarlett told the committee that it now accounted for 56% of his agency's effort.

"We are concerned that aspects of key intelligence and security work are suffering as a consequence of the focus on counter-terrorism priorities," the committee said.

"We believe consideration may need to be given to separate additional funding to maintain the agencies' capabilities in these areas."