GCHQ failing to recruit ethnic minority staff

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The Independent Online

Anti-terrorism efforts at GCHQ - Britain's secret eavesdropping centre - are being undermined by failing to recruit enough ethnic minority staff, according to a report revealed today.

The review, leaked to the Sunday Times, found that black and Asian intelligence officers complained of a racist culture at the complex near Cheltenham, in Gloucestershire.

It also said that GCHQ had only a "very small pool" of black and Asian staff among its 5,000 workers - while all of the agency's senior staff were white.

The Capability Review was authorised by the head of the civil service, Sir Gus O'Donnell, and published in January this year, the Sunday Times said.

Much of the agency's work involves monitoring calls and emails from terror suspects, but a lack of officers with specialist knowledge of languages like Urdu and Arabic was found to be harming efforts to spot codes and cultural nuances in intercepted conversations.

"It is critical to have a diverse staff group who are able to profile and recognise certain behaviour patterns and communications," the document said.

The report recommends better engagement with ethnic minority communities in order to boost recruitment and improve the image of the organisation, adding: "This is critical to good national security intelligence."

Several dozen ethnic minority intelligence officers were interviewed for the review, and among the complaints recorded was: "I wasn't born here and although I have been security cleared, I am constantly challenged about my loyalty to Britain by my colleagues."

Another employee said: "The security officers ask questions which are culturally inappropriate, insensitive and offensive."

And a third added they felt that ethnic minority employees had to work harder than white colleagues "and for less reward".

In a statement, the service said: "GCHQ has long recognised that strict nationality and residency requirements for staff, and the specialist nature of our work, have made it challenging to develop a workforce which represents the diversity of the UK population.

"We have sought to address this through a national recruitment campaign which targeted Black and Minority Ethnic communities as well as measures within the organisation, such as a Black and Minority Ethnic network and a Board Champion for Diversity.

It added: "Our Capability Review in June 2009 reflected that GCHQ continued to fall short in meeting our targets. GCHQ's Board commissioned a review to assist in supporting our commitment to increasing the numbers of Black and Minority Ethnic staff, their progression and contribution.

"We are making a number of improvements to our policies and practices, including: a dedicated diversity officer; relaunch of our Black and Minority Ethnic network with a target to increase membership; co-ordinated community engagement with diverse schools and community projects; review of university diversity data to help us identify universities to target; and internal awareness raising such as Diversity Week.

"GCHQ is regularly recognised as a good employer but we aspire to be the best. We recognise that recruiting a diverse range of people, treating them in a non-discriminatory way and supporting them to achieve their full potential is key to that aspiration."

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