Mystique of GCHQ is to be penetrated for family fun day

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The Independent Online

The previously closed doors of GCHQ have inched open for the first time, but only to the relatives of staff at the government surveillance centres.

Families of the 4,000 employees at the Government Communications Headquarters are to be shown the "top secret" sites at Benhall and Oakley, near Cheltenham, this weekend and next.

A spokeswoman for the sites said: "There are very good reasons why our staff have to be circumspect about their work. This is a way of reducing the mystique for their families and shedding some light on what it is like to work there."

She said GCHQ had been considering holding tours for some time because of the strain on staff who have been forbidden from discussing work with their families "This will help break down the barriers."

A series of special exhibits will also be on show at the sites, although visitors will be kept away from any sensitive information."We are not going to allow them near anything that would compromise our work," the spokeswoman said. "There won't be any demonstrations or hands-on experience."

Staff at Benhall and Oakley monitor worldwide radio transmissions for British and US intelligence forces. Until 1976, the Government refused to acknowledge the sites existed and thousands of people had no idea what their spouses did each day. But pressure on the Government to be more open has finally had an effect.