GCHQ could haul in part-time IT whizzes to fight cyber threats
PART-TIME civilian spies might be recruited by intelligence centre GCHQ to help fight cyber crime.
Hundreds of computer experts could work one to two days a week at the Cheltenham listening post under plans being discussed by ministers.
The move was part of a drive to secure the best skills in the private sector to combat the growing security threat of online hackers.
It came amid grave concerns it was increasingly difficult to keep GCHQ's computer whizzes on board with higher salaries on offer for their expertise in the private sector.
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Ministers yesterday said they were considering hiring private workers on a part-time basis to ensure national security was not put at risk.
Cheltenham IT expert John Denley, who founded web-based company DiaryBooker.com, said it could be a shrewd step.
"You can't blame people for wanting to maximise their earning potential in the private sector," he said.
"But when it comes to specialist areas such as cracking codes and writing algorithms for cracking codes, it must be in GCHQ's interests to pay top dollar to secure the very best people out there.
"If that means paying people more – or getting them in on a part-time basis – then I think most people on the street would just be glad they were doing it." A GCHQ spokesman said the idea of outsourcing work to part-time staff was "purely speculative" at this stage.
However, he said that anyone brought into the intelligence centre, now or in the future, would have to undergo the same vetting processes and background checks to avoid security threats.
The spokesman said: "We are constantly examining new ways to harness and attract the talents of the cyber security specialists we need."
News of the potential scheme followed The Intelligence and Security Committee's latest annual report, in which GCHQ director Iain Lobban, expressed "grave concern" at its continuing struggle to hang on to internet specialists.
A main concern identified by members was that GCHQ could not match private sector pay.
Its report said: "We were told GCHQ was losing critical staff with high-end cyber technology skills at up to three times the rate of the corporate average."