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Foreign secretary William Hague has said UK citizens should have complete “confidence” that the GHCQ spy agency operates in “full accordance with our laws and values”, despite revelations of huge internet spying programmes and seemingly working at the behest of the US.
Hague issued a rallying cry about the importance of the agency after visiting the Cheltenham-based organisation as part of a routine visit on Thursday, the Foreign Office announced.
While there he was briefed by staff on cyber security and intelligence operations at the centre and met some of the new apprentices at the agency.
Commenting on their work, Hague said it was easy to forget just how vital the agency is to help keep the UK safe, as it tackles a wider range of ever-evolving threats to the country.
“Those who threaten our national security through terrorist acts, organised crime and cyber attacks, should be aware that this country has the capability, skills and partnerships to protect its citizens against the full range of threats in the 21st century,” he said.
“Our adversaries’ approach and techniques are constantly changing and our intelligence agencies are faced with a tremendous challenge to keep pace."
Hague added that while the organisation deals with these challenges, it never acts outside the scope of its authority. "They are responding to this challenge with commitment, creativity and integrity: they act in full accordance with our laws and values," he said.
However, Hague’s comments come amid mounting criticism of the agency, in light of revelations the agency was involved in a huge data-gathering exercise called Tempora, in which it was found to be tapping into global telecoms networks to siphon data.
It was also accused of working with US spy officials at the NSA to share data under the wide-ranging PRISM programme. The Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) dismissed claims that this was illegal after a report into these activities came to light.
Despite the report clearing GHCQ of any wrongdoing and the praise from Hague, fresh revelations this week have said that the US paid the agency £100m. This money was given to help build listening posts, such as those in Bude, Cornwall, and to secure influence over the work being carried out.