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Oldest continually operating signals intelligence station in the world celebrates centenary
Britain's Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales emerges from a fortified bunker during a tour of GCHQ Scarborough on July 30, 2014 in Scarborough. The Prince of Wales is patron of the Intelligence Services and visited Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) Scarborough to commemorate the centenary of the oldest existing intercept station in the world. The Prince met staff and also viewed the stations museum. AFP PHOTO/POOL/CHRISTOPHER FURLONG.

CHELTENHAM.- His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales, Royal Patron of the Intelligence Services, paid a visit to GCHQ Scarborough to commemorate the centenary of the oldest continually operating signals intelligence station in the world.

This was The Prince’s first visit to GCHQ’s North Yorkshire site. He was accompanied throughout by the Lord Lieutenant of North Yorkshire, Lord Crathorne, and introduced to current and former members of staff and representatives from the local community.

The Prince was given a tour of the site and shown items of interest including the site’s Second World War ‘bunker’, which was in operation until the 70’s. He was also shown the site’s museum.

Whilst in the museum the Prince was given a demonstration of an original wartime Enigma encryption machine and an explanation of the crucial role that Scarborough played in the tracking of the famous German battleship the Bismarck, prior to its sinking in 1941.

The Prince was also briefed on a variety of other subjects, including some of the current operational work that Scarborough does in support of GCHQ’s mission against serious crime and cyber threats and the many volunteering and charity initiatives that station staff support.

Demonstrating that GCHQ Scarborough has an exciting future as well as a distinguished past, The Prince unveiled a plaque dedicating new accommodation facilities and commemorating the visit.

A GCHQ spokesman said: “It is a real pleasure for us to host a visit by His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales to our Scarborough site in this centenary year so that he can meet staff and see first-hand the vital work they do in keeping the country safe. The Prince has long been a strong supporter of the work of the intelligence agencies and his presence here today is a reminder of that.”

Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) is one of the three UK intelligence and security agencies, along with MI5 and the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6). It works to protect the UK and its citizens from a range of threats to national security including from terrorism, serious and organized crime and cyber attack. It also works to protect UK forces wherever they are deployed and, through its information security arm CESG, it provides policy and assistance on the security of government communications and electronic data.

GCHQ Scarborough was originally a Royal Navy wireless telegraphy station that, since 1914, has provided signals intelligence (Sigint) in support of the defence of the UK and its armed forces.

During The Great War, the station’s role was to monitor the German High Seas Fleet which was making harassing attacks on the East Coast of England. Following the cessation of hostilities in 1918, Scarborough’s mission widened to include diplomatic communications, with resources eventually being evenly split between Naval and diplomatic intercepts.

During the Second World War, Scarborough intercepted German Naval and Naval Air communications, passing intercepted Enigma traffic to Bletchley Park. It also controlled a Direction-Finding network.

During May 1941, the station at Scarborough played a key role in the location and subsequent destruction of the German battleship Bismarck.

In 1943, the station moved to its current location and used as its main building a half-buried bomb-proof bunker covered in hundreds of tons of earth. The working conditions in the bunker were far from ideal. Space and heating and water supplies were inadequate while rainwater would seep into the building as well.

Following the end of the Second World War and the start of the Cold War period, Scarborough turned its attention to the collection of Soviet armed forces communications with a particular emphasis on Soviet naval traffic.

In 1965, operations at the site were transferred to GCHQ and the station was renamed Composite Signals Organisation Station Irton Moor.

Work on the present building began in 1972 and all operations had transferred from the ‘bunker’ by 1974.

The fall of the Iron Curtain in the early 1990s resulted in the reduction of the UK’s interception. The missions of sister stations at Cheadle and Culmhead were transferred to Scarborough in 1995 and 1998 respectively and in July 2001, the site received its current name of GCHQ Scarborough.

Over two hundred people currently work at the station, forming part of the overall GCHQ workforce. Like GCHQ generally, the Scarborough site is very much part of the local community and its staff take part in a wide variety of volunteering and charitable activities.

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August 1, 2014

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