​GCHQ deploys armed police to counter terror threat at Cheltenham site

Reuters / Nigel Roddis
Britain’s GCHQ spy agency has deployed armed police to protect its Cheltenham operation, but insists there is “no specific threat.”

Nearby residents received a letter in the post informing them that the government’s national listening post was introducing armed Ministry of Defense police (MDP) at their Benhall site.

A GCHQ spokesman said the move was related to the raising of the UK terror threat level last year.

British spy agency MI5 raised the threat level from “substantial” to “severe” in August, meaning a terrorist attack is highly likely.

Residents living near GCHQ’s main office based in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, received a letter informing them of the heightened security measure.

In line with government organizations, we have been keeping GCHQ’s security arrangements under review and have decided that the time is right to introduce an armed police presence at our Benhall site,” the letter reads.

We would like to reassure you that this is not in response to any specific threat, but simply a pragmatic and precautionary response to the raising of the National Threat Level last year.

The letter stressed such “additional security measures” would have no impact on local residents.

Not all of GCHQ’s neighbors are convinced, however. In response to receiving one such letter, Adrian Oldman tweeted: “#gchq either lying or incompetent. Armed police in response to heightened threat … last year?? Keeping us safe?

Graham Hyde, another local resident, tweeted: “Note just put thro letterbox from GCHQ, 500m away. Don’t worry but we are now using armed police around the site! Have to change our society.

Martin Horwood, Cheltenham’s Liberal Democrat MP, told the Gloucestershire Echo: “I understand why GCHQ must be looking very carefully at security in light of what is going on all over the world and in European towns and cities.

But I also would understand if local residents were a bit concerned by this. It is not something we would want to have as a permanent arrangement. I wouldn’t want our country to drift into a situation where our police are routinely armed.

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MDP are a civilian government police agency tasked with protecting property belonging to the Ministry of Defense.

GCHQ’s Benhall office was the site of a protest organized by hacktivist group Anonymous last August in response to the spy agency’s role in the widespread spying on innocent civilians, as revealed by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Anonymous UK plan to return to GCHQ this summer with a weekend camping trip scheduled for August 28.