With the unexpected collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 the security services begin trying to justify their role in this new world. The target had changed, it was no longer a single sprawling enemy, but smaller fast moving organisations, crossing the boundaries between “state” actors and criminal. Furthermore the internet revolution was changing how everyone communicated. Previously security services had to intercept a single stream of data moving between two points. With the introduction of packetised communication utilised in the internet, there was no single point of intercept.
Put simply, whilst GCHQ was dealing with restructuring to validate its role post Soviet Union, it also had to completely alter its intelligence gathering methods to adapt to this new technology. A truly awesome challenge.
In 1994, GCHQ was also placed on a statutory footing for the first time with the putting in to law of the Intelligence Services Act. This stated.
“An Act to make provision about the Secret Intelligence Service and the Government Communications Headquarters, including provision for the issue of warrants and authorisations enabling certain actions to be taken and for the issue of such warrants and authorisations to be kept under review; to make further provision about warrants issued on applications by the Security Service; to establish a procedure for the investigation of complaints about the Secret Intelligence Service and the Government Communications Headquarters; to make provision for the establishment of an Intelligence and Security Committee to scrutinise all three of those bodies; and for connected purposes.” (From Wikipedia)
For the first time, the security force were accountable.
However, with the outbreak of hostilities in the Balkans, it was made clear to UK government that some element of traditional SIGINT was required and GCHQ came to the fore. A massive investment in a new building in Cheltenham, colloquially called “the donut” was made, with the intention of bringing all GCHQ staff together geographically for the first time. Then 9/11 occurred. This attack and the following wars in Iraq and Afghanistan showed the need for good intelligence, and this new building was already too small for those needs.
Personally, I remember being at University in 2002 – 2004 as the Iraq war was beginning. Spending too may late nights sat in the I.T. labs going down the rabbit holes surrounding conspiracy theories. Treading the strange world, where words like PRISM, New World Order, and Bilderberg Group came together. I remember talking to friends and family at the time about it and being told I was crazy. My Dad the only exception to that rule and I now know why. Then in 2013 an NSA contractor called Edward Snowden appeared and blew everyone’s minds wide open.