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A funny thing happened on the way to the Doughnut
From Alan Turnbull, 2nd July 2009 A funny thing happened on the way to the Doughnut Let me take you back to February 2009. I received an email alert from a job agency website telling me GCHQ, the UK Government's intelligence gathering "spy centre" in Cheltenham was undergoing a major recruitment campaign and were on the lookout for Internet Operations Analysts / Specialists. I read the profile in great detail and was amazed that I seemed to fit the bill. The only problem was my age - wrong side of 30 (okay, 40) - the jobs were obviously aimed at eager university students due to graduate this summer. But hey, here's to grey power. I thought that with my Internet forensic analysis and research experience gained from my website activities over the last six years and providing numerous journalistic exclusives for the London newspapers, I certainly had nothing to lose and perhaps a very interesting career change to gain. I registered with GCHQ's careers website, uploaded my CV and waited. And waited. Weeks and months went by and I assumed I'd been rejected on age or a narrow minded prejudice over my journalistic activities. But at least I was completely up front about it all and indeed my CV consisted entirely of references to my website even including hyperlinks to exclusive news stories I had researched. My CV also detailed my regular contacts with the Ministry of Defence and the D-Notice Committee, making sure my publications never "cross the line". Then at the end of April 2009 I received an email out of the blue inviting me to take part in online verbal reasoning tests - just like the comprehension exams you do at school, reading passages of text and answering questions based on your understanding of them. Except, of course, much more complicated! The email was not from GCHQ Recruitment itself but a major external agency called TMP Worldwide. I assumed my profile had been checked in order to get to the first stage. You would expect TMP to at least do that, wouldn't you? A further anxious wait until 6th May, when I was called on my mobile by Vinesh at TMP's Bristol office (the division in charge of the GCHQ contract) who congratulated me, telling me I was through the first stage and therefore invited to take part in a 30 minute telephone interview which centred on "motivational fit". Vinesh even gushed that the people getting through the first stage are in the top percentile group of all applicants. My ego was feeling the benefit of a nice massage. He followed up with a confirmation email and my telephone interview was booked with Helen, also based at TMP's Bristol office. I figured Vinesh knew his stuff as, using his full name on Google, I discovered he got a special citation on the TMP corporate website as "going that extra mile" in a blog by the company's CEO no less, referring to the Bristol office's grand opening in October 2008. But worryingly, he did until very recently have all his details plastered over a Facebook account, which is still partially viewable in Google's cache. Not what GCHQ really want with sensitive recruitment at stake perhaps? Anyway, I made much of my website and media work in my chat with Helen, even referring to one news exclusive in particular and how I got the initial lead, researched it and developed it into a front page exclusive for a famous Sunday newspaper. Helen even asked me to slow down and pause while she jotted down all this fascinating detail in her interview notes. I was on a roll! It was all going much better than I thought it would back in February! I had another wait for Helen's verdict but just a week later I got an email saying I was through to the next stage - online technical aptitude tests provided by yet another external agency contracted by GCHQ, called ProveIT. I had until 19th May to submit my test session. I decided to get it over and done with but then had the full duration to bite my nails. In the first week of June, I got an email (again from TMP acting on behalf of GCHQ) saying I'd got through the online technical tests and was now invited to participate in psychometric profiling using online multiple choice questions on "occupational personality" provided by another outside contractor, SHL Solutions. More significantly, the same day I got an email apparently from GCHQ itself not TMP, using their proper government secure intranet ("") email account, inviting me along to a formal interview held at GCHQ's new Doughnut complex in Cheltenham. I was given a selection of dates from which to choose, I booked one and then hurriedly booked the train and hotel to go with it. Upon closer inspection, the email had actually been sent via a network belonging to "" a domain owned by yet another GCHQ outsourcing partner, Stepstone Solutions. But anyway, I was sorted! Okay, it might not lead to an offer, but at least I was in line for a fascinating day out in the West Country and allowed inside the building most people can only gaze at on Google Earth! Within days I received a big pack of forms to fill out and bring with me on the day of interview. These were the all important Developed Vetting (DV) forms which unavoidably intrude into every aspect of your life to assess whether you would be at risk of financial inducement or blackmail. These would form the basis for a later 6-month investigation plus personal interview by a Vetting Officer who would visit me at home and even ask about my sexual proclivities. I figured now wouldn't be a good time to talk about pill popping, alcoholism, credit card debts, bank loan defaulting and wearing gimp masks and suspenders. So I just left out the credit card and bank stuff. I was part way through completing the mammoth task of filling out the DV forms and I'd even been down to my local train station to use the photo booth for the required passport style pics to go on the forms. The suit, shirt, tie and shoes were ready. Cheltenham here I come. Oh dear, on Thursday 18th June, just a few days before I was due to catch the train I received a further email from the GCHQ Recruitment team. It was short and not very sweet. For Internet Operations Analysts/Specialists vacancy, Ref No. IOA/1/09 Having further reviewed your application for employment, we regret to inform you that we have concluded that we are no longer able to take your application forward on this occasion. Please note we therefore no longer require you to attend the Assessment Centre scheduled for Tuesday 23 June 2009. We would like to thank you for your interest in working at GCHQ and to wish you every success for the future. This email will be followed up with a hardcopy letter. Kind Regards GCHQ Recruitment Office I went through my website visitor logs for earlier that day and sure enough, there was a veritable flurry of activity from IP addresses owned by TMP Worldwide and also from a block corresponding to the GCHQ GSI gateway running through a network operations centre provided by Energis. The hits were triggered by Google searches on "Alan Turnbull" "Secret Bases"! A bit late in the day for doing basic research like that! Upon my questioning, GCHQ refused to elaborate on what precisely happened but you can easily guess. At least they did pay me back the £60 I had lost on the non-refundable hotel and train booking, direct into my bank. The entry on my bank statement reading "Credit - GCHQ Public A/C" is all I have to show for my six month experience. Ah, the perils of outsourcing your recruitment campaigns. Just think - TMP Worldwide also has the lucrative contract for MI5 jobs and MI6 recruitment is done through GlobalSuccessor, otherwise known as Stepstone, mentioned earlier! Don't have nightmares. Sleep tight.
"The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it." Karl Marx

"He would, wouldn't he?" Mandy Rice-Davies. When asked in court whether she knew that Lord Astor had denied having sex with her.

“I think it would be a good idea” Ghandi, when asked about Western Civilisation.

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