We use cookies to track usage and preferences. See Cookie Policy
Pocketmags Digital Magazines
CA
Pocketmags Digital Magazines
   You are currently viewing the Canada version of the site.
Would you like to switch to your local site?
Digital Subscriptions > Attitude > 284 > SPIES LIKE US

SPIES LIKE US

THE TALISMAN OF GCHQ, THE GOVERNMENT’S COMMUNICATIONS HEADQUARTERS, IS ALAN TURING, ONE OF THE MOST ICONIC FIGURES IN GAY HISTORY. BUT IN THE 1950s A GOVERNMENT EDICT PROHIBITED THE INTELLIGENCE AGENCY FROM EMPLOYING GAY MEN. MANY OF THOSE ALREADY WORKING AT THE ORGANISATION WERE REMOVED AND THE POLICY REMAINED IN PLACE UNTIL AS LATE AS 1993. HOWEVER, JUST FOUR MONTHS AGO, GCHQ WAS RANKED 75TH ON STONEWALL’S WORKPLACE EQUALITY INDEX, WHICH MEASURES THE MOST LGBT+ FRIENDLY EMPLOYERS IN THE UK. NOW ATTITUDE HAS BEEN GRANTED EXCLUSIVE ACCESS TO FIND OUT HOW AND WHY SUCH A MONUMENTAL CHANGE HAS TAKEN

Could you be susceptible to blackmail? It was a question levelled at Ian Pritchard in 1961, during one of GCHQ’s infamously vigorous vetting interviews. Had they known he was a closeted gay man, the organisation’s assumption would have been yes, there was a reason he could be blackmailed.

At 18 years old, Pritchard followed his father and joined the RAF, hoping to take advantage of their linguist training programme. After completing three years’ service, a career at GCHQ, one of the UK’s three intelligence and security agencies, seemed a natural step for a serviceman trained in the Russian language.

Pritchard hadn’t fully accepted his sexuality and knew he’d probably be asked about it during the security interview. A decade earlier, in 1953, the government had required GCHQ to introduce positive vetting. It’s an Orwellian title for a process which involves actively investigating the negative character traits or associations that would prohibit hiring a potential employee. Previous red flags included connections to communists or fascists, a primary loyalty to a foreign government, or anything else which could involve a conflict of interest.

CLOSING THE CIRCLE: There have been major changes at GCHQ
GCHQ

At the time, positive vetting also determined that homosexuality was a character defect, thus barring all gay men from working in the security services. Pritchard knew this and fully expected his designated vetting officer to ask “the big question” — was he gay? But instead, sitting in a children’s library in Preston, the question asked of Pritchard was more ambiguous. Could he be blackmailed?

Could his desire to keep his sexuality secret force him into a serious conflict of interest? Could Russian spies use knowledge of his sexuality to coerce state secrets from him? Pritchard didn’t consider himself a target. He also didn’t believe he’d ever be susceptible to such an attack. So, he answered the question truthfully: no.

READ MORE
Purchase options below
Find the complete article and many more in this issue of Attitude - 284
If you own the issue, Login to read the full article now.
Single Issue - 284
$6.99
Or 699 points
Annual Digital Subscription
Only $ 2.77 per issue
SAVE
60%
$35.99
Or 3599 points
Monthly Digital Subscription
Only $ 3.68 per issue
SAVE
43%
$3.99
Or 399 points

View Issues

About Attitude

On the cover, Adam Peaty, the first British Olympian to win gold at the Rio Olympics. Plus: Amini Fonua, the Tongan swimmer who famously challenged a homophobic attack from the media at the Rio Olympics; an exclusive look behind the scenes at GCHQ and the new generation of gay men following in Alan Turing’s footsteps; ten years of queer Glastonbury with an exclusive look at the history of The NYC Downlow; and writer Juno Dawson on why she thinks lots of gay men are really trans women.
Ways to Pay Pocketmags Payment Types
At Pocketmags you get Secure Billing Great Offers HTML Reader Gifting options Loyalty Points