The spy agency Government Communication Headquarters (GCHQ) is investing in techniques that will allow it to spy on peoples’ office emails, in an attempt to uncover fifth columnists. It is hoping that, through the use of language analysis, it will be better able to catch double agent turncoats such as Kim Philby and Guy Burgess, who displayed anomalous behaviour before being unmasked as Soviet agents.
GCHQ is sponsoring a PhD post at the University of Lancaster which will last three and a half years, at a cost of £22,000 a year. The Times has reported that, in its advert for the post, the university said “The research . . . will investigate the use of techniques from the field of natural language processing to detect the early indicators of an insider threat within an organisation’s unstructured internal data.”
Or in other words, the researcher will study emails for signs of employees who may have become disaffected. Paul Taylor, professor of psychology at Lancaster University, said: “Instead of ending their email with ‘see ya!’ they might suddenly offer you ‘kind regards’. Instead of talking about ‘us’ they might refer to themselves more. These changes are important and could hint at a disgruntled employee about to go rogue.”
The university has indicated that it will use the latest data analysis techniques to process data contained in emails, as an indicator of possible rogue behaviour. The successful applicant for the PhD post will need to pass GCHQ security checks.
GCHQ currently sponsors upwards of 30 PhDs in cyber security. It has refused to comment on whether or not the techniques developed will be used on its own staff, but the secret services are known to be haunted by the memory of the Cambridge Five spy ring, which included Philby, Burgess, and Donald Maclean, all of whom were employed within the secret services whilst feeding information to Moscow in the early half of the 20th Century.