Lawmakers criticise choice of UK cyber security HQ

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain’s GCHQ spying agency ignored evidence and broke its budget in choosing an expensive central London headquarters for a newly created cyber security centre, a report by a committee of lawmakers said on Thursday.

The National Cyber Security Centre, the body charged with protecting the nation from cyber attacks, was opened in 2017 by Queen Elizabeth at a towering glass building in the heart of London’s regenerated Victoria area.

An investigation into the procurement of the office by parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) found GCHQ prioritised image over cost, set inappropriate selection criteria and then changed those criteria without justification.

“Even disregarding the faulty criteria, it is clear that GCHQ selected Nova South against all the evidence,” said an ISC statement by lawmakers Kevan Jones and Stewart Hosie.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the government acknowledged there were lessons to be learned from the process, but defended its selection.

The ISC scrutinises the work of Britain’s intelligence agencies. GCHQ is the body which gathers communications from around the world to identify and disrupt threats to Britain.

Its criticisms included “an arbitrary timetable, faulty criteria, ignored warnings, an absurd weighting mechanism, unjustified score changes, a ‘no-hoper’ alternative and, finally, the Principal Accounting Officer being overruled.”

The Nova building, part of which houses the NCSC, was named Britain’s ugliest building in 2017 by competition judges who criticised its angular form and red spire as an assault on the senses and a hideous mess.

Johnson said in a written statement to parliament: “Nova South met all the key criteria required by government ... A further contributing factor to its selection was its availability which allowed the NCSC to be established at pace.”

Reporting by William James; Editing by Kate Holton and Giles Elgood