Comment from "Jim Prideaux" on my last blog

I received the following comment by snail mail (he trusts nothing on-line and now has difficulty using a key pad, let alone touch screen) from “Jim Prideaux” in response to my blog yesterday. I am not quite sure whether it is support or criticism but it makes a couple of very good points.

“Making it “easier to recruit talent” could be bad news unless effort is taken to make it possible to retain it and also not to upset it. We need to also pay more attention to maintaining the motivation of those already in key cybersecurity roles. The case of Bradley Manning appears to have been a classic case of active man mismanagement, turning a troubled misfit into a time-bomb. Something similar may well prove to have been the case with Edward Snowden, albeit probably “passive”, (the failure to monitor the changing motivation of a contractor exposed to a new lifestyle), rather than active.

Also ballets work better with a prima donna, a few waiting in the wings and an army of support staff not trying to show off. The security services need a mix of talent and the processes to nurture them and actively maintain their motivation over time. So your reviewers should also raise their glasses to disgruntled older talent who will have to do the grunt work, or, more likely, the old hands who will have to devote more time to training a faster turn-over of folks with decreasing return on investment.

An alternative is the supposed Chinese use of North Korean hackers as a “cyber-gurkha” force of highly motivated cheap labour, preferring 2nd-class citizenship to being sent home. Even those who stay home will enjoy food and privileges, including for their families, such that their loyalty is assured. That approach would probably not work well in the UK but it should serve as a reminder of why the extra investment in UK cyberwarfare capabilities is overdue.”

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Philip, the following email was sent to me, presumably by mistake, I think it's meant for you.

From: 'Toby Esterhase'

To: 'David Moss'

cc: 'NSA'; 'GCHQ'; 'Red Army'; 'JA c/o Ecuadorean Embassy'

Subject: 21st century intelligence – merchandising?


That wretched Prideaux, comparing the Service to a corp de ballet, grown-ups prancing around in silly clothes. Typical of the man.

In our day, the analogy was more properly with the church or the army, admittedly still grown-ups prancing around in silly clothes, but with a bit more bottom, dignity, a sense of tradition.

Now what we actually have lives up to our old name, a circus, grown-ups prancing around in silly clothes to entertain the parents, while terrifying the children. Not a lamplighter in sight, just a lot of trapeze wire artists with unlikely thighs and girls who love horses.

How you recruit these people, train them and keep them motivated, and stop them running away to join a rival circus – tell Jim from me – depends on getting the analogy right. None of the above, obviously.

Our political masters, God preserve us, affect to see some virtue worth emulating in the organisational strengths of the John Lewis Partnership. Why don't you have some of their chaps in? See what they have to suggest.

Never knowingly undersold


Pavement artist choreographer and floorwalker (retd.)