The winning theory: Snowden was employed by the NSA, FSB, GCHQ and Unit 61938 to protect budgets

Now that the GCHQ and its allies have emerged successful from the spending review, I can reveal the front runner for the bottle of Ledaig for for the best conspiracy theory related to the PRISM story. My “reviewers” unanimously favour the claim that it is a unique collaboration between NSA, GCHQ, the FSB and Unit 61398 to protect their budgets from attack during a period of global austerity. Given that the source of the theory cannot be attributed, the reviewers plan to drink the bottle themselves.

As we have seen, not only did GCHQ and its allies preserve their budgets from cuts, some got increases in real terms. Equally importantly the story has done wonders for their image, making it much easier to recruit talent.  All thanks to sterling efforts of the Guardian and its allies, after the Washington Post supposedly declined to assist.

The challenge now is for the civilian information security industry, (seeking to protect the rest of us against the many all-too-real threats, from bedroom bullies and perverts to organised crime), to get their fair share of those attracted. We do not want all of our cyber security talent “interned” in a doughnut in the West Country enjoying a life of intense intellectual stimulation, satisfaction and congenial company among their peers (rather like Bletchley Park but with infinitely better food and accommodation). Hence the importance of programmes like the “confidence in the on-line world” stream within the UK Cyber Security Challenge on which I blogged recently.

Hence also the importance of the Cyber Security Skills framework for which e-Skills is currently seeking employers who will review it with a view to customising it for their own use. In fact, if we work together, we should be able to create a win-win situation.

The technical skills and aptitudes needed by GCHQ and the Security Services overlap with those needed by law enforcement and those protecting out critical infrastructure (particularly financial services, because that is where the money is) but there is major difference in motivation and attitude. Those who crave the approval of outsiders for their actions are not wanted or needed at the heart of our security services. That way lies Bradley Manning, Edward Snowden and Wikileaks.

Those who want such approval can and probably should be educated in tandem, but should join the private sector and help organise global co-operation against the predators who threaten the on-line world as whole. We are coming up to the anniversary of World War 1 and the execution of one of Britains most heroic and least discrete “secret” agents, Nurse Edith Cavell, for whom “patriotism was not enough”. Her combination of management ability and motivation would have made her as successful a private sector head of security as she was an ultimately disastrous secret agent, with her escape network unravelled and its members executed at the same time.