"A good MI6 Intelligence Officer wants to learn what makes people tick.  An Intelligence Officer on the autistic spectrum however, doesn't just want to know what makes a person tick, they want to know how to build the key that winds them up."

It is estimated that over 30%, and indeed maybe even as high as 53% of individuals working at GCHQ could legitimately have a place on the Autistic Spectrum (ASD). 

"Daring to think differently and be different"

- Article published by GCHQ - 29 Mar 2017

To mark World Autism Awareness Week, we hear from James*, a GCHQ member of staff with Asperger syndrome.

I think that it was down to GCHQ that I ever got diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, as my school, university and other jobs had serially failed to spot it for many years.

I just got labelled as "doesn’t suffer fools gladly", "can be a little blunt, especially in emails", "isn’t very sociable and rubs folk up the wrong way" and so on.

Interestingly, while people may have in hindsight attributed bad things to Asperger syndrome, it is very rare that anyone seems to make that connection with more positive behaviours.

 

The positive aspects are often things like:

  • Very good attention to detail, can spot patterns, anomalies and trends easily.

  • Very good focus on a task and determination to complete it, perhaps even explore wider context to it and innovate.

  • Very good, logical, science-based decision making without the often distracting emotional baggage many people have this. So able to make independent, unbiased decisions.

 

As you can imagine, all these things are crucial to GCHQ's work! This could be one of the reasons why we have always attracted a high number of neurodiverse staff, stretching back to Bletchley Park and beyond.

As our Director Robert Hannigan has said: "To do our job, which is solving some of the hardest technology problems the world faces for security reasons, we need all talents and we need people who dare to think differently and be different." 

 

I was encouraged to seek diagnosis by GCHQ's Neurodiversity Adviser, which turned out to be quite easy and painless. GCHQ has had a specialised neurodiversity support service for 20 years and has training and detailed guidance available for all staff. 
 
One of the things it offers are awareness sessions for managers. Good management makes a big difference to how well you cope. 

  • A good manager will help you to put in place coping mechanisms and make reasonable adjustments while you get these working.

  • A good manager will recognise what work you will do well and what work would be really challenging.

  • A good manager will make other workplace adjustments to minimise aspects of work that make an 'Aspie' anxious, such as business travel in my case. 

  • A good manager will recognise that Asperger syndrome isn't curable but that you can employ coping mechanisms and practise the hard things in graded steps.

  • A bad manager can ruin your confidence, career and make you totally unproductive.

My experience could have been a different story if I hadn't have found myself working for an employer who not only helped me diagnose my syndrome but also saw the positives. I’ve experienced how we are consistently striving to be even better at supporting neurodiverse staff.   It is great to see the department leading the way with education and looking for more opportunities to deploy neurodiverse staff in a way that ensures their skills are best employed.

 

GCHQ is a 'Disability Confident' Level 3 employer committed to supporting all our staff with disabilities, including those with neurodiverse conditions. We are actively ensuring our recruitment campaigns are accessible and that there are no barriers to the recruitment and continued professional development of neurodiverse staff.

*Name changed to protect his identity

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When Google's Sycamore effectively moved us to the next step in AI it will become one of those defining moments...but how will Quantum Artificial Intelligence affect the Intelligence World?

21 March 2020

Neurodiversity & ASD within the Secret Intelligence Services

Some have gone as far as to say that the 'diverse' represent the next step in the evolutionary process.  Maybe.  But, ignore the Neurodiverse at your peril!

12 May 2020

A Government Department of Virus Safety

A Government run, uniform and credible safety certificate to be used across the board, would benefit UK business greatly.

Wuhan conspiracy theories aside, diplomatic traction is the reward.

 

A week or two ago we wrote an article "Conspiracies & Ripples" which focused primarily on conspiracy theories and kicked off with the rather obvious statement that a conspiracy theory is simply a theory without the facts i.e. just a theory.  Within that we highlighted that ‘flavour of the month’ theorist’s delight, the origins of the Coronavirus and its links to Wuhan.  This echoed our views published in February which, as many did, ponder the chances of this remote coincidence maybe actually being true.  Since then there have been swathes of articles on the topic citing all sort of sources and from numerous ‘renowned’ scientists.  We have also recently had the opinions offered by those whose opinions really count, that this virus originating from the labs in Wuhan may not actually be so far-fetched after all.

We do tend to agree, or at least we did.  That was then and this is now and in the world of Politics things move quickly and one does have to look at the reality of the situation.  If there is enough fog between you and your destination, then sometimes the route you take can change, leaving you all sorts of options.  If the objective was originally to circumnavigate through uncertain waters to establish who, what, why and when the virus came about – then that is now lost in the fog.  It is arbitrary.  Now we have something that is far more concrete and tangible to use to our advantage – we have uncertainty.  We now have enough debate and conspiracy to render the findings of the scientists open to interpretation.  And that… is a diplomat’s dream come true.   This particular carcass will feed many and although the WHO will go in, on the ground, and no doubt find yet more uncertainty…it really is irrelevant.  You will certainly not find individual government’s chomping at the bit to send their representatives into Wuhan anytime soon, and even if they did, why?  Wuhan is not some sleepy suburb in leafy Northamptonshire… it is in China.  Whatever was there has long gone, if indeed it was ever even there.  So perhaps it would be wise to assume that at least for the next few decades this is a conspiracy that will never find out those salient facts. 

Now, listening to the scientists, there is an overwhelming urge to say, “shush now”.  Step back ladies and gentlemen and look at the bigger picture at play.  Nobody is actually interested whether or not the virus started in Wuhan, intentionally or not.  As long as it is open to debate, it is far more valuable.  The scientists have debated at length and argued, but there is still no unequivocal proof either way that satisfies all parties…and why could that be?  Scientific fact is not open to debate or questioning, that is a given.  However, to say Science is correct, is not true.  That is because Science has Scientists, and Scientists are human beings who in turn are fallible and motivated by many many other factors.  In China for example, one might say that scientific fact is exactly what they want it to be.  Indeed, who is to say it ends in China.

 

So why is uncertainty such a blessing in this case?  It provides an additional bargaining chip and a weapon in the armoury for all Governments to now use against the Chinese.  Maybe on the other side of the fence their own initial conspiracy theory that a foreign Government (the US) planted the virus in their midst, is being written about in their own press.  Or maybe not. The fact is it is a safe bet to assume that no body will ever know.  There will be no compensations or admissions of guilt in this case sadly…however the capillaceous network that is politics, diplomacy and economic negotiations will be the real beneficiaries.

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