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British government to recruit teens as next generation of spies

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The registration room at Bletchley Park, Buckinghamshire in 1943. Bletchley Park was the British forces' intelligence center during WWII, where cryptographers deciphered top-secret military communiques between Hitler and his armed forces. These communiques were encrypted in the 'enigma' code which the Germans considered unbreakable, but the codebreakers at Bletchley cracked the code with the help of 'Bombe' machines, and so aided the Allies' victory.

By Peter Jeary, NBC News

In the 50 years since the first James Bond movie created a lasting impression of a British secret agent, a completely different character is about to emerge.

Britain's intelligence agencies are to recruit their next generation of cyber spies by harnessing the talents of the "Xbox generation."

In an expansion of a pilot program, Foreign Secretary William Hague announced Thursday that up to 100 18-year-olds will be given the chance to train for a career in Britain’s secret services.

Most of the recruitment is aimed at producing staff for the GCHQ, the electronic communications agency and monitoring station at the heart of Britain’s cyber defenses. However, some recruits will go on to work in the other two intelligence agencies – MI5 and MI6.

The move to recruit school-leavers marks a break with the past, when agencies mainly drew their staff from among university graduates.

Speaking at Bletchley Park, the forerunner of GCHQ and home to Britain's Second World War code-breakers, Hague said it was important to bring in the most talented people to secure the UK's cyber expertise for the future.

“Young people are the key to our country’s future success, just as they were during the War,” Hague said.  “Today we are not at war, but I see evidence every day of deliberate, organized attacks against intellectual property and government networks in the United Kingdom.”

Security Minister James Brokenshire told NBC News the government was always on the lookout for the best people regardless of where they come from.  

“We look at technical innovation, but it’s also looking at attracting people to become involved in the work or our agencies, recognizing the importance of the work that they do,”he said.

The new recruitment program, called the Single Intelligence Account apprenticeship scheme will enable students with suitable qualifications in science, technology or engineering, to spend two years learning about communications, security and engineering through formal education, technical training and work placements.

Officials said apprenticeships would tap into the skills of the "Xbox generation" who had grown up in the world of social media, global connectivity and interactive gaming.

In a bid to widen the Intelligence Services’ pool of cyber talent, Hague also announced GHCQ will introduce an open-door and continuous recruitment strategy, no longer only recruiting annually. And a university degree will no longer be a prerequisite, but consideration will be given to anyone with relevant experience.

The Director of GCHQ, Iain Lobban, welcomed the announcement, saying, “It should ensure that GCHQ continues to develop the skills and attract the talent it needs to meet today's challenges around cyber security.”

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