British intelligence service enlists independent firms

Britain’s intelligence service is looking beyond BAE Systems Plc, Lockheed Martin Corp and other big defence contractors to an untapped army of independent innovators for tools to fight terrorism and for cyber security.

The Government Communications Headquarters spy agency and the MI5 domestic security service have teamed with the defence ministry to enlist small-and medium-sized companies they have not previously worked with, the agency said today.

The procurement partnership marks the first time the ministry’s Centre for Defence Enterprise is working with the intelligence community. The goal is to find university startups and companies with technology for covert surveillance and online identity verification. GCHQ and MI5 can fund research activities, with CDE in charge of the technical assessment and program management.

“We seek out sources of untapped innovation beyond the established supplier base,” Jonathan Byrne, who heads CDE said. About 43% of CDE contracts are awarded to small-and medium-sized enterprises, with academic institutions taking 24%.

Companies seeking to be involved must undergo a security review. CDE and its intelligence partners will then present their objectives in more detail during a presentation in London in Oct. Contracts will be awarded early next year.

“Much of our work is like finding a needle in the haystack,” the three organisations said in a joint invitation to bidders. “We are looking to minimise the risk from the threats we face while working within the legal framework governing both MI5 and GCHQ.”


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