“You can’t be what you can’t see.” This is the message from Shehzad Charania MBE, who has recently joined GCHQ, the UK’s intelligence, cyber and security agency, as their new Director of Legal Affairs and International Relations. He is one of just a handful of senior officials at GCHQ who can reveal their true identity, and as a second-generation Muslim immigrant, he says it is a “significant opportunity to inspire a diverse workforce”. GCHQ works around the clock to protect the UK from those who wish to do us harm,
including countering terrorists, hostile states and serious and organised criminal networks.
“I never thought that a career in government, particularly national security or international affairs, was for a second-generation Muslim immigrant like me, even though I was always fascinated by these areas from a young age,”
Shehzad said, recalling how as a child he used to stay up late to watch the 10 o’clock news with his father. “When I joined government there were very few people who looked like me, so now I hope to be a role model for others from ethnic minorities and lower socioeconomic
backgrounds who want to protect their country and their communities.”
Shehzad’s father was born in India, and mum, the daughter of Indian immigrants, in Tanzania. They’re proud of the work he’s done to protect national security at the Foreign Office, Attorney General’s Office, and now GCHQ.
“We weren’t well off as a family when my sister and I were younger. My parents came to this country with very little and worked really hard. They will always be my heroes because of the direction they gave us, and the sacrifices they made.”
GCHQ has sites across the UK, including its headquarters at the iconic ‘Doughnut’ building in Cheltenham, as well as bases in London and Manchester. Shehzad, who is based in London, explained that GCHQ is at “the forefront not just of the most important events
going on in the world today, but also grappling with the future challenges that will be facing my children and grandchildren.”
GCHQ focuses on communications: how to access, analyse – and occasionally –
disrupt the communications of the UK’s most capable adversaries.
“And it’s all done under strict and world-leading legislation to ensure we’re accountable and
transparent,” said Shehzad.
“People ask, ‘are you reading my emails?’ Let me assure you, it would be unlawful as well as physically impossible to read everyone’s emails or listen to everyone’s calls.
That’s not what we do.”
In 2019, Shehzad was appointed national security race champion and says that “GCHQ’s increasing openness and transparency” was a real attraction to joining the spy agency. Shehzad said “it’s important for me to do the work I do on equality, diversity and inclusion
in the open rather than the shadows, as the national security community must reflect the society it seeks to serve.”
“Diversity is not just a nice to have. It’s not just the right thing to do. It’s also mission critical. Our diversity will give us a competitive advantage, from developing our
national cyber capabilities to helping the country respond to strategic challenges like the rise of China.”
Shehzad says there is still more to do to make GCHQ a truly diverse and inclusive place to
work but one of the reasons he joined the agency was because “it is genuinely committed to improving, and I’m incredibly proud that improving equality, diversity and inclusion is one of the organisation’s strategic objectives.”
If you’re interested in finding out more about a career at GCHQ, please visit: www.gchq-careers.co.uk