New street art pops up every day in East London, but it's not usually put there by a government intelligence agency.
Pedestrians in the hip neighbourhood of Shoreditch have noticed unusual recruitment ads for GCHQ—Government Communications Headquarters, the UK's answer to the NSA—in the form of stencilled letters on the area's footpaths.
"GCH-WHO? Technical Opportunities. GCHQ-Careers.co.uk," the ads read.
Business Insider's James Cook first noticed the ads on Tuesday. They're applied to the ground using "reverse" or "clean" graffiti, a temporary method that involves removing dirt in the shape of the letters.
I stumbled across a trail of the ads on Wednesday morning from Great Eastern Street up to Old Street. My natural assumption was that they were a guerrilla art campaign by some kind of steet art wannabe—Banksy has previously taken on the UK's intelligence agency in his art—but GCHQ confirmed in an email classified "official" that they are legitimate. The press office said the ads had been placed at the beginning of the week and were designed to fade; by this morning, many were barely legible.
It's perhaps not so surprising that Cheltenham-based GCHQ would target this area. Old Street Roundabout is a hub for tech startups, having tried to take off as "Silicon Roundabout". "We focus our recruitment on areas which are likely to contain a high proportion of people who we would like to recruit, in this case people with technical skills and experience," GCHQ said.
Asked about the method, the agency said only that, "We are exploring using more innovative ways of reaching the people we would like to recruit and therefore use a range of channels for our advertising."
Several people have pointed out difficulties accessing the web address given. I received a "Forbidden" notice when attempting to visit gchq-careers.co.uk. Knowing GCHQ's previous attempts to recruit talent using codes and puzzles, I wondered if it was a secret test to weed out candidates who weren't up to the task.
But GCHQ said it was an issue for some people using a certain browser (I was using Chrome), and it's now resolved.
Maybe they really do need those new technical recruits.