Ex-spy chief cleared for roles at trio of tech firms

Former head of GCHQ Sir Jeremy Fleming has been given a green light by government’s corruption watchdog Acoba to work for companies specialising in big data, cryptography, and satellite imagery

Former GCHQ director Sir Jeremy Fleming has been cleared to take up four new jobs, despite three of the employers having supplyed technology to the UK government.

Documents published by anti-corruption watchdog the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments endorse Fleming’s plans to work for software companies Quantexa and Sandbox AQ, earth-imaging business Planet Labs, and investment company CVC Capital Partners.

Acoba noted that Quantexa has a framework agreement with Crown Commercial Services for off-the-shelf software for big data and analytics and a contractual relationship with the Cabinet Office, with three contracts that range in value from £362,000 to £3.2m. But the watchdog said it did not hold any contracts with GCHQ.

Cryptography specialist Sandbox AQ, which span out of Google parent company Alphabet Inc, has a £1.8m contract with the UK Intelligence Community that GCHQ benefits from, according to Acoba.

Planet Labs is part of a £20m world space partnership with the UK Space Agency. Acoba said it also has a multi-year contract to deliver environmental monitoring through satellite imaging with the Rural Payments Agency, which is an executive agency of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Acoba said CVC Capital Partners did not currently hold UK government contracts.

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Fleming will serve as an advisor to Quantexa’s chief executive officer, and as a member of its advisory board. He will advise SandboxAQ on its strategy in relation to “geopolitics, technology, cyber and its public narrative”, according to Acoba.

The watchdog said that Fleming’s reported role at Planet Labs was to help the firm grow its global business, consider the impact of geopolitics on its strategies, shape its leadership approaches,  and “consider developments in international regulatory activities”.

His role at CVC Capital Partners is described as being a member of an advisory board for its leadership team.

In its advice letters, Acoba said there were “real and perceived risks” that Fleming could offer all of the firms an unfair advantage because of insight valuable to the businesses that he would have gained during his time at GCHQ – which is the parent organisation of the National Cyber Security Centre.

However, it cleared Fleming to take up the roles, subject to adherence to the government’s business appointments rules – which include not drawing on privileged information gleaned in office and not lobbying government for two years from his last day of service.

Acoba said that in relation to Quantexa, the government considered Fleming’s previous access to information related to the company and issues affecting it was a “low” risk.

The watchdog reported that GCHQ said it was “not concerned” about any specific information Fleming had access to in relation to SandboxAQ.

Acoba’s decision letter, which was written in January but only published last week, said Fleming had been out of office for eight months and that the risks associated with any privileged insight would “no longer be sufficiently up to date” to offer any unfair advantage to the firm.

Jim Dunton

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