It is the secretive heart of government information security, dispensing advice and setting standards throughout officialdom, but GCHQ's "cavalier" in-house policies have come under fire in a report revealing it lost 35 laptops.
Three of the missing machines were certified to hold Top Secret material, according to the annual report of the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC).
The losses date back to before 2005, and GCHQ said it now believes the resulting risk is low and it has no evidence that secret material was compromised. Seven out of 35 have since been recovered.
The losses are nevertheless likely to be viewed as very embarrassing at the intelligence agency's Cheltenham HQ. The ISC, a cross-party group of senior MPs that reports to the Prime Minister rather than Parliament, said processes for logging the allocation and location of laptops had been "haphazard" and "not sufficiently robust".
Iain Lobban, director of GCHQ since July 2008, admitted to the ISC that agency laptop policies were lax.
"Historically, we just checked them in and checked them out and updated the records when they went through our... laptop control process," he said.
"I think perhaps some people perhaps took slightly hasty decisions without due process."
Lobban said an internal review had resulted in new procedures that not only allocate laptops, but also annually audit their location.
The Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) is a British intelligence agency responsible for providing signals intelligence (SIGINT) and information assurance to the UK government and armed forces.