The oldest part of FCO Services dates back to 1199, when the Queen’s Messenger Service was created by King John. These messengers serve the King or Queen by carrying secret information and deliveries, making sure it arrives safely without being seen by our enemies. Over 800 years later, they still help the UK communicate secretly with people abroad today.
The true birth of FCO Services came at the end of the 1930s, when the Foreign Office wanted a faster way of sending secret messages, so they could respond to events more quickly. We began as a team of telephone technicians, and our earliest recorded technician was looking after the telephone connections in Rome in 1937.
This all changed in 1938. The threat of war was increasing, and there was a real danger that the telephone lines would be cut by enemy troops. To prevent this, the Foreign Office switched to relying on radio and a new unit was created.
A specialist unit of radio technicians, we were dedicated to looking after radio equipment, intercepting enemy communications and developing new technology throughout the Second World War. Ever since, together with the Queen’s Messengers, we have made sure the Foreign Office can send information and deliveries secretly.
Our scope grew in 1945, when we began to keep Embassies secure as well as communications. We created new teams who were sent abroad to look after radios, telephones and physical security. For the first time, technicians stayed in the most vulnerable Embassies permanently, to be able to offer the best support.
At the same time, the Foreign Office also wanted to protect their Embassies from being spied on. We set up a team of specialists to deal with this, and by 1958 they were recognised by the Cabinet Office as the national authority on counter-eavesdropping. Known today as UK NACE, they remain the UK experts on preventing and discovering enemy espionage.
Since the beginning, we have always worked to develop and understand cutting edge technology to provide the highest level of security. We still protect communications and Embassies, but today we also use secure IT systems to send or host information. Most recently, becoming a Trading Fund in 2008 has allowed us to expand outside of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and use our expertise to protect departments across government.