A warning! By continuing to read this article about spies and tradecraft you will be breaching the official secrets act (of the broadcaster Channel 4). The company don’t want you to know anything about the young Scotsman who features as a spymaster in their latest pseudo-reality show which captures the efforts of 15 hopefuls trying to win through to become a master, or mistress, of espionage.

It is logical progression from the company’s last ratings hit, SAS - Who Dares Wins, but Spies is devoid of bulging pectorals, hideous tattoos, grown men crying in the bleak wilderness and a blizzard of four-letter invective. Or even the naked thrusting buttocks so memorably captured in The Night Manager. At least so far.

What we have in the first episode is a pretty farcical endeavour in Brixton to track a target without being spotted – a compound failure – and a lot of gibbering by the contestants in a dormitory in an abandoned power station on the banks of the Solent. They could have called it The Big Brother House, if someone hadn’t got there before them.

The idea is that three former spies, ‘Control’, vet the contestants and weed out the weakest, or the least devious, until there is one winner whose prize is (spoiler alert) a mission to assassinate Putin, or at least to post nasty messages on his Facebook page. Well, it might be, but C4 won’t say and won’t give any access to members of Control. This message was passed to me by ‘M’ (aka Marion Bentley) and surprisingly it didn’t self-destruct.

The mild-mannered young Scotsman in Clark Kent glasses who is one of the three – there’s a posh one and a working-class woman but no black one so not all of the boxes are ticked – is called just Cameron in the show. He’s first placed in deep cover in the dormitory masquerading as the sixteenth contestant until he outs himself and a couple of agent hopefuls are terminated with extreme prejudice, and a train ticket back to Waterloo.

Through assiduous and surreptitious tracking (mostly of his social media outings) I was able to establish that he is Cameron Colquhoun, a chap with a First Class Masters Degree in Middle East Security (how’s that going Cam?) from Aberdeen University as well as qualifications from the US State Department and King's College London and Fulbright scholarship. For almost a decade he was a senior analyst running cyber and terrorism operations at GCHQ, the Cheltenham spying station, which is less secure than, well, Channel 4 press office.

Obviously Spies, which purports to show the processes would-be agents go through, would not have happened without the co-operation of the security services. They are now highly conscious of their public image, which wasn't the case a few decades back when Time Out journalists Duncan Campbell and Mark Hosenball were pursued under the Official Secrets Act for daring to reveal that the collection of buildings on the outskirts of Cheltenham was GCHQ and that it was spying on just about everyone's telephone and radio communications and had been for decades.

Hosenball, an American, was actually deported which caused him so much career damage that he went to work for NBC, Newsweek and others and is now a Reuters investigations reporter.

The thousands of GCHQ spies today work out of massive, purpose-built structure in Cheltenham, the Doughnut, which is the size of Hampden park, spending their days listening in and watching countless screens, a kind of Gogglebox without the cutaways and one-liners. Which, as Spies clearly recognises, doesn't make for exciting viewing. So what we have is the old-style approach which Burgess, Maclean and Philby must have gone through.

The old methods no longer work. A few years ago MI6 ran a test to see how long it would take for an officer's cover to be blown through online searches. The answer, around minute. And when a CIA team carried out an 'extraordinary rendition' of an Islamist in Milan in 2003, three years later an Italian prosecutor was able to identify and prosecute in absentia around two dozen members of the squad by using a linked analysis of phones, hotel reservations, car rentals and credit cards.

Colquhoun was happy to talk about himself and the show until mouth-buttoned by 'M'. He is a fairly well-known member now of the private security business. In 2014 he set up Neon Century a company which boasts of its ethical approach (in contrast to that of his previous employers?) through analysis of the 60 trillion bits of information floating around cyberspace, open source information as it's known. One British general estimates that 85 per cent of military intelligence can now be obtained from it.

“We cannot begin to imagine it,” Colquhoun said recently. “Our brains cannot cope and that holds us back.” His company, and its software, he believes, has the imagination and the capacity to do it and now has several FTSE companies as clients. Ten per cent of Neon's resources are devoted to social causes and he also offers internships to graduates from disadvantaged backgrounds and mentors students at Brunel University.

So he's a good spook, who has come in from the cold, currently enjoying America's west coast sunshine (I was able to establish from open source info). He likes a beer, a good jape as well as rooftop pools. And he admires Alan Turing, the brilliant spy who cracked the Nazis Enigma code, and was persecuted and chemically castrated by the establishment for his homosexuality. "Sometimes it's the people no one images anything of," Colquhoun quotes Turing, clearly referencing himself, "who do the things that no one can imagine."

Spies in on Channel 4 on Thursday at 9pm.