Tagged: intel

Hewitt and Harman v. the UK

This is an interesting case from a while back. concerning Patricia Hewitt and Harriet Harman.

“In 1985, evidence emerged that MI5 (also known as the Security Service) was systematically infringing the applicants’ rights under the [Euro Human Rights] Convention when a former officer of MI5, Ms Cathy Massiter, made certain allegations to this effect on a television program. According to Ms Massiter, the applicants had been classified as subversive and as communist sympathizers, and these grave libels were published within MI5 and were available for publication to other agencies with whom MI5 had a relationship. Their files recorded details of passport applications, data from surveillance by local police, Special Branch and by special agents, and references to them or by them on telephone intercepts picked up under warrants issued in relation to other persons. Such intercepts, in the second applicant’s case, were likely to include confidential conversations which she, as a practising solicitor, had had with certain of her clients. The first applicant’s file included information about her personal relationship with a former member of the Communist Party. Surveillance of both applicants was continued after they had left the National Council for Civil Liberties on the basis that they were both candidates for elected office.

“On 19 May 1986, the applicants lodged an application with the European Commission of Human Rights against the United Kingdom government alleging breaches of their right to privacy (Article 8), their right to freedom of expression (Article 10), their right to freedom of association (Article 11) and their right to an effective remedy (Article 13) in respect of the violations arising from the nature and consequences of the surveillance to which they had been subjected by MI5. The application was declared admissible on 12 May 1988.

“In its Report dated 9 May 1989 the Commission concluded by a majority that given the existence of practices in the United Kingdom permitting secret surveillance and given further the reasonable likelihood that the applicants were the subjects of surveillance the compilation and retention by the Security Service of information concerning the private lives of the applicants constituted an infringement of their right to privacy under Article 8 (1) of the Convention. The Commission further concluded that the domestic law of the United Kingdom contained neither legal rules formulated with sufficient precision nor a framework indicating with the requisite degree of certainty the scope and manner of the exercise of discretion by the Security Service in the carrying out of secret surveillance activities to render interference “in accordance with the law” within Article 8 (2). Finally the Commission concluded that since no information was forthcoming in relation to how the United Kingdom had chosen to provide an effective remedy under its domestic law that the applicants did not have an effective remedy as required by Article 13.”

There’s some interesting detail in there about the workings of the Security Service, e.g.,

“The procedure for opening a file is strictly controlled. It may start as a temporary file, which has a maximum life of three years, when there is uncertainty whether the criteria for opening a permanent file are satisfied. These criteria have their basis in the Service’s functions and require high standards of accuracy. If and when these criteria are satisfied, the permanent file will be opened. The Service then applies a system of colour coding which controls how files are used. Once a file is opened, there is a period coded “green:, during which inquiries may be made about the subject. The length of the green period varies according to the reason why the particular file was made. It may be extended as a result of the receipt of new information. At the end of the green period it changes to “amber”, under which inquiries are prohibited, but any relevant information that the Service receives about the subject may be added to the file. After the designated amber period the file is coded “red”. During this period, inquiries continue to be prohibited and any addition of substantive information is also prohibited. Finally, after a period of red coding, the file is microfilmed. The hard copy is destroyed and the entry for the file in the Service’s central index is transferred from the Live Index to the Research Index. The Research Index is usually consulted only when it is thought that old files may exist which are relevant to current work. In practice the volume of check against the Research Index is small: for instance, it is not consulted in vetting checks.”


GCHQ’s director’s Turing speech – a research team manual?

Just read the speech about Alan Turing, given by Iain Lobban, Director GCHQ, at the University of Leeds.

Fantastic stuff in there. Here are some excerpts.

On learning to solve problems

“… [Turing] reported to Bletchley Park as agreed and immediately started working with [Dilly] Knox [expert on the Enigma cypher …]. Knox’s influence on Turing at this time is immense. The older veteran cryptanalyst shared everything he knew about Enigma with Turing, who eventually used this knowledge to write the first four chapters of his treatise on Enigma […]

“…[Turing] was happy to learn from Dilly Knox, happy to use that knowledge as the foundation for what he would develop subsequently, and was diligent in recording what he had learned and how he developed that into new areas so that others could profit from his knowledge just as he had profited from that of Knox.”

Knox could only take Turing so far and his quest for experience-based understanding of the cryptanalysis of Enigma took Turing to France in January 1940…”

Team work

There are lots of different ways in which people can work as part of a team.  Turing’s way was to take in other people’s ideas, develop and build on them, and then pass the product on to other people to be the foundation for the next stage.  He took the idea of electromechanical processing of Enigma messages from the Poles but developed their idea into something radically different.  When Welchman later enhanced the Bombe with his diagonal board, Turing was among the first to congratulate him on this major improvement.  Turing was part of the team, and shared in the success of the team.”

Respecting diversity

“I strongly believe a Sigint agency needs the widest range of skills possible if it is to be successful, and to deny itself talent just because the person with the talent doesn’t conform to a social stereotype is to starve itself of what it needs to thrive.”

“I don’t want to pretend that GCHQ was an organisation with twenty-first century values in the twentieth century, but it was at the most tolerant end of the cultural spectrum.  In an organisation which valued the skills and characteristics that difference can bring, Turing’s homosexuality was less of a talking point than his insights into the complex crypt problems of the day.  When he was put on trial, Hugh Alexander, the Head of Cryptanalysis at GCHQ went, with official approval, to speak as a character witness on his behalf, saying in court that Turing was a national asset.”

Exploiting serendipity

“Geoffrey Tandy was posted to Bletchley by the Admiralty in a spirit of helpfulness: his posting officer had understood him to be an expert in cryptograms, a word still used in the Admiralty at that time to mean messages signalled in code.  In fact he was an expert in cryptogams: non-flowering plants like ferns, mosses and seaweeds.  But while this knowledge might not have appeared to be of much use, Tandy became expert in German naval Enigma and because of his work on seaweed was able to provide unique advice on the preservation of cryptologic documents rescued from the sea.”

The role of management

“Part of my job is to continue to foster that atmosphere: to attract the very best people and harness their talents, and not allow preconceptions and stereotypes to stifle innovation and agility.”

Nigel Inkster on US policy

Nigel Inkster appeared on BBC World News today.  He’s former senior British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) and currently works for the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

Inkster caught my attention as today he opened by defending Gitmo, claiming that some of the intelligence collected there might have turned out to be useful.

This immediately caused the alarm to sound, given the human rights catastrophe Gitmo has turned out to be. I was curious to know if Inkster is a regular voice of the propaganda machine.

I was surprised to read that some of his writings have been quite sensible, e.g., Inkster and Whalley (2009) wrote:

“… for Europeans Pakistan, in contrast to Afghanistan, is not part of a designated combat zone. In the (admittedly unlikely) event that a European intelligence service had access to location intelligence on senior al-Qaeda targets in Pakistan, passing such intelligence to the Americans in the knowledge that this would result in a lethal attack might render them liable to prosecution as accessories to an unlawful killing.

“… there is in Europe a strong though largely unspoken concern that, in the event of another successful al-Qaeda terrorist attack against the United States, the Obama administration may be unable to resist an upsurge of domestic pressure to adopt a disproportionate response such as deploying US ground troops against al-Qaeda in the tribal areas of Pakistan.

“[Europe is reluctant] to be associated with what many see as a disproportionate response to the attack on the twin towers in the years that have followed. Washington may feel justified in arguing that this response has had the effect of making European states safer. But for many Europeans the perception is that US behaviour has inflamed opinion among their Muslim minorities and further afield and made them more vulnerable to attack.”

I do wish he had said more of this on the news today.

I also wonder if the UK had killed Bin Laden, whether it would have been illegal, as Inkster and Whalley appear to be saying here. In which case, isn’t it odd that Cameron is so in favour of the assassination.


Nigel Inkster and Robert Whalley (2009).  Law and Order.  Survival, 51(3), 55–61.

What is Matt Waldman playing at?

You might have noticed an LSE discussion paper by Harvard Carr Center research fellow, Matt Waldman, The Sun in the Sky: the relationship between Pakistan’s ISI and Afghan insurgents, feature on the news.  Its abstract:

Although the Taliban has a strong endogenous impetus, according to Taliban commanders the ISI [Inter-Services Intelligence, the largest intelligence service in Pakistan] orchestrates, sustains and strongly influences the movement. They say it gives sanctuary to both Taliban and Haqqani groups, and provides huge support in terms of training, funding, munitions, and supplies. In their words, this is ‘as clear as the sun in the sky’.

Directly or indirectly the ISI appears to exert significant influence on the strategic decision making and field operations of the Taliban; and has even greater sway over Haqqani insurgents. According to both Taliban and Haqqani commanders, it controls the most violent insurgent units, some of which appear to be based in Pakistan.

Insurgent commanders confirmed that the ISI are even represented, as participants or observers, on the Taliban supreme leadership council, known as the Quetta Shura, and the Haqqani command council. Indeed, the agency appears to have circumscribed the Taliban’s strategic autonomy, precluding steps towards talks with the Afghan government through recent arrests.

President Zardari himself has apparently assured captive, senior Taliban leaders that they are ‘our people’ and have his backing. He has also apparently authorised their release from prison. The ISI even arrested and then released two Taliban leaders, Qayyum Zakir, the movement’s new military commander, and Mullah Abdul Raouf Khadem, reportedly now head of the Quetta Shura, who are among the three or four highest ranking in the movement below Mullah Omar.


Many academics do research on these kinds of things. What struck me as particularly odd was the media coverage of Waldman. He spoke with the authority of a government foreign office spokesperson, despite being a mere  non-governmental academic research fellow. I found it difficult to see how what he was doing differs from what the intelligence services do.

He wasn’t given an easy ride by all the media.  Here’s Al Jazeera:

The interviewer rightly pushed the point that the report showed absolutely no evidence for the claims, other than the hearsay of anonymous sources.

All this media coverage reminded me of an article by a journalist explaining how important sounding people working for SIS would take him out for drinks, give him a spot of “Really enjoy your work… important that the people know what’s really going on… shouldn’t really be telling you this… but I’ve seen evidence that Iraq has WMDs [or whatever it was at the time]…” Being at a relatively early stage of his career and flattered by the attention, he went off and wrote the obvious article, citing anonymous senior intelligence service sources.

Just how does someone who worked for Oxfam, and who was a LibDem foreign policy advisor, gets personal access to people who can provide, on the face of it, material of use to the intelligence services?  Why him?

And the final paragraph of the abstract:

Pakistan’s apparent involvement in a double-game of this scale could have major geopolitical implications and could even provoke US counter-measures. However, the powerful role of the ISI, and parts of the Pakistani military, suggests that progress against the Afghan insurgency, or towards political engagement, requires their support. The only sure way to secure such cooperation is to address the fundamental causes of Pakistan’s insecurity, especially its latent and enduring conflict with India.

The message to Pakistan seems to be: continue to (allegedly!) misbehave and the US will come and get you… but the US also needs you and in return can help with India.

But why is the delivery being done by an academic research who formerly worked at Oxfam?

In other news:

The United States has discovered nearly $1 trillion in untapped mineral deposits in Afghanistan, far beyond any previously known reserves and enough to fundamentally alter the Afghan economy and perhaps the Afghan war itself, according to senior American government officials.

Datamining to catch terrorists

Buried news

What ever happened to Alex Allan—former head of the JIC who on July 3rd was found in his apartment unconscious and covered in blood? The last news reports about Allan around July 10th noted that there were “positive signs of recovery” (BBC News, July 10) after he had been in a coma for 10 days, and that there was no sign of foul play (Daily Mail Online, July 11). Whitehall sources suggested that he had contracted pnuemonia, however (Telegraph, July  6):

Dr Keith Prowse, chairman of the British Lung Foundation, said: “If it’s pneumonia it is likely to be secondary to something else. And a significant quantity of blood is more likely to come from the gut than the chest.”

Also the Telegraph reported that:

Government sources suggest Mr Allan was “too high profile” to be a target for foreign intelligence agencies but others have suggested this is exactly what could make him vulnerable.

There could be many innocent explanations, but the silence is very odd.