Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Dead spy


Gareth Williams played a key role in the world’s most sensitive and secretive electronic intelligence gathering system – leading to new fears about the serious national security implications of his death.
Mr Williams was a top-level cryptologist helping to oversee a network called Echelon, which links satellites and super-computers in Britain and the US with those of other key allies.
Set up to monitor the military and diplomatic communications of the Soviet Union during the Cold War, Echelon now eavesdrops on terror suspects and drug dealers, and searches for other political and diplomatic intelligence.
It reputedly intercepts five billion conversations and other forms of communications every day.
Scandal: Mr Williams's death is likely to be a major blow to GCHQ's, efforts to crack Voice Over Internet Protocol
Scandal: Mr Williams's death is likely to be a major blow to GCHQ's, efforts to crack Voice Over Internet Protocol
Echelon looks for key words and phrases that might suggest, for example, that a terrorist attack is being planned.
Mr Williams’s expertise in his field is reflected by the fact that he had been posted to MI6’s key listening station in Afghanistan, and had been sent to Fort Meade, in Maryland, home of the US National Security Agency.
He is also thought to have visited the NSA cryptology centres at San Antonio, Texas, and at Denver, Colorado.
It is understood Mr Williams was part of a team of maths geniuses trying to adapt the 40-year-old Echelon system to deal with new forms of electronic communications.
According to sources, one of the big issues Mr Williams was working on was how the security and intelligence agencies can monitor internet telephone calls – known as Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) – such as Skype, which are being used by terrorists and foreign agents to try to circumvent routine eavesdropping on telephone and mobile networks.
'His code-breaking work is thought to have helped save the lives of scores of British soldiers under daily attack from insurgents.' 
It is understood he was also involved in refining the sophisticated algorithms which determine the key words and phrases the system is looking for as it monitors conversations taking place around the world.
Mr Williams’s death is likely to be a major blow to GCHQ’s efforts to crack VOIP.
Two years ago Britain’s Intelligence and Security Committee, which oversees the work of Britain’s spies, revealed: ‘One of the greatest challenges for GCHQ is to maintain its intercept capability in the face of rapidly evolving communications technology.
‘This relates in particular to the growth in internet-based communications and voice over internet telephony.’
The scope of his role was last night reinforced by the revelation that Mr Williams did at least two tours to Afghanistan, helping to break coded Taliban messages.
He was sent to MI6’s station in Kabul twice in 2008, according to Ministry of Defence sources.
His code-breaking work is thought to have helped save the lives of scores of British soldiers under daily attack from insurgents.
Mr Williams would have studied the coded language of Taliban leaders planning to attack British and other NATO patrols and, in some cases, discover the location of those who sent the messages.
Among the favourite warning codes used by insurgents to set up their attacks are ‘big wedding’, ‘getting married’ and ‘birthday party’.

Saturday, 28 August 2010

Illegal Immigrants at the House of Commons

Police probe into illegal immigrants working as House of Commons cleaners

By  Jason Lewis

Illegal immigrants have been discovered working as cleaners at the House of Commons – an embarrassing security breach at the supposedly tightly guarded building.
All staff at the Palace of Westminster are required to undergo stringent background checks by police and the security services before being issued passes to the heart of Britain’s Government.
But this did not stop around ten  illegal immigrants getting jobs with KGB Cleaners, the outsourcing firm with the contract to clean lavatories, sweep corridors and polish floors in the Palace of Westminster.
The breach is all the more astounding as the cleaners would have enjoyed unchecked access to the offices of MPs and senior Government Ministers, including Prime Minister David Cameron.
House proud: A legal cleaner vacuums round the Queen's throne in the Lords
Last night the Home Office refused to say how many illegal immigrants had been discovered working at the Palace and for how long.
The group was rounded up after inquiries by the UK Borders Agency, and officials refused to give more details citing ‘on-going inquiries’.
But the Metropolitan Police were called in to arrest at least one of the immigrants, a 44-year-old Nigerian man, who was held at work at the Palace of Westminster on August 12 before being handed over to immigration officials.
It is understood he is now being held in a secure immigration holding centre awaiting removal from the UK.
The other individuals are understood to have been detained by UK Borders staff elsewhere and are also believed to have told they will be removed from Britain.
Last night a spokeswoman for the Palace of Westminster confirmed a number of people working as cleaners had been detained for immigration offences.
She said the group of ‘less than ten’ individuals had all been vetted when they first began working at the Houses of Parliament and had all been cleared by security officials.
However, she said, it was believed the immigration status of the individuals had changed and that they had failed to notify their employers or the Palace authorities.
She said it is thought several of the individuals were asylum seekers who had exhausted all avenues of appeal and had been told to leave Britain.
Others, she said, were understood to be over-stayers whose work visas or leave to remain in Britain had expired.
The latest blunder comes after a series of similarly embarrassing security breaches during the Labour Government’s years in office including the discovery that illegal immigrants were employed as cleaners in the Home Office department responsible for kicking them out of the country.
The five Nigerians were caught as they turned up for work at the Immigration and Nationality Directorate office in London. It is also not the first time KGB Cleaners, which employs 120 staff at the Commons, has been at the centre of controversy.
Last year cleaners at the House of Commons threatened strike action after being denied a 45p pay rise.
KGB took over cleaning services at the House of Commons in September 2008, giving existing staff a 60p rise to £7 an hour in line with the London Living Wage – a minimum pay level calculated to reflect the capital’s cost of living.
When the London Living Wage rose to £7.45 the company at first refused to raise wages accordingly.
The firm – named after the initials of its founders Kevan and Gina Brown – was set up in 1994 to, according to its website, ‘create an innovative environment where the expectations of both clientele and staff will be consistently met’.
The company has an annual turnover of £26 million.
Employers discovered using illegal immigrants are normally issued with a notification of potential liability and face a fine of up to £10,000 for each illegal worker.
Bosses also have a duty to check that employees are entitled to work in the United Kingdom.

Iran goes nuclear: Fears that regime plans to get bomb gather pace as Russian atomic reactor is started

By Jason Lewis

Iran began loading fuel into its first nuclear power plant yesterday, amid continuing fears that the regime plans to build atomic weapons.
The Bushehr plant, which was created with Russian help, is expected to begin producing electricity within the next few weeks.
Moscow officials, who attended yesterday's opening ceremony in southern Iran, have promised safeguards to prevent any nuclear material from the site being used in weapons production.
Start up: Female security guards outside Iran's Bushehr nuclear plant
Start up: Female security guards outside Iran's Bushehr nuclear plant
Russia will both supply Bushehr with fuel and take back any waste which could be used to make weapons-grade plutonium.
Yesterday, Iran's nuclear chief claimed the plant was a defiant 'symbol of Iranian resistance and patience' in the face of Western pressure.
Ali Akbar Salehi, of the Atomic Energy Organisation, said: 'Despite all the pressure, sanctions and hardships imposed by Western nations, we're now witnessing the start-up of the largest symbol of Iran's peaceful nuclear activities.'
Despite his insistence that the country only wants a reliable energy source, the West fears Tehran is looking to build a nuclear weapon under the cover of a 'peaceful' energy programme.
Iran has been subject to four rounds of UN sanctions because of its separate uranium enrichment programme, a process which produces fuel but can also be used to make weapons.
Experts say that as long as the plant, which has taken more than 35 years to build, is Russian-operated and controlled, there is little immediate threat of its fuel being diverted to make bombs.
Iranian atomic chief Ali-Akbar Salehi speaks during a press conference
Iranian atomic chief Ali-Akbar Salehi speaks during a press conference
However, there are fears the plant could be attacked by Israel, which has expressed concern about what Iran will do if allowed to become a nuclear power. Israel attacked Iraq's Osirak reactor ­during a secret air force bombing mission in 1981, and is also believed to have ­con-ducted a similar strike on an alleged ­Syrian nuclear site in 2007.
Although Iranian officials were last night promoting the plant's opening as a victory against the West, Professor Ali Ansari, of St Andrews University, said Tehran was likely to exaggerate the importance of the start-up.
'It will obviously have a very theatrical opening but the delays have meant the power plant is a very old model and the contribution to the national grid is very small,' he said.
He claimed the plant is not seen as being a significant proliferation risk because the uranium fuel it will use is well below the enrichment level needed for a nuclear weapon.
Weapons-grade uranium must be enriched by more than 90 per cent, compared to Bushehr's 3.5 per cent.
However, Iran has also revealed intentions to begin a pilot programme to enrich ­uranium to 20 per cent, which it says is needed for a medical research reactor.
The Bushehr plant, which was created with Russian help, is expected to begin producing electricity within the next few weeks
The Bushehr plant, which was created with Russian help, is expected to begin producing electricity within the next few weeks
The programme has alarmed the West and Israel. Reports in Washington suggested the US lifted its objections to Bushehr as the price for Russia's vote in the latest round of sanctions against Iran.
Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt said: 'The loading of Russian fuel into the Bushehr nuclear power reactor demonstrates Iran can have the benefits of nuclear power. 'The problem is Iran's continued refusal to satisfy the international community that its work on uranium enrichment and heavy water projects are exclusively peaceful.
'We continue to urge Iran to take advantage of the open door to hold talks on all aspects of its nuclear programme.
'International anxiety about Iran's proliferation-sensitive nuclear activities can only be ended by Iran complying with the relevant UN Security Council resolutions and satisfying the international community these activities are peaceful.'

Sunday, 1 August 2010


Hacker’s first net campaign – his mum’s Great Bikini March

Leak master: Julian Assange, the editor of the WikiLeaks website
Leak master: Julian Assange, the editor of the WikiLeaks website
He is the secretive computer hacker behind the leak on to the internet of thousands of intelligence documents relating to the Afghan war.
Julian Assange, the editor of the WikiLeaks website, has shrouded his private life in mystery, claiming a rootless existence on the run, first from an unpleasant stepfather and then from the police. 
But new details about Mr Assange provide a fresh insight into his activities and show how his radical agenda was inherited from his mother.
Despite claiming to have no political or financial motivation, Mr Assange – who was last week believed to be staying with a journalist friend in London –  spent years discussing plans to use leaks of confidential material  to undermine Western governments, and even compared then-Foreign Secretary Jack Straw to Hitler. 
The Mail on Sunday tracked down Mr Assange’s mother Christine in the beach resort of Mentone, near Melbourne, where she runs a  puppet theatre and children’s face-painting business.
She initially denied that Julian Assange was her son, but later admitted she feared what the US Government would do to him.
She said last night: ‘Of course I’m worried to hear that the US Government have now asked the FBI to investigate. 
‘What mother wouldn’t fear for her son against the US authorities? I am very concerned. I don’t trust the FBI.
‘My son is a good person who is doing good for others. He wants people to know the truth. People have a right to know what is going on, especially if a war is being fought in their name. The people who have committed atrocities should be the ones called to account, not my son.
‘He’s a hero to some people, a villain to others. Which one do you think I believe?’
Before launching WikiLeaks in 2006, Mr Assange had a successful career writing computer programs. 
He also helped his mother’s disastrous attempt to launch a so-called ‘bikini’ protest against Islamic radicals in Australia in 2006.
In interviews at the time, Mrs Assange said that bikinis were an essential part of Australian culture, adding: ‘We’re not going to cover up to avoid rape.’
But the Great Australian Bikini March was cancelled after it was hijacked by neo-Nazi groups.
Friends say she rarely mentions her son, but her name is on the list of acknowledgements for a 1997 book he helped research, Underground: Tales Of Hacking, Madness And Obsession On The Electronic Frontier, which detailed his early life as a computer hacker. 
The book was published after his arrest and conviction in 1991 for 30 hacking offences, including obtaining access to information and erasing and altering data using a technique known as ‘phreaking’ – tapping into pre-internet computer systems using the phone network.
In 2006, Mr Assange, calling himself ‘Proff’, posted a blog to set out the philosophy behind WikiLeaks. 
He wrote: ‘To radically shift regime behaviour, we must think clearly and boldly. 
‘We must think beyond those who have gone before us and discover technological changes that embolden us with ways to act in which our forebears could not.’
No cover-up: But Christine Assange's bikini march had to be cancelled
No cover-up: But Christine Assange's bikini march had to be cancelled
At the time, he was working from the University of Melbourne, although it is unclear what his role was. Last week, ironically, the university said it could not discuss Mr Assange because of data protection laws.
Elsewhere on his blog, Mr Assange compared Jack Straw to ‘the Fuhrer’, talked about engaging in ‘Pentagon poker’ and said that leaks could change the world. 
He wrote: ‘The more secretive or unjust an organisation is, the more leaks induce fear and paranoia in its leadership and planning coterie.
‘Hence, in a world where leaking is easy, secretive or unjust systems are . . . nonlinearly hit relative to open, just systems. Since unjust systems, by their nature, induce opponents, and in many places barely have the upper hand, mass leaking leaves them exquisitely vulnerable to those who seek to replace them with more open forms of governance.’
WikiLeaks is also facing questions about where all its money goes, with critics likening him to a ‘snake-oil salesman’. Some donors have refused to help without seeing full details of the website’s accounts. 
Mr Assange brags that WikiLeaks, which he launched in 2006, has no official headquarters and no offices. However, the site says it is now based in Sweden. The country’s freedom of expression laws and neutral political stance protect it from US-based law enforcement agencies.
Last year, WikiLeaks said it needed £450,000 to operate effectively. But in his secret blog, now removed from the internet, its editor discussed raising money and moving it offshore. 
Mr Assange, who claims to be unpaid, wrote: ‘There is a foundation (herein called “the Institute”) which holds some of my copyrights and which I have used from time to time as a front, gently concealing my freedom from the social covenant.
'There are activities that the Institute should engage in that require substantial cash reserves. 
‘Normally NGOs [non-governmental organisations] beg, but I’m no good at that sort of thing, so the Institute has created an offshore startup company (thing2thing.com) to fund it.’
The blog also reveals that Mr Assange had a baby daughter in 2006 and a son, Daniel, from a relationship in his teens. A recent genetics graduate from Melbourne University, Daniel works for a software company.

Assange's deleted blog is available here: