Entries Tagged "UK"

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276 British Spies

The website Cryptome has a list of 276 MI6 agents:

This combines three lists of MI6 officers published here on 13 May 1999 (116 names), 21 August 2005 (74 names), and 27 August 2005 (121 names).

While none of the 311 names appeared on all three lists…35 names appeared on two lists, leaving 276 unique names.

According to Silicon.com:

It is not the first time this kind of information has been published on the internet and Foreign Office policy is to neither confirm nor deny the accuracy of such lists. But a spokesman slammed its publication for potentially putting lives in danger.

On the other hand:

The website is run by John Young, who “welcomes” secret documents for publication and recently said there was a “need to name as many intelligence officers and agents as possible”.

He said: “It is disinformation that naming them places their life in jeopardy. Not identifying them places far more lives in jeopardy from their vile secret operations and plots.”

Discuss.

Posted on August 31, 2005 at 2:28 PMView Comments

UK Border Security

The Register comments on the government using a border-security failure to push for national ID cards:

The Government spokesman the media could get hold of last weekend, leader of the House of Commons Geoff Hoon, said that the Government was looking into whether there should be “additional” passport checks on Eurostar, and added that the matter showed the need for identity cards because “it’s vitally important that we know who is coming in as well as going out.” Meanwhile the Observer reported plans by ministers to accelerate the introduction of the e-borders system in order to increase border security.

So shall we just sum that up? A terror suspect appears to have fled the country by the simple expedient of walking past an empty desk, and the Government’s reaction is not to put somebody at the desk, or to find out why, during one of the biggest manhunts London has ever seen, it was empty in the first place. No, the Government’s reaction is to explain its abject failure to play with the toys it’s got by calling for bigger, more expensive toys sooner. Asked about passport checks at Waterloo on Monday of this week, the Prime Minister’s spokeswoman said we do have passport checks—which actually we do, sort of. But, as we’ll explain shortly, we also have empty desks to go with them.

Posted on August 11, 2005 at 1:28 PMView Comments

London Bombing Details

Interesting details about the bombs used in the 7/7 London bombings:

The NYPD officials said investigators believe the bombers used a peroxide-based explosive called HMDT, or hexamethylene triperoxide diamine. HMDT can be made using ordinary ingredients like hydrogen peroxide (hair bleach), citric acid (a common food preservative) and heat tablets (sometimes used by the military for cooking).

HMDT degrades at room temperature, so the bombers preserved it in a way that offered an early warning sign, said Michael Sheehan, deputy commissioner of counterterrorism at the nation’s largest police department.

“In the flophouse where this was built in Leeds, they had commercial grade refrigerators to keep the materials cool,” Sheehan said, describing the setup as “an indicator of a problem.”

Among the other details cited by Sheehan:

The bombers transported the explosives in beverage coolers tucked in the backs of two cars to the outskirts of London.

Investigators believe the three bombs that exploded in the subway were detonated by cell phones that had alarms set to 8:50 a.m.

For those of you upset that the police divulged the recipe—citric acid, hair bleach, and food heater tablets—the details are already out there.

And here are some images of home-made explosives seized in the various raids after the bombings.

Normally this kind of information would be classified, but presumably the London (and U.S.) governments feel that the more people that know about this, the better. Anyone owning a commercial-grade refrigerator without a good reason should expect a knock on his door.

Posted on August 5, 2005 at 4:03 PMView Comments

UK Police and Encryption

From The Guardian:

Police last night told Tony Blair that they need sweeping new powers to counter the terrorist threat, including the right to detain a suspect for up to three months without charge instead of the current 14 days….

They also want to make it a criminal offence for suspects to refuse to cooperate in giving the police full access to computer files by refusing to disclose their encryption keys.

On Channel 4 News today, Sir Ian Blair was asked why the police wanted to extend the time they could hold someone without charges from 14 days to 3 months. Part of his answer was that they sometimes needed to access encrypted computer files and 14 days was not enough time for them to break the encryption.

There’s something fishy going on here.

It’s certainly possible that password-guessing programs are more successful with three months to guess. But the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (RIP) Act, which went into effect in 2000, already allows the police to jail people who don’t surrender encryption keys:

If intercepted communications are encrypted (encoded and made secret), the act will force the individual to surrender the keys (pin numbers which allow users to decipher encoded data), on pain of jail sentences of up to two years.

Posted on July 27, 2005 at 3:00 PMView Comments

Thinking About Suicide Bombers

Remember the 1996 movie Independence Day? One of the characters was a grizzled old fighter pilot who had been kidnapped and degraded by the alien invaders years before. He flew his plane into the alien spaceship when his air-to-air missile jammed, causing the spaceship to explode. Everybody in the movie, as well as the audience, considered this suicide bomber a hero.

What’s the difference?

Partly it’s which side you’re rooting for, but mostly it’s that the pilot defended his planet by attacking the invaders. Terrorism targets innocents, and no one is a hero for killing innocents. Killing people who are invading and occupying your planet—or country—can be heroic, as can sacrificing yourself in the process.

This is an interesting observation in light of the previous post, where a professor makes the observation that the motivation of suicide terrorism is to repel what is perceived to be an occupation force.

What are the lessons here for Iraq? I think there are three. One, the insurgents (or whatever we’re calling them these days) would do best by attacking military targets and not civilian ones. Two, the coalition forces (or whatever we’re calling them these days) need to do everything they can not to be perceived as invaders or occupiers. And three, the terrorists should try to advance a worldview where there are no innocents, only invaders and occupiers. To the extent that the bombing victims are perceived to be invaders and occupiers, those who kill them defending their country will be viewed as heroic by the people.

There are no lessons for London. There was no invasion. Every victim was an innocent. No one should consider the terrorists heroes.

Posted on July 18, 2005 at 2:47 PMView Comments

Forged Documents in National Archives Change History

A recently published book claims that Himmler was murdered by the British Special Operations Executive, rather than him committing suicide after the Allies captured him. The book was based on documents found—apparently in good faith—in the UK’s National Archive, which now appear to have been faked and inserted.

Documents from the National Archives used to substantiate claims that British intelligence agents murdered Heinrich Himmler in 1945 are forgeries, The Daily Telegraph can reveal today.

It seems certain that the bogus documents were somehow planted among genuine papers to pervert the course of historical study.

The results of investigations by forensic document experts on behalf of this newspaper have shocked historians and caused tremors at the Archives, the home of millions of historical documents, which has previously been thought immune to distortion or contamination.

It seems that the security effort at the National Archives is directed towards preventing people from removing documents. But the effects of adding forged documents could be much worse.

Posted on July 14, 2005 at 8:40 AMView Comments

Terrorism Defense: A Failure of Imagination

The 9/11 Commission report talked about a “failure of imagination” before the 9/11 attacks:

The most important failure was one of imagination. We do not believe leaders understood the gravity of the threat. The terrorist danger from Bin Ladin and al Qaeda was not a major topic for policy debate among the public, the media, or in the Congress. Indeed, it barely came up during the 2000 presidential campaign.

More generally, this term has been used to describe the U.S. government’s response to the terrorist threat. We spend a lot of money defending against what they did last time, or against particular threats we imagine, but ignore the general threat or the root causes of terrorism.

With the London bombings, we’re doing it again. I was going to write a long post about this, but Richard Forno already wrote a nice essay.

The London bombs went off over 12 hours ago.

So why is CNN-TV still splashing “breaking news” on the screen?

There’s been zero new developments in the past several hours. Perhaps the “breaking news” is that CNN’s now playing spooky “terror attack” music over commercial bumpers now filled with dramatic camera-phone images from London commuters that appeared on the Web earlier this morning.

Aside from that, the only new development since about noon seems to be the incessant press conferences held by public officials in cities around the country showcasing what they’ve done since 9/11 and what they’re doing here at home to respond to the blasts in London…which pretty much comes down to lots of guys with guns running around America’s mass transit system in an effort to present the appearance of “increased security” to reassure the public. While such activities are a political necessity to show that our leaders are ‘doing something’ during a time of crisis we must remember that talk or activity is no substitute for progress or effectiveness.

Forget the fact that regular uniformed police officers and rail employees can sweep or monitor a train station just as well as a fully-decked-out SWAT team—not to mention, they know it better, too. Forget that even with an added law enforcement presence, it’s quite possible to launch a suicide attack on mass transit. Forget that a smart terrorist now knows that the DHS response to attacks is to “increase” the security of related infrastructures (e.g., train stations) and just might attack another, lesser-protected part of American society potentially with far greater success. In these and other ways today following the London bombings, the majority of security attention has been directed at mass transit. However, while we can’t protect everything against every form of attack, our American responses remain conventional and predictable—just as we did after the Madrid train bombings in 2004 and today’s events in London, we continue to respond in ways designed to “prevent the last attack.”

In other words, we are demonstrating a lack of protective imagination.

Contrary to America’s infatuation with instant gratification, protective imagination is not quickly built, funded, or enacted. It takes years to inculcate such a mindset brought about by outside the box, unconventional, and daring thinking from folks with expertise and years of firsthand knowledge in areas far beyond security or law enforcement and who are encouraged to think freely and have their analyses seriously considered in the halls of Washington. Such a radical way of thinking and planning is necessary to deal with an equally radical adversary, yet we remain entrenched in conventional wisdom and responses.

Here at home, for all the money spent in the name of homeland security, we’re not acting against the terrorists, we’re reacting against them, and doing so in a very conventional, very ineffective manner. Yet nobody seems to be asking why.

While this morning’s events in London is a tragedy and Londoners deserve our full support in the coming days, it’s sad to see that regarding the need for effective domestic preparedness here in the United States, nearly 4 years after 9/11, it’s clear that despite the catchy sound-bytes and flurry of activity in the name of protecting the homeland, the more things seem to change, the more they stay the same.

Posted on July 12, 2005 at 12:08 PMView Comments

London Transport Bombings

I am on vacation today and this weekend, and won’t be able to read about the London Transport bombings in depth until Monday. For now I would just like to express my sympathy and condolences to those directly affected, and the good people of London, England, Europe, and the world. Targeting innocents might be an effective tactic, but that doesn’t make it any less craven and despicable.

I would also like to urge everyone not to get wrapped up in the particulars of the terrorist tactics. We need to resist the urge to react against the particulars of this particular terrorist plot, and to keep focused on the terrorists’ goals. Spending billions to defend our trains and busses at the expense of other counterterrorist measures makes no sense. Terrorists are out to cause terror, and they don’t care if they bomb trains, busses, shopping malls, theaters, stadiums, schools, markets, restaurants, discos, or any other collection of 100 people in a small space. There are simply too many targets to defend, and we need to think smarter than protecting the particular targets the terrorists attacked last week.

Smart counterterrorism focuses on the terrorists and their funding—stopping plots regardless of their targets—and emergency response that limits their damage.

I’ll have more to say later. But again, my sympathy goes out to those killed and injured, their family and friends, and everyone else in the world indirectly affected by these acts as they are endlessly repeated in the media.

Posted on July 7, 2005 at 1:27 PMView Comments

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.