Archive for the ‘politics’ Category

Ralph Musgrave‘s economics blog makes a case for a program of time-limited payments to companies who hire the unemployed, although I’m not sure if Musgrave is thinking of it as a permanent feature of the welfare state rather than an emergency response to depression. I might quibble with a couple of aspects – for example, it seems possible to me that businesses might exploit it by churning workers every three months to collect the subbo as often as possible – but I think that could be mitigated with a bit of thought.

It’s all very sound, but it only misses one thing: the policy exists and it’s called the Future Jobs Fund, and it was about the first thing the coalition found to cut.

On the other hand, the archive is also full of bad ideas. I note that the pre-Queen’s Speech trailing is talking about “a British FBI” and stuffing everything you can think of into “a National Crime Agency”. This idea was repeatedly briefed out to the Sundays by David Blunkett, Charles Clarke, and John Reid, and its reappearance is a sign that the government is so directionless the circulation of bad ideas round the Home Office files is beginning to influence it. The last time they came up with it, the result was the Serious and Organised Crime Agency, and nobody seems to know what that’s for.

Further, after things like the old National Hi-Tech Crime Unit were rolled into it, fairly quickly it became necessary to re-create them at the police force level because they were no longer responsive to the needs of the police. Apparently, the problem this is meant to solve is that the immigration queues have got out of hand. John Reid decided to save the world by making immigration officers wear a remarkably, depressingly crappy uniform and putting up signs reading UK BORDER, as if wet feet or a big hole in the ground didn’t make it plain.

Now Theresa May wants to hurry up the queues by stuffing bureaucracy A into bureaucracy B. We are clearly at about 2007 in the last government’s timeline. Alternatively, perhaps we never left Late Blairism.

So I was having a minor row on twitter with Adam Bienkov the other day, about whether the Labour Party was right to put so much effort into attacking the Murdoch Party and especially the Secretary of State for Hulture. I think the London mayoral election shows I was right, for reasons that ought to be clearer to Adam than anyone else.

Essentially, it’s not just that reporting of London politics is biased. It is not reported. If you don’t consume the Evening Standard and don’t watch local TV, you won’t hear anything about it, except what occasionally bubbles up into the nationals. And that is pretty much always whatever Andrew Gilligan is floating this week. The local papers don’t really do City Hall. Dave Hill on the Grauniad is good but gets minimal space in the paper.

So, the choice is between propaganda, ignorance, or bloggers. I wouldn’t, actually, discount ignorance as a choice. The Standard is a newspaper whose editor was literally appointed by Boris Johnson, which is to say that it is not a newspaper. If you can’t get information you can at least avoid exposing yourself to disinformation. However, since it’s become a freesheet, it is actually quite hard to go a day without becoming aware of what the Standard‘s headline is, and availability wins. Further, it has influence in setting the agenda for the others, which is reinforced by logistics. National journos on deadline are likely to have seen a copy.

And in many ways, the history of Boris Johnson as mayor is one of the avoidance of politics. The Tory group in the London assembly has operated a policy of shutting down the assembly whenever questions are put to the mayor. They could do this because without the Tories the assembly was inquorate. This will no longer be true due to the bigger Labour representation.

Individually, you can deal with this by reading Tom Barry and Adam Bienkov and Dave Hill‘s blogs.

On the bigger stage, though, I think the upshot is that three approaches to the Murdoch (and equivalent) media environment have been tried. The Project 1.0, an accommodation, is sunk, full fathom five. The Project 2.0, full integration between the Conservative Party and Murdoch, is holed beneath the waterline, and the central fire-control is malfunctioning, water splashing onto the fizzing computers, even if the individual turrets (like Boris’s City Hall) fight on in local control.

Ken Livingstone’s unique approach was to pretend it wasn’t happening, to put up with it, to dig forwards street by street and parking ticket by parking ticket. It worked, some of the time, and not consistently. It’s necessary to change the circumstances, and finish off the Project, 2.0.

Rebuttal is futile, but sometimes it is necessary, and at least you can help people update their lists of people to ignore. Here’s Zoe Williams wilfully misleading the readers.

From two completely different sources – Ted Reilly, a road safety campaigner, and Alice Bell, a lecturer in science and society and part-time Sack Boris campaigner – I heard astonishing things about air quality in London. They say it correlates, not vaguely but absolutely precisely, with the traffic volume, that it is the largest threat to public health after smoking (seriously!), and that once you get any distance from its source – 20 yards – it vanishes.

In other words, if you pedestrianised major thoroughfares from 8am til 8pm, if you dropped speed limits, if you made public transport cheaper, if you consolidated deliveries to the periphery and got one provider to bring it all to the centre (“We used to call it the Royal Mail,” Reilly remarks, erm, wryly) you could do as much for the health of London as the person who discovered that smoking caused cancer.

Economically, it comes up repeatedly in living wage analyses that the cost of transport is not just a pest, it changes people’s lives. The tube has become a luxury, a young professional’s option. For someone with two separate cleaning jobs, most likely the only way to make that work economically would be by bus. Say that adds an hour (it’s probably more) to the commute, that will ricochet into that person’s stress levels, their parenting, their mental health, everything.

The mayor, whoever it is, can do a lot more with the powers he (or she, ha!) has than Boris Johnson is doing, or Ken Livingstone is suggesting. But it is also worth considering that, paradoxically, if they had more power, we would probably hate them a lot less.

Strangely, one mayoral candidate has in the past dramatically cut public transport fares, imposed a tax on motor vehicles in central London, and set up a low emissions zone to restrict how much poison lorries can emit in the city. That would be Ken Livingstone. I put it to you that someone who is unaware of congestion charging or Fares Fair shouldn’t be writing about London politics.

Another mayoral candidate gave up on the low emissions zone, abolished the western extension of the congestion charge, and put up the fares. That would be Boris Johnson. I put it to you that someone who is unaware of this hasn’t been paying attention and shouldn’t be writing about London politics.

On page three of Ken Livingstone’s manifesto, he explicitly promises to cut public transport fares by 7% immediately and reduce pollution. The next eight pages consist of nothing but public transport. Page 8 contains the following quote:

Faster, greener, more efficient freight
I will ask TfL to look seriously at the possibility of more freight consolidation centres for London. This would mean deliveries are taken to hubs and aggregated together before being taken into central London, saving on costs and cutting traffic.

The next page is about cycling, and the one after that about the necessity of investing in public transport in order to reduce pollution.

Page 66 is devoted to air pollution, including the creation of clean air zones with much lower speed limits and a ban on idling cars around schools, and the issue of smog alerts by SMS (something Boris Johnson directly refused to do). I could go on.

The sad facts are that a lot of journalists, Zoe Williams included, are evidently just fine with the largest threat to public health after smoking so long as their petty personal elite vendettas, the ego wars of media London, get took care of.

Well, this is interesting, both on the Bo Xilai story and also on the general theme of the state of the art in contemporary authoritarianism. It looks like a major part of the case is about BXL’s electronic surveillance of Chongqing and specifically of top national-level Chinese officials:

One political analyst with senior-level ties, citing information obtained from a colonel he recently dined with, said Mr. Bo had tried to tap the phones of virtually all high-ranking leaders who visited Chongqing in recent years, including Zhou Yongkang, the law-and-order czar who was said to have backed Mr. Bo as his potential successor. “Bo wanted to be extremely clear about what leaders’ attitudes toward him were,” the analyst said.

That’s Zhou Yongkang as in the head of the whole Chinese internal security structure, cops, spooks, and all. Bo’s police chief (and future sort-of defector) Wang Lijun is described as being “a tapping freak”, addicted to the productivity and hence apparent power of electronic intelligence. Not only that, Wang eventually began tapping Bo, who was also tapping the CDIC feds who came down to keep an eye on him.

The practicalities are, as always, interesting.

The architect was Mr. Wang, a nationally decorated crime fighter who had worked under Mr. Bo in the northeast province of Liaoning. Together they installed “a comprehensive package bugging system covering telecommunications to the Internet,” according to the government media official.

One of several noted cybersecurity experts they enlisted was Fang Binxing, president of Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications, who is often called the father of China’s “Great Firewall,” the nation’s vast Internet censorship system.

It’s worth pointing out that the provincial networks belonging to China Mobile, China Telecom etc. are usually organised as companies in their own right, and they often have their own AS numbers, and indeed they often contract for substantial network development projects with Western vendors (Nokia Siemens recently had a big mobile network contract in Sichuan, notably) on their own right.

Anyway, Fang’s involvement is very interesting indeed. He is responsible for the state-of-the-art authoritarian solution to the Internet. This is not just, or even primarily, a question of blacklisting websites or turning off the Internet. The Great Firewall’s detailed design, as the Cambridge Computer Lab found out a while ago, is specifically intended to be a semi-permeable membrane. Rather like Hadrian’s Wall, it is more about the gates through it than the wall itself, and the defences point in both directions.

When a computer within it tries to initiate a TCP connection to one outside that is classified as dodgy, the Firewall sends an RST message back to kill the connection. This permits much higher performance than the DNS-based blacklisting typical of, say, the UAE.

It also means that it’s possible to ignore the RST and look through the firewall by using your own firewall utility (specifically, set something like iptables to drop any RSTs for connections in states other than ESTABLISHED before a suitable time has elapsed). However, it would be a fair guess that any traffic doing this is logged and analysed more deeply.

Further, there is a substantial human infrastructure linking the media/PR/propaganda system, the police system, and the Ministry of the Information Industry. This uses tools such as moderation on big Web forums, direct recruitment, harassment, or persuasion of important influencers, the development of alternative opposition voices, and the use of regime loyalist trolls (the famous wumaodang).

The firewall, like Hadrian’s Wall or the original Great Wall, also has an economic function. This acts as a protectionist subsidy to Chinese Internet start-ups and a tariff barrier to companies outside it. Hence the appearance of some really big companies that basically provide clones of Twitter et al. Because the clones are inside the firewall, they are amenable to management and moderation.

And none of this detracts from the genuine intention of the people at 31 Jin-rong Street, the China Telecom HQ, to wire up the whole place. Iran’s surprisingly important role providing broadband to Afghanistan and diversionary links to the Gulf reminds us that providing connectivity can be a powerful policy tool and one that you can use at the same time as informational repression.

So, Fang’s achievement is basically a package of technical and human security measures that let whoever is in charge of them command the context Web users experience.

Last autumn, several of the Chinese web startups were subjected to the combined honour and menace of a visit from top securocrats. Tencent, the owner of QQ and the biggest of the lot, got Zhou Yongkang in person. In hindsight, this will have been around the time the CDIC landed in Chongqing.

So, where am I going with this? Clearly, there was serious disquiet that somebody was usurping the right to control the wires. Even more disquieting, the surveillance establishment in Fang’s person seemed to be cooperating with him. And the systems he set up worked just as well for someone increasingly seen as a dangerous rebel as they did for the central government. (In fact, the people who like to complain about Huawei equipment in the West have it the wrong way round. It’s not some sort of secret backdoor they should be worrying about: it’s the official stuff.)

I do wonder, depending on what happens to Fang (he’s still vanished, but his Weibo feed has started updating again), if we might not see a relaxation of the firewall, which the pundits will consider “reform”. In fact it will be no such thing, rather a cranking up of internal chaos to facilitate a crackdown on opposition.

So I did a business-class review of Daniel Kahneman‘s new book over at the Fistful. Of course, AFOE is a very different blog to this one, being all liberal euro-technocratic and whatnot. Therefore I thought I’d write a different review. I therefore give you, in this week of Rupert, Kahneman for Thugs – which is at least appropriate given how much work he put into improving the Israeli army’s officer selection process. In this post, I’m going to be deliberately political and action-oriented, and I’m going to express myself in handy bullet points.

Availability

The first point is that rebuttal is futile and you can ignore nothing. The so-called psychological anchoring effect means that our intuitive judgments of anything are influenced by whatever information is around at the time. That includes information we know to be false and information that is completely irrelevant. Ask people to guess the weight of a pig, and they will guess higher if you mention a big number beforehand.

Also, intuitive judgments of truth are strongly influenced by cognitive fluency. Things that are easy to remember are true. Things that fit into a coherent story are true. Things that avoid conflict are true. This has some truly weird consequences – if you want people to learn something from reading a text, choosing a font that is hard to read actually increases how much they retain. However, if you want them to believe it and act on it, you want to be nice and sans-serif.

So, you can’t ignore anything, repetition works, and getting in first works. Smear politics is effective. On the other hand, the only way you can prevent Andrew Gilligan from influencing your opinion of Ken Livingstone is to just stop reading him. Filtering (on your part) or censorship (on their part) is effective.

Substitution

Thinking is work, and as a result, people unconsciously try to answer the easiest question that seems to fit. It’s therefore important to a) set up problems so they answer the question you want them to, and b) set up your own intuitions to work with your own interests. If you train yourself adequately, all you will hear from Simon Jenkins is “blah blah blah fishcakes” as Boris Johnson memorably said. Politics as a system of grudges is an effective way to operationalise the points above.

Surprise

Repetition, fluency, and availability dominate what we believe. But this is only half the point. What if you need to convince? The answer is surprise. Uncertainty is information, and learning is the process by which that information is trained into the near-automatic activity of System One. To surprise is to convince. This doesn’t contradict the point about cognitive fluency – the point is to create a coherent story that contains a surprise and therefore a change in opinion.

Depletion

Thinking is work. It requires effort, unlike intuition, which is associated with no sense of subjective effort and no change in psychophysical metrics. Therefore, as you get tired (or hungry, or drunk, or ill) you rely more on intuition. Judges are more likely to give you parole early in the morning (after breakfast) or early in the afternoon (after lunch). Therefore, it is effective to target the depleted and deplete the targeted.

What did you think all the anti-design graphic noise on the front of the Sun, or Fox News’s horrible screen graphics, are for?

Never quote base rates

People find it hard enough to make judgments that involve statistics, and tend to neglect denominators. You can help this process, by never providing base-rate information. Certainly, if you want to mention how many terrorist attacks, crimes, or whatever happened this year, don’t say how many there were last year unless that number was unusually low. And never, ever quote more than two data points.

Never question premises or permit them to be questioned

Many cognitive biases seem to disappear if the decision involved is taken in a wider context. Obviously, if you can control the context (see under Availability) that’s all to the good, but this is rarely possible in a pluralistic society. Very often, though, people take decisions without using any external reference, and over-focus on the exact terms of the question (known in the tech industry as bikeshedding), which of course means over-focusing on the easier question they substitute in. This inside view effect is a powerful source of error. Cherish it.

On the other hand, it’s almost a cliché that mediocre candidates answer the exam paper while brilliant ones question it. Disputing the terms of the question is an effective defensive tactic.

Always isolate questions

Many cognitive errors that appear when choices are isolated disappear in so-called joint evaluation. If the choices are isolated, people often make decisions which are mutually inconsistent. Very often, if you put the questions together, they succeed in integrating the information involved into a common picture. Therefore, it is necessary to isolate questions and prevent joint evaluation. Whether Saddam Hussein is a bastard or not must be isolated from the question of whether there are ways other than war to limit the consequences of this bastardy and from the question of what the costs of the war might be.

All clear so far?

Here’s some “why the Bradford West result means we should support my politics” that supports my politics: Next Generation Labour.

  1. Don’t take support for granted
  2. We have to realise that the wars still matter
  3. Mobilised youth are a polical force to be reckoned with
  4. Labour has to examine its relationships with Muslim communities
  5. Austerity needs a fighting response

See also Matt Turner‘s point that Bradford West has had the biggest percentage rise in unemployment in the UK. NGL (which seems to be some sort of Ken Livingstonian tendency, fair enough by me) also say:

One of the more unpleasant responses to Galloway’s victory has been the suggestion that ‘the Muslim vote’ is somehow tainted and invalid

The best thing you’re likely to read on this is Irna Qureshi’s post here about the day-to-day, dogshit’n’forms processes of Bradford West politics.

She explained that her family had this time boycotted the “apna” (our own, referring to Imran Hussain, although she couldn’t name him either) because he’d stopped making time to attest her extended family’s passport photographs. And here’s my point. This woman and her clan’s vote had nothing to do with policies or even an inkling of research – the only thing that seemed to matter was accessibility

It’s easy to forget that quite a significant number of people don’t know anyone in the odd, class-based list of professions who are allowed to sign across the back of your passport photo. On Twitter, someone described this as “patrimonial” politics, but it’s more than that. Democracy itself is an institution that is meant to cross class barriers. If Hussain wouldn’t do it, that’s a very clear message about where the local CLP sees itself in the class system.

Also, if you swap out “clan” for “family”, this sounds pretty much like the sort of politics that are stereotypical of France, where there are officially no ethnic or religious communities in the secular republic. The explanation of this is that it’s just politics, stupid. It’s like that everywhere, just the bullshit differs.

Over here, the following excellent points are made.

British people are stereotyped for a tendency to turn to the weather as a means for finding some common ground for smalltalk. In Bradford, it’s the failing regeneration projects first, then the weather if there’s time. Everyone seems to have a better idea of how to run the place than the people currently doing it, and they’re always agitated enough to tell you. Not a great sign.

This is why I knew he would win, despite the answers to my Twitter question: ‘Would Galloway be good or bad for Bradford and why?’ coming back with 50% negative responses based on his showboating, lack of substance, self serving nature, and worse. His policies were quite simple: regenerate the Odeon. Sort out Westfield. Sort out education. He either succeeds, in which case, great. Or he fails, in which case, we’re not exactly losing out are we?

There’s been much made of his appealing to Muslim voters, which he did as well, but 18,000+ votes in Bradford West makes a mockery of the accusation that this is the real reason he won. His policies were pretty broadly relevant and Twitter was buzzing with ‘I wouldn’t normally vote for him BUT… ’. This shouldn’t have been an angle that any of the big three should have had to worry about, because they should have had it covered.

I didn’t know he took a view on the Odeon; no wonder he won. One theory I have about this is that the Labour HQ remembered him making a fool of himself on TV, and reasoned from a TV-centric, airpower theorist perspective that anyone who went on Celebrity Big Brother (and doesn’t that sound dated) and made a cock of himself would be a permanent laughing stock. Nobody was more obsessed with reality TV than Blairites. In this sense, not only didn’t they worry over much about the street campaign in Bradford, they also didn’t remember that there are two iconic video clips of him. 1) is him being a cat, 2) is him ripping into the Republican senators. You’re unlikely to see 1) again on TV, but there’s nothing to stop 2) circulating virally on the web.

Consequently, I do worry that the London election campaign is so virtual. Boris Johnson is a deeply virtual character, of course, a media construct built out of grinning on TV and mildly controversial newspaper columns, and Brian Paddick’s public image has apparently been designed to look exactly like a mildly corrupt town-hall politico in a Danish thriller. But it’s not as if the campaign is very visible on the streets – I’ve seen precisely two posters (one this weekend, Ken, in a window in Waterloo, and a Lib Dem billboard which has now ended its run).

So, Bradford West. Chris Brooke already made the point that everyone and his dog has written a Why The Bradford West Result Means We Should Support My Politics. Meanwhile the jamiesphere is having some sort of left-of-the-left carnival of the marginally relevant, although to be honest that could be the banner over the entrance to the blogosphere.

Anyway, here’s my effort at Why The Bradford West Result Means We Should Support My Politics. My first point is that it makes absolutely no sense to describe this as a rebellion against the “ethnic Labour machine” or whatever. Obviously there’ll be a lot of people crying into their beer (or not) who fit that description. But who was it that Galloway recruited to run his campaign?

None other than the departing Labour MP Marsha Singh’s election agent and campaign manager, Naweed Hussein, as this really excellent piece points out. And if anyone would know their way around west Bradford Mirpuri committee politics, the guy who repeatedly got his man elected there would.

Further, I don’t think it makes much sense to throw a wobbly about people “voting for him because they think he’s a Muslim” or whatever. After all, the Tories can tell you just how much this gets you in Bradford politics in and of itself, after they stood Mohammed Riaz against Marsha Singh on the charming platform that you should “vote for your community” (subtext: the other guy is a Sikh). The answer you’re looking for, then, is “that and a fiver gets you a kebab”, and come to think of it the influential post of “William Hague’s race relations adviser”.

One thing that certainly will have helped Galloway is the fact that his rival was a councillor while the council was busy creating the Rubble Zone – in case you don’t know, Bradford Council demolished a vast chunk of the city centre in the hope that Westfield would build a giant shopping centre, but the shopping centre didn’t happen and now there is just the enormous hole. There is a long history of politically-inspired half-completed projects in Bradford – it’s a matter of taste whether you prefer the Interchange, of which half was closed and replaced by an Abbey National call centre (leaving the original Abbey National building facing City Hall empty), the M606, a motorway that tears away from the M62 and ends messily in a housing estate, the Millenium Faith experience (closed due to a lack of faith or indeed experience)…and at last someone’s got their just desserts over one of them.

This shouldn’t be that surprising, as it was literally the second bullet point on his leaflets!

And finally, I would like to point out that Bradford West politics is usually run by a close-knit network of Labour ward heelers and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Nobody seems to even care, for example, that Boris Johnson fixed it for Sarah Sands (for it is she!) to be editor of the Evening Standard. Politics is organisation, lists, and committees in much the same way that rugby is about tackling.

As a result, unless his new campaign manager really pulls something out of the hat over the next year or so (Bradford West in its current form is going to disappear due to boundary changes) and Galloway puts in much more time than you’d expect of him on form, I predict that he’s not going to last. In some ways he’s a throwback to one of those old-fashioned MPs who only went to their constituency at elections, that Simon Jenkins loves so much, just with the added twist that he doesn’t go to the House either.

Meanwhile, the real Bradford news: he walked from Odsal to Keighley’s ground to raise funds for Bradford Bulls, who are going bust if they can’t raise a million quid. So far they’re up to £234,000.

Bonus extra: it’s quite odd that literally every opinionating gobshite knows Galloway’s position on Palestine but nobody seems to care what it might be on Kashmir, which is considerably more important in context. Fixed that for you, although I disbelieve the accusations by the Indian ‘bloids as being far too similar to the Torygraph‘s 2003 furphy.

I had a request on Twitter for more Francis Maude blogging. (Not another one who wants flogging, I said, wearily pulling on the boots and polishing up the cat-’o-nine-tails.) This obsession goes back to this post of Tom Barry’s which identified him as:

being the real power behind the entire administration, and making everyone forget he was an idiot in 1997

Tom never did the promised back-story post, so we lack the qualitative interpretation to go with the quantitative observations. But I think his point has been adequately demonstrated by recent events and the existence of Francis Maude Advice. As far back as January 2011, it was disturbingly obvious that lobbyists gravitated to Maude like flies to shit.

At the last count, in September, he had achieved the status of the 4th most-lobbied minister on a quality-adjusted basis. That’s behind Cameron, Chris Grayling, and Nick Clegg, and ahead of George Osborne or Vince Cable. Clearly, people doing serious business with government perceive him as someone who can deliver. It’s also possible that the government thinks he is the right man to put forward – certainly, he has substantial responsibility for things like procurement.

On the other hand, lobbyists experience Maude as a destination. His gatekeepership score is very low – compare the guilty men in the Werritty/Fox case, who exhibit the ideal combination for a lobbying target, very high gatekeepership with relatively low weighted network degree. Rather than contacting him in the hope of being passed on to somebody important, you contact someone else who can get you face-time with him.

The big question here is on which side of the relationship agency resides. It is quite possible that Maude thinks he is exerting influence on the lobbyists he meets, while the lobbyists meet him because they believe themselves to influence him. I’m not qualified to answer that one, but I will offer advice based purely on the data. If you’re looking to get at Maude, try his understrapper Mark Harper MP, Conservative for the Forest of Dean, who offers a punchy 1.37 gatekeepership metric (i.e. people who met him gained an average 37% boost in the status of the other people they met, compared to the average lobbyist’s performance) at a network degree of 0.14 – so he’s likely to be accessible.

Well, speak of the devil. Peter Foster makes his appearance in the Murdoch scandal and fingers the Sun directly.

He said he then received an email from a Dublin-based private investigator calling himself ”Autarch”, who told Mr Foster he tapped into his mother’s phone in December 2002.

That month, The Sun published the ”Foster tapes”, which featured transcripts of Mr Foster talking about selling the story of his links with Tony Blair’s wife, Cherie. Yesterday, Mr Foster said he had since had a Skype conversation with the investigator in Dublin, in which Autarch described how he tapped into Mr Foster’s mother’s phone.

”He said she was using an analogue telephone which they were able to intercept,” Mr Foster said. Autarch said he discussed the hacking with Sun journalists.

However, this story – at least this version of it – probably isn’t true. It is true that the first-generation analogue mobile phone systems like TACS in the UK and AMPS in the States were unencrypted over the air, and therefore could be trivially intercepted using a scanner. (They were also frequency-division duplex, so you needed to monitor two frequencies at once in order to capture both parties to the call.) It is also true that they were displaced by GSM very quickly indeed, compared to the length of time it is expected to take for the GSM networks to be replaced. In the UK, the last TACS network (O2′s) shut down in December 2000. It took a while longer in the Republic of Ireland, but it was all over by the end of 2001.

So Foster is bullshitting…which wouldn’t be a surprise. Or is he? TACS wasn’t the only analogue system out there. There were also a lot of cordless phones about using a different radio standard. Even the more modern DECT phones are notorious for generating masses of radio noise in the 2.4GHz band where your WiFi lives. It may well be the case that “Autarch” was referring to an analogue cordless phone. Because a lot of these were installed by individual people who bought them off the shelf, there was no guarantee that they would be replaced with newer devices. (Readers of Richard Aldrich’s history of GCHQ will note that his take on the “Squidgygate” tape is that it was probably a cordless intercept.)

This would have required a measure of physical surveillance, but then again so would an attempt to intercept mobile traffic over-the-air as opposed to interfering with voicemail or the lawful intercept system.

The Daily Beast has a further story, which points out that the then editor David Yelland apologised after being censured by the Press Complaints Commission (no wonder he didn’t go further in the Murdoch empire) and makes the point that such an interception was a crime in both the UK and Ireland at the time. They also quote Foster as follows:

According to Foster, the investigator told him that, for four days at the height of Cheriegate, he had been sitting with another detective outside Foster’s mother’s flat in the Dublin suburbs, intercepting and recording the calls to her cordless landline

The Sun hardly made any effort to conceal this – they published what purports to be a transcript, as such.





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