Archive for March, 2012

Yesterday was Morgan Day, the 25th anniversary of Daniel Morgan’s murder. So, some Leveson blogging.

Way back way back when the MacPherson inquiry was big news, one of the things that was fairly well-known but not in the headlines was that it wasn’t just the racism – it was also the corruption. Specifically, suspect (and now convict) David Norris’s dad, Clifford Norris, was a gangster who was believed to be paying policemen involved in the case for protection. This recent piece in the Indy explains the whole thing in some detail. The key player was one John Davidson, a detective on the South-East Regional Crime Squad based in East Dulwich, who was apparently the point-of-contact between Norris and the Met, as well as being a major figure in a network of corrupt detectives. Anyway, you really ought to go and read the whole thing, as it covers how the Met hierarchy kept the explosive details about Davidson out of the inquiry.

Clearly, it was considered better to be institutionally racist than it was to be institutionally corrupt. And, if you think back to the original (and very controversial at the time) definition Sir William Macpherson used, I think it’s more than fair to describe the Met as being institutionally corrupt. As with racism, some elements of the force were especially bad and some were much better, but in general, the institution as a whole put up with the problem.

Now, something interesting. The officer who investigated Davidson, and who seems to have been very keen to prosecute him, was none other than John Yates, in a very different role to the one he played in the whole News International affair.

Then-Detective Superintendent John Yates, a senior CIB3 officer, targeted Davidson as one of 14 “core nominals” – detectives whose “criminality is extensive and, in essence, amounts to police officers operating as a professional organised crime syndicate”, he explained in the case file.

Yates wrote to his superiors in blunt terms in October that year about the evidence he had found against Davidson: “It is now apparent that during his time at East Dulwich Davidson developed a corrupt informant/handler relationship. Their main commodity was Class A drugs, predominantly cocaine, however, Davidson and his informant would deal in all aspects of criminality when the opportunities presented themselves.”

However, not very much of the information ever got to Macpherson, and Davidson was eventually allowed to take the traditional police escape hatch, retiring on grounds of ill-health and heading for the costas (he owns a bar on Menorca).

This is interesting, because I’m beginning to think that the response to Macpherson is a big part of the story. A really penetrating review of the Lawrence case would have turned up all sorts of dirt on the Met in South-East London, and specifically on the SERCS (which was already being investigated by Yates’ internal-affairs group). That in turn would have caused all kinds of inconvenience. As a result, it was necessary to push back on the whole project of reforming the Met.

In the triangular relationship between the police, the press, and the politicians, this could be understood as an attempt by the politicians, using the press, to impose change on the police. The police seem to have responded by upgrading the police-News International relationship in order to pressure the politicians. Hence the campaigns that so-and-so wasn’t “a copper’s copper”.

Interestingly, John Stevens seems to have been a special fascination for people like Alex Marunchak – News International kept spying on him after he was sent to Northern Ireland, and hired Philip Campbell Smith to target the only intelligence agent cooperating with the Stevens inquiry (who seems to have been Ian Hurst, to fill in the blank). Obviously, there was a direct journalistic interest in information about Freddie “Stakeknife” Scappaticci, but it’s always struck me as weird that Hurst was able to identify that it was Smith specifically who got into his computer. Perhaps he’s just good, or lucky, but I wonder whether the surveillance was meant to be discovered in the hope of intimidating him.

Making more of an effort on race didn’t challenge how the police ran their business, and indeed created new opportunities for promotion and budget acquisition. It seems depressingly clear that doing more on corruption would have meant changing how a great chunk of London was policed and offending all kinds of powerful interests. So that’s the one they picked. Getting there meant getting the support of News International to turn the politicians’ attention, which meant running up obligations that would be called in later.

A corrupt informant/handler relationship, you might call it. Of course, the police and the politicians were still operating in the transactional or bargaining mode I described as The Project 1.0. But what was going to change between the late 1990s corruption inquiry and the 2006-onwards phone-hacking inquiry was the level of ambition involved. Murdoch, and the recovering Tory party, were looking at The Project 2.0, integrating News International people into the government spin machine, Conservative Central Office, and into the police press office directly.

Well, that’s my mental model of the whole thing. It doesn’t cover the 80s origins of the whole thing – Daniel Morgan’s story, whatever it was, police-News International relations during Wapping (six months before the Morgan murder, and did you know the cop in charge was disgraced on theft charges?) – but for what it covers I think it’s pretty clear.

from hell

You might not want to credit it, but exposing the Daily Hell‘s output to the Web is pretty useful. Horsegate hunting herogram for you. Elsewhere, and more importantly, Steve Hilton’s ousting is explained – Mr Google Pants was apparently intriguing to get control of the No.10 Policy Unit, a horrible thought and one which was intolerable to the cabinet secretary, Jeremy Heywood. As the prime minister has already broken up the job of cabinet secretary into three chunks (cabinet secretary, No.10 permanent secretary, and head of the home civil service), there was no way Heywood was going to let that happen.

However, the Indy chooses to focus on his recommendation of Hidden Jobs Harrison. Of course, making good appointments is exactly the sort of thing the civil service values, and a Cameron weakness. How many times has this tendency to ask a mate for a recommendation and get the name of a good crook/nutter/bungler back bitten him now?


After the wave of links posts, here’s a links post with no particular theme.

Fantastic new civil servant blog has some interesting thoughts on Trident replacement and the interactions with US defence cuts. Specifically, as the Americans reduce their nuclear arsenal, will they still want an Atlantic and a Pacific SSBN fleet, and in the case that they close Kings Bay naval base, is it practical for the RN boats to sail to the West Coast to pick up new rockets?

Jeffrey Lewis at Arms Control Wonk discusses whether the US might be thinking about a minimal-deterrent option, in which case it might paradoxically be less of a problem for the UK as submarines would be relatively more important.

The best paper map. I was really pleased to see a demo at Mobile World Congress in which the radio coverage footprint was overlaid in Openlayers onto the OpenStreetMap.

UKBA stops signing up new users for the IRIS biometric identifier. Thank God we spent all that money issuing new passports! Passing through Gatwick North on Thursday night, I noticed that, as usual, it took several times as long for IRIS to deal with a passenger as it did for a human.

A history of Sharjah Airport…but only up to 1952.

General Washington’s compliments to General Howe. He does himself the pleasure to return him a dog, which accidentally fell into his hands, and by the inscription on the Collar, appears to belong to General Howe. He does this in the context of an exchange of compliments between armies arguing over who torched the mill to deny the other grain, and what this would do to the civilian population. Kings of War has been excellent recently after an influx of new bloggers.

Hopi Sen’s grandad and the propaganda film.

There’s a trio of kittens tucked into a tiny bed,

and what looks like a Golden Retriever in a shirt and tie, holding a long-stemmed rose between its teeth. At the bottom of the image it says, “PUPPIES & FRIENDS.” “One deity rules over all the other spirits,” Henry tells me as the sacrificial chickens are plucked and tossed into a hot caldero. “He is the Godfather.

We saw this one coming, and here it comes. Katharine Birbalsingh’s academy (that’s the one with the “private school ethos” right down to “I don’t need to know Ohm’s law, I read Greats”) won’t be opening due to a lack of buildings, money, and indeed anything.

Voidy contributes to King Mob vs. IDS, demonstrating that the DWP has been very keen to get rid of embarrassing facts from its web site.

Quietly, the Eurofighter project seems to be running into trouble. First of all, Dassault got the Indian contract and the Indians claim that Rafale is dramatically cheaper. Further, they weren’t impressed by the amount of stuff that is planned to come in future upgrades, whose delivery is still not certain. These upgrades are becoming a problem, as the UK, Germany, and Italy aren’t in agreement about their schedule or about which ones they want. Also, a Swiss evaluation report was leaked that is extremely damning towards the Gripen and somewhat less so to Eurofighter.

This is going to have big consequences for European military-industrial politics. So is the latest wobble on F-35.

Quality control

Suzanne Moore decides the House of Lords is great. I think this graf. is missing something:

What sounds like a broken alarm clock goes off to call a vote. They all creep out of their warrens and file in, and I manage to find Baroness Shirley Williams. “This place swallows legislation like other people swallow martinis,” she tells me. I want to buy Shirley a martini but, at 81, she is indefatigable, and has work to do. She is not so keen on Lords reform (which was in all three parties’ manifestos). “I’m cynical, having seen three attempts in 15 years.”

Something like the fact that she has done everything to stop the NHS Bill in her power except for voting against it.

Think Defence has been having a very good discussion (practically a CT-style blog seminar) about the Falklands. Which reminds me…I note that Bob Howard has yet to visit, despite the eldritch conjunction of an implausibly massive geostrategic commitment, the deep links between right-wing political Catholicism and the sinister occult, the Antarctic (and you know what happens down there – giant mountains embedded in ancient ice, eccentric British scientists with hovercraft, Russians drilling into lakes sealed off from the world for millions of years), and, eh, a fast-growing economy based entirely on squid.

Bradford Links

If the last post scared you rigid, what about some more Bradford-related links? Alternate headline for this probably Predictable Twat Has Good Time Despite Self. Stupid TV show, meet much better writing. Scenarios for a better future, and a worse future. Mind you, the better future includes Westfield building a giant shopping centre in the Rubblezone, and the worse future includes the end of the Interchange and the completion of the M606. And Bradford’s Bouncing Back. There’s one from the past.

Do this help?

In a perfectly normal Jamie Kenny comments thread, weird machines are seen, circling the skies of West Yorkshire. What’s up is that someone has been reading Richard Aldrich’s book on GCHQ (my five-part unread series of posts starts here and refers here).

Basically, the intelligence services maintain various capabilities to acquire electronic intelligence. As well as ground-based and maritime systems, these include the (temporarily reprieved) Nimrod R1s, the Shadow R1 based on the Beechcraft King Air, and a group of three Islander planes which seem to be based in the UK permanently. Aldrich describes these as being used to hoover up mobile phone traffic, and claims that voiceprint data collected in Afghanistan from Taliban radio intercepts is compared to the take in an effort to identify returnees.

However, he also suggests that the interception is of backhaul, rather than access, traffic. This is unlikely to yield much in the UK, as typical cell sites here were originally set up with between a pair and a dozen of E-1 (2Mbps) leased lines depending on planned capacity. For many years, Vodafone was BT’s single biggest customer. More recently, a lot of these have been replaced with fibre-optic cable, usually Gigabit Ethernet, quite often owned by the mobile operator. O2 got some microwave assets in the demerger from BT, so they may have used more. But in general, 3G operators have been pulling fibre since 2005 or thereabouts.

I would therefore tend to guess that it’s the access side. There are good reasons to do it this way – notably, requesting surveillance of someone’s phone via the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act or alternatively via the alternative Dodgy Ex-Copper Down the Pub route usually requires that you know who you’re looking for quite specifically. That is to say, you need to know an identity that is likely to be in a given phone company’s database. Also, in some use-cases you might want imperfect but live coverage rather than a giant pile of data weeks later.

Listening in to radio doesn’t work like that, and could be done more secretly as well. I’m not particularly convinced by the idea of trying to match “voiceprints” – it sounds a bit Nemesysco, and in this case, the sampled voice would have first gone through whatever radio system the Taliban were using (which will have filtered out or just lost some information, and also added some noise and artefacts) and the target would have been filtered by the voice codec used on their phone, which throws away quite a bit, as well as by the network’s acoustic echo cancellation if the call is inbound. Also, they might be speaking a different language, which may or may not make a difference but won’t help.

Perhaps they have some magic, or perhaps this is a cover story. This happens to be the most difficult case of a speaker identification system – it’s identification rather than verification (so the number of possible alternatives scales with the size of the population), it’s an open set process (no bounds on who could be in either group), and it’s wholly text independent in both samples (no way of knowing what they are going to say, and no reason to think they will say it twice). There are methodologies based on high-level statistical analysis, but these require long-term sampling of a speaker to train the algorithm, which gives you a chicken-and-egg problem – you need to know that you’re listening to the same speaker before you can train the identification system. Of course, other sources of information could be used to achieve that, but this makes it progressively harder to operationalise.

Anyway, doing some background reading, it turns out that a) speech perception is a really interesting topic and b) the problem isn’t so much the quality of the intercept (because speech information is very robust to even deliberate interference) as just the concept of voiceprint identification in general. Out of Google-inspired serendipity, it turns out Language Log has covered this.

In lab conditions with realistic set-ups (i.e. different microphones etc. but not tactical conditions and not primarily with multiple languages), it looks like you could expect an equal-error rate, that is to say the point where the false-negative and false-positive rates are equal, of between 3% and 10%. However, the confidence intervals are sizeable (10 percentage points on an axis of 0-40 for the best performing cross-channel case). Obviously, a 3% false positive rate in an environment where there are very few terrorists is not that useful.

Pirate Links

A couple of piracy links. Thomas Wiegold (German link) reports that India is very angry indeed about a group of Italian security men protecting a ship who fired on a fishing boat, thinking she was a pirate skiff, killing several people. Of course, the Indian Navy has form here, having destroyed a Thai trawler in error with the loss of dozens of lives not so long ago.

Wiegold’s blog is usually worth watching (for example, this story), and I’d also recommend this piece, especially as a conference on piracy is coming up in London. It’s been suggested that the EU naval force off Somalia would be allowed to carry out raids against pirates on shore, probably with ship’s light helicopters – here Wiegold quizzes the German foreign ministry spokesman and discovers that the wording in question means “between the high and low water mark”, which is suspiciously specific.

Back from MWC. Heavy cold. Browser queue jammed with stuff. I’m going to do a brief succession of link posts to clear up. (Happenings last week; huge Leveson revelations, James Murdoch out, King Mob abolished workfare, horse, Borisbus fiasco, debate on Daniel Morgan, even more Leveson..)

This one deals with everyone’s favourite global geo-political region, the Middle East. Anthony Shadid died, and Angry Arab thinks the obits weren’t tough enough on the Israelis. Alyssa at ThinkProgress has a list of 20 of his best dispatches and only one covers the Palestinians and tangentially at that. Really?

Foreign Policy‘s David Kenner provides some history of the 1982 Muslim Brotherhood revolt in Syria and its repression by President Assad’s dad President Assad. Worth noting that by the time the Syrian army began its infamous destruction of Hama in ’82, the struggle had been going on since 1976. Just because the rebels have kept it up so long – which is astonishing and a demonstration of extreme courage – shouldn’t be taken to mean that they are going to win in the end.

Colin Kahl, writing in the Washington Post, points out that the Osirak raid in 1981 didn’t slow down Saddam Hussein’s effort to build the Bomb, in part because it hadn’t really started before the raid. However, the attack convinced him to make a concerted effort, and also caused Iraq to abandon the power reactor-reprocessing-plutonium route in favour of the highly-enriched uranium route, which is much easier to conceal and also to distribute among multiple facilities and which turned out to have a entire black market supply chain.

He also links to this piece on planning considerations for Israel, which highlights their air-to-air refuelling tankers as a key constraint. Kahl also points out that in the event of an Israeli raid, their air force would probably be needed at home immediately afterwards.

The Americans, for what it’s worth, don’t think a strategic decision has been taken to get the Bomb.

Bizarrely, the IAEA inspectors have discovered that the fortified enrichment plant at Fordow in Iran contains 2,000 empty centrifuge cases but not the centrifuges themselves. Is it a bluff of some sort? Is it a decoy target? Is it just a very odd way of going about building an enrichment plant?

Binyamin Netanyahu memorably described as “carrying both Anne Frank and the entire IDF around in his head”, presumably in between the bees in his bonnet and the bats in his belfry. It is argued that he won’t attack Iran because the settlers won’t like it, or possibly that he’s bluffing about Iran to draw attention away from them.

Ultima Ratio is down, but you can read their excellent (French) review of Syed Saleem Shahbaz’s posthumous book Inside Al-Qa’ida and the Taliban in the Google cache. Fans of “Kashmir is still the issue” will be interested by the argument that Muhammad Ilyas Kashmiri and ex-Pakistani officer Haroon Ashik introduced a new strategy aiming to bring about more conflict between Pakistan and India, in the hope of alienating Pakistani leaders from the alliance with the US. Apparently they were planning something against an Indian nuclear site when Kashmiri was droned in June 2011.