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Archive for the ‘Security and counter-terrorism’ Category

Feb 17,2012

There is an excellent article in the New York Times that explains the behavioural psychology that is now linked to supermarket loyalty cards and on-line shopping patterns to target and personalise adverts and offers.

It describes an incident in a Target store (a major US chain) as follows:

“a man walked into a Target outside Minneapolis and demanded to see the manager. He was clutching coupons that had been sent to his daughter, and he was angry, according to an employee who participated in the conversation.

“My daughter got this in the mail!” he said. “She’s still in high school, and you’re sending her coupons for baby clothes and cribs? Are you trying to encourage her to get pregnant?”

The manager didn’t have any idea what the man was talking about. He looked at the mailer. Sure enough, it was addressed to the man’s daughter and contained advertisements for maternity clothing, nursery furniture and pictures of smiling infants. The manager apologized and then called a few days later to apologize again.

On the phone, though, the father was somewhat abashed. “I had a talk with my daughter,” he said. “It turns out there’s been some activities in my house I haven’t been completely aware of. She’s due in August. I owe you an apology.”

I suspect these systems are now so sophisticated and analyse so much data about individual’s behaviour that they far surpass even the databases held by the most anti-civil libertarian governments.
But for some reason you don’t hear so many complaints ….
Feb 15,2012

One of the difficulties in combatting terrorism is maintaining public support and vigilance over time as the memories of atrocities on mainland Britain fade.  The recent conviction of nine men who plotted to bomb the London Stock Exchange and build a terrorist training camp is a reminder that the threat has not gone away.  However, the Metropolitan Police campaign, “It’s probably nothing, but…“, will help reinforce the message that public vigilance is going to be essential – particularly in the run-up to the Olympics.

As the Met says:

“Everyone who works, lives and visits London has a role to play in helping to counter the terrorist threat which remains real and serious.”

The four week campaign consists of a 40 second radio advert to be aired on Kiss FM, Capital, LBC and GOLD, and press advertisements in local publications and minority media titles. The activity will also be supported by a digital presence on Spotify, and in excess of 1.4 million leaflets being delivered to households across London.

The radio advert recognises that some people may be reluctant to report suspicious activity or behaviour, such as someone paying for a car in cash but not taking it for a test drive, because ‘Chances are, it’s probably nothing’.

But it goes on to encourage people to think ‘But what if it isn’t’?

Just one piece of information could be vital in helping disrupt terrorist planning and, in turn, save lives.

The press advert seeks to reassure Londoners that if they see or hear something that could be terrorist related, they should trust their instincts and call the confidential Anti-Terrorist Hotline.


Feb 14,2012

I was rather disconcerted to come across a site on-line which makes the following promises:

“We offer only original high-quality fake passports, driver’s licenses, ID cards, stamps and other products for following countries: Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, UK, USA and some others.”

It goes on to say:

“Our passports produced with high quality and have no difference from the original documents. We accept all security features like special paper, watermarks, security threads, intaglio printing, microprinting, fluorescent dyes, color-changing ink, document number laser perforation, latent image, laser image perforation while producing passports.

   There is also a possibility to affix almost all kind of stamps into the passports. The price for this service should be discussed with our operator and may be variable.

    Attention! There is a new option of document duplicates producing, i.e. cloning of the real existing document but with your photo. We select suitable document from our database considering on your age, sex, nationality, ect. This service is available for not all countries, pricing is not fixed too.”

Driving licenses are also available:

“All our driving licences are produced on high definition printers. They offer durability, exceptional print quality and an overall impression of quality and authenticity in our fake DL cards. We offer a range of features such as barcodes, magnetic stripes, smart chips and holographic overlays. We also offer holographic overlaminates, which lend added authenicity to the cards.”

The Frequently Asked Questions section is instructive:

Can I use your document instead of real one?

Answer : Yes, you can do it. To reduce risks we recommend you to use document duplicates service, i.e. cloning of the real existing document but with your photo.

Are my order details kept private?
Answer : Of course, customer details are kept confidential and never shared. All our documents come in plain white envelopes with no mark saying what’s inside.

Delivery questions

How long will shipping take?
Answer : Shipping takes from 2 to 5 days depending on country of destination. Some orders take up to a week.

Can you provide a tracking number for the package?

Answer : The orders that shipped by means of DHL (Worldwide Express), UPS Express and FedEX are provided with tracking number for the package.

Do any of our company details appear on the document or envelopes they are sent in?
Answer : All our document are sent in discrete packaging with no reference to our company on the packages contents or on the cards themselves.
Does the delivery name and address have to be the same as the name and address I want printed on my fake documents?
Answer : No. If you want your document to go to another address then just fill in the order form accordingly.

Payment questions

How much time will you need to send my document after the moment I paid?

Answer : It depends on the payment method you used . Wire transfer usually takes several days to arrive to our account. Webmoney, Western Union and MoneyGram methods are fast and we can check them at the same day.

Can I pay for my fake document using a credit card or Paypal?
Answer :
Unfortunately due to the nature of our business it has been difficult obtaining these facilities. We expect to take credit cards sometime in future time. As a result we can not at this time accept cards and Paypal as a method of payment.
I want to order lots of fake documents, can I get a discount?
Answer :
If you send us an email detailing how many documents you intend to order then we will contact you and arrange a discount on an individual basis.”

I trust by now the site has been closed down by the relevant authorities, but, if not, I will provide the link to suitably authenticated representatives of the Metropolitan Police or the Serious Organised Crime Agency ….

Feb 7,2012

On BBC London News today, I was asked about the terrorist threat, following the recent RUSI report.  I think RUSI are right to highlight the concerns about so-called “lone wolf” terrorists, but I also thought it was worth putting in context that over the last decade a citizen’s chance of being killed in any one year on mainland Britain as a result of a terrorist atrocity is about ten million to one.


Let’s keep these things in proportion.

Feb 6,2012

I have repeatedly reported on my modest request to the Home Office to tell me whether Home Office Ministers spent more time meeting the police leadership of the Metropolitan Police or the political leadership of the Metropolitan Police.

At the beginning of December last year I formally complained to the Information Commissioner about the failure to provide a response (even after an earlier intervention from his Office had elicited a response that a reply was imminent).  The Information Commissioner has now (2nd February) issued a formal Decision Notice and the Information Commissioner’s decision is that:

“the public authority has failed to comply with the Act.”

The public authority in this instance is the Home Office and the Decision Notice goes on to say:

“The Information Commissioner requires the public authority to take the following steps to ensure compliance with the legislation.

    • It should either provide the requested information or issue a valid referral notice stating why it is exempt from disclosure.

The public authority must take these steps within 35 calendar days of the date of this decision notice.”

Failure to comply may be dealt with as Contempt of Court, although the Home Office is entitled to lodge an appeal with the Information Tribunal within 28 days.

The Information Commissioner has branded the Home Office timescale in responding (or rather failing to respond) as “unreasonable”.

So in five weeks time – a year after I first asked about the matter – the Home Office will be potentially in Contempt of Court unless it answers the question or produces a valid explanation as to why the information cannot be disclosed.

Unless, the Home Office appeals to the Information Tribunal ….

Jan 12,2012

This is a piece I have written for the Mayor Watch blog on the occasion of today’s last meeting of the Metropolitan Police Authority:

“The Metropolitan Police Authority was established in July 2000 as a by-product of the legislation that also created the London Mayoralty, the GLA and the London Assembly.  Until then the Metropolitan Police had been solely accountable to the Home Secretary, who was uniquely the Police Authority for London.

The MPA is now to be abolished and replaced by the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPC – pronounced “MOPSY”) as a by-product of the legislation that will see Policing and Crime Commissioners elected outside London in November.

The MPA’s final meeting is taking place today and the MOPC will take over responsibility on Monday 16th January.

So what did the MPA achieve in its eleven and a half years of existence?

The early years of the MPA saw a dramatic transformation in the Metropolitan Police. In 2000 morale in the Service was poor, more officers left the Met each month than joined (police numbers had declined each year for a decade), public confidence was low, financial controls were virtually non-existent (the Met had no system for telling if bills had been paid more than once) and the quality of many serious investigations was poor.  The first tasks of the new Authority included the introduction of financial controls and discipline; establishing a new culture of openness and accountability; and reversing the decline in the number of police officers so that the MPS saw the most significant increase in its size in its history.

This was followed by a sustained focus on turning round street crime and cutting burglary.  The MPA led the way nationally on the introduction of Police Community Support Officers and then the setting up of the first Safer Neighbourhood Teams before rolling them out across London.

This contribution led to a general increase in public confidence in the police service, but specific initiatives led by the MPA on stop and search, on hate crime, and on recruitment and retention of black and minority officers also changed perceptions of the Met.

Inevitably, the direction of travel changed somewhat with a change in administration in City Hall after the 2008 elections, but the MPA continued to deliver a much clearer visible accountability of the police in London than had existed before.

Certainly, throughout its life the MPA has ensured that far more information about the policing of London has been put in the public domain.  The MPA also meant that the Commissioner and senior officers were seen to answer questions in public at full Authority meetings and at its Committees.  And this was supplemented by detailed MPA scrutinies ranging from rape investigation and victim care to counter-terrorism policing, crime data recording to mental health policing, and landmark reports on the Stockwell shooting, of the Race and Faith Inquiry, and on public order policing.

So will all this disappear with the MOPC?

The first thing to emphasise is that London’s model will – as ever – be different from that in the rest of the country.  There will not be a directly-elected Police and Crime Commissioner.  Instead, the functions will be carried out by the MOPC, led by an appointed Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime.

The policing priorities will be set by the MOPC and it remains to be seen how much these will change from those previously set by the MPA with its more widely drawn membership.

The real danger is, of course, that much of the visible accountability and answerability will be lost.  Some will be provided by the London Assembly who will have a new and enhanced role in respect of policing and crime, but their focus – as envisaged by the new statute – will be very much on the MOPC and not on the police service itself.

How this will develop will depend on the personalities involved – both at the MOPC and on the Assembly – and on the willingness of the Met itself to be open and transparent.  There are certainly no guarantees on any of this, yet police accountability in the capital will remain as important as ever – as the events of the last few months have demonstrated.

Perhaps the message is watch this space.”


Jan 10,2012

In March of last year I tried (innocently) to find out whether Home Office Ministers spent more time meeting the police leadership of the Metropolitan Police or the political leadership of the Metropolitan Police.

The saga – for anyone still listening – is reprised here.

In November, I formally raised the strange refusal of the Home Office to divulge this information with the Information Commissioner.

On 11th November his office responded saying:

“I have today spoken to the Home Office regarding your complaint; they have acknowledged there have been significant delays in responding to your information request.  I have been advised that you will be getting a response within the next five working days.”

You might think that this would be progress.  (Admittedly, the Information Commissioner’s Office were less confident saying that “If the Home Office responds and refuses to release the information you have asked for and you are dissatisfied, you may, after exhausting their internal complaints procedure, complain to us again.”  They’d clearly been there before.)

In any event, with mounting excitement that I was about to see a response from the Home Office I waited for five working days.

And then another five working days.

And then five more working days.

Suffering a patience failure (if not a sense of humour failure), I left a telephone message for the Information Commissioner.

And his office responded on 7th December saying:

“I have today spoken to the Home Office who have advised me that they have in fact not sent out any response to your information request.  In the light of this information I have passed the case to our case resolution team who will contact you as soon as possible to explain how your complaint will be progressed.”

And guess what?

I am still waiting.


Jan 9,2012

This Thursday the last meeting of the Metropolitan Police Authority will take place before it is abolished and replaced by the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPC – pronounced “MOPSY”) on 16th January.

The meeting on Thursday is not being held in City Hall and is much more low-key than usual with no written report from the Commissioner and with most of the agenda given over to formal reports winding up the remaining aspects of the MPA’s business.

There is, however, an item grandly-entitled “MPA Retrospective” which you might assume was intended to deal with what the MPA has achieved during its eleven and a half years of existence.

You might assume that, but you would be wrong.

In fact, the report only looks at the achievements “under the current administration” – i.e. since Mayor Boris Johnson and his Deputy Kit Malthouse AM got their hands on the tiller – so it is a record of the three and a bit years when the MPA was Tory-led and ignores the previous eight when its was Labour-led.

I am trying to establish whether this is simply an attempt to save paper (clearly a report that looked at what has been achieved since July 2000 when the MPA took office would be a good bit longer).  I am assured that a “there will be a full retrospective on the website”.  However, it is not there yet and the MPA website will be archived after this coming weekend, so that’s not much help…

Only an extreme cynic would suggest that this is yet another effort by parts of the GLA family to promote the record (sic) in office of a Tory Mayor in advance of the elections next May …..

Interestingly, one claim rather confirms the view that the Conservative tenure has provoked an unusually – and possibly unhealthily -high turnover of senior police officers at New Scotland Yard:

“20. The Authority has, since April 2008, appointed three Deputy Commissioners, 12 Assistant Commissioners, 23 Deputy Assistant Commissioners, and 63 Commanders. The Authority has made recommendations to the Home Secretary on the appointment of three Commissioners.”

 Apparently, that counts as an achievement …..
Nov 27,2011

The Wall Street Journal reports that:

“British intelligence picked up “talk” from terrorists planning an Internet-based attack against the U.K.’s national infrastructure, a British official said, as the government released a long-awaited report on cyber security.

Terrorists have for some time used the Internet to recruit, spread propaganda and raise funds. Now, this official said, U.K. intelligence has seen evidence that terrorists are talking about using the Internet to actually attack a country, which could include sending viruses to disrupt the country’s infrastructure, much of which is now connected online. The official spoke on condition of anonymity and didn’t say when the infrastructure threat was detected and how it was dealt with.

Terrorists, however, are still more focused on physical attacks that lead to high casualties and grab attention. “For the moment they prefer to cover the streets in blood,” he said.”

I first started raising these concerns more than seven years ago, pointing out in a debate in the House of Lords on the 9th December 2004:

“As a nation, the systems that are essential for our health and well-being rely on computer and communications networks – whether we are talking about the energy utilities, the water and food distribution networks, transportation, the emergency services, telephones, the banking and financial systems, indeed government and public services in general – and all of them are vulnerable to serious disruption by cyber-attack with potentially enormous consequences.  Indeed, the Coastguard Service was laid low by the “Sasser” worm in May this year.

The threat could come from teenage hackers with no more motivation than proving that it could be done, but even more seriously it could come from cyber-terrorists intent on bringing about the downfall of our society. “

At the time, I was assured that there was no intelligence to suggest that such a threat was significant.  The then junior Home Office Minister, Lord Steve Bassam, now no less a person (if such a thing were possible) than the Opposition Chief Whip in the Lords, said:

“there are also terrorists who would challenge and seek to undermine democratic society using any methods within their grasp. It is not complacent to say this; but perhaps it should be made plain that at the moment they do not appear to be interested in attacking us electronically.”

Of course, in the intervening seven years there has been a burgeoning realisation of an increasing number of cyber-threats and, if there is now intelligence to suggest that international terrorists are thinking in that way, I take no satisfaction from having predicted it in 2004.

What is important is that the substantial resources provided to GCHQ under the Government’s new Cyber Security Strategy, published last week, are used effectively to combat the threat. GCHQ and the other intelligence agencies are to get 59% of the £650 million that the Government has allocated to cyber security over the next three years.  It is unlikely that there will ever be much detail published as to how the resources are used, so we can only hope ….

Nov 19,2011

I see that the US Congress is to investigate Chinese equipment suppliers Huawei and ZTE to see whether they present a threat to US national security.  According to PC World, the House Intelligence Committee wants to:

“examine if Huawei’s and ZTE’s expansion into the U.S. market gives the Chinese government an opportunity to hijack the nation’s infrastructure to conduct espionage. U.S. lawmakers worry that the networking equipment sold could secretly contain Chinese military technology to spy and interfere with U.S. telecommunications.”

Huawei has many links to the Chinese Government and its security apparatus.  As Jeffrey Carr summarises the key facts as follows:

  1. The company’s founder Ren Zhengfei was an engineer in the PLA prior to forming his company.
  2. The company’s chairwoman Sun Yafang worked for the Ministry of State Security and while there helped arrange loans for Huawei before joining the company as an employee.
  3. The government of China is Huawei’s biggest customer; specifically the State-owned telecommunications services.
  4. Huawei equipment is used to intercept communications in China for state-mandated monitoring.

Nevertheless, despite this its products are already widely used in the UK’s infrastructure particularly given its role in providing key components to BT.  I have expressed concern about this before and back in 2006 Newsweek recorded the Conservative Party’s concerns, saying:

“Political conservatives in Britain expressed the same security concerns about Huawei last spring. In April, the company won a $140 million contract to build part of British Telecom’s “21st Century Network,” a major overhaul of its equipment. But when rumors began circulating that the Chinese company might then bid on Marconi, a landmark electronics and information technology firm that was being put up for sale, a Conservative Party spokesman sounded the alarm. The Tories asked the British government to consider the implications for Britain’s defense industry of a Chinese takeover of Marconi. In the end, Huawei didn’t make an offer, and the Swedish telecom giant Ericsson is in the process of buying Marconi.”

Huawei continue to try and expand their access to the UK infrastructure market – see, for example, their wooing of Mayor Boris Johnson with an offer to provide mobile phone infrastructure for the Underground in time for the London Olympics.  In August, they recruited the former Government chief information officer, John Suffolk.

Their latest move to gain respectability is to sponsor a charity Christmas concert in support of The Prince’s Trust at the Royal Festival Hall next month, to which they have invited large numbers of senior Government officials and Parliamentarians.

No doubt, Huawei will say they are much-maligned, but I do wonder whether a UK Parliamentary Committee shouldn’t be following the lead of the US House Intelligence Committee and launch an investigation into the company’s growing influence in the UK and any possible implications for security.