Sunday, July 31, 2011

taliban mobile!

Did you know ISAF has been carrying out air missions to destroy Taliban radio towers? You do now, thanks to Thomas Wiegold's blog. Specifically, Task Force Palehorse includes UAE Apache Longbow attack helicopters and American Kiowa Warrior reconnaissance helicopters, plus (according to comments) German ELINT specialists. And they go out and identify Taliban radio networks, and kill them.

There's much interesting stuff for German-speakers in comments, notably that the technologies include old fashioned VHF, pirate GSM, and possibly other systems as well, that the relays are often solar-powered, and that the Taliban are significant users of IMSI-catchers - fake GSM/UMTS base stations used to monitor mobile phone activity.

So are the Germans, in order to prevent leakage from their own camps. The British have been using ruggedised, highly portable small cells for some time to stop soldiers using the Afghan GSM networks, for fear both of security leaks and also that (as in Iraq) their relatives in the UK might get nasty phone calls.

things that didn't happen: Ken Grange edition

I have just been reading the catalogue for the Design Museum's exhibition on Kenneth Grange. An interesting thought - he makes the very good point that the problem with both the matt-black Apple laptops and the iDevices is that they soak up oil and fingerprints and human grease in general. This is of course the case of all touchscreens - they're reflective surfaces, so the filth shows, and people touch them. When I lived in Coop Himmelb(l)au's Gasometer B development the management had placed some tablet PCs (it was just being a thing then) around the public spaces for people to fiddle with. Of course, the screens were practically black with gunk all the time.

As far as the matt black element goes, apparently he copied an idea from Braun and had the mouldings spun in a drum with walnut shells, slightly roughing up the texture and letting the walnut oil soak in, excluding anything else from going the same way. Not something to try with the touch screen, obviously.

So, I wonder, what would a post-iPhone user interface pattern be like? Also, oddly enough, in all his myriad projects over the years, Grange has never done a mobile phone. He did some really amazing designs for Reuters trader terminals, so much so that a casemod almost seems justified. But Psion in the 1980s, Ericsson or Motorola in the 1990s, or Nokia in the 2000s never apparently asked. It would probably have had at least one oversized orange GO button - a constant in his work.

Although perhaps not an extra large number 5.

don't listen to the doctor, dear. ignore him, then listen to the real doctor

I have to say the only surprise I found in this story was that the list of conditions GPs failed to diagnose didn't include death. "I prescribed Mr. Smith antibiotics and told him to come back in a week's time, but for some reason he wouldn't leave the surgery. Thwack...Fore! I wonder if he's still there? Anyway, hurry up, got to get back to the clubhouse in time for my afternoon pethidine bolus. Bottoms up!"

Of course, that would actually be caught by the typical diagnostic protocol the article describes - give'em a broad spectrum antibiotic, and tell'em to come back in a week. If they come back, refer'em if they insist, if they don't, repeat the prescription. If they don't come back, job way or another.

This is why I stopped reading Dr. Crippen's blog - it was OK as far as it went, but after that point it turned into the Internet wing of the British Medical Association's golf committee.

wer A sagt muss auch B sagen

In the light of the last post, don't forget Will Lewis's role at the Daily Telegraph. The Guardian wasn't willing to say that the whole affair of the leaked Vince Cable tapes sounded much more like the actions of someone trying to sabotage opposition to the BSkyB takeover than someone trying to spoil the Torygraph's fun, but oddly enough the FT did. Of course it's a BOGOF - there'd be some fun in nicking the scoop off the competition, but it probably did the story no end of good that it broke on the BBC and avoided being just another street of shame quarrel.

And I would really like to know how many other ex-NI press officers have been installed in government. The type case here is Wallis, who managed to be with NI, the Met, and the Tories, and who was specifically hired to push the Met's line with No.10. I can't emphasise that enough - it combines the role of the Met and ACPO as an independent political force with than of NI and meant that the police and the prime minister communicated via Murdoch's man.

I think the priority is still the vetting issue, then Wallis and the wider network, and the telecoms surveillance issue. A question: I seem to have mislaid a link to a news story concerning the different networks' respective behaviour in terms of user notification. At least one operator didn't bother to do any on the grounds the police hadn't given them a full list, which of course they didn't ask for.

I also still think a long-range target has to be the football rights.

the giant squid meets the criminal octopus as the last Tory sings his swan song

Peter Oborne's piece on post-Murdoch Britain is interesting, although mostly for the sheer otherness of his thinking. He's at least got the good sense or moral minima required to end up on the right side of the debate, but he gets there through some truly odd reasoning. Can anyone remember even one instance when any of the News International outlets ever ran an editorial arguing that a republican form of government was desirable? But he ascribes "a powerful republican agenda" to Rupert Murdoch.

I'd argue that Murdoch has a powerful Republican agenda, as in the American political party, but not a republican one. The only newspaper that professes republicanism is the Guardian, or perhaps the Andersonstown News, which isn't the same kind of republicanism and is interested in a different republic. The only way I can get sense out of it is to assume that he's talking about Australia, which seems a bit of a distant concern. Further, David Miliband knows Polly Toynbee socially, and we're asked to believe that this is worth mentioning in the same breath as the whole Murdoch system of government, as he describes it. Also, he seems to think Michael Gove, Eurabia-pushing ex-News International executive, is still a credible cabinet minister.

It's like reading a leader written by a giant squid. It's intelligence. But not as we know it.

Of course, he's right that what has been revealed is a system, a sort of parallel government. One thing Oborne is extremely unlikely to ever say is that there was a qualitative shift in the late 2000s in how it worked, although I think he's vaguely aware of it.

Labour leaders in the 1990s reacted to the power of the Murdoch system by trying to accommodate themselves to it. This is as good a way as any to define "The Project" - an effort to accommodate the party to the realities of the Murdoch system and to manage a transactional, bargaining relationship with it. The key figures in this effort - Peter Mandelson, Jonathan Powell, and Alistair Campbell - prided themselves precisely on their ability to manage the relationship, to negotiate a degree of freedom of action. The terms of business between NI and Labour can easily be criticised - would a Martian journalist dropped on a street corner between 1997 and 2007 have noticed that the Sun supposedly "supported Labour"? I think not. The paper didn't actually call for a vote against, but it did pour abuse on Labour ministers, opposed basically all its policies except invading Iraq, and offered the Tories a sympathetic hearing.

By the end of the Blair era, this relationship was strained - the original breakdown might be traced to Iraq, in fact, and the exit of Alistair Campbell from No.10. In fact, what was under way was more fundamental than that. We might call it The Project 2.0.

This would involve the Conservatives rather than Labour, and critically would go much further than the original Project. Rather than a transactional, bargaining relationship with the Tories, mediated by powerful media managers belonging to the party, the Project 2.0 foresaw something very different. Whereas Alistair Campbell's role was as "Emily" Blair's bulldog, guarding the gate at the interface between the prime minister's office and the press, alternately wagging and barking as seemed expedient, this new project would integrate News International's men into the machinery of government.

Part of the legacy the original Project was the enlarged status of the government's press officers at every level. In fact, it is unfair to blame this on New Labour. It is a great strategic trend that has been going for many years. Sir Bernard Ingham is not, I think, remembered for presenting an even-handed account of the Thatcher government's record or acting with total equanimity towards critics and sycophants alike. Sir Gerald Kaufman, Joe Haines, Philip De Zueleuta - they all served their prime ministers in the dark art of propaganda and earned a reputation of sinister efficiency and great influence. Arguably, this goes all the way back to Lloyd George's secretariat. Labour's innovation was to bring in outsider professionals, and much else was up to the force of personality of those involved.

Another important trend was their integration with the core executive, the hard centre of the state centred around the prime minister, the Cabinet Office, the Treasury, the intelligence services, and the Ministry of Defence. At the top level, these strands all wind together in the prime minister's office (which, I notice, has grown a domain name,, recently). As a result, the prime minister's official spokesman now has a sort of parallel management-information system that runs into the departments via their press officers, in much the same way the Treasury's MIS extends into the departments through the system of public-service agreements. The two phenomena are quite closely linked, in fact - departments' priorities are fixed through the comprehensive spending round and the PSAs, with reference to the political/press strategy defined on the PMOS's network. Then, their success or failure is monitored via the Treasury reporting system and the No.10 policy unit, and the political response to it coordinated through the PMOS net.

One Blairite contribution to this which is unique was its militarisation. The Blair years turned out to be ones of war, and the emerging press-management network was heavily used in support of the wars, with the result that intelligence was increasingly redistributed from the intelligence-administrative complex into the press-political management system. At the same time, the military's public affairs function was integrated into the system, with a common line for the civilian and uniformed spokesmen. Alistair Campbell's invention of the Coalition Information Centre (a still under-reported creation) gave this an international dimension.

The Project 2.0 consists, then, of reversing the process. Rather than the politicians selecting press managers to control the interfaces between the political management network and the media, News International selected them and made recommendations to politicians, who incorporated them into key locations in the system - the very top at No.10, the Metropolitan Police, ACPO, and to be frank, who knows where else? We know that George Osborne recommended Andy Coulson to David Cameron, and that Rebekah Brooks thinks she recommended him to Osborne. Dick Fedorcio claims he can't remember who recommended Neil Wallis to him, but he did admit that the motivation was to influence No.10 Downing Street, rather than to influence the press. (And who reckons Tom Watson wouldn't have asked him if Brooks made the recommendation if he didn't know the answer?)

Where Campbell bargained with NI and Mandelson cooperated with them, the situation in May, 2010 was more like Field-Marshal Montgomery's remark that "I banned all talk of Army Co-Operation. There were not two plans, Army and Air, but one, Army-Air. When you are one entity you cannot cooperate."

Now, Oborne is as I said, sort of aware of all this. A few weeks ago he surfaced the fact that there is an identifiable Murdoch caucus in the Tory Party, around George Osborne and Michael Gove, opposed to a Telegraph one. It is common knowledge that David Cameron's first priority as Tory leader was to short-circuit the party's internal procedures in order to flush in a lot more new candidates, the so-called A-list. One wonders if the list was pre-approved. And there seems to be an identifiable historical break point - when Michael Howard ran for prime minister in 2005, he brought in a pretty ugly character to run a pretty ugly campaign, Lynton Crosby, but at least he appears to have picked him himself.

My final question, then - with the dilution of the Tory Party with new candidates, and the integration of Murdoch's political officers into key nodes, does David Cameron actually exist politically? Is he, y'know, a thing? What fuckery is this?

Saturday, July 30, 2011

as for that bastard Hopi Wegg-Prosser, though...

A comment pulls me up for inventing the Labour statesman "Nye Bevin". Whoops. But this gave me an idea. Labour mashups! Take the front half of one significant socialist and match it with the back half of another, and see what you get. For example, Harold Cripps is obviously a 1960s trade union leader. Tony Brown, for his part, was clearly a slightly louche early 80s radical London borough councillor, always as ready with a firebrand speech against the evils of patriarchy as he was with a crafty hand on the thigh at the Labour club afterwards.

To mark the death of Nye Bevin, we have a special guest contribution from Alistair Rusbridger, who I'm sure is familiar to you all and who knew him well.

Nye Bevin, of course, was one of the towering figures of the century, as TGWU general secretary, as Minister of Labour and National Service in the Churchill coalition and personnel chief of the wartime command economy, as architect of the NHS, and as Foreign Secretary. He combined the roles of a tribune of the people and a master bureaucrat with a facility few will ever equal.

A product of his times, he lived the age of the managerial revolution and the mass organisation. We remember his role as an unlikely ally of Lord Beaverbrook's Ministry of Aircraft Production in getting the TUC's agreement to dilution and the entry of women on the shop floor. His name is remembered in the phrase "Bevin Boys". Who else would have created the third largest employer in the world in the rationed, financially exhausted Britain of 1948? His remark that he wanted the clang of a dropped bedpan to echo through Whitehall is now deeply unfashionable in an age of New Public Management and the Big Society. But, as Winston Fisher said of Jacky Churchill, he made the vast organisations he headed hum like a great ship at its highest speed. As his goggling and awestruck permanent secretary at the Foreign Office said, there were only two jobs in the department he could have had - doorman, or foreign secretary.

Within the Labour Movement's internal politics, he played an ambiguous but always vital role. On the one hand, he spoke from Tredegar mountain and said "This is my truth: tell me yours". On the other hand, he said, socialism was what a Labour government did, taking a sort of brutalist approach. The point was to control the government, from which civil service line management could deliver a better society. He could always be criticised from the Left as a man of government, and from the Right as always having one foot at the rostrum. But, in fairness, that control of Whitehall was always founded in the bedrock of working-class organising, where he'd started as a dockers' shop steward in South Wales all those years before.

Few people will contest his achievements during the Second World War or as Health Secretary. His tenure of the Foreign Office, however, is much more controversial to this day. As a passionate Atlanticist, he offended plenty of people in the Labour Movement with his commitment to NATO, the transatlantic alliance directed at the Soviet Union he helped to create. Less well-known beyond specialists is his concurrent contribution to the beginnings of European integration, through projects such as the OEEC, set up to manage the distribution of Marshall Aid, something he also had a major role in bringing about.

He can be accused with justice of not practising exactly what he preached here - on the platform, he was loudly suspicious of the Same Old Gang behind European economic integration while working hard to bring it about in the corridors of King Charles Street. Similarly, he played to the pacifist strand in Labour while quietly chairing the Cabinet committee that managed the British Bomb project. (Yet another vast bureaucratic project.) His anti-communism was ferocious, born of years fighting for power in the union hierarchy with them. Unlike many of his intellectual critics, though, he was never deluded about the totalitarian nature of Stalinism.

His foreign policy was even more controversial, if that is possible, outside Europe. It fell to him to manage the UK's exit from India and Palestine and the agonising economic negotiations with the United States, as well as the beginnings of the Cold War. Given the circumstances, it is fair to say he avoided most of the possible disasters. Like many of his peers, he saw the key issue as the fight to maintain any distinctive British independence from the Americans.

Sunday, July 24, 2011


This blog raised the question of Coulson's vetting. It demanded that Dick Fedorcio be called in. It demanded an audit of telecoms intercept logs.

So here's another question. A timetable for defence vetting processes can be found here. A request for developed vetting, i.e. a top secret clearance, or what Andy Coulson was meant to be getting when he quit, takes 70 days under normal conditions.

Now, we might want to know who told the papers everything was great to start with. Eh.

Anyway, if he was "undergoing vetting" in January as a result of a decision in November as the official line says, we can rule out the 30 day expedited process. There are too many days. But a date in the middle of November would hit off Coulson's resignation perfectly.

he's making a list, he's checking it twice...

I thought I'd put together a list of things that upshot from the Murdoch hearings and immediately afterwards.

  1. NI was still paying Mulcaire
  2. Yates was told not to tell Cameron by Ed Llewellyn
  3. James Murdoch says it was all others' fault, i.e. Hinton and Brooks
  4. Rebekah Brooks says George Osborne recommended Coulson
  5. 10 out of 45 Met press officers (Fedorcinos?) were ex-NI
  6. Dick Fedorcio knew nothing..he says
  7. He can't say who recommended Wallis
  8. He blames Yates for things clearly in his responsibility
  9. He denies agreeing to Yates or Hayman meetingNI
  10. Neil Wallis worked for the Tories
  11. He may have been paid by NI
  12. He reported back to NI from the Met
  13. Alex Marunchak worked for the Met
  14. Alex Marunchak is a difficult subject for Rupert Murdoch personally
  15. David Cameron sort-of admitted being lobbied about BSkyB
  16. Andy Coulson wasn't really vetted
  17. David Cameron won't say if Control Risks vetted him for the purely Tory job
  18. Neville Thurbeck was a police informer
  19. Who had access to the Police National Computer
  20. Nick Raynsford MP claimed that a "senior officer in government service" was spied on
  21. Yates got Wallis's daughter a job
  22. Wallis was hired because he could influence No.10 and Andy Coulson
  23. There will be an audit of lawful-intercept logs.

Some of those have moved on. Just to move things on further, it looks like Wallis was a walking Venn diagram - overlapping the Met, News International, the Conservative Party, and No.10 Downing Street. Dick "Scorchio" Fedorcio seems to have thought he was needed to exert influence over No.10.

You could mistake this for a parallel structure of power.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

against the PCC, for the Competition Commission

I expect there's going to be a hell of a lot of ink spilled in the next few months about different schemes for "regulating the press", how the very idea is an abomination and this has nothing to do with my column in some Murdoch rag, how this outrageous behaviour makes it utterly necessary for journalists to have to justify themselves to some sort of horrible post-Hutton BBC quangocracy, yadda yadda.

My position is this. Press regulatory bodies will probably be very much like "regulators" of all the kinds that have sprung up since the privatisation era. That is to say, they'll either be impossibly bureaucratic or pathetically complicit or both. The problem with regulators, especially the post-80s, all mates together in an orderly market sort, is that they are a weak-sauce compromise.

Once you create a regulator, you're doing two things: accepting that the forces of the market aren't going to fix your problem, and withdrawing the forces of democracy in favour of the forces of bureaucracy. Compare the Home Affairs Committee's vicious and pointed quizzing of Andy Hayman to, well, anything the IPCC ever gets up to. Nye Bevin's crack about dropped bedpans echoing through the halls of Westminster was very much to the point. Everyone moans about ministerial line management, but when did you last vote for the OFCOM Director-General?

There's a coda to this - over time, if you leave it to the departmental government, the temptation to fiddle and to indulge in recreational reorganisation will get progressively stronger. My point, however, is that very often regulatory bodies function either as a veiled form of ministerial control or else as a flak-catcher protecting the powerful from public scrutiny.

In this case, I would argue that any regulatory committee will be either complicit or floppy if it has to face up to something like News International. The problem is not one of processing complaints more efficiency, although that would of course be nice. It is one of power and only changing the realities of power will fix it.

The trust must go. We don't need more quangology. We need a genuinely competitive and diverse media market. We need to break the bastards up and set the rules to prevent them reforming. And the agency to do this is the Competition Commission, one of the oldest regulators and one of the few that has the taste of saying "No". But it is absolutely necessary to set its terms of reference so that it will have no choice but to break up the trusts. That means changing the law.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Vaz discovers the network

Dick Fedorcio is taking a little trip to Westminster to be quizzed. By Keith Vaz's committee. How times change - Keith Vaz as the standard bearer of public integrity. It's got to be more convincing to get your second chance after 10 years in the wilderness though.

Meanwhile, has anyone else noticed that the "#AskEdM" hashtag is a shamelessly obvious exercise in trolling? Think about it - how many people who aren't either political obsessives following up a story or just looking for a fight, or else full-time rightwing howler monkeys, ever hang out in Paul Staines's comments threads with all the coup fantasies and racebaiting and ZaNuLiebour and EUSSR? Nobody. Really.

So why not lure the torysphere out in the open, somewhere the majority can actually see them behaving in this horrible way? Like Twitter.

And if they notice it, they'll get angry and look an even more repellent herd of shit-smeared zombies. It's brilliant. As a side benefit, if Edelmans have managed to rig some network of semiautomated talking-points distribution bots, they're bound to show up there so they can be identified. And if you were looking for a list of horrible spamming arsewits, Mike Gigglers trying to be hipsters but stuck at the brown-dwarf stage, ZaNuLiebour dittoheads, and other membrane fauna...well, here's your chance to populate your blacklist. I added dozens. It was a lot of fun.

The only annoying thing is that as far as I know, although Twitter has "lists" that let you group other users and subscribe to their collected output (yeah, like XMPP Collection Nodes) it doesn't have the inverse operation. So you can't easily replicate the Team Cymru Bogons BGP feed and automate the process, even if we've already got a serviceable darknet.

Elsewhere, I put together a quick network diagram of the top Met-NI interactions. Nothing very surprising except that the commissioner is always sought after, and that John Yates appears to have an independent following with them (surprise!). Of course, your man Dick was probably at all the meetings in this chart.

Finally, some music.

You (Feat. Nina Sky) - Creep (Hannah Holland Remix) by Hannah Holland

how to clean out a sheep dip

Let's talk sheep dip. No, not drinking the stuff.

Sheep. Being dipped. In sheep dip

Spooks have another couple of uses for the word. One means to fix the admin when you borrow people or equipment from the real world. Another, and the one we're interested in, is to arrange things so it's not obvious to other people how you got hold of information. Typically, if you have a secret source of information you want it to stay secret. But there's no point having the secret source if you don't act on it. All the fun of secrets is telling other people about them, after all.

So you've got a problem - how do I make use of the secret without letting slip the bigger secret of how I got it? The answer is sheepdipping.

Here's a second world war example. As basically everyone knows, the British had broken the Germans' primary radio cipher, taking advantage of work Poland and France had begun earlier and eventually creating an industrial system to pull in radio traffic, break it, translate it into English, analyse it, and distribute reports based on it. In the process, Bletchley Park as good as invented the computer. It was a priceless source of information. So much so that serious precautions were needed to avoid giving the game away.

The answer was to make sure that you found out the information you already had from the code break before you did anything about it. So, once the ships and soldiers were already on the move, a reconnaissance plane would go out or a patrol would be pushed forward to look in exactly the right place. As well as disguising the real intelligence source, this was also an opportunity to check that the source was right.

So why are we indulging in ENIGMA kitsch? Well. The Sun denied vehemently that it got access to the medical records of Gordon Brown's son. Actually it didn't, quite. It denied that they were the source of the story they printed, and hid behind the PCC about the tax files and the bank account and his lawyer's notes and God knows what else. But they found somebody who says he told them all about Brown's son out of the goodness of his heart. As God will be his judge. Yeah, he really said that. Everyone say "Awww."

He really said it; it's in the Sun. Anyway, he swore an affidavit.

Here's the sheep dip, though. Imagine if you're a sweaty 'bloid hack who's just been listening to the chancellor's voicemail. But, unlike the rest of them, you read books. What are you going to do? Take the risk of using the illegal secret surveillance as your source? What if some bastard with a Web site and a grudge goes through years and years of stories and pulls all the ones that are single sourced to conversations on the phone? You're smarter than that.

So, you look up somebody who might be able to give you the story you've already got. This shouldn't be that hard. You've already got more than enough information. That way, you're covered. And you get to check the possibility that the whole thing is a nightmarish trap. And there's a chance that they might provide some more juicy details if correctly handled.

The sheep goes into the dip, and comes out cleansed of its ticks and blowflies and worrisome legal problems, ready to be fattened up, shorn of its valuable fleece, and finally roasted and served with red-top jelly.

Alternatively, a slightly less underhand version. So this bloke walks into a bar. No.

So this bloke walks into a newspaper office. And he says to the barman...I've got this incredible story about Gordon Brown's sick kid because mine's as sick and I go to the same support group or clinic or whatnot. And you punch the conniving, insensitive Nosey Parker in the mouth and throw him out in the street. Right? I mean, who behaves like that?

No. This is a newspaper, dammit. You're not going to turn a chance like this away. But there's a problem. If his motives really are as nice as he makes out, what's he doing hanging around the News International building? Perhaps it's all bullshit. He's taking you for a ride. Newspapers attract enough crazies as it is; look at the comments threads. Throw around money for stories into the bargain and you're going to be beating them off with a side-handled baton, like the printers' union pickets. It's Brown's kid because he knows that will get your attention. Hey, you'd prefer Ulrika Jonsson's. But he's probably crazy and crazy people like politicians.

So you need to check on him. Quick. And because you've got a human source, you don't need to mention whatever you do to check up in the final story. Into the dip goes the sheep. Baa.

In my life I've had the pleasure of cleaning out not just a sheepdip but a cattle dip. It's a long job. My advice is to drain off as much liquid as possible - keep checking the filter on the firepump - and then pressure-blast it with boiling steam. Accept no substitutes, and watch your feet.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

a city wired for sound

Am I right in thinking that Andy Hayman's testimony yesterday fingered Met press chief Dick Fedorcio? Hayman admitted he'd regularly had dinner with News International executives while he was meant to be investigating them. He mentioned that he had done this in the company of the head of communications of the Met, presumably with his approval, although Hayman was also acting in his capacity as ACPO media lead.

Fedorcio has had the same job since 1997. He was named by Nick Davies as having been present in the meeting where the Met demanded to know why Dave Cook was being followed by News International private detectives, and apparently intervened with senior police officers to get them to go easy on NI. Surely the guy in charge of police-press-political relations is a key figure in a scandal that's all about relations between the press, the police, and politics?

Like the key News International men, Alex Marunchak and Greg Miskiw, there's no sign of him. The Home Affairs committee, and indeed anyone else who wants the truth about this, must call Fedorcio without delay. Oh, and is Greg Miskiw in the UK?

Second point. Yesterday's New York Times claims that Miskiw and others on the NOTW were able to locate mobile phones by paying £500 a shot to a corrupt police officer. That is to say, this policeman had access to the lawful intercept systems that are part of all GSM and UMTS cellular networks, or at least he could task people who did. ETSI Specification 01.33 defines this as a standard element of all GSM networks and the corresponding 3GPP TS 33.106 does so for UMTS ones.

If this is so, they could certainly also get pen-register information - lists of calls to and from given phone numbers - and even tap the calls themselves.

This is a massive violation of the UK's critical national infrastructure security, of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, and of the Data Protection Act. News International, their police contact, and the police force responsible (not necessarily the Met) should all be prosecuted.

There is an urgent need to audit the lawful interception systems' logs, among other things to find out if there are other unauthorised users out there. International standards foresee a detailed audit trail as part of these systems in order to preserve the legal chain-of-evidence. If the Interception Request message was submitted in proper form from the police to the telcos, the operators are legally in the clear, but if I was in charge of their network security I'd suspend processing the requests until such an audit was carried out as we now know that an unknown but significant percentage of them are illegal.

Thank fuck we didn't build that giant national ID card database.

Third point. Not that anyone will answer this, but were any of the Prime Minister's designated deputies for nuclear retaliation subject to illegal telecoms surveillance?

Fourth point. Circling back to the Defence Vetting Agency and Andy Coulson, the vetting procedure as described on the DVA Web site states that in some cases, the decision may be taken to issue a security clearance subject to risk management measures taken by the department involved. In these cases, the DVA will disclose information to the sponsoring department that it would usually keep confidential. Did they make such a recommendation to the Prime Minister's office, and if so, what was the information?

Sunday, July 10, 2011

watch the skies, or rather, the airports

FMCNL. We loves you. Rupert Murdoch arrived this morning at London Luton with Gulfstream G550 tail nr N89NC at 09:25 UTC.

It would be improper, I think, if N89NC was to depart again if there was any doubt at all as to who was on board. We don't know how many other people involved, other than Greg Miskiw, are Americans and therefore difficult to extradite.

slight return: coup plot

As a relief from all the Murdoch/Met filth, what about a slight return to last week's coup plot? One of the oddest things about Technique of the Coup d'état is Malaparte's judgment of individuals. The most famous example is the chapter on Hitler, who he thinks was too soft. Seriously - he argued that he lacked a genuine revolutionary aim and was obsessed by remaining at least roughly within the law. He also predicted that there would be more and more tension between the SA and the broader Nazi Party as the first wanted a revolution and the second increasingly cozied up to the establishment.

This was good as far as it went, although most of his predictions can be put down to a case of where-you-sit-is-where-you-stand. Most of the people he interviewed were SA members. No surprises there - he was a fascist who swung to the Left, was fascinated by paramilitarism, and did we mention the slightly gay touch? Not surprisingly, therefore, he got the story on the SA being increasingly alienated from the Party. And his point about Hitler getting closer to the Establishment was a good one, although he expected the Establishment to swallow Hitler up rather than vice versa. Neither did he spot that in fact, Hitler would be quite capable of carrying out a violent coup once he was in charge, in order to get rid of the SA leaders and terrorise the Establishment.

Few people did, though.

Another odd personal assessment is his take on Lloyd George, who he glosses as a boring bourgeois moustache rather than the radically modern and excitingly crooked politician surrounded by spin doctors and intelligence-administrative technicians who was occasionally thought to be a potential putschist himself.

Owt else? Nothing much, except it strikes me that his ideal putschist is a sort of heavily armed flaneur.

plastic gangsters

Something else, (via BorisWatch's Twitter feed): I didn't know Coulson lived so close to the infamous pub at the centre of the Southern Investigations case.

Come to think of it, News International people always liked to project a gangsterish image, ever since they moved to the East End, even though the choice of Wapping was because there was a big empty warehouse there. As a fashion-statement it's hardly unknown, of course. It's no surprise that both Dave Courtney and "Mad" Frankie Fraser managed to weave the whole affair into their mutual beef. The Sun did both of their post-criminal careers as celebrities a power of good. Am I right in thinking this coincided with Brooks and Coulson's rise through the NI hierarchy?

There's much more good stuff over here, including a photo...of the pub!.

But if we were making a film, it would be round about now that the plastic gangsters found themselves involved in something far more serious.

this is a security announcement

There's been a little progress on some of the lines of inquiry in this post. First up, the question of whether or not Coulson was subjected to security vetting before joining No.10 Downing Street, and if so, what the Defence Vetting Agency said about him. This one took a relatively long time to spin up, but now it's landed in this piece.

Coulson, arrested by police on Friday over his role in the scandal, went on to be cleared by the security vetting team at Downing Street after three in-depth interviews about his professional and personal life. He was given "strap one" status, which allowed him the highest access to top-secret material.

So not only did they hire him, they gave him a Top Secret security clearance. Wow. Shoulda googled, DVA, shoulda googled. To say nothing of DontDateHimGirl, or perhaps that gangland website Jamie Kenny linked a while back. Here are the criteria for the different levels of vetting:

You will need a security check if, in the course of your work, you will regularly need access to SECRET and sometimes TOP SECRET (under supervision) information or assets. You will need developed vetting if your work will involve substantial unsupervised access to TOP SECRET information or assets, access to category 1 nuclear material or access to material from other countries and international organisations. If you don't think your job will involve accessing any of this information, you should check with your sponsor whether you need to be vetted.

A question. One of the reasons why this is important is that the prime minister's office receives, as well as Joint Intelligence Committee and Defence Intelligence assessments, a special ration of choice raw intelligence material from GCHQ. This exquisitely practised method of making the prime minister feel special comes in a file known as a BJ, and I'm damned if I'm not going to get a rise with this joke having invented it for my review of Richard Aldrich's history of British SIGINT as far back as last August.

I prefer to think of it as the world's most classified blog. But anyway, this is as secret as secret gets, and moreover it is signals intelligence and therefore covered by special security procedures. These procedures are standardised between the UK, US, and other allies who cooperate on signals intelligence in a document called IRSIG for International Regulations on Signals Intelligence. I'm pretty sure it doesn't contain the words "By all means show it to your dodgy spin doctor who hires people who plant drugs in cars during divorce cases, bribe coppers, and murder each other with axes in pub car parks". What do the Americans, to say nothing of the intelligence-bureaucratic complex right here, make of the whole sorry mess?

Moving swiftly on, what did Cameron know and when did he know it? What might have gone into the report? For the details, the DVA's "So you and your family are being grilled by faintly Pinter-esque security agents! Why didn't you decide to be, say, a quantity surveyor?" page is pretty illuminating although not quite as good as the official Subject's Information Leaflet (PDF).

The interview will cover most areas of your life. The vetting officer will build up
as complete a picture of you as is possible. We have to consider your loyalty, honesty and reliability, and whether you could be more at risk of bribery or blackmail than others. We will ask you about your wider family background (relationships and influences), past experiences, health, sexual relationships
and behaviour, drinking habits, experience of drug taking, financial affairs, general political views, hobbies, foreign travel and so on.

Apparently they didn't think to ask if Coulson was particularly likely to commit bribery. It looks like they'd have noticed if he was behind on his mortgage, if he was gay, if he'd ever so much as looked at a spliff, or if he'd been in a trade union - all the usual "well, somebody might blackmail you with the threat of having your security clearance withdrawn, so we have to make sure we withdraw the clearance, thus completing the circle and making the blackmail possible to begin with" stuff.

Another question. Who were Coulson's character references? Wouldn't it be hilarious if one was Rebekah Brooks, or one of the various politicians who claim to consider him a friend?

Snark. I once had to complete a security clearance form and the bit that stuck in my mind was that I had to swear that I would not try to overthrow parliamentary democracy by violent, subversive, or industrial means. I've managed to stay legit so far, although the temptation can be a bastard. But there was nothing about running a really shitty newspaper that had to hide from its readers behind high walls, steel fences, and CCTV cameras, nor about planting cocaine on unsuspecting women.


More progress from here. In comments, we have an explanation of the PoCA 1906 vs. BA 2010 issue. It's actually much simpler than I imagined. Basically, the old Act was in force at the time of the crime, and it's not clear whether the new one is operational yet in the absence of the Ministry of Justice's guidance.

Friday, July 08, 2011

fun with charts!

I thought I'd reorganise the information in this Peter Oborne post.

There is a near perfect negative correlation between malpractice and information

I plotted the number of times each newspaper group reported on the phone-screwing case against the number of times they were caught paying for information. Even I was surprised when the R^2 correlation came out as 0.94 - a near perfect inverse relationship. The shittier your newspaper's general conduct, the less news it carried. If some twit at the Observer hadn't tripped over his cock, it would probably have been a linear relationship.

transmission belt

I still can't get over this morning's Cameron press conference. The incredible thing, as I said, was the transition in what was respectable to discuss. The Guardian went the whole hog and brought up the whole ball of police corruption, and Michael Crick of the BBC pressed very hard on the question of the money. Well, you might have expected that from them.

But ITV News's reporter demanded to know whether News International might shred all the evidence, Adam Boulton from Sky News was the first to raise the BSkyB issue, the Times wanted to know about the content of Coulson's "assurances", and the Sun asked if Coulson had betrayed the prime minister. Even if the Sun guy couldn't actually bring himself to say "Andy Coulson", it was quite the showing - about one step from a Nile TV-style on-air apology.

Cameron's response was odd. At one point he said this:

Democracy is government by explanation and we need the media to explain what we're trying to do".

Apparently he believes the mass communications organisations are a transmission belt between the Party and the People. How bizarrely communist.

At one point, he started talking about transparency, government credit cards, and releases of government meetings data. This was frankly surreal; I wasn't expecting him to go all ScraperWiki.

He also went on endlessly about having given Coulson a second chance. So much so that this was evidently a talking-point he'd been intensely coached with. I do wonder what work this was meant to do. Was it just meant to sound patronisingly nice? Surely someone ought to ask if he's soft on crime. After all, while criminals are in prison, you know they aren't spying on the families of the war dead.

The Tory crisis plan seems to be in two parts:

1) Hide behind OFCOM and the police.

2) Counter-attack Miliband's press secretary Tom Baldwin, because he used to work for the Times.

If you take this at face value, it implies that all current or former News International journos are marked men. So, I asked Tim Montgomerie if he would join me in calling for the resignation of Michael Gove, former assistant editor of The Times and current Education Secretary. We need to get a grip, etc. He's not replied yet.

neeeews of the world

In an effort to clear some of the NOTWFail stuff out of my mind, I thought I'd try to come up with some useful pointers for further investigation.

1. The Daniel Morgan/Southern Investigations line of inquiry

This is by far the most serious accusation, in every sense. It has police corruption, a murder, and the unusual sight of a police surveillance team following the NOTW's private detectives following Detective Chief Inspector David Cook around London as he tried to investigate them. (Isn't the movie going to be great?) And wasn't it an amazing moment this morning when Patrick "for once, bracingly chilly" Wintour brought it up in the No.10 press conference? It wasn't that long ago that only Fleet Street or London underworld obsessives knew the story and were unrespectable enough to talk about it.

Here's the Nick Davies version, which is nicely condensed. The whole affair has a strong taste of noir and this boils it down to a bitter, sticky, toxic, but powerfully caffeinated residue.

As editor of the News of the World Rebekah Brooks was confronted with evidence that her paper's resources had been used on behalf of two murder suspects to spy on the senior detective who was investigating their alleged crime.

Brooks was summoned to a meeting at Scotland Yard where she was told that one of her most senior journalists, Alex Marunchak, had apparently agreed to use photographers and vans leased to the paper to run surveillance on behalf of Jonathan Rees and Sid Fillery, two private investigators who were suspected of murdering their former partner, Daniel Morgan.

Note the involvement of Fillery, who was the investigating officer in the original case and took over Morgan's business afterwards, and who was later done for child porn offences. It's also worth noting that Marunchak was accused of being crooked in both directions - not only was he accused of bribing the police for information, he was accused of trousering a share of the money paid out, as a kickback in exchange for putting business their way.

If anyone needs investigating, surely he should be interviewed as soon as possible - and also Greg Miskiw, who comes up in the story. Compared to these two, the royal correspondent is a bit pathetic. Miskiw is an American citizen. Wouldn't it be embarrassing if he was to turn up in the States, protected against extradition?

2. The Met Press Office

So, who's the guy who briefs the News of the World? This blog asked the question repeatedly after the de Menezes and Forest Gate cases. Might that be Dick Fedorcio, the then Met press chief who insisted on going easy on the papers after they were caught spying on DCI David Cook?

On a related theme, Andy Hayman and Lord Macdonald's roles at NI are surely now completely unacceptable.

3. Andy Coulson's Background Check

This was also one of the things that made it a morning to remember. The prime minister explained that he had commissioned "a private company" - yet more private detectives! - to look into Coulson's career before hiring him. What company? Also, I'm not sure whether these enquiries were made when he joined the Tory press office or when he joined the Government.

Further, we know Alistair Campbell and other Government press officers had access to highly secret intelligence in the past. (Not a press officer, but the only politician outside the inner-cabinet who knew about Suez in advance was the then chief whip Ted Heath - it's a precedent for someone with a wholly political/propaganda role being clued in.) Obviously, the dossier was a bit of an outlier, but you'd be a fool to think that the practice of deep integration between government media staff and policymakers had vanished.

So, did Coulson have an official security clearance? Was he ever positively-vetted? If so, what did the DVA's notoriously nosy investigators say about him?

4. The Missing Millions of Messages

Probably not much point covering this as Davies the scoop is after it already and if the "sources" bits are accurate, the dibble are very close to making arrests.

But. 500 GB of Murdochmail. Please. Please. Even just the headers.

Similarly, shouldn't we at last get the big list of the hacked?

5. How Hack Happen?

There's really very little hard information about this around. This piece in the Indy may be by Jemima Khan but that doesn't make it less interesting. It looks like they had found a way of forcing a password reset - so even if you changed the PIN, they could force it back to the default.

Stupid telcos' stupid voicemail implemented a password reset by setting the password to a well-known default value rather than issuing a new, randomly generated PIN like your bank or really, any random website's "forgotten password" link.

But I think we'd all like to know how they did it. Smart money is on the call centres - especially as there have been cases of mobile phone salesmen paying competitors' call centre staff for lists of people whose contracts are up for renewal and also of credit card numbers being sold. Khan names a company: "CTI".

6. Mechanics of Collapse

So what just happened? Was it the advertisers? Who went first? How much advertising did they pull?

Also, what happened with the distribution chain? Did, as rumoured, the newsagents stop ordering papers?

7. Compare and Contrast

Andy Coulson has been arrested under Section 1 of the Prevention of Corruption Act 1906, as well as the Criminal Law Act 1977 for the phone-screwing (the NOTW term - after all it was hardly a hack). But this legislation was meant to have been superseded by the Bribery Act 2010. What's up?

One explanation would be that the Ministry of Justice has been working on official guidelines on how to interpret the new law, which encompasses many more forms of corruption than the old and provides for rather heavier penalties. Obviously, it wouldn't be ideal to choose the scandal of the century for the new text's very first run-out, so perhaps that's what's up.

However, there are some other issues here. The new Act provides for the seizure of ill-gotten gains and for the disqualification of company directors - the old one doesn't. And the old Act requires the approval of the Attorney-General for a prosecution; the new one gets rid of this and leaves it to the CPS as per usual.

Either way, it's enough that Coulson offered money. Whether they accepted it or whether they delivered is irrelevant - the crime is either offering or soliciting bribes.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

corruption production, fag packets, protection rackets...

It looks like rusty old thatcherbot Sir George Young announced a COI review of government advertising in the News of the World today. Fortunately, the Grauniad published a list of the top 50 NOTW advertisers by spending, and they're not on there, so you can be reassured the whole exercise was as pointless as everything else I've done since 2003.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:


Elsewhere, in "credit where credit's due" news, it was Channel 4 news that first connected the dots of the Daniel Morgan/Southern Investigations case and the phone-hacking affair, although it was Tom Watson, presumably having been clued-in by the Grauniad, who broke the detail that they were actually working for the Morgan accused at the time.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Who controls Government ad spending?

The Government's Central Office of Information, essentially its in-house advertising agency, spent £193 million on advertising in the financial year 2009-2010. The year before, it spent £211 million, making it the UK's single biggest media buying desk.

Is it appropriate for the Government to be spending taxpayers' money propping up the deeply discredited News of the World and its mates in Rebekah Brooks' Augean stables? In the light of 10 Downing St's creepily close relationship with News International - hiring workplace bully Andy Coulson as press spokesman, meeting Rebekah Brooks under MP-constituent privilege to avoid public scrutiny - doesn't this spending constitute a worryingly inappropriate use of public resources?

I don't think so. Perhaps you don't either. Or perhaps you're cool with it. Either way, perhaps the top management team at the COI should be aware of your opinion. Fortunately, the COI's top management team is on their website! So I've loaded it into a Google spreadsheet for convenient reference.

Obviously, there's the CEO, Mark Lund. But think like a civil servant. Who's in control? Mark Cross is in charge of "communications planning for all campaigns" so it looks like he's a key node. The org chart bears that out - might be nice to get Graham Hooper, director of client service and strategy, too.

Don't be abusive. They are public servants after all. But do be firm.

Sunday, July 03, 2011


OK, I'm completely sick of paying far too much to my shitty boutique ISP and BT for crackly steam voice and ADSL2+ that regularly provides between 400 and 600 Kbps downlink and 30-100 up. Right here in London. The SNR margin, attenuation, etc look normal and the modem trains to over 10Mbps, but there is reliably 1-3% packet loss so TCP never actually breaks out of slow-start mode.

I have some options.

Go to another ADSL op - well, the danger is that they'll just port the hank of copper flapping in the breeze, leaving me no better off, rather than replacing it completely.

Get BT FTTC service whether from BT or someone else - the problem is that our exchange was originally planned for the 31st December 2010 (at the time this was a horses' birthday, used for all areas where there was a planning permission fuck-up), and has since been sliding right. The last update pushed it from June 2011 to September 2011, although BT is claiming that "Lower Holloway" can have it now. But there is no such exchange.

Also, data bundle sizes for FTTC service are all incredibly stingy.

Bury the hatchet and get Virgin cable service - this eliminates the fritzing, bent-safety-pin mess that is BT's aerial plant around here, although some of the cable installs are worth seeing, and would probably get us much, much more bandwidth. Also, cable has been installed here before so they might let me off the install fee.

However, reading their tariff, I can't make any sense of what it actually costs. Everything's "FREE! for the first six months thereafter suchandsuch", or "NOW! MORE TELLY for just £5", or "FREE! with a Virgin Phone line for £12.99 a month". A Virgin Phone line? Is that a thing? On the principle that people who won't actually name a price are ipso facto lying, I'm not keen.

Also, no IPv6, daft adverts about "fibre optic broadband" when it's not, etc.

an update

I may have to update the scoring in this post. I went to see this over the weekend - too late as it happened, but I floaked it - and I have to say that it's not the project of someone torying-out. Far too 1945-68 British reasonablepunk.

Reflections on a HOWTO

I have been reading Curzio Malaparte's Technique of the Coup d'état this weekend. It's a fascinating document - the basic argument is that the October Revolution represented an exportable, universally applicable technology for taking control of the state, quite independent of ideological motivation or broader strategic situation. It was already fairly well-known at the time that Russia in 1917 really wasn't the environment Marxists imagined would lead to a revolution and that Lenin had essentially retconned the whole thing to provide for giving history a little push. Malaparte's unique contribution was to argue that it was more fundamental than that - the Bolshevik seizure of power could in reality have been carried out almost anywhere, for whatever reason. It wasn't a strategic or ideological question, but one of operational art and tactics.

So, what's this open-source putsch kit consist of? Basically you need a small force of determined rebels. Small is important - you want quality not quantity as secrecy, unanimity, and common understanding good enough to permit independent action are required. You want as much chaos as possible in advance of the coup, although not so much that everything's shut. And then you occupy key infrastructures and command-and-control targets. Don't, whatever you do, go after ministries or similar grand institutional buildings - get the stuff that would really cause trouble if it blew up.

Ideally, you do this by just floaking in through the front door as if you were in the railway station to catch a train rather than to seize the signalling centre. You'll probably need, once you've got control of the real instruments of power, to stage some sort of symbolic overthrow of the government, but this is really only in order to get the message across to everybody else. Then, induce whatever authority is meant to be in charge after the head of government has been incapacitated to legitimise your action after the fact. It doesn't matter much what state it's in - a pro tip is to keep the parliament but get rid of enough opposition members to rig the vote.

Bada bing, bada boom, you are now the dictator.

From the other side, Malaparte argues that the worst thing that can go wrong is a general strike. There's no point occupying key points if you can't make the machine work yourself, as you'll just be master of a lot of dark, cold buildings. The second worst thing that can go wrong is that you start to fall behind schedule. The whole trick relies on missing out as many people as possible, and the longer it takes, the more people have time to recover their orientation and get angry.

Interestingly, he comes up with something very like the 70s "historic compromise" concept in relation to this.

So you need either to get the support or at least the neutrality of the unions, or else render them unable to act in advance, which will mean fighting a civil war before you get to bring off the coup. And once you start, you've got to move quickly and keep moving.

Interestingly, he doesn't say much about how you're going to keep power once you've got it, if you can't rely on calling everyone out on strike. After all, two can play at this game. This is a weakness in the whole concept, and quite an illuminating one.

Malaparte was a deeply odd character, a border-nationalist of German origins, an Italian first world war hero, later a diplomat and journalist and a fascist of the first hour who went on to fall out with fascism and get locked up. This is probably why he is read at all now. Having been released, he reported the Eastern Front of 1941 for the Italian papers until he fell out with the Germans, covered the Finnish sector until something similar happened, ended up back in Italy in time to take part in his second Italian coup (he had already managed to invade Russia twice, once as an attaché with the Poles in 1920 and again with the Germans as a journo in 1941, and live to tell the tale), served in the pro-Allied Italian army, and claimed to have become a communist.

He was also an almost joyously unreliable source, a self-mythologising war junkie who made Hemingway look sensible, and to be frank, if he fell out with the fascists it wasn't because he was going soft or anything. I've read his dispatches from the Eastern Front (The Volga Rises in Europe) and found it hard to make out what the Germans objected to - obviously my standards aren't those of a Wehrmacht press officer, but there's a lot of hardboiled combat reporting, quite a bit of gratuitous fine writing, and nothing much critical of the war or Germany.

He also had an Ernst Röhm gay-fascist streak you could have landed a fleet of Savoia-Marchetti flying boats on, across it. Or at least his style did. The Volga... is just full of dashing blond Finnish officers and casually hunky, rough-trade Nazi recovery mechanics track-bashing in the Ukrainian sun, although there are a fair few fair country girls whose hearts and minds don't seem to need much winning in there as well. (By the time it all got stuck in a ditch outside Rostov-on-Don he'd long since been ghosted by the German spin doctors.)

Anyway, a fascinating, utterly mad, and often deeply creepy writer. Back to the steps of the telephone exchange.

I think his coup technique is quite telling. Fascism always had an odd central contradiction in that it insisted it believed in hardcore political realism but also in romantic activism. Power, and specifically either firepower or horsepower, was all that mattered, but with enough will it would always be possible to change the power realities. Marxists offered inevitability; fascists opportunity. Rapid shock action directed at the key installations will give us the state, and that will give us everything else. Speed, style, ruthlessness, and cheek are everything. It's the hope of audacity - get the right people together and a list of oil refineries, and everything is possible.

This may not sound very convincing, but it's certainly true that many, many coups have been carried out following this rough plan.

Malaparte makes a complex distinction between the seizure of power in a parliamentary state and just using the parliamentary institutions to go legit later. He's agin the first. I'm not so sure - two of the most successful coups of the 20th century were carried out in France, Petain's parliamentary coup and de Gaulle's rather less parliamentary one in 1958.

I think what's happening here is that his residual fascist is showing.

Another thing that runs through the book is the idea, very common in extreme politics since 1918, that the military tactics of the late first world war - infiltration, independent action, surprise attack - can just be ported straight into politics. Malaparte actually goes so far as to make this explicit. It's a great historical irony that the world experts of decentralised command were the Prussians, of course.

As always, though, it all makes for great tactics but lousy strategy.

there is no crisis except in Lord Hutton's pants

I note that "Not the Judge" Hutton is now said to be doing the rounds complaining that the sensitivity analysis chart from his pensions report - the one that shows that there is no crisis - is being "taken out of context". This is of course pol-speak for "a fact I dislike is being inconveniently publicised, please stop".

They're lying to you

I am, of course, delighted.

"trolling d-squared sunday" continues

While I was thinking about VRCs, I re-read this post of Dan's about how specialising in the problems of Irish immigrants was no longer as good a career move for a north London social worker as it had been in - say - 1981, although I think what he meant with regard to the date was "when he moved to Camden".

Looking back, it's ironic and probably inevitable that this post appeared on the 22nd of November, 2008, just as the hypothetical social worker's career prospects were about to be dramatically revived, before presumably running into the cuts wall a couple of years later. History makes fools of us all.

Geography, however, is the original time machine; it wasn't at all clear to me, over the Camden-Islington border in Holloway, that Islington Council could do without another social worker specialising in the problems of Irish immigrants, and it's even less so now.

now, where's Hopi Sen when you need him...

Daniel Davies has long had a beef with the government over its PR strategy towards the MMR vaccine, for which he sometimes seems to hold Ben Goldacre responsible. No, it doesn't make much sense to me either, but as a student of the Davies oeuvre, I think it can be best understood as a system of interlocking grudges. I personally think spite is underrated as a progressive force, so I don't have that much to complain about here.

Anyway, what I think this particular grudge is lacking is a sense of what might have been done differently. The official line-to-take was that there was nothing wrong with the MMR vaccine. Among the press talking points of the Tony Blair years, this stands out for having been the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, although this wasn't as obvious then as it is now.

As far as I understand it, D^2's point is that the government could have done more to accommodate the concerns of people who were worried about it. This is where I'd like to see an alternative proposal, though. Does this seem to you like a convincing media strategy? Obviously, what follows are caricature scenarios rather than specific proposals.

There's nothing wrong with it, but you're right to be worried

Let's try that one again from the top.

There's nothing wrong with it, but if you're rich you can go private

I think I see the problem.

There's nothing wrong with it, but if you're worried about it, here's a lot of content-free warm words and canned emotion. Hey, it's the Blair government - we've got more than enough to go round!

It is worth remembering that one of D^2's major criticisms is that the government was too patronising.

There's nothing wrong with it, but we must recognise the Very Real Concerns...

Ah, yes, those. We've met them before; I seem to remember a rather good essay on very real concerns.

Further, of course, all of these plans would have had the same fundamental failure mode, in that they would all have been reported as JABS WILL RAPE YOUR MORTGAGE: OFFICIAL by the Daily Hell and the Diana Tits.

I suspect that any answer to this will involve Blair refusing to say whether his kids got the MMR or not. I note that, tiresome prat that Blair was about it, John Selwyn Gummer stuffing a burger into his daughter is not actually remembered as a rhetorical triumph on a par with "I have a dream..." nor even as a masterpiece of cynical PR on a par with "The pound in your pocket has not been devalued".

Of course, there really was something seriously wrong with the burger, in fact all the burgers, and Gummer bore significant responsibility for letting that state of affairs persist. So even though he's apparently a nice old church gent who writes books about the environment these days, there's a grudge worth bearing.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

If you're out of luck and out of work, we could send you to the western mountains of Libya

The Libyan rebels are making progress, as well as robots. Some of them are reported to be within 40 miles of Tripoli, those being the ones who the French have been secretly arming, including with a number of light tanks. Now that's what I call protecting civilians.

They are also about to take over the GSM network in western Libya like they did in the east. How do I know? I'm subscribed to the Telecom Tigers group on LinkedIn and so I get job adverts like these two.

ZTE BSC Job: URGENT send cv at [e-mail] for the job position or fw to your friends : Expert Telecom Engineer ZTE BSC.Location:Lybia,Western Area,1300USD/day,start immediate

URGENT send cv at [e-mail] for the job position or fw to your friends : ERICSSON MGW/BSS/BSC 2G/RAN Implementation Senior Expert Engineer.Location:Lybia,Gherian,Western Mountains,1300-1500 USD/day

In fact, one of the ads explicitly says that the job is in the rebel zone and the other is clear enough. What the rebels are planning to do is clear from the job descriptions:

must be able to install a ZTE latest generation BSC - platform to be integrated with 3rd party switching platform,solid knowledge of ZTE BSC build out and commissioning to connect up to 200 existing 2G/3G sites

To put it another way, they want to unhook the existing BTSs - the base stations - from Libyana and link them to a core system of their own, and in order to do this they need to install some Chinese-made Base Station Controllers (BSCs - the intermediary between the radio base stations and the central SS7 switch in GSM).

Here's the blurb for the Ericsson post:

Responsible for commissioning and integrating an Ericsson 2G BSS network (2048-TRX Ericsson BSC plus Ericsson BTSs) in a multi-vendor environment. Will be responsible for taking the lead and ownership of all BSS commissioning and integration, leading the local team of BSS engineers, and managing the team through to completion of integration.

Experience of Ericsson MGW implementation, and integration of MGW with BSS, is highly desirable. Experience of optical transmission over A-interface.

Compilation, creation and coordination of BSC Datafill. This will include creating, generating, seeking and gathering of all Datafill components (Transport, RF Frequencies, neighbor relations, handovers, Switch parameters, ABIS mapping, etc.) based on experience and from examination of existing network configuration and data. Loading of Datafill into the BSC to facilitate BTS integration.

Working with the MSC specialists to integrate the BSC with the MSC. Providing integration support to BTS field teams; providing configuration and commissioning support to the BSC field team.

So they've got some Ericsson BSCs, the base stations are Ericsson too, and an MSC (Mobile Switching Centre, the core voice switch) has been found from somewhere - interesting that they don't say who made it. That'll be the "3rd party switching platform" referred to in the first job. They're doing VoIP at some point, though, because they need a media gateway (MGW) to translate between traditional SS7 and SIP. They need engineers to integrate it all and to work out what the various configurations should be by studying what Gadhafi's guys left. (It's actually fairly typical that a mobile network consists of four or so different manufacturers' kit, which keeps a lot of people in pies dealing with the inevitable implementation quirks.)

The successful candidate will also have some soft skills, too:

Willing to work flexible hours, excellent interpersonal skills and the ability to work under pressure in a challenging, diverse and dynamic environment with a variety of people and cultures.

You can say that again. Apparently, security is provided for anyone who's up for the rate, which doesn't include full board and expenses, also promised.

They already have at least one candidate.

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