Sunday, March 25, 2012

Links about NHS privatisation in Haringey

More of a scratch pad for me than anything else.

It's not like your friendly local Clinical Commissioning Group would have a web site. Is it. Anyway, there is a list of names in this PDF.

Chair / Central Lead Dr Helen Pelendrides*
Vice Chair / North East Lead Dr John Rohan*
Borough Director Andrew Williams
West Lead Dr Peter Christian*
South East Lead Dr Muhammad Akunjee*
Central GP Member Dr Sharezad Tang*
North East GP Member Dr Simon Caplan*
North East GP Member Dr Gino Amato*
West GP Member Dr Dina Dhorajiwala*
West GP Member Dr David Masters*
South East GP member vacant
Sessional GP member Dr Rebecca Viney*
Borough Head of Finance David Maloney
Director of Public Health Dr Jeanelle de Gruchy
Non-executive Sue Baker
Non-executive Cathy Herman
Patient Representative (West) Patrick Morreau
Patient Representative (East) Ivy Ansell
Haringey Council Mun Thong Phung
Haringey Council Councillor Dogus

There's going to be some sort of public meeting on the 17th of April.

Contacts (for all the North Central London CCGs) are here.

The proposed commissioning support organisation (that's the bit Lansley wants to give the yanks - a technical term, I agree) prospectus, from the existing NHS organisation, is here. Interesting detail:

Our services will be affordable. Our offer will enable you to run your CCG effectively and to deliver commissioning support within your £25 per head allowance. Our working principle is to provide a core offer for £15 per head, with additional or enhanced services available at additional cost. We believe that this meets current CCG expectations that internal CCG running costs will cost up to £10 per head.

There are 225,000 people in the London Borough. That's £2.2 million in "internal CCG running costs" split between whichever people in that list get to draw a salary from it. Fuck me, no wonder Saint GP likes it.

It's personal. Play your part

Red Brick blogs on the new regulations regarding council tenants who want to take over control of their estates. Their view is that this will be much more likely, and therefore that the campaign to prevent the London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham demolishing a lot of homes in order to redevelop Earls Court has taken a big step forward. Perhaps. LBHF, as Boriswatch has repeatedly shown, is a bit of a happy hunting ground for really weird Tories, and the final word is with the Secretary of State, aka Bradford's second-worst political product Eric Pickles. Good luck with that.

But there is an interesting point here. I would argue that re-election is not really a concern for the Tories. They have fully internalised the so-called "50% + 1" model dear to Karl Rove. The point is not to "win the centre ground" by triangulating, it is to scrape in by mobilising the base and demobilising the other lot. Then, one tries to change the conditions by making deliberately excessive and maximalist demands on the basis that whatever you ask for, you'll probably get less, so it makes sense to shoot for the moon. Eventually, you'll lose, but in doing so you will have pissed off the right people and hopefully changed the character of the terrain. Further, the new integrated Atlantic market for bullshit means that being a minister is no longer a life's work, but rather an apprenticeship for much better rewarded punditry.

Think of it as an approach that isn't about manoeuvring over the landscape, it's about changing the landscape itself.

As a result, there is no strategic focus in terms of policy. Instead, there is a focus in terms of time. The point is to have a lot of things happening simultaneously in the hope that this will confuse the enemy - that's you - and also in the belief that some of the bombers, or perhaps the bulldozers, will get through.

I see two responses to this. One is assymetric reaction - for example, throwing the kitchen sink at the Murdoch wars. There is no direct link between the NHS and Leveson, but you bet the sale of the News International papers would make it far easier to repeal the NHS Bill. This is why my blog is so obsessed by it. It's an opportunity to change the terrain.

Another is total defence. If the attack is meant to be decentralised and localised to the NHS trust level, the defence can be as well. This is why you must read this seminal, classic post from Richard Blogger now and act on it. You can get a list of NHS foundation trusts whose membership is nationwide here. I just joined the one that covers my local mental health service - a likely early target - and now I am the NHS candidate for governor. Oh, yeah, and my local acute/general hospital. Go, read, work through the checklist.

(Title taken from faintly Orwellian-meets-Hazel-Blears but remarkably apposite Singaporean Ministry of Defence website. They used to have one that said "Total Defence. What will YOU defend?", which is on point as well.)

the missing link between slimming tea and tactical electronic warfare

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


I don't think Jonathan Freedland will be wanting this piece of his in the Bedside Guardian book-of-the-year. In terms of basic journalistic standards, it may be the worst article to appear in the paper in the last 12 months. Look at this:

His autobiography is similarly unrepentant and notable for its repeated interest in Jews, Israel and Zionism. I'm told that Miliband's office saw an early draft which had plenty more on those subjects, including statements that had them raising their "eyebrows to the heavens" – and which they were mightily relieved to see did not make the final version.

You might expect that somebody who is going to throw around allegations of anti-semitism and demand "repentance" about a book might be able to quote something from this book, in order to support this very grave accusation. Even if the book is so repellent that Freedland can't bring himself to physically touch it - so much so that he doesn't even need to read it to know this - surely there must be an intern knocking around Kings Place who could do the dirty work? But no.

Further, since when has "I'm told" been acceptable sourcing in a serious newspaper? Close reading is valuable in this case. There are many conventional ways of signalling the source of a statement from someone who wishes to remain anonymous. Freedland uses none of them. We do not get as much as "Sources close to..." or "The so-and-so camp...". I regularly bitch and moan and whine about tiresome newspaper code for "Their PR man told me", but it has the virtue of indicating that a source actually exists whose identity the writer is protecting, and whose identity is known to the editor. In this case, our man is not even willing to take that much responsibility, which is quite shameful given the gravity of the matter.

Careful readers will also note that there is no statement or implication in the text that whoever told him is a source in Ed Miliband's office. This is an important lesson in the craft of dishonest writing. Juxtaposition gives the impression of a logical link, but without its semantic substance. You simply place two unrelated statements together and let the reader associate them. It is therefore very useful in later defending your work in front of your editor or a court.

In this case, the substance of the allegation is something that supposedly got edited out of Ken Livingstone's memoirs - that is to say, something which is by nature invisible. Further, disproving that this text (again not quoted) was deleted requires you to prove a negative. Freedland didn't actually ask if Livingstone had stopped beating his wife, but in the light of these standards of intellectual honesty and journalistic practice, why the hell not?

There is more of this stuff. The core of the piece is a meeting Freedland had with Livingstone and a group of other Labour activists. Freedland won't say who they were or what they were up to (of course, in the print edition you can't click through) but does say the following:

One explicitly said he sought no recantation of past remarks nor a change of position on Israel

However, the letter they sent jars with this.

Despite his seeming obsession with Israel, which gives some quarters cause for concern....

Also, perhaps it might have been more honest to mention that the deputation to see Ken included:

key people from Labour Friends of Israel

Further, Freedland harps on the fact that Livingstone had a paying gig with Press TV, which apparently:

put him in the pay of a theocratic dictatorship that denies the Holocaust and believes that both homosexuality and adultery merit stoning.

Unfortunately, this comes literally in the same paragraph as:

He's been in further trouble over his tax arrangements

Which is, of course, an allusion to Andrew Gilligan's discredited story, in which Gilligan made a schoolboy accounting mistake and confused the total of retained profit in a company with its annual trading profits, inflating Livingstone's income by a factor of 7. Oddly enough, Freedland is perfectly happy to quote Gilligan despite the fact that in Freedland's own terms he is:

in the pay of a theocratic dictatorship that denies the Holocaust and believes that both homosexuality and adultery merit stoning

Because, after all, Andrew Gilligan has been working for Press TV for some time. Strangely, his pals on the Policy Exchange/neo-con wing of the Tories find this acceptable, and so does Jonathan Freedland.

Anyway, this ugly little bit of business reminds us of something important. There may be Blairites and Brownites in the Labour Party, but there is also a third pole of Ken-nites, and there is no reason to think either group will be any less vicious towards them than they are to each other.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Failure of a lobby

Sherwood Rowland, one of the scientists responsible for discovering that CFCs were destroying the ozone layer and fixing the problem, has died. Realclimate has a good write-up, as does Eli Rabett, who makes the excellent point that we needed to invent quite a bit of the chemistry involved before we could discover there was a problem. Perhaps more telling is this NASA web page, which describes the output from the Goddard Space Flight Centre's Chemistry-Climate Model given inputs corresponding to a world that kept using the stuff. It's either utterly terrifying, or enormously inspiring, depending on how you look at it. Rowland, Paul Crutzen, the British Antarctic Survey people who did the fieldwork...they essentially saved the world.

But what really interests me was how they got the Vienna and Montreal protocols passed. I had the vague impression that something had changed since 1989, that the ex-tobacco industry unscience industry was only cranked up later to bash the climatologists. In fact, I'm wrong. A comment at Realclimate points out that they were indeed targeted by the usual suspects. Rowland was accused of being a KGB agent trying to destroy capitalism.

Jeff Masters of Wunderground has a really handy rundown of the pushback campaign against the ozone scientists, who were subjected to direct smears as above, plus a barrage of general-purposes PR, psuedo-scientific doubt-mongering, all with the assistance of Hill & Knowlton, Tom DeLay (for it is he) and (interestingly) some of the same characters who turn up both in Big Baccy and later on in the climate wars.

But here's the interesting question, though. In the case of CFCs, it didn't work. Thatcher's late swing towards environmental issues is fairly well known, and prime ministers are certain of ratifying treaties they sign. Something must have induced Reagan to sign and Congress to ratify, though. Did the CFC makers just not give it one more heave, a few more millions?

A report back from the NHS demo

So, I was at today's NHS demo. Somebody had to be - I was shocked by how many people weren't there. The streets were full of people who weren't there. And there was a pretty standard demo pitched up on the pavement outside the Department of Health at Richmond House, 97 Whitehall. Speeches. Depression. Workers' Liberty tried to sell me a paper. The last time I met that lot, they wanted to explain why the lesson of the Paris Commune was that you needed to be nastier to the Muslims. Anyway.

After a while some people from Occupy London and a couple of other orgs turned up to join in. Not long after this there was some sort of interaction with the police (I heard later that they asked us to leave the pavement), and as a result the demo moved onto the street and formed a block across it. Very quickly, a couple of carriers appeared from the Parliament Square side with TSG cops aboard (one of whom, presumably in charge, was out and about talking to the ordinary bill). After some parley - I don't know the details - they suddenly moved off towards Parliament Square. I expected them to re-appear behind us, but it didn't happen. Instead, traffic was diverted at each end of Whitehall.

So we stood and sat there, singing our songs and waving our banners. There was more police coming and going, but no real change. Occupy started to work through their standard occupying procedure of holding a meeting and getting a human microphone going.

About 1530, a police carrier appeared from the direction of Trafalgar Square and delivered a slack dozen TSG men, who formed a line across Whitehall between the levels of Richmond House and Downing Street. The demo, which had been facing towards Westminster, swung around to face them. At this point I was seriously worried that the next move would be a line moving up from Westminster to form a kettle. The police deployment was quite thin and extended, whether because this lot were the first to arrive or because they deliberately wanted to filter people through the line.

At 1536, I tweeted (so probably a little earlier), the demo started moving towards Trafalgar Square, partly pushing forwards and mostly moving around the flanks of the police line. (This is a fair characterisation, I think, as is this.) The police moved back towards Downing Street and then towards the Women's Monument, and there was some sort of outbreak of shouting on the Downing St side in front of the Cabinet Office, where a lot of people were trying to get by between the police line and the buildings. I passed by on the other side close to Alanbrooke's statue (my twitter feed says this was 1600). This is the widest point of Whitehall, and the police line now had demonstrators on both sides.

From this point on, the demo moved fairly quickly up Whitehall. Ahead, I saw a police 4x4, possibly a senior officer's vehicle, parked in the middle of the road, which suddenly moved off with squealing tyres. That sounds dramatic, but in truth the pace was little more than a brisk walk, and nothing violent had happened so far.

Approaching the top of Whitehall, a choke point where the street narrows before entering Trafalgar Square, I looked back and saw that beyond the demo, and the police, and the demonstrators who were on the other side of the police, many more police had arrived. I think I saw between five and eight carriers.

At the top of Whitehall, the demo started to pass into Trafalgar Square. I was one of the first in the retreat at this point. Due to the demo, and to an "event" in the Square, there was very heavy traffic on all the streets around it. As we emerged from Whitehall, the next vehicle to move forwards from the direction of the Strand and Northumberland Avenue was a police van, specifically one of the red Transit minibuses used by Met Diplomatic Protection and anti-terrorist branch units. (Wail Qasim identified them as such at 1606.) It was, for the record, in the traffic jam rather than parked off the street, and everyone was inside with the doors and windows shut.

One of the Occupiers immediately lay down in front of the van, I think to stop it or any traffic blocking the exit from Whitehall. Other demonstrators gathered around it. There was a hiatus as they realised that they had kettled the cops, and the cops realised that something unusual was going on. Then, one of them got out of the vehicle, with his H&K rifle slung, apparently intending to talk to the people. It can only have been at this point that the now-famous photo was taken. Like everyone else, as far as I can make out, my first thought was "Er, armed police?" (as my Twitter feed records at 1604).

Nothing very much happened. I was one carriageway from the van, and I don't remember that anyone raised their voice between the police or the protestors around their van. However, I presume they radioed for help, as the first TSG unit now caught up in a real hurry, eventually forming a line (very tight and concentrated this time) in front of the van.

People now began to gather on the mini-roundabout facing them, which seemed to me to practically invite the creation of a kettle around it as more and more police were still appearing. As a result, this didn't last and the demo moved on across the Square and into the Strand. By the level of Charing Cross, I had the impression that the demonstration had melted away, which struck me as a smart move. In fact, according to Twitter, some of us pressed on up Aldwych and encountered quite rough treatment from the police.

So that was my experience. Everyone seems to be furious that armed police were seen on the demo. I'm not sure that they were used, and I wouldn't want this to detract from getting after, for example, this bloke or this one.

However, I think the real reason for this is that the Met usually has a group of armed officers and their vans based at Charing Cross nick, as it's close to various ministries, the Palace of Westminster, Buckingham Palace, and some embassies that get armed police protection. The van could have either been coming from Charing Cross to start a shift, or perhaps on the way back via Northumberland Avenue. They didn't seem to be particularly aware something unusual was going on, and they were sitting in a van in a traffic jam rather than being deployed in any tactical fashion. My twitter feed records this view at 1608, as do some others.

Insurance man Djanogly wants to make you buy more insurance.

Yet another piece of Tory zombie legislation - neither alive nor dead, staggering mindlessly on, dragging its tattered amendments through the Lords, long past knowing why it keeps going - is the legal aid cuts bill. This article turns up a variety of useful information, notably that they want rid and want to force probably useless insurance on you at enormous profit for the insurance business, like so:

Last week the justice minister Jonathan Djanogly admitted the government would promote BTE insurance as a way of funding legal expenses and predicted the cost of such cover would come down.

Labour says annual premiums could be £150, amounting to a tax on justice that would reap big profits for the insurance industry. An internal industry analysis shows insurers stand to gain £1 in profits for every £2 of premium payments.

But there is something missing. Djanogly. Djanogly. An unusual name, hard to forget, isn't it? Here he is, getting caught not telling anyone that he personally stands to trouser that 50% profit margin referred to in the quote.

All right, he claims he doesn't have any influence on the family holding company's investment policy, but then this is irrelevant. They're already in the insurance business and need only hold still while it rains money. The problem is that he has influence over government policy. (Past coverage: here.)

vote for the grey man

A thought. I read this piece on the campaign for mayor of Birmingham, but the most telling and interesting bit is just how dreadful the candidates are. Sion Simon, if for some reason you want to relive 2003. Sir Albert Bore. Liam Byrne, aka Mr. Very Real Concerns 2009, who at least would be kept off the national stage. Gisela Stuart would have provided Iraq-hawk nostalgia trimmed with Euroscepticism, if you wanted that, and might have to quit as an MP. Potential Lib Dem candidate John Hemming is a buffoon, a poor imitation of Boris Johnson, and is funding a campaign against the idea of having a mayor as well as considering becoming the mayor.

Mike "The Incumbent" Whitby is the incumbent and a Tory propped up by Lib Dems, and that seems to be about all there is to say about him. This election is going to be a centre of excellence in mediocrity. Is the bench really that thin?

Friday, March 16, 2012

Monday, March 12, 2012

Morgan Day blogging II: work in progress

I thought it might be interesting to establish some timeline information about News International e-mail disclosures and deletions, in the light of this piece in the Torygraph. As we know, the Telegraph is now opposed to the Osborne/Gove Murdoch group in the Tories, so it has no reason to carry water for Murdoch.

31st September 2004 - According to News International Chief Information Officer Paul Cheesborough, NI archived e-mail up to this date was deleted.

2005 - NI solicitor Julian Pike will later say that e-mail exists up to 2005. See 23rd March 2011.

Kickoff - 2006. 1st police inquiry into Glenn Mulcaire and Clive Goodman. Police raid Wapping, only search Goodman's desk, by agreement with NI management.

29th November 2006 - Goodman and Mulcaire convicted.

"Early" 2007 - 2,500 e-mails disclosed to Harbottle & Lewis in parallel litigation (Goodman's employment tribunal).

29th May, 2007 - Harbottle & Lewis write to NI, saying they reviewed them and found nothing.

31st September 2007 - E-mail from before this date was meant to be deleted (see January, 2011). NI operates a policy of flushing e-mail every three years, clearly.

December, 2007 - James Murdoch becomes the boss.

2008 - First civil litigation against NI, NI becomes bound to preserve evidence.

April, 2008 - James Murdoch authorises Gordon Taylor's payoff.

November, 2009 - E-Mail Deletion Policy announced internally.

eliminate in a consistent manner across News International (subject to compliance with legal and regulatory requirements) emails that could be unhelpful in the context of future litigation in which an NI company is a defendant

November, 2009 - reports of frequent outages in the e-mail archive system.

January, 2010 - It is decided to destroy all archive e-mail before this point.

April, 2010 - HCL deletes three data sets. One is a public folder on a production (rather than archive) server "owned by a user who no longer needed the emails".

May, 2010 - NI exec demands to know if e-mails destroyed.

May, 2010 - 200,000 delivery status notification messages deleted, plus 21,000 messages in an outbox, during recovery from system failure.

June, 2010 - NI solicitor, Julian Pike, will claim, falsely, that all e-mail before this point has been destroyed. See December 2010.

29th July, 2010 - "How come we still haven't done the e-mail policy?" i.e. the deletion has not yet happened.

July 2010 - William Lewis joins NI.

4th August, 2010 - "Everyone needs to know e-mail before January 2010 will not be kept" i.e. still not deleted.

6th September, 2010 - Sienna Miller's lawyers demand that e-mail be preserved.

9th September, 2010 - IT employee says "there is a senior management requirement to delete this data as quickly as possible but it need to be done in commercial boundaries". i.e. data still there, and contractual issues with the IT outsourcers holding up the process.

September, 2010 - unspecified deletions of "historic" e-mail in connection with system stability problem.

October 2010 - News International papers move. Hard disk drives in NI workstations (not just the NOTW) are replaced and destroyed, but serverside e-mail is backed up at least in part.

December, 2010 - NOTW Scottish Editor Bob Bird tells Sheridan trial that the archived e-mail has been lost en route to HCL in Mumbai. This is entirely false.

December, 2010 - Julian Pike, solicitor for NI from Farrar & Co., tells the High Court that no e-mail exists beyond six months ago. This is also false.

January, 2011 - Paul Cheesbrough, News International IT chief, says archived e-mail back to 31st September 2007 has been destroyed. This is false.

January, 2011 - HCL are asked to destroy a particular database, refer NI to system vendor.

January, 2011 - NI executives demand destruction of 500GB of e-mail held at Essential Computing, Bristol. See 8th July 2011.

January 7th, 2011 - Miller's lawyers release information about their case to NI in discovery.

January 12th, 2011 - NI managers order a halt to deletion, and give instructions to preserve e-mail.

Later in January, 2011 - 3 e-mails given to police. New police inquiry begins.

February, 2011 - some e-mail is lost in a software upgrade.

March 23, 2011 - "Don't tell him!" Pike apologises to the High Court, admits that no e-mail has gone missing in India, admits that archives exist back to 2005. Pike blames Tom Crone, who claims that he was misled by another, unnamed NI executive.

June, 2011 - Information Commissioner abandons inquiry into e-mails disappearing from NI. NI had claimed that the data had disappeared en route to India.

July, 2011 - (i.e. in full crisis mode) an NI exec travels to "the company storage facility" and removes 6 boxes of unspecified records regarding themselves (possibly same person who spoke to Crone).

7th July, 2011 - Evening Strangler first reports NI bribes to police.

8th July, 2011 - Key Guardian story. An NI executive, not named but apparently identified by police, demanded the destruction of 500GB of archive e-mail in January 2011, around the time of the resumed police inquiry. First mention of another IT outsourcing company, Essential Computing, in the UK.

Police believe they have identified the executive responsible by following an electronic audit trail. They have also attempted to retrieve the lost data. The Crown Prosecution Service is believed to have been asked whether the executive can be charged with perverting the course of justice.

At the heart of the affair is a data company, Essential Computing, based near Bristol. Staff there have been interviewed by Operation Weeting. One source speculated that this company had compelled NI to admit that the archive existed.

The Guardian understands that Essential Computing has co-operated with police and provided evidence about an alleged attempt by the NI executive to destroy part of the archive while they were working with it. This is said to have happened after the executive discovered that the company retained material of which NI was unaware.

This seems to be a critical moment

10th July, 2011 - William Lewis of NI discovers 2007 e-mail dump to Harbottle & Lewis, finds evidence. Only finds 300 out of 2,500 messages - rest still unaccounted for.

July, 2011 - Management & Standards Committee starts functioning with managers from News Corp outside the UK, cooperating with police.

July, 2011 - New York Post staffers ordered to preserve documents. Probably reflects News Corp strategic decision to cooperate

July, 2011 - some e-mail is deleted by HCL due to inconsistency between systems after a migration.

September 7th, 2011 - HCL representatives tell House of Commons that NI demanded deletion of e-mail on 9 occasions starting in April, 2010.

September 13th, 2011 - A large quantity of e-mail is discovered at News International.

October, 2011 - Computer forensics work begins on supposedly deleted e-mail archives.

December, 2011 - "Data Pool 3" e-mail archive is successfully restored from backup.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Morgan Day blogging: 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, March 04, 2012

from hell

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hopi Sen's grandad and the propaganda film.

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

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

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

slow-motion procurement failure

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

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

Quality control

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

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

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


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

Bradford Links

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

Do this help?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pirate Links

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

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

Middle Eastern Links

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, March 02, 2012

If I were you I’d do X. But obviously I don’t feel responsible for the consequences

I just got an e-mail from my MP, Lynne Featherstone, regarding publishing the NHS Risk Register. Here's the important bit.

Risk registers are used by government departments and more generally by private companies to plan for worst-case scenarios. They range on everything from flu epidemics to terrorist attacks. As you can imagine, publishing these documents could cause unnecessary alarm and compromise sensitive information and investigations.

If the Government publishes the NHS risk register, it would then set a precedent to publish all registers. An unintended but dangerous consequence would be that government officials hold back vital information for fear of being connected with bad news. The most significant risks would therefore no longer be recorded, and no contingency plans would be identified.

This is a common argument used by the government against transparency. It is formidably stupid. In what universe is it a good idea to specifically protect the practice of giving advice you are not willing to explain, defend, or take responsibility for? I mean, this is cracksmokingly insane. Let's work through the process.

So I'm a civil servant, and am responsible for working up policy options on some issue. I have a brilliant idea that will solve the problem at a stroke. But for some reason, it is so politically unpopular, embarrassing, or evil in an ethical sense that I would be afraid or ashamed to put my name to it. Further, even if it works, it is still so awful that neither me nor my Minister would want to be associated with it. Not just that, it's so clever that despite being conspicuously weird, violently anathema to some major section of public opinion, or monstrous, and capable of resolving a major issue of public concern, nobody will notice it when it happens.

This last is required, because if they did notice it, it would surely not take too long to head over to and look up the Department's organisation chart.

How likely is this? How likely is it that politicians would refuse to take credit, deserved credit, for something successful?

On the other hand, how likely is it that policy advice whose author is unwilling to take responsibility for it is bad advice? If you give people an out like this, you're likely to get more ideas that are evil, politically impossible, or simply idiotic. These classes of ideas will always be out there, and one of the reasons why we have things like public records and select committees is to act as a restraining influence on their production. "What would the papers say?" is not a stupid or cowardly statement. The constraint that your ideas should be defensible is a useful discipline, and one that may even be an aid to creativity, like the rules of a sonnet.

As far as I know, this argument was originally aired during the Franks report inquest into the Falklands War. On that occasion, the policy recommendation was "well, sort of vaguely wave our hands, and hope the fascist dictator eats Benny quietly and nobody notices. Let the file mature a bit". I think it is obvious that this was not the civil service's finest hour, and the prospect of public scrutiny might have induced someone to come up with a better plan and perhaps be more honest about it.

A further problem is that what the quote is describing is essentially the Noble Lie so dear to Leo Strauss. This is what designers and computer scientists call an anti-pattern - a common example of indefensibly awful practice. It is not actually impossible that the situation above might arise. Perhaps we do need to introduce an alien DNA virus into the school milk to induce immunity against Case NIGHTMARE GREEN. However, it is far more likely that the civil servant involved is actually doing just what it looks like, proposing a horrifically dangerous, stupid, irresponsible, and evil plan that ought never to have been thought for more than seconds. In fact, fundamental cognitive biases mean that someone whose idea is stupid, evil, or impossible and they know it, or whose motives are corrupt, is very likely to make use of such an argument to protect themselves.

I think of this as a She Was Asking For It argument - it isn't impossible that she was, but it is infinitely more likely that you are just trying to wriggle out of the consequences of your own behaviour, and therefore it is a safe aim-off to treat all such arguments as being dishonest. Once you admit the possibility, you're going to get a lot of shit in the meat.

Beyond that, we can knock off the other arguments quickly. Civil servants might be afraid of punishment for airing ideas considered weird. Well that's why we have a professional civil service with independent line management. The problem isn't the idea, it's the practice of punishing people for thinking. The public might be alarmed. Bullshit! Blah blah politically embarrassing. Grow up. The register might contain secret information. Well that's what the complex disclosure machinery in the Freedom of Information Act is for. We already fixed it.

Advice of the form "If I were you, I'd do X. But don't tell anyone I told you, and I don't want to take any responsibility for this." is probably bad advice.

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