Friday 11 October 2013

Leaks Can Cause A Nasty Mess

The business about Edward Snowden, formerly of the US NSA, all the leaked information and the implications for security are things that on the whole I prefer to avoid.  But the suggestion in Zero Hedge that he can be ranked with a notable famous former leaker in the great scheme of things is intriguing.

With Douglas Carswell, the alleged "Right Wing" MP, in reality a traditional Gladstone Liberal at heart, telling us that we are now attempting to control a digital age with analogue regulation, it is all about those pesky computers again.

Recently, I did some "real research", going to an Archive and looking at pieces of paper and hard back books.  It took hours with more work needed transmitting and editing the information. 

Alongside this was related work, much greater in scope, but which was online.  It took minutes and is also fully saved and edited on the machine for either transmission or future use.

The scale and nature of what is possible if a single person decides to make use of material, whether legally or not or whether they are supposed to or not, is now vast.

We have governments and those responsible for security services believing that by one means or another they can hold on to large amounts of information gained and stored by digital means, when it can be so easily lost or taken. 

Yet even around fifty and more years ago, the UK government were selling Enigma type encryption devices without the courtesy of telling the buyers that they still possessed in the later Colossus Computers the means to decrypt them.

A problem we do have is shaking off all the stories and fictions and the rest about the realities of Intelligence, spying and the rest.  The people you rarely saw on film in the past are the operatives sweating the incoming material, the analysts ploughing their way through it and other work.

A lot of this work now can be handled digitally with the huge increases in power, storage and programmes to do our will.  Also, there is not so much above ground to indicate that Something Is Going On in the shape of heavily guarded buildings with a lot of masts, wiring and discs.

What did go on was a highly segmented and stratified business with the most basic need to know at all levels.  One aspect of this is of current interest.  Apparently, Ralph Miliband was promoted to Petty Officer rank as a teenager in the space of only a three year service.

This means he was up to something highly specialised and in the context this means intelligence work.  Given what this was likely to be although he would not be aware of it and may never have known it as a forward operator close to the action, but his job was linked to that of the Enigma operations at Bletchley Park.

With the row escalating in the UK between The Guardian, the government and the others in the security services weighing in over the large scale leaks from Snowden and Assange, there is a question.

As well as what Cameron, our less than secretive Prime Minister, resident not far from the Cheltenham GCHQ, thinks, it will be very interesting to hear what Edward and David Miliband make of it.

But I suspect that all of them may want to keep their real views confidential.  If so, they had better avoid the emails and web sites, or even their own Parliament and government servers.

One of the interesting aspects of the past is that it was Churchill who ordered the destruction of all the Bletchley Park computer facilities and the burning of the records.  

But you could not destroy what was in people's heads, if they survived, so it was Attlee, the incoming Labour Prime Minister who reinstated all the relevant activity.


  1. However much data is collected, analysts will inevitably focus on what is known to be important, but that will always be what they think they know to be important. Until events prove otherwise.

  2. So, there was no parliamentary oversight, Rifkind et al were laughing at us. A look at the budgets and the job adverts gave a good clue as to what was going on. Now it's all out of the bag - but serious baddies knew that anyway. Regulation - irrelevent.

    Now some will moan that this plays into terrorist hands - rubbish - the whole expensive idea of mass monitoring was an ill conceived abuse of power and bound to come out and as soon as it did the whole expensive pile of kit was rendered useless. Something Churchill understood. Trouble is doing the monitoring job properly is rather difficult - keeping tabs on folk far way who have brown faces, speak strange languages and are not easy to befriend. The internet made keeping tabs easy and with no risk of a knife in the gizzard. Sounded a clever idea but fundamentally vulnerable. It's over, let it go.

    Big budgets and big careers are at risk - expect dirty tricks. The price of houses in Cheltenham will not fall, the game will continue but never quite as before.