Introducing Spiritus Mundi, a Novel by Robert Sheppard
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The following are Spy, Espionage and Counterterrorism Excerpts from the latest spy thriller, Spiritus Mundi, by Robert Sheppard in which British MI6, the CIA and Russian intelligence go head to head with Chinese MSS, or Ministry of State Security in a tangled web involving an atomic device concealed in a Chinese Terracotta Warrion and a plot leading to World War Three as a New Axis including a rising China seeks to take over the oilfields of the Middle East and tip the Eurasian and Global Balance of Power!—Enjoy!
They spent the night together happily, and over the next several weeks met often, sometimes sleeping as a threesome with Etienne at Yoriko’s flat, but most often sleeping together as “Tie Jie’mer’ or ‘Tie Jie Mei’—Iron Sisters—or sworn sisters. For Yoriko it was an exciting change and adventure to have an older sister guiding her into the ways of womanly love, and for Yuchun it was sexually exquisite to take a young girl and open her budding sexuality to the force of her own desire. Yoriko’s inexperience in womanly love reminded her of her own inexperience as a young girl at Waseda and Shinjuko Ni-Chrome when she played the Uke and her first lover Hitomi, a famous and beautiful actress and pop singer who made a woman of Yuchun for the first time. Now things were reversed and Yuchun was the Tachi and Yoriko the Uke, giving Yuchun the thrill of the conquest as the older more experienced woman, while through Yoriko reliving her own awkward girlish state when she lost her own woman-to-woman virginity in Japan, completing the cycle. Their sexual games became more forceful as Yuchun seemed to lose control of herself. Yuchun began to become jealous when Yoriko responded to other women, though curiously not so much so with regard to Etienne a man who simply belonged to another category altogether, and she would invent elaborate games and rituals to prove her love to Yoriko and to reinforce Yoriko’s female attachment to herself. She would send constant presents to Yoriko, such as ultra-femme split-crotched panties and ultra-femme bras from Victoria’s Secret, flowers and copies of Yuri lesbian themed illustrated Manga books from Japan with the young ingénue with gaping wide doe-eyes yielding to the handsome butch Tachi, copies of ‘Strawberry Panic’ and copies of CD’s from Qiao Qiao (Ouyang Zi Qiao), one of the first openly lesbian pop singer in China. In bed one night listening to Qiao Qiao’s music she even told Yoriko that she used the name ‘Qiao Qiao’ as the password for her computer and for the encrypted files for the Minister’s political diary and personal records which he dictated to her every day or two and which she kept on file in her computer. Yuchun took her to many places where most of the people were women like themselves, and they were happy to be free to express themselves. Yuchun would first give the small clubs a once-over to make sure that there was no one likely to notice who she was in her official connection or be from the police, but for the most part these small clubs were unwatched and unlikely places to be frequented by anyone from the official world. Then they could express their attraction in a more relaxed atmosphere—–Yuchun introduced Yoriko to the Xi Xiang Fang at Desheng Men, the biggest lesbian bar in Beijing, and they liked to kiss in public at the smaller Wang You Ge—‘Forget your Worries’—or roughly translated as ‘Sans Souci.’ in the Hou Hai area, an entertainment district near the lakes to the West of the Forbidden City, or old Emperor’s Palace. Sometimes they went disco dancing at the White Rabbit with Etienne. On the whole they were happy both together alone and together with Etienne—-with Etienne they could be together and express affection without being stigmatized negatively in the straight world, and they could be comfortable together alone without Etienne in the small LaLa world. In some ways Etienne was useful as a ‘Beard’ to Yuchun since with him she could be together in a naturally affectionate way with Yoriko outside the suffocatingly claustrophobic ‘bubble world’ of Beijing’s lesbian ‘LaLa Land’ without raising the hostility of those negative to lesbian sexuality in the wider world. It became more and more evident that Yuchun was desperately in love with Yoriko who became frustrated and depressed when circumstances kept them apart, but though Yoriko returned her affection and was a greatful little sister and responsive sexual friend, she remained in love with Etienne.
With Etienne she enjoyed talking about her adventures with Yuchun, and she especially enjoyed the intense attention that Etienne gave to every little detail of their experiences. Normally it was Etienne who was in control in their relationship and she had to be interested in what he was interested in for the most part. Now for some curious reason Etienne had turned into a consummate voyeur of her lesbian experiences—he wanted to know everything she said….everything she did, down the the places where she touched and frotted her, her jokes, her gifts, her tastes in food and music and her sexual techniques. It seemed to give him an immense vicarious thrill—she wondered if there was a latent homosexual side of Etienne which he was projecting onto her. Mostly though, Yoriko enjoyed being the center of attention and she thought she had discovered a kinky spot in Etienne’s sexual imagination that she was happy to share with him to get a stronger hold over him in her insecurity of knowing that she loved him much more intensely than he loved her.
Yoriko noticed Etienne’s especial interest when she passed on their in-bed gossip about how Yuchun loved Qiao Qiao’s music so much that she made ‘Qiao Qiao’ her office computer password and even the password to the encryption code for the confidential political diary files which the Minister dictated to her in his office every day or two. Over several weeks Etienne got Yoriko to get Yuchun to talk about how the Minister dictated this aide memoir and details about the nature and extent of it. Etienne did not rely entirely on Yoriko’s memory of these encounters, but on the contrary had a surveillance team from MI6 install a complete bugging, video surveillance and phone tapping system in Yoriko’s flat, to which he had a duplicate key to let himself in unseen, and in his own flat, the two places where Yoriko and Yuchun made love most often. Etienne explained to Yoriko the importance of the political diary of Yuchun’s Minister—–Etienne said it could be an invaluable tool to his work at Reuters if he could somehow get the inside scoop on what the leaders are really thinking and talking about in their discussions in the Politburo and the State Council. He got Yoriko to promise to pump Yuchun, very casually of course so that no suspicions were aroused, for details about what political discussions and conflicts were going on inside the Politburo and to take an interest in her work in the office whenever they talked in bed together. He told her he wanted her to pass on the information to him so that he could make a coup as the new Reuters bureau chief for Beijing and maybe get a promotion and bonus, which he could then lavish on Yoriko. Yoriko was thrilled to have another hold over him that magnified her own importance to him. She regularly passed on all the gossip from Yuchun, which Etienne unbeknownst to her used to fatten his SIS file on Yuchun and the inside scoop on the Chinese Politburo. He told her to take an interest in gossiping about the Minister’s sex life in the office as a way to get her to talk about the minister and the contents of the confidential files which the Minister dictated to Yuchun every day or two, and he encouraged Yoriko to find excuses to visit Yuchun at her office from time to time. When Yuchun made dates to meet Yoriko after work she was often delayed. She often explained this was because Minister Luo often kept her late to dictate entries into his political diary after busy days at the Politburo. Naturally offhand conversation would follow about what was exciting in the Politburo at the moment, or occasionally what the outscome of Minister Luo’s seductions of members of his office staff might be. In this way Yoriko gradually discovered that at the end of the day Minister Luo would dictate to Yuchun all the important conversations and discussions he had participated in in his work on the State Council and in the Politburo. These summaries were quite detailed and recorded the subjects discussed in the Politburo, the differing points of views of the participants and the outcomes of the discussions by vote or consensus. She related that she had been keeping these political diary summaries ever since she began working with Minister Luo three years ago, and that the files of these minutes of the Politburo meetings were kept on her computer each day after she transcribed and typed the text up from her shorthand notes, and after the Minister reviewed them for accuracy. To date she had collected over three hundred entries, one every two or three working days or so. All the files were encrypted and code-word protected, but Yuchun revealed that she used the code-word ‘Qiao Qiao’ for the encryption/decryption key. On one visit to Yuchun’s office Yoriko found out that Yuchun was using an older Toshiba computer for her work and she helped Yuchun learn some special features on the software that Yoriko was an expert on from her work at Toshiba.
Suddenly Etienne had a brainstorm, and he told Yoriko to ask Yuchun to help her in her sales work at Toshiba by placing an order to upgrade to the most advanced Toshiba computer office-network system. She said to tell Yuchun that this would give Yoriko an excuse to come to the office regularly to see her under the cover of doing maintenance and troubleshooting on the computer system. The next week in bed after having sex with Yuchun Yoriko broached the idea and Yuchun leaped on it as a means of providing cover and legitimizing her increased contacts with Yoriko. Within the office Yuchun had a high degree of control and discretion and it was not a problem for her to secure the funds and approval for a new Toshiba office network. Yoriko said she would arrange with her Uncle Hishashige to get the most advanced system at half-price as a kind of ‘loss-leader’ demonstration project by which the brand would be promoted with an eye to much larger government orders that would be sure to follow on later. Within a month Yuchun had placed the order and Yoriko headed-up the team that came to install it and train the office staff in its use. Yuchun flushed when Yoriko sat beside her and installed the password ‘Qiao Qiao’ for her in her new desktop computer and on her new laptop, and clicking on the ‘My Videos’ file, Yoriko brought up a ‘demonstration video’ file that proved to be a recording of Yoriko herself singing a particularly intimate lesbian love lyric written by Qiao Qiao in long-drawn words, voice and tone obviously directed to Yuchun herself. Under the desk and hidden from any eyes but their own Yoriko rubbed her leg strongly against Yuchun’s leg as they shared the earpieces listening to the sound of Yoriko’s voice singing the sultry love song to Yuchun on the demonstration video, which Etienne had recorded with his video camera in his apartment and then burned to a DVD on his computer which he gave to Yoriko to install on Yuchun’s new desktop and laptop computers. In the course of time Yuchun played this love song over and over again on her office computer for years at the spare reflective moments in her working days, even years later out of melancholy memory after she ceased to hear from Yoriko.
Unbeknownst to Yoriko or to Yuchun, on the video DVD of Yorikio’s rendition of Qiao Qiao’s sultry love song, the entire combined effort of dozens of the world’s top computer technicians of Britain’s GCHQ, Vauxhall Cross, NSA Fort Meade and CIA Langley served to embed a ‘Ghost Program’ to be installed on Yuchun’s computer. The source codes for the advanced Toshiba computers, though proprietary industrial secrets, were long known in their entirety to the wizards of the National Security Agency in the USA and to GCHQ, its equivilant in Britain. When Yoriko clicked on Yuchun’s computer to install the ‘demonstration video’ the same DVD was busy installing a far more complex, secret and nearly untraceable program on both her computers. This ‘Ghost Program’ took advantage of numerous ‘trap doors’ installed on most of the software in use across the world by willing collaborators of the NSA, CIA and GCHQ within the ranks of the top software programmers across the world. It was embedded on the blank DVD’s over which which Etienne burned his recording of Yoriko singing Qiao Qiao’s love lyric in the improvised home studio with borrowed video editing equipment in Etienne’s apartment in Beijing.
Immediately upon being played on the RW-read/write drive in order to install the video of Yoriko singing the lesbian love song of Qiao Qiao in the Operating System demonstration video file, the Ghost Program—-as it had been christened by the electronic wizards at GCHQ, had buried itself in a special niche in the Toshiba operating system, the newest version of Microsoft Windows. The niche had been created by a Microsoft employee who was a former NSA employee with ties of loyalty to his old agency, as well as in exchange for a $500,000 contract that paid his daughter’s tuition and expenses at Stanford up to her graduation. He did his patriotic work entirely without the knowledge of his employer. It also dovetailed exactly with the Toshiba source code, with the effect of making it virtually invisible even to a line-by-line inspection of the code within the machine by an expert counter-intelligence software-engineer, which security precaution the signals intelligence agencies fully anticipated at some point in the future by China’s MSS—the Ministry of State Security.
When the Ghost detected that all the files from the old computer had been transferred to the hard drive of the new computer it had gone immediately to work, creating a directory that sorted the documents on Yuchun’s computer first by date of creation or modification, and then by file type. Some generic files like the operating system it ignored, but largely it copied every unique text file on the 20 Gigabyte hard drive. This entire process took the high speed machine thirty-two point eight three seconds, leaving one large composite file that sat by itself in the concealed niche of the program.
The program did nothing for one minute, and then the next phase of the programmed action started. The Toshiba machine had a built-in high speed modem and Internet access control. The Ghost program disabled any warning sounds, lights and indicators and secretly dialed a thirteen-digit number instead of the usual eight used by the Beijing telephone system. Utilizing complexity theory and a system designed by GCHQ in connection with an NSA consultant from Fort Meade in the USA, this sent the seeker signal on a round-robin through the central computer of the Beijing telephone system, causing it to come out in a predetermined location, which corresponded to the dedicated line utilized by Etienne Dearlove for his computer connection, creating an untraceable connection. The transfer of the message would end in the very high-powered, custom build laptop of Etienne, with a special encryption modem that would make ongoing communications from his computer secure and indecipherable except to the one computer that had the parallel encryption key—and this one computer sat securely in office of the chief of the operations directorate of the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) at Vauxhall Cross, or MI6 to the uninitiated, on the south bank of the Thames river in London. The program also had a key that would allow messages to be sent directly to a secure ‘safe house’ account which could be accessed directly by the SIS computer without the need to feed them through Etienne’s computer.
Etienne was watching with a mixture of voyeuristic pleasure and embarrassment the clandestinely filmed video tapes of Yoriko and Yuchun’s latest lovemaking when he heard the beep of his laptop signal the receipt of a new message, flagged to his attention. As he look at the computer screen it indicated “Please Wait—Downloading,” so Etienne decided to go to the bathroom and take a shower until the file was ready. Incredibly the file download time was over fifty minutes before the “Download Complete” tab came up on his screen! Etienne thought he must have the entire Encyclopedia Brittanica on his harddrive so he opened and saved the file and a brief look showed him the extend of ‘the take’ which included an incredible three years of back work and political diary entries. The files of the political diary were encrypted and Etienne entered the password ‘Qiao Qiao’ and the clear text in Chinese characters came up entirely visible and readable on his screen, which with his Chinese language proficiency he could make out fairly accurately.
“Yes! Fucking—Yes, Yes, Yes!” screamed out Etienne uncontrollably at the top of his voice, slamming the heel of his fist down against his desk exuberantly.
At the end of the transfer on Yuchun’s computer the Ghost program stopped and seemingly put itself to sleep. But the sleep of the Ghost program was like the sleep of a guard dog, a sleep with an ear cocked for suspicious noises and movements, and always aware of the time of day and circumstances. The Ghost program shut itself off but every day it would search the hard drive for any new entries that had not yet been sent. Then automatically in the middle of the night, after several hours of total inactivity on Yuchun’s computer the Ghost program would select the previously unsent files, re-activate the modem or broadband internet access and then undetectably send out the new files, if any. The computer would thus send out new updates daily, or whenever any new work was done on the computer—at least every two or three days. These update e-mail messages would be much shorter than the first, which was immense from the shear bulk of three years of past work. These files would be sent to Etienne’s computer and after the system was debugged, verified, and troubleshot, directly by a circuitous secure path to the receiving computer at SIS headquarters at Vauxhall Cross, London.
Next, Etienne fixed his mind on how to get his treasure trove of intelligence data safely and securely out of Beijing and into GCHQ in Cheltenham and from thence on to SIS Headquarters at Vauxhall Cross. The first step was to encrypt all files so that the transmission was completely secure. This he accomplished by clicking on the ‘Preferences’ tab of his laptop and double clicking the ‘Secure Encrypt’ tab. Within a few seconds the entire bulk of Yuchun’s hard drive was double encrypted using a 512 bit robust encryption program installed for general use. Nearly all the files on Etienne’s computer were encrypted and password-protected—-this was easily explainable by the need to protect sources and proprietary content for his journalistic work at Reuters. Thus the files from Yuchun’s computer were subject to a triple-encryption process—-they were encrypted first by Yuchun’s own computer system, then double encrypted by Etienne’s encryption program, and finally adding another layer of encryption as the message passed through the secure modem built into Etienne’s laptop and decipherable only by GCHQ and SIS. To anyone outside this process the transmission racing along the electronic pathways of the global digital superhighway of the World Wide Net would appear as only a meaningless and indecipherable jumbled stream of billions on billions of zeros and ones.
Naturally the message could not be routed directly from Yuchun’s computer to Vauxhall Cross as this might allow tracing. Therefor the Ghost Programs had been programmed to send the files and messages first to a proxy account designed to shield the sender and recipient from tracing. This was accomplished by creating a dummy e-mail account and website on an ISP in Edinburgh, from which the file could make its way undetected to the SIS operations director. Etienne reflected on how the Internet was the ideal tool for espionage, allowing the real-time transfer of critical information anywhere in the world within seconds, hopefully untraceably. Within seconds of Etienne hitting the ‘Send’ button on his laptop in Beijing the file began its journey across the world by fibre-optic cable and wire to rest first on a server in Edinburgh and then at Vauxhall Cross. The transfer was not quite instantaneous this time as the cumulative burden of the files of three years work took over fifty minutes to fully upload. Then the computer of the director of operations in Vauxhall Cross saw the ‘You’ve Got Mail’ flashing icon appear on its screen, and fifty minutes after the watch officer clicked the ‘Download’ button the entire relevant contents of Yuchun’s computer were sitting encrypted on the hard drive of the operations director of the British Secret Intelligence Service in the Vauxhall Cross, London, Sir Alistair Crimson, affectionately, and for reasons of tradition and operational security, known as ‘C.’ From there he began stripping away the layers of encryption, first from the encrypted and synchronized secure modem, then from the 512 bit encryption program on Etienne’s laptop, using the encryption password known only to two persons, himself and Etienne Dearlove. Etienne had previously forwarded the useful information from Yoriko that Yuchun used the password ‘Qiao Qiao’ on her own computer encryption program, saving much effort in brute forcing the Chinese encryption program. C smiled as he reflected that in Italian and sometimes Spanish usage, Qiao Qiao was rendered at ‘Ciao Ciao,’ an affectionate equivilant to ‘Bye-bye!’—-he hoped he would be saying ‘Bye-bye!’ to the veil of secrecy hitherto surrounding the deliberations of the Chinese Politburo, these days no longer quite the ‘riddle inside a mystery inside an enigma’ that characterized the Kremlin under Stalin, but sufficiently opaque to severly worry outside nations and intelligence services with regard to their important actions that would undoubtedly be deeply affecting their lives and futures. Then ‘Bing!’ and the clear text came up on his screen and he was able to open the file and peer inside. Unfortunately, all he could recognize were the occasional Arabic numerals and Western names in Romanized script—-the rest appeared to make no more sense than the tracks of a hundred chickens who had been made drunk and had run through an ink bath on their way to a scroll of paper. To make any sense of it he would need to call in his best Chinese linguist—–there were many on the SIS staff but security was a concern, as the information latent in that mass of indecipherable scribbling might contain the words and thoughts that might shape a good part of the world’s future at some critical time to come when history would turn a corner in a new direction. C then rang up Sir Endymion Needham, a former classmate at Queen’s College, Cambridge, the chief of the China Desk of the SIS Intelligence Analysis section and, after briefing him on the ultra-secret secret level of security precautions—the highest level of ‘Codeword Only’ reference and access—beyond the normal hierarchy of confidential secret classification and known only to a handful of ‘Need to Know’ initiates, he then turned over the massive files to his inspection at a secure site accessible to the pair only. Sir Endymion then began the arduous and laborious process of deciphering, translating and interpreting for outside understanding the accumulated trove of three years of confidential minutes of the proceedings of the Chinese Politburo as recorded by a junior partricipant in successive dictated memoranda, or aides memoir, to comprise his personal Political Diary, a measure probably undertaken to provide him with ‘cover your ass’ ammunition to be used in case he were ever to be challenged or threatened in the political ups and downs of his position on the Politburo. Setting himself down he resigned himself to a very long ‘Long March’ of hard slogging through this project, but was excited that this could be the coup of his career and the breakthrough his section had dreamed of for decades. Starting with the most recent entries he set himself to work, setting in place on the hotplate in the room a large glass pot of coffee and one of tea, and settling in for the duration.
XXII. London On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
Etienne Dearlove had been exhausted over the last weeks by the over-full schedule of his work with both Reuters and with MI6 during the Korean Crisis, and with the cumulative stresses of his assignment in Beijing. Furthermore, despite his full sexual life with Yoriko and Yuchun he missed his wife and infant child in London. In any case, when the pace of work slowed with the stabilization of the Crisis he was called back to London for further consultations and debriefing at both Vauxhall Cross and at Reuters he in addition took a month of paid home leave to rest and recover and to rebond with his family. After his holiday he found it something of a relief to return to the staid patterns of his former office existence. He thought of the title of the book, “The Spy Who Came in From the Cold,” and he felt the human comnfort of a normalcy which he perhaps missed, a normalcy of neighbors and office-mates and shared drinks and cigarettes. He sympathized with T.E. Lawrence and his desire, after the most dramatic challenge and exceptional life, to be a normal human being with normal human bonds. He took comfort in the restored habits of commuting and thronging to and from work and lunch with his fellows. Habit is the enormous fly-wheel of society, its most conservative agent; it also prevents the most repulsive walks of life from being deserted. He had been hard at work with both organizations—-in two months it would be the tenth-year anniversary of his work with Reuters and approaching the twentieth-year anniversary with MI6—-and the brief home sojourn was an occasion for a recounting and recollecting of himself:
VI. Washington, D.C. Fathers and Sons
Jack Sartorius was spending his last two weeks in the office breaking in his replacement. He had spent about two years on the Analysis side of the counter-terror unit at the Langley CIA headquarters, and was set to move outside on his first assignment into the Operations side. He was breaking in a new trainee Myron Greenberg, fresh out of spook boot camp on the Analysis side after just finishing his degree in International Business at NYU.
Myron looked over the wall of the cubicle of the three-man office and commented to Jack “They’re that good?”
“What’s that, Myron?” tossed back Jack, briefly cocking his head away from his oversized computer screen within his grey-hued cubicle.
“NSA intercept.” He handed the print-out to Jack across the cubicle-panel. The NSA intercept summary identified a “known associate of terrorists”—exactly what function he performed was not known yet, but he’d been positively identified from voiceprint analysis.
“Yeah, could be something” snapped back Jack “It’s the digital phones. They generate a very clean signal, and it is easy for the voiceprint computer to ID the voices, even if they are playing catty and using codewords or false names and handles, using a throw-away cloned phone off the street to play safe. I see they haven’t ID’d the guy at the other end of the wire.” Jack handed back the sheet.
The original conversation had been in Arabic, the two cell phones located in London and in Istanbul, and the NSA signals weenies had gotten a quick translation and summary cross-decked up across the microwave feed between Fort Meade, Maryland—-NSA headquarters, and Jack’s office in the bureaucratic bowels of Langley, across the Potomac River, home to the CIA, all in less than ten hours. In the counterterrorism unit in the Digital Age the problem was often not lack of data but to keep from drowning in the immense flood of it coming in off the signals intelligence channels and the various global networks and humintel—human intelligence. Jack’s job for the last eighteen months on the analysis side of the agency had been to fight the undramatic battles of information sifting, cubicles and computer screens, shaking out endless drifts of incoming data, intercepted cell phone conversations, legally or illegally gleaned records of money transfers and credit card transactions, e-mail key-word intercepts or known associate intercepts and try to understand, interpret, spot associations and movements of known, suspected or possible terror network cadres in a Sissyphusian effort to discover, predict, and possibly prevent acts of terrorism in the age of anxiety following the 9-11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York.
All this was supposed to be part of the below-the-horizon “War on Terror” at the pinnacle of priorities of the security and defense bureaucracies of Washington, D.C., and the allied capitals of the Western World and across the globe. Jack felt half-suffocated in the trenches of this cubicle-to-cubicle info-combat, but here at the hidden front of the endless rows of cubicles which often to Jack’s mind reminded him of the dug-out trench shanties of the movies of the first world war in which the shell-shocked huddled waiting for harm to pass over their heads, but reduced to the world of the mundane, boring office cubicle and digital screen. He struggled as many young men of ambition, drive and imagination did at his age, to master his craft and serve his time, punch his ticket and pay his dues, in hopes of moving on —–someday and somehow—to something bigger and more exciting around the next corner of life’s possibilities, should he get the opening to move from the minor leagues to “play in the bigs.”
As he glanced over the pages of the print-out and handed it back over to Myron he went over in his head his chain of thoughts: The nature of the phone conversation was innocuous, but so much so that one would wonder why the phone call had been placed all….But then again some people just like to talk even if there was nothing important to say………on the other hand maybe they were talking in code, using some innocuous phrases to refer to some operational details the Agency would be interested in…..some plans for a biological warfare attack on London or a campaign to set off bombs in Jerusalem……..Perhaps…..Perhaps not……..It was like Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, you never knew whether you were distorting or creating what you were looking at by wearing counter-terrorist painted glasses to look at the world and cut out everything in the desired shape of the analytical cookie-cutter, or whether you were looking at anything real at all…….. More likely they were just passing time on the phone—–there was a lot of that in the Middle-East—they had developed out of an oral, perhaps at root a tribal culture and chatter was also a kind of way of life. What impressed both Jack and Myron as well was that the cell-phone conversation half-way across the world in an incomprehensible language, was picked up in real time and fed into the signals intelligence flow, even after a side-trip for translation, in the course of less than a day….almost real time.
Jack pulled the file Myron had flagged up on his extra-wide landscape-shaped computer screen. The subject of the intercept was a man called Mohammed on a cell phone in London. They had opened a file on him after the Echelon system at NSA had flagged him and after he had been recorded as having received e-mails and cell calls from suspected players in the counter-terror computer banks. Nothing definite on him…Name: Mohammad Ala Rushdie…Nationality: Egyptian….Education: Cambridge graduate…M.A. in International Relations….undergraduate in Comparative Literature Family: Wealthy Father in oil trading and shipowning interests, close to Mubarak—Mother—distant cousin of Anwar Sadat……He was just a watch file……travelled back and forth between London, Berlin and all across the Middle-East…..was supposed to work for some kind of NGO promoting United Nations reforms…..could be a cover handle or could be legit…………Jack recorded his comments on the intercept in the file log and punched in the tags.
“How many phones do they keep track of?” asked Myron, trying to build up a picture of how he fit in to the sprawling new environment of his new job.
“Several hundred thousand….” answered back Jack helpfully…..he had been a rookie himself not so long ago and sympathized with Myron “…..and that is just out of Southwest Asia and the Middle East and their outgoing contacts. Most of them are just dry holes, except for the one in ten thousand that counts—and sometimes when the lines of inquiry start to converge they can show real results.”
“Then there is Echelon of course——the name for the immense computer search and surveillance system operated by NSA out of Fort Meade, Maryland—-It constantly searches the Internet for codewords in dozens of languages and flags e-mail—–also pulls out messages to and from known suspects—trouble is there isn’t enough manpower to deal with a fraction of the possibilities.” Jack mentored on.
“But wouldn’t the bad guys just use encrypted e-mails? I hear there are some pretty good encryption systems out there, off the shelf and customized?” asked Myron a bit diffidently, a little unsure of how much he should appear to be a newbie or try to pretend to the knowledge of the initiated.
“NSA has been able to crack most of them, and if a bad guy uses them it might just as well flag the communication for special watch at NSA, or the allied equivalents, British Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) or France’s Director General Security Exterior (DGSE). With most of the public programs the programmers have been recruited to include hidden ‘trap doors’ in the code to provide hidden access to the security agencies. Hell, most of the commercial encryption program programmers are graduates of work at the security services and their basic loyalties are on the right side—otherwise a little top-up bonus of a million or so can generally persuade them to play ball—a little stimulus package for the real estate market in Marin County north of Silicon Valley!—Anyway if a file is especially vital the Supercomputers at NSA can usually brute force it within a few days.” Jack offered in a friendly way, glad to get a bit of an ego-boost by showing off his accumulated tradecraft to the newbie.
Turning back to his own screen Jack checked over the Flash Traffic cross-decked between NSA and Langley for any relevance to his files—-Jack was overseeing over a hundred active files and a lot more inactive. Myron’s question set off a chain of reflection in his mind as he keyed in the routine operations on his keyboard. ‘It was impossible” he thought it over ‘ for even a mega-funded top level government organization like NSA to search all of the messages that flowed through Cyberspace every night, and so the agency used programs such as Echelon to look for and pull out keywords in various languages. The e-mail addresses of some known or suspected terrorists or suspected stringers had been identified by surveillance over the years and these provided a trace to others, which were watched by the computers and the flag-outs reviewed by human analysts such as Myron and himself when relevant to the files they were pursuing. These were watched as were the server computers of ISP’s or Internet Service Providers. All in all it used up incredible amounts of bytes and storage space, with a constant flow of delivery trucks bringing new storage devices to the subterranean and walled caverns at Langley and Fort Meade, where they were kept in the ‘fridge’ where they could be accessed if a new target suspect was identified—-then his e-mails could be searched dating back months and months. It was a game of cat and mouse, and like all such games in the real world it unleashed Darwinian processes on both sides in the interests of survival.
‘The bad guys, of course, knew all of this far better than the man on the street, and they knew that Echelon and other screening processes looked first for specific words and phrases, and so they studiously avoided these and took to inventing their own innocuous code words and phrases, generating a kind of shifting argot which the analysts at Langley sought to unravel. The use of code words could be its own trap however, since the codes gave a false sense of security, one that could be exploited by agency pros with decades of hands-on experience in reading the minds of its enemies—the process had its limits, however, and too free a use of the signals intelligence tipped-off the adversary as to their existence, sources and methods, causing the targets to change their methods, and change their system of coding and encryption, compromising the process. Using it too little , on the other hand, would make it useless and uneconomic to have and invest huge sums in in the first place. Usually, from organizational pressures and the cover-your-ass mentality the tendency was to overuse rather than underuse—doctors had the same problem with anti-biotics and some strains just kept adapting and getting stronger and stronger—more and more resistant. The NSA’s principal means of communicating with the CIA would be to flag-up some intercepts and cross-deck it to Langley saying “isn’t this interesting?” and wait for the CIA to use their deeper analytical back bench to give it a response and backup. This was because the two agencies had different cultures and corporate ethoses. They talked differently. They thought differently. There was the same ‘clash of civilizations’ between Foggy Bottom and DOD. But at least their thinking was in a parallel direction, and amoung the more talented, they could learn to translate the language and culture of one organization into the other and overcome the inertial frictions……’ Jack slumped down in his chair with a heavy feeling of unease weighing on his limbs. He was glad to be out of this virtual unreality—yeah, he had learned a lot and some of the guys here were incredibly talented in the brains department but seemed to be wasting their lives away in a bureaucratic virtual-unreality. He didn’t know exactly where he was going or where he would end up, but he know one thing—he didn’t want to spend his life and die in a cubicle in a workstation. In two weeks he would be out testing his wings on the operations side—-nothing spectacular or 007-ish of course—a buried asset—as a cover he would join a Public Relations/Government Relations firm in the K-Street Corridor with an international clientele that would give him the cover to develop his sources and contacts across Europe and Asia. He had worked in lobbying work on the Hill after doing internships in the House and Senate during his college years, so he knew the ropes. He smiled over to Myron and hoped the new kid would do well—he was glad to be getting out of here!——at the end of the day he packed up his bag, did the ritual salutations, and headed back to his car for the drive from Langley across the river back to his apartment in DC-land.
ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE
Etienne Dearlove joined MI6 in 1991. Born in India where his father was posted with the Foreign Office at the Embassy in New Dehli, he read Asian Languages and Area Studies at Cambridge and was a Kennedy memorial scholar at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government in International Relations. Fluent in French from childhood thanks to his French mother, he added German and Spanish before university, with a smattering of Japanese from his residence abroad. At Cambridge through his studies Etienne soon became adept at Mandarin Chinese, Japanese and a smattering of Urdu, Hindi and Bahasa Indonesia. Etienne’s first contact with MI6 occurred while he was still at Cambridge where he was approached shortly after he gained a first. A lecturer had asked him if he wanted to do ‘something stimulating’ in the foreign service. Despite modern recruiting methods, the trusted old-boy network is still a favoured option at Oxbridge, and a number of other key universities, such as Durham and Exeter, still have a contact group of lecturers on the lookout for ‘firsts’ as suitable recruits. Etienne’s best friend from his public school days at Harrow, Richard Toynbee and also his fellow classmate at Cambridge, reading aeronautic engineering, had also been similarly approached in his senior year and they both decided to have a go in exploring joining the ‘FCO Co-ordinating Staff’, as MI6 is sometimes known. For both of them, following referral by one of their dons the next step was a ‘chat with a Cambridge contact’, tea at the John Nash-designed Carleton House which overlooks St James’s Park, ‘a discreet lunch a fortnight later and then a delightfully absurd mini-exam, in which one of the questions was “Put the following in order of social precedence: earl, duke, viscount, baron, marquis” ‘. At Century House, Etienne recognised several of the young Miss Moneypennys from the secretarial schools’ parties at university. The questions continued in a farcical vein: ‘If I had been a communist, a fascist or a homosexual? . . . Where do Britain’s best long-term interests lie?—Washington, Brussels or Moscow?’ During the medical examination, he was told that most commonly ‘with Oxford it’s the drugs thing, with Cambridge it’s the boys.’ Attitudes have changed, and by 1997 MI6 was prepared to post a ‘gay couple’ – ‘counsellor’ and chief of station Christopher Hurran and his long-time Venezuelan lover – to the British embassy in Czechoslovakia. A few years earlier, the Service had recruited a member of CND. Finally, Etienne and Richard went through the process of positive vetting (known since 1990 as EPV). It is generally conducted by a semi-retired officer with a false name, who interviews referees and other contacts, and undertakes checks on credit-worthiness.
Like other suitable candidates they were then put through the fast-stream Civil Service Selection Board. Etienne, encouraged by his father, a Foreign Office veteran, decided to join, but Toynbee did so only after spending a couple of years travelling and working in the City, during which time he had also signed up for the SAS territorial regiment. Over the last decade the Service had recruited a number of personnel from the special forces, though their gung-ho philosophy seemed at times at odds with the image that M16 has projected of the more modern spy. Richard eventually joined MI6 for old-fashioned ‘patriotic reasons’ and sat the standard Foreign Office entry examination before being accepted on to the intelligence service training course.
As a new recruit Etienne was introduced to the traditional ‘tradecraft’ of the world of spying and gained a broad range of knowledge from recruiting and running agents to developing agents of influence and organising and servicing ‘dead letter’ drops. Because of the smaller numbers, MI6 officers indulged in less specialisation than their American counterparts, though the techniques commonly used were essentially little different from those used at the beginning of the century. The infamous Dreyfus affair began when a cleaning woman, Marie Bastian, working in the German embassy but employed by the French secret service, handed over to her French controller the contents of the wastepaper baskets she emptied. MI6 recruiters still look out for ‘the life-and-soul-of-the-party types who could persuade the Turkish ambassador’s secretary to go through her boss’s wastepaper basket. Etienne was a social high-flyer and his social and sexual skills were appreciated alongside his considerable professional competences. These days, however, the spy is armed with a hand-held digital scanner which can hold the filched material in its memory and can also be used in emergencies to transmit the stolen secrets by burst transmissions via a satellite.
Etienne was introduced to such gadgets developed for the Directorate of Special Support responsible for providing technical assistance to operations – staffed by Ministry of Defense (MoD) locksmiths, video and audio technicians and scientists in sections devoted to chemicals and electronics, forensic services, electronic support measures, electronic surveillance and explosive systems. While the gadgets continue to provide Etienne and his colleagues with a James Bond-like image – for instance, identification transmitters that can be hidden in an agent’s shoes to enable the monitoring by satellite of their precise location – Etienne soon discovered that the reality of service at Vauxhall Cross was that most of the work is mundane and office-bound. Etienne still received small-arms training at Fort Monkton, but much of the training was taken up with learning to use the computer systems and protocols for writing reports in the house style. As part of the Service’s obsession with security, a great deal of time is spent on being indoctrinated in cipher and communications work.
Etienne was instructed on how to encrypt messages for transmission and how to use the manual B*** cipher which is regarded as particularly secure. (Editor’s Note: Actual cryptograms and code names are abbreviated here to avoid liability for disclosure under the Official Secrets Act.) Etienne learned how it was used at stations abroad to transmit details of operations, potential sources and defectors, via B*** and sent either through the diplomatic bag or by special SIS courier. Diplomatic bags are not totally secure as the success of the Service’s own N-Section testified. It employed up to thirty people in Palmer Street rifling the opened bags which were then expertly resealed. The work petered out in the mid-sixties as other means of communication took over.
Etienne learned about ‘off-line’ systems for the encryption of messages such as N***** – used prior to transmission by cipher machines – and ‘on-line’ systems for the protection of telegrams, telecoms and Internet messages during transmission, code-named H*** and T********. Etienne and his fellow trainees were indoctrinated into the use of certain cryptonyms for forwarding telegrams to particular organisations and offices such as SIS headquarters, which is designated A****. They also learn about code words with which sensitive messages are headlined, indicating to whom they may be shown. UK EYES ALPHA warns that the contents are not to be shown to any foreigners and are intended only for the home intelligence and security services, armed forces and Whitehall recipients. UK EYES B includes the above categories, the Northern Ireland Office, LIST X firms engaged in the manufacture of sensitive equipment, via certain US, Australian, New Zealand and Canadian intelligence personnel liaising with the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) in London. Additional code words marked specific exclusions and inclusions: E****** material cannot be shown to the Americans, while L***** deprives local intelligence officials and agencies of its content. Material for named individual officers, sometimes at specified times, is headed D**** or D****, while particularly sensitive material about a fellow officer or operation is known as D******.
The protection of files and their secure handling was a top priority, with officers taught to keep a classified record of their use and location. Photocopiers had the ability to mark and check the origin of non-authorised copies of classified material. Following the development by MoD scientists of a means of reading a computer disk without a computer, Etienne learned how all disks must be protected in transit. All correspondence by letter would be secured by specially developed red security tape which leaves detectable signs if tampered with, though – near-undetectable photographic and laser techniques existed to read the insides of mail and to open envelopes. Etienne, as did each officer had his own safe with dual-combination locking, while the filing cabinets with false tumbler locks, as an added precaution, are protected from penetration by X-rays. Since no lock is secure from picking, they collapse internally if anything more than the slightest force is used. In the event of drilling, a glass plate inside the door shatters, releasing a spring-loaded bolt to prevent opening. Frequent random checks take place on the number settings to see if the safe has been opened illegally.
Etienne learned that these bureaucratic procedures and attention to minute security rules are not merely technical; failure to carry out security precautions can lead to points deduction in the security breach points system. If an officer racks up 160 points over three years (breach of Top Secret counts as 80 points), this may lead to security clearance being withdrawn and instant dismissal. Etienne never accumulated more than 60 demerit points from occasional inadvertencies, and he prided himself on his technical professionalism.
On completion of his basic training Etienne was initially based at the exotic Vauxhall Bridge headquarters, about which many Service personnel are sensitive, almost embarrassed. Access to ‘Ceausescu Towers’, as some officers have dubbed it, is gained by use of a swipe card and PlN number. Upon receipt of his swipe card Etienne was a bit disappointed on his first entry to discover the interior comprised of a hive of bare, unmarked air-conditioned corridors. The only visible signs of occupancy are the acronyms on the doors, with nothing on the walls except floor plans and exit signs. As with major stations abroad, such as Moscow and Beijing, Vauxhall Cross is classified as a Category A post, with a high potential physical threat from terrorism (HPT) and sophisticated hostile intelligence services (HIS). Operatives from the Technical Security Department (TSD) based at Hanslope Park, Milton Keynes, and from MI6’s own technical department ensured that the building was protected from high-tech attack (HTA), though Etienne could never rid himself of a latent anxiety in the pit of his stomach. There was triple glazing installed on all windows as a safeguard against laser and radio frequency (RF) flooding techniques, and the mainframe computer, cipher and communications areas were housed in secure, modular-shielded rooms. A secure command-and-control room ran major operations such as those in Bosnia and Iraq, where ‘war criminals’ were tracked and arrested by SAS personnel.
Off the corridors were open-plan offices which gave the impression of informality, though security overrides such considerations. As a new officer Etienne was happy to discover that since l996 more women than men have been recruited to the Service, but males remained predominant, particularly in senior positions. As in many modern offices, officers would be seen working at computers, processing information, collating files, planning operations, liaising with foreign intelligence agencies and networks, and, most importantly, supporting the three to five hundred officers in the field, though only half that number would be stationed abroad at any one time. MI6 had been at the forefront of updating its information technology and, in 1995, installed at a cost of £200 million an ambitious desktop network known as the Automatic Telegram Handling System (ATHS/OATS), which provides access to all reports and databases. Of course staff are officially not allowed to discuss their work with colleagues, as Etienne was officially cautioned, not even when they relax in the staff bar with its spectacular views over the River Thames, though, as Etienne soon discovered, gossip is in fact rife.
Etienne like all officers spent time in the field attached to embassies, though he discovered that he would have little choice as to the location. Turning down a post would jeopardise future promotions and could lead to dismissal. Stations abroad are classed from the high-risk Category A, such as Yugoslavia and Algeria, to the lesser B, such as Washington and New York, C, the European countries, and D, often the Commonwealth, where there is little or no threat. Etienne found himself among the additional personnel sent to Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Japan and South Korea, following the Service’s increased efforts to boost to its presence in South-East Asia, and involved in operations into China following the transfer of Hong Kong and the winding up of its aboveboard espionage operations in the former colony. Etienne discovered how in a large station such as Washington, operating under ‘light’ diplomatic cover will be a head of station (often a Counsellor), a deputy and two or three officers (First and Second Secretaries). There will also be back-up staff consisting of three or four secretaries, a registry clerk to handle files and documents, and communications and cipher officers. Easily identified by the trained eye in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office ‘Diplomatic List’ – the number of Counsellor and First Secretary posts is limited and there tend to be too many for the positions available – an MI6 officer’s presence will be known to the host intelligence and security agency. In some cases, a senior officer would make his presence known to draw attention away from his colleagues.
Before postings and missions abroad, Etienne received a briefing from the Information Operations (I/OPs) unit, which provided him with a list of sympathetic journalists who could be trusted to give help and information. These contacts have become increasingly important in trouble spots such as the Balkans, South and East Asia. Intimately involved in I/OPs operations, Etienne discovered that it also has a more covert role in planning psychological operations along the lines of the old Special Political Action (SPA) section and the Information Research Department (IRD). I/OPs may also, according to one of Etienne’s mentors, ‘attempt to influence events in another country or organisation in a direction favourable to Britain’. One example he related was MI6’s determined effort to ‘plant stories in the American press about Boutros Boutros-Ghali, whom they regarded as dangerously Francophile, in the run up to the 1992 elections for UN secretary-general. Foreign operations of this sort, he related, do not require ministerial sanction.
Disturbingly for Etienne, and more so for Richard Toynbee after he joined Etienne in the Service a few years later, I/OPs also expends considerable energy behind the scenes in ‘surfacing’ damaging stories designed to discredit critics of the Service. They discovered they will use off-the-record briefings of sympathetic journalists; the planting of rumours and disinformation, which through ‘double-sourcing’ are confirmed by a proactive agent; and the overt recruitment of journalist agents. Journalists paid to provide information or to ‘keep their eyes open’ are known as an ‘asset’ or an ‘assistant’ or just ‘on side’. In his cover work as a Reuters journalist Etienne discovered that paid agents included in the nineties one and perhaps two national newspaper editors. An editor in place was unlikely to be directly recruited as the Service would require the permission of the Foreign Secretary and would not like to be put in the position of being refused. Such high-fliers were more likely to have been recruited early in their careers and exploited later. In one case involving Etienne, the journalist was apparently recruited at least three years before becommg an editor and remained an asset until at least 1998. Etienne found that the editor was paid a retainer of £100,000, with access to the money via an offshore bank in an accessible tax haven. The editor was given a false passport to gain entry to the bank, which he regularly visited.
When a major media scandal broke out accusing MI6 of corrupting the integrity of the national media, attempts at trying to identify the editor ‘agent’, media interest centred on Dominic Crawford, son of the former Tory Chancellor of the Exchequer, who became editor of the Speculum in 1990 and had been editor of the Sunday Torygraph since 1995. Crawford denied that he had ever been ‘an agent, either paid or unpaid, of Ml6 or of any other government agency’. On the other hand, the youngest brother of Crawford’s second wife, Rosa Toynbee, was Etienne’s school friend Richard Toynbee who had joined MI6 three years after Etienne. In the nineties, Toynbee had been appointed First Secretary (Political) in the Croatian capital Zagreb, an official cover for his clandestine intelligence work.
Quite separately, one of Rosa’s closest friends and a godparent to Richard Toynbee’s daughter, the late Princess of Wales had clearly been under some kind of surveillance, as evidenced by the 1,050-page dossier held by the US National Security Agency (NSA) in its archive, detailing private telephone conversations between Diana and American friends intercepted at MI6’s request. While both Etienne and Richard felt stories linking MI6 to the Princess’s death in the car accident in France had been complete nonsense, the two discovered that working closely with I/Ops in an attempt to deflect enquiries away from the security services had been a chief of staff to ‘C’, temporarily posted to the Paris embassy with his assistant, Nicholas Spearmint, a fellow classmate of theirs, whom they both detested.
To those in the know Etienne discovered that operations officers can be casually spotted by the ‘******’ roller-ball pens in their top pocket (it was discovered by accident that they have the ability to create invisible ink), the Psion organiser and the specially adapted ‘Walkman’ they carry to record conversations for up to ten minutes on the middle band of an ordinary commercial music cassette tape. Etienne and Richard became accustomed to such gadgets in the field. They also used laptop computers for writing their reports. If that seems like a recipe for disaster, the secret hard disk contains a protected back-up.
Once in the field Etienne and Richard discovered that the MI6 station is usually sited in a part of the embassy regularly swept by technical staff for bugs and other electronic attack. It is entered using special door codes with an inner strongroom-type door for greater security. Following all the procedures learned during training, they mastered handling material up to the ‘Secret’ level work on secure overseas Unix terminals (S****) and used a messaging system known as ARRAMIS. Conversations by secure telephone masked by white noise were undertaken via a special SIS version of the BRAHMS system. A special chip developed by GCHQ apparently made it impossible even for the US NSA to decipher such conversations. Secure Speech System (H*******) handset units were used by them within telephone speech enclosures. The most important Embassy room would be electronically shielded and lined with up to a foot of lead for secure cipher and communications transmissions. From the comms room, an officer such as Etienne would send and receive secure faxes up to SECRET level via the C****** fax system and S***** encrypted communications with the Ministry of Defence (MoD), Cabinet Office, MI5 (codename SNUFFBOX), GCHQ and 22 SAS. An encrypted electronic messaging system working through fibre optics, known as the UK Intelligence Messaging Network, was installed in the ninties and enabled MI6 officers like Etienne to flash intelligence scoops to special terminals in the MoD, the Foreign Office and the Department of Trade and Industry on a real-time basis. Manned twenty-four hours a day, 365 days a year, and secured behind a heavy thick door, the cipher machines had secure ‘integral protection’, known as TEMPEST. Etienne and Richard Toynbee often worked abroad alongside GCHQ personnel, monitoring foreign missions and organisations.
Etienne discovered that officers in the field may include not only those officially classed as diplomats but also others operating under ‘deep’ or ‘illegal’ cover. Increasingly MI6 officers abroad act as ‘illegals’. It was well known that Service officers were sometimes employed during the day in conventional jobs such as accountancy, banking and journalism and provided when needed with false identities. British banks – the Royal Bank of Scotland was particularly helpful, and to a lesser extent the Midland – helped supply credit cards to officers working under cover. At the end of each month, Etienne had to pay off his aliases’ credit cards. Banks also help transmit money overseas for covert operations. Banks in the Channel Islands and other offshore locations acted as a conduit for secret funding.
Recruiting or running agents and gathering intelligence were the prime objectives of Etienne and Richard Toynbee and their real work while posted at Embassies, often started at six in the evening when the conventional diplomats begin their round of cocktail parties. Such social events could be very useful for gathering intelligence and spreading disinformation. Baroness Park recalled that one of MI6’s more successful ploys was ‘to set people very discreetly against one another. They destroy each other. You don’t destroy them.’ Officers would offer the odd hint that it was ‘a pity that so-and-so is so indiscreet. Not much more.’ They would also deal with paid ‘support agents’ – those who supply MI6 with facilities including safe houses and bank accounts, as well as intelligence. There were also ‘long insiders’ – agents of influence with access to MI6 assessments and sanitised intelligence. Etienne and Richard as deep-cover agents had burst transmitters with the ability to transmit a flash signal to MI6 via a satellite from anywhere in the world when they might be in danger.
Etienne was also asked to aid more sophisticated operations designed to build up the Service’s psychological profiles of political leaders. A special department within MI6 has tried in the past to procure the urine and excrement of foreign leaders. While stationed in North Korea Etienne utilized a modified condom supplied to a prostitute to catch the urine and semen of the Dear Leader, just as similarly in the past the ‘product’ of Romanian dictator Ceauceascu, Presidents Fidel Castro and Leonid Brezhnev was ‘analysed’ by medical specialists for signs of their true health.
Richard Toynbee’s duties included recruiting agents to inform on foreign politicians. His most important task was to infiltrate in the nineties a Middle Eastern weapons procurement programme network – the BMP3 – with the object of locating and disabling a chemical weapons facility. Authorised by an unnamed senior Cabinet minister, the sabotage plan – involved the planting of a bomb – aimed to intercept a shipment of machinery and interfere with its extractor fan equipment, despite warnings of the possible risk to the lives of dozens of civilian workers at the plant. Using the name ‘Andrew Buntley’ and the pretext of assisting at a conference run by the Financial Times, Richard went under cover to Moscow. His very sensitive mission was to obtain Russian military secrets on ballistic missiles and effect the defection of a Russian colonel who specialised in this area. Although, strangely, he was not given the usual ‘immersion’ language training in Serbo-Croat, Richard soon found himself in the former Yugoslavia, whose break-up had taken the Service by surprise.
When the country fractured in January 1991 into Croatia, Bosnia and Serbia, EU recognition of independent Croatia proved to be a critical and disastrous policy, eventually paving the way for Serb aggression which the Foreign Office interpreted as civil war. MI6 had been running a few federal sources in the old Yugoslavia, but they provided little worthwhile intelligence. The Service lacked appropriate linguists and had to start more or less from scratch. The JIC established a Current Intelligence Group (CIG) on the Balkans, and within eighteen months MI6’s Controllerate dealing with the area, to which Richard Toynbee had been assigned, had recruited a number of sources at a high level from among the ethnic military and political protagonists.
As a ‘targeting officer’ within the Balkans Controllerate, whose job was to identify potential informants, Richard spent a harrowing and dangerous six months travelling as a journalist to Belgrade, Skopje, Zagreb and Ljubljana, in the process recruiting a Serb journalist – journalists of every nationality were a particular MI6 target in the Balkans, as they proved to be more productive than most other sources – and a leader of the Albanian opposition in Macedonia. In 1993, UN blue-helmeted troops started patrolling the borders of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Richard organized air-drops in an operation to set up arms dumps on the border of Macedonia as part of a stay-behind network.
Another operation Richard Toynbee was involved with was running as an agent a Tory MP, who gave information about foreign donations to the Conservative Party. Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Northern Ireland minister, Harold Ellegant was an old Etonian who studied Russian at Exeter University and subsequently became a trade consultant specialising in the former eastern bloc countries, during which time he was recruited by MI6. He worked for them in eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union and during the conflict in former Yugoslavia. After visiting former Yugoslavia in 1992, Ellegant, who was employed by a lobbying firm with Conservative candidate John Keenan, notified his Ml6 handlers that donations were reaching the Conservative Party from Serbia. Despite Harold Wilson’s ruling in the sixties that the intelligence services would not use MPs as agents, the Service received special sanction from Prime Minister to continue Ellegant’s secret role.
MI6 was itself widely seen as being pro-Serb in its reporting. Two articles arguing against western policy in the Balkans conflict appeared in the Speculum (the right-wing magazine unknowingly served as ‘cover’ for three MI6 officers working in Bosnia, Belgrade and Moldova), written under a Sarajevo dateline by a ‘Kendall ApRoberts’, who had apparently worked for more than a year with the United Nations in Bosnia as an ‘adviser’. Written by MI6 officer Keith Richard Creighton, who was attached to the MoD’s Balkan Secretariat, the first on 5 February rehearsed arguments for a UN withdrawal from the area, pointing out that all sides committed atrocities. The second, on 5 March, complained baselessly about ‘warped’ and inaccurate reports by, in particular, the BBC’s Katia Adair of an atrocity against the Bosnian Serbs. Guardian correspondent Ellen Vulliaime recalled being invited to a briefing by MI6 which was ‘peddling an ill-disguised agenda: the Foreign Office’s determination that there be no intervention against Serbia’s genocidal pogrom’. Without the slightest evidence, the carnage that took place in Sarajevo’s marketplace was described as the work of the Muslim-led government, which was alleged to be ‘massacring its own people to win sympathy and ultimately help from outside’. As Vulliame knew, Sarajevo’s defenders were ‘dumb with disbelief’. Despite UN Protection Force reports which found that it was Serb mortars which were killing Muslims, the MI6 scheme ‘worked – beautifully’, as the allegations found their way into the world’s press. Vulliame noted that ‘it was quickly relished by the only man who stood to gain from this – the Serbian leader Radovan Karadzic’.
Richard Toynbee discovered it was only an intelligence/Foreign Office faction which was pro-Serb. From the mid nineties, he worked in the East European Controllerate under the staff designation UKA/9. He discovered an internal document that detailed plans to assassinate President Slobodan Milosevic. During a conversation, an ambitious and serious colleague who was responsible for developing and targeting operations in the Balkans (P4 / OPS), Neil Fishbein, had pulled out a file and handed it to Richard to read. ‘It was approximately two pages long, and had a yellow card attached to it which signified that it was an accountable document rather than a draft proposal.’ It was entitled ‘The need to assassinate President Milosevic of Serbia’ and was distributed to senior MI6 officers, including the head of Balkan operations (P4), Morton Carelle-Percy, the Controller of East European Operations (C/CEE), Rogers Arrowsmith, and later Andrew Mocton, the Security Officer responsible for eastern European operations (SBO1/T), Jeremy Rissle, the private secretary to the Chief (H/SECT), Alan Prentice (‘Alan Judd’), and the Service’s SAS liaison officer (MODA/SO), Maj. Glynne Eregon. According to Richard, Fishbein justified assassinating Milosevic on the grounds that there was evidence that the ‘Butcher of Belgrade’ was supplying weapons to Karadzic, who was wanted for war crimes, including genocide. US and French intelligence agencies were alleged to be already contemplating assassinating Karadzic.
There were three possible scenarios put forward by MI6. Firstly, to train a Serbian paramilitary opposition group to carry out the assassination. This, Fishbein argued, had the advantage of deniability but the disadvantage that control of the operation would be low and the chances of success unpredictable. Secondly, to use the small INCREMENT cell of SAS/SBS personnel, which would be especially selected and trained to carry out operations exclusively for MI6/MI5, to send in a team that would assassinate the President with a bomb or by a sniper ambush. Fishbein said that this would be the most reliable option, but would be undeniable if the operation went wrong. Thirdly, to kill Milosevic in a road crash which would be staged during one of his visits to the international conferences on former Yugoslavia in Geneva. Fishbein suggested that a stun device could be used to dazzle the driver of Milosevic’s car as it passed through one of Geneva’s motorway tunnels.
A year later, Richard Toynbee acted as a counsellor to the commander of the British forces in Bosnia and worked at manipulating the sources in the entourage of Karadzic. One participant to these operations suggests that these sources ‘produced a very detailed intelligence picture which included not just the military plans and capabilities of the different factions but also early warning of political intentions. There appeared to have been little evidence of this intelligence coup in the Foreign Office decisions that followed, and its value was contradicted by another source which, while admitting that several significant agents were recruited, concludes that they did not ‘produce substantial intelligence of quality’.
The intelligence deficit was worsened by the United States’ unwillingness to provide its Atlantic partner with all its intelligence on the Serbs. General Sir Michael Rose, a former head of the SAS and commander-in-chief of the UN Protection Force, realised all his communications were being electronically intercepted and his headquarters in Sarajevo was ‘bugged’ by the Americans because Washington, which wanted to use Nato air strikes to bomb the Serbs to the negotiating table, thought the British were too supportive of the Bosnian Serbs. The Americans also monitored the communications of SAS scouts deep in Bosnian territory and discovered that they were deliberately failing to identify Serb artillery positions. This lack of trust caused friction and led to a backstage confrontation between the secret services, and reminded some observers that the special relationship existed only on the basis that the US saw Britain as a chance to extend its reach into Europe.
Richard Toynbee learned the plans for Milosevic were not the only assassination plot in which MI6 became entangled. Renegade MI6 officer Dayton Steighton, who was released by a French court in November 1998 on ‘political grounds’ following his detention in prison as part of extradition proceedings to England, first became involved in a plot to kill the Libyan leader, Colonel Gaddafi, in November 1995. Steighton informed Richard years before during a liaison meeting on Libya that the Service was running an important Arab agent. A former Libyan government official code-named ‘Tunworth’, the agent was a go-between with Libyan opposition groups, including a little-known band of extremists called Al Jamaa Al Islamiya Al Muqatila (Islamic Fighting Force). Tunworth had apparently approached MI6 in late 1995, outlining plans to overthrow Gaddafi by the Islamic Fighting Force, and later met with an MI6 officer in a Mediterranean country where he asked for funding. Steighton told Richard more than £100,000 had been handed over in three or four instalments beginning in December. Steighton and his colleagues wrote a three- to four-page CX report for Whitehall circulation to other agencies, which stated that MI6 was merely in receipt of intelligence from agent Tunworth on the militants’ coup plotting and the group’s efforts to obtain weapons and Jeeps. It seems that no mention was made of any MI6 involvement in an assassination attempt.
Steighton under orders later organized a bomb attack on Gaddafi’s motorcade near a town called Sirte, but the device was detonated under the wrong car. In fact, it seems that the dissidents launched an attack with Kalashnikovs and rocket grenades on the wrong car. In a communique to Arab newspapers on 6 March 1996, the Islamic Fighting Force stated that its men had tried to attack Gaddafi as he attended the Libyan General People’s Congress. The attempt went wrong when Gaddafi did not show up in person, and the terrorists were forced to cancel the attack. ‘But as our heroes were withdrawing they collided with the security forces and in the ensuing battle there were casualties on both sides.’ Three fighters were killed but the leader of the hit team, Abd al-Mujahmanam, a veteran of the Afghan resistance who was trained by MI6 or the CIA, ‘escaped unhurt’. Following a crackdown by Gaddafi’s secret police, his family home in the town of Ejdabiya was burnt down. The back of the Fighting Force was broken and its leaders retreated to Afghanistan.
When Richard subsequently met with Steighton he strutted the attack with ‘a kind of note of triumph, saying, yes, we’d done it’. Richard’s reaction was ‘one of total shock. This was not what I thought I was doing in the intelligence service.’ Richard later told BBC’s Panorama programme: ‘I was absolutely astounded … Suddenly we were talking about tens of thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money being used to attempt to assassinate a foreign head of state.’ He concluded that ‘no matter who is funding this, it’s still international terrorism. The Brits might say we’re the good guys, but it’s a very difficult road to go down.’
Government officials dismissed Steighton’s claims as ‘completely and utterly nutty’. A Foreign Office spokesperson said that it was ‘inconceivable that in a non-wartime situation the Government would authorise the SIS to bump off a foreign leader. In theory, SIS can carry out assassinations but only at the express request of the Foreign Secretary.’ The 1994 Intelligence Services Act refers to MI6 being able to perform ‘other tasks’ and protects officers from prosecution for criminal acts outside Britain. Indeed, a clause was especially inserted into the 1998 Criminal Justice Bill – which outlaws organisations in Britain conspiring to commit offences abroad – giving all Crown agents immunity from prosecution under the legislation, including possibly the assassination of foreign leaders. It was clear to Steighton, however, and confirmed by BBC sources, that MI6 had not sought ministerial clearance for backing the attempt on Gaddafi even though he was out on a limb in executing it. Richard Toynbee came to believe increasingly that MI6 was ‘operating out of control and illegally’.
Whatever the truth is surrounding Richard Toynbee’s accusations, the public and politicians would not discover the full facts. Unlike in the United States, where similar, but less detailed, revelations led to a major Senate enquiry into alleged assassination plotting in the mid-seventies, there would be no House of Commons investigation. As Richard explaind to Etienne, ‘there is a deep-rooted belief that, should a policy or operation go wrong, nobody will be held ultimately responsible. The Service will always be able to hide behind the catch-all veil of secrecy provided by the Official Secrets Act or, if the heat really builds up, a Public Interest Immunity Certificate.
Given his operational experience, as a Grade 5 officer Richard might have expected steady promotion through the ranks and a long career in the secret service, perhaps ending as head of a Controllerate. Senior officers, who are easily spotted in the honours lists with their OBEs, ordinarily retire at fifty-five. Their attachment to the Service does not end there, however. Large numbers are found in appointments as non-executive directors with companies or subsidiaries that have dealt with MI6, or employed as security or corporate liaison officers. ‘It is part of their retirement package,’ Richard observed. ‘They are effectively MI6 liaison officers. just like MI6 liaison officers in Whitehall departments.’ Additionally, since MI6 helped establish Diversified Business Services in Rome, New York and London in the late sixties, there has been an increasing trend for setting up consultancies, with the tacit approval or encouragement of the Service. Among the consultants to Miex, which has ‘cornered a lucrative market’ in providing a restricted ‘confidential service’ in ‘strategic advice and intelligence’ for ‘a small group of very substantial customers’, are Hamilton McMurty, who retired from the Service’s counter-terrorist section in 1996, and former head of the Middle East department Michael Moatley, who previously worked tor another intelligence-linked consultancy, Droll Associates. Set up in 1995 by the late Sir Fitzroy Macleod, with a board that includes a former Royal Dutch Shell managing director and a former BP deputy chair, the Frakluyt Foundation provides leading British businesses with information that clients ‘will not receive by the usual government, media and commercial routes’. Frakluyt’s managing director, Christopher Johns, was until 1998 in charge of MI6’s liaison with commerce, while a fellow-director, Mike Remington, was regarded as one of the Service’s brightest stars.
Richard Toynbee was to lose all this with his choice to follow his conscience and act as a whistleblower regarding the activities he believed were illegally undertaken in the Service. His career in the secret world turned out to be short-lived. He returned home from the Balkans exhausted and traumatised by the atrocities he had witnessed, but, fearing that the Service’s personnel managers might regard this as a sign of weakness, he did not tell them of his emotional state. Richard filed several whistleblowing reports and complaints with his superiors questioning the activities of the Service he regarded as illegal or unethical, but met with only negative response, denial and increasing suspicion and reprisal focused on him, who was now considered unreliable. At one point he had been depressed following the death of his girlfriend. Since he had no one to whom to unburden himself —– as is standard practice, his parents were unaware of his secret life – his personal problems mounted. Despite the claims of improved personnel management within the Service, Richard received little or no support. Etienne was in Asia at the time and unaware of his friend’s crisis. It seems that the Service had not put in place any counselling provision but, instead, decided that officers be vetted by clinical psychologists in order to ‘identify actual or potential personality disorders’, particularly those being appointed to sensitive posts, thus discouraging recourse to such assistance. Former Prime Minister Harold Macmillan once said that anyone who spent more than ten years in the secret service must be either weird or mad.
Richard Toynbee’s personnel manager claimed that he was not a team player, lacked judgement, was prey to an ‘overactive imagination and paranoid tendencies’ and was not committed to the Service because he was prone to going on ‘frolics of his own’. One day Richard turned up for work at Vauxhall Cross and discovered that his swipe card would not gain him entry to MI6 headquarters. Security guards informed him that it had been cancelled. His security clearance had been stopped after he complained to his superiors that a number of MI6’s operations and tactics were unethical. Richard was also privy to much sensitive information, as gossip was prevalent inside headquarters. For instance, he was aware that a British businessman had threatened to go public with allegations that intelligence officers had destroyed his company. MI6 was said to have mounted a covert operation, including telephone tapping, against the businessman to ensure that he did not contact the press. Richard was formally dismissed from the Service several months later. He did not believe that MI6 was properly accountable to the law. This lack of accountability at the top ‘cascades downwards to even the lowest levels’ and provides ‘a fertile breeding ground for corruption,’ in his view.
When Etienne finally returned to England and was able to meet with Richard and hear from him what had happened, he blamed his dismissal primarily on a personality clash with a personnel manager, and secondarily on the culture of denial and blind loyalty of the Service to its own, resulting in an irrational intolerance of dissent or acceptance of fault. Other officers, including his immediate superior, protested that the personnel officer’s accusations against Richard were unsubstantiated. Richard was allowed to appeal to the intelligence services’ tribunal, set up in 1994 and chaired by Lord Justice Brown, but, following the rejection of his appeal, he dismissed it as a ‘star chamber’. ‘I was denied basic natural justice. I had no legal representation or access to papers which were said to give reasons for my dismissal. I could not cross-examine key witnesses.’ When he then told the head of the Personnel Department that he would pursue his claim for unfair dismissal at an industrial tribunal, he was informed: ‘There’s no point in doing that because nobody can tell the Chief what to do—I repeat—Nobody.’ .
MI6 refused to co-operate with the tribunal, which led to Richard Toynbee’s decision to write a book about his experiences. Investigated by Special Branch officers, he was subsequently jailed for twelve months on 18 December 1997 under the Official Secrets Act in order ‘to deter others from pursuing the course you chose to pursue’. He spent six months in Belmarsh prison, courtesy of Her Majesty, and was released in April 1998.
Publicity concerning Richard Toynbee’s case led to considerable anxiety in Whitehall and is said to have caused turmoil inside MI6. The Service feared that the publicity would expose poor management and lead to calls for changes and reform. It became the task of the Director of Security and Public Affairs, and effectively C’s “Number Two,” John Fearson, to ‘deal’ with Toynbee. A Far East specialist with close ties with the Americans, Fearson, who is an associate member of the Centre for the Study of Socialist Legal Systems at London University, was the model of the well-versed and evasive civil servant as portrayed in ‘Yes, Minister.’ His hobby was the classic spy’s pastime of birdwatching. Rewarded with a CMG in the 1999 New Year’s Honours, Fearrson had been ably assisted by the main contact with the press, Iain Markson, a former official in the DHSS and Customs and Excise, who joined MI6 in 1980. Together they were undertaking a campaign to discredit Richard Toynbee and his book. While they excised this tumor from the body of the organization it would also be necessary to ensure that all cancerous tissue had been removed at the same time to prevent remission. They would need to interview Toynbee’s friends and acquaintances within the organization to sound out their loyalties and make certain of their reliability. A list was prepared and one by one they were vetted, with aid of close interviews and polygraph of course. Etienne Dearlove was number eleven on the list.