Spooks


MolesworthLast night, I watched a film about the Cambridge Spies. Unlike America, England in the 50s seems to have been distinguished by the extent to which people did not fear communist subversion. Jennifer Hart, a young aristocrat who gravitated towards the far left, claimed that MI5 would ask her to recommend bright graduates for jobs in the services and seemed to have little concern for their affiliations. If you came from the right families, and the right colleges, you were generally assumed to be a decent sort.

The film hinted darkly at potential motives of the spies, ranging from social conditions to sexual proclivities. It was not a time that showed the best of capitalism, that much is undeniable, and I think it is evident that homosexuality could incline one towards rebellion as, after all, one was classed as a natural rebel. A point that struck me, though, was when it was speculated that Blunt’s anti-authoritarian streak was nurtured by his loathing of the macho atmosphere of Marlborough College, with its emphasis on sporting prowess. I wonder how much of the social liberalism of the 20th Century was informed by resentment towards exclusion and abuse in British public schools.

It was “Mad Shelley” who faced taunting and violence at Eton as he nurtured his youthful radicalism, and significant progressives of the past century endured similar experiences. Lytton Strachey, among the more influential figures in the Bloomsbury Group, suffered harsh bullying at school thanks to the frail physique that made him unsuited for sports and labour. Gerald Brenan, too, hid in the library to escape his tormenters at Radley. Such, Such Were the Joys, meanwhile, reflected Orwell’s loathing of St. Cyprian’s – a prep school but one that led him to detest the “bigger, stronger, handsomer, richer, more popular” boys who outstripped other people “in dominating them, bullying them, making them suffer pain”. This facts of the essay have been disputed but the perception remains. A hatred of hierarchy, order and authoritarianism can be stoked by few things more than public school bullies, and their victims are prepared to be receptive to alternatives to their values.

One suspects that the anti-authoritarian culture of the ‘60s had at least something to do with the resentment that young men felt towards the officials of their education. Peter Cook was joking when he said he got his “sense of injustice” from the caning he suffered at the hands of Ted Dexter, who was a prefect at Radley when he was young, but a good friend said he was “really angry” at the England batsman even in later life. Paul Foot, who, like his colleagues at Private Eye, was educated at Shrewsbury School, penned a scathing obituary of a sadistic master who would lash the bare buttocks of children, “quite unable to contain his glee”. There was a personal outrage, meanwhile, in the privately educated Lindsay Anderson’s portrayal of austere masters and thuggish prefects in his film if…, in which schoolboys amass weapons to massacre the staff of their public school.

Okay, correlation does not prove causation, and God knows whether the chicken or the egg was around before the other. Such men tended to hate school, and to be hated at school, because of their refusal to conform to the standards of their peers and masters. At the least, however, it is ironic that people who were frozen out of school did so much to exclude their bullies from the culture.

BikeAbout three years ago, Gareth Williams died. How he died remains mysterious.

I do not wish to repeat the grim details. Facts are there, if one wishes to investigate them, and no new details are being released. The anniversary has prompted no reflections in the media.

I will only mark the occasion by observing that Williams was missing for a week before the police were informed. His line manager at MI6, where he was on secondment from GCHQ, ignored his absence from work on Monday 16th August, because, he claims, he thought he would on a course. On the Friday, an employee of the human resources department at GCHQ told the manager that he should visit Williams’ flat and call the police if he failed to contact him. She arrived for work after the weekend to discover that he had not raised the alarm, and was forced to place the call herself. The MI6 employees, whose failure to call the police ensured that Mr Williams’ body was in such a state when it was found that the autopsy proved to be of little use, faced no repercussions. None. This fact, revealed to the inquest, caused the dead man’s family a great deal of suffering.

If I was the manager of an office, and cooled my heels for a week as an employee lay dead in his flat, I would expect to be sacked. This, mind you, would be if I managed an ordinary office. These men worked in the headquarters of the MI6. Where should people be more concerned about the location of their employees? Old Trafford?

One way or another, Mr Williams was betrayed. This should not be forgotten.

Moussa KoussaTwo years ago, Moussa Koussa, the Libyan Minister of Foreign Affairs, did something interesting. He drove into Tunisia, boarded a private jet and flew to Farnborough Airfield in England. Libyan sources insisted that he had left the country on a diplomatic mission but the British authorities claimed that he was disenchanted with his employers and considering his resignation.

Few Britons would have known who he was the day before but now they knew him as a figure of tremendous evil. Politicians and commentators suggested that his defection was similar to that of Rudolf Hess. He was, Libyan rebels told us, with apparent justice, a crook whose hands were stained with the blood of his countrymen. British sources also alleged that he had masterminded the Lockerbie bombings, and had been involved in the murder of WPC Yvonne Fletcher. It seemed that we had a man who was both big and bad. Boris Johnson summed up the feelings of the moment by going on Question Time and saying that if there was the slightest evidence against him, he should be arrested.

Koussa was interviewed by the intelligence services, and by Scottish investigators of the Pan Am bombing. Then the European Union, on the urgings of the British, lifted its travel and economic sanctions against the man and he promptly boarded a plane and flew to Qatar. There was a kind of dazed silence. Relatives of victims of the Lockerbie bombing complained bitterly but the press, having informed us that he was a murderer and probable terrorist, seemed to lose their interest in him. The Telegraph did track him down to a hotel in Doha, and found him swanning about under the protection of the Qataris; eating at expensive Italian restaurants and generally enjoying life.

We have heard almost nothing of the fellow since. The last that I heard, he was settling in Jordan.

Why Moussa Koussa was allowed in and out remains mysterious. He must have offered the government or its agencies something valuable. The Sunday Express alleged, while he was still in Britain, that he had a close working relationship with MI6, while the Independent, noting the British and Libyan collaboration over “rendition” policies, suggested that he “held a ‘smoking gun’”. Neither they nor other papers pursued these accusations.

It seems very grubby that Koussa’s Libyan victims have been denied justice, especially if he won immunity through his work in some of the grubbiest episodes of the “War on Terror”. It seems very grubby that victims of Lockerbie were led to believe that he could answer the questions that have dogged them for almost a quarter of a century, only to see him disappear and leave more questions in his wake. Over eighteen months after the fall of Gadaffi, and with no evidence of Libyan guilt having emerged, the perpetrators of the bombings remain shrouded in mystery. If they could be found elsewhere, a chance to eliminate suspects has been thrown away. If they did come from the Maghreb it is quite possible that the state discarded not merely a chance to prove this to us but a chance to prosecute one of them. For what?

Who knows. What vexes me is not simply the fact that our government is engaged in such suspicious and discomfiting affairs but that the journalists whose task it is to explain such events have shown no interest in them. If, as they informed us, there were grounds on which to compare the man to Rudolf Hess it is as if Churchill, Eden and so on had let the one-time Deputy Führer sail off to Brazil, yet few of them complained and none of them seem to have made an effort to discover why they did it. How often, one has to ask, do they fail to make such efforts? As on other occasions, we are left with memory, and curiosity, and questions.

The Coroner has returned a verdict on the death of Gareth Williams…

The cause of death of Williams, 31, who was found padlocked in a holdall in the bath at his flat in Pimlico, central London, was “unnatural and likely to have been criminally mediated”, said Dr Fiona Wilcox.

Passing a narrative verdict, she said she was satisfied that “a third party placed the bag in the bath and on the balance of probabilities locked the bag”.

She said, however, that she doubts it will ever be satisfactorily explained. I’m not going to draw my own conclusions because if this blog has proved one thing it’s that I’m not cut out to be an investigate journalist but, still, I’d like to go through what’s been heard in the last week and tease out its implications.

What’s been established beyond reasonable doubt is that another person or, indeed, other people were involved in Williams’ death. A bag expert – and how the hell does one become a bag expert? – tried to wriggle in and lock it and reported that even Houdini would have struggled. We already knew that a person or people had done a formidably efficient job of covering their tracks: leaving the scene free of fingerprints and – unless we’re to believe that a t-shirted Williams consented to having the radiators cranked up in August – turning on the heat to quicken the decomposition of the body. His phone had also been wiped. It’s strictly possible that he could have done this himself but it seems unlikely. If he’d willingly entered the bag he’d have presumably expected to get out again and carry on with his life. Even if no one had meant to do him harm before his death, then, they seem to have become frighteningly clinical once they realised that he’d died.

One of the main reasons I’d thought it was probably murder was the reporting of his position inside the bag. A report described “his arms and legs [as being] contorted behind him” and a policeman was quoted as saying he’d thought “[his] legs and arms had been cut off””. Throughout the inquest, however, he was reported as looking calm with his “hands…resting on his chest”. I’ve no idea what’s behind this apparent contradiction. It doesn’t seem to have been an issue at the inquest so perhaps there’s a simple explanation but I’d like to know it.

Murder remains an extremely plausible explanation. The extraordinary skill with which whoever else was involved covered their tracks points to a competence and callousness that while perhaps the result of instinctual self-preservation would also be explained by malicious plotting. The difficulty of obtaining accurate toxicological results means sedatives and poisons – the latter of which is among the two explanations the pathologist favours – would have been hard to trace.

The only other explanation is that he was involved in a game, be it a part of BDSM practices or even something concerned with escapology, that went horribly wrong. If the Home Office pathologist is correct to say that he could have succumbed to carbon dioxide poisoning quickly enough as to have no time to respond I see how this could happen, and Williams’ former landlady’s report of finding him tied to his bed could be evidence of an interest in bondage or escapology so I don’t think one can discount this hypothesis. On the other hand, a nasty episode that could, perhaps, have been inspired by a clumsy interest in these practices, as well as a sporadic number of visits to bondage websites, is not evidence enough to get close to proving this. Tying yourself to a bed – and proving rather bad at freeing yourself – is a world away from such a hugely dramatic and dangerous act of claustrophilia, and if we drew such broad conclusions from everyone’s occasional browsing, tens of millions of people would be found to be depraved fetishists. Even if you were to presume that he was so inclined you would have to believe he found a similarly-minded partner without leaving traces of their interaction. It is possible, again, but whatever David Aaronovitch might say it is not the “obvious” explanation.

(Now I’ve mentioned the landlady I can’t help noting that in 2010 she said that “when someone has lived with you for ten years you get to know them really well, and Gareth almost became a part of the family”. In 2012, however, she saidwe did not become close to him”. I can understand that at varying points in our lives we have different perceptions of the same events but I wish someone had mentioned things like this and, more importantly, the arms and legs contradiction because I hate to live with inconsistencies.)

Whatever the circumstances of his death the behaviour of the MI6 has been appalling. Despite an absence of a week, and despite being told by the human resources department at GCHQ to call the police if Williams couldn’t be reached, an officer was only dispatched when the relevant HR employee heard he was still missing and that his colleagues hadn’t reported it. The interval ensured that the body had decomposed to such an extent that the autopsy involved more guesswork than assured conclusions. Their indifference towards the whereabouts of a valuable employee would be horrible enough if he was actually theirs. But he wasn’t. He was only seconded from GCHQ. The very people who had told them to call the police. His employers should be screaming for heads to roll but – to the dismay of the family – we’ve learned that neither the line manager or anybody else at MI6 has faced the vaguest repercussions.

Such carelessness is proof of either staggering incompetence or duplicity. Given this it’s also shocking that police had such limited access to the relevant evidence and witnesses held by the secret services. How can we be sure they weren’t covering something up? We can’t. The coroner even said that the hypothesis that Williams was murdered by a colleague is a “legitimate line of inquiry”. (I can’t resist adding that John Rentoul had answered this theory with one of his stubborn “no”’s. I doubt he was in a better position to judge than the, er, well – judge.) Whatever the degrees of madness and malice that were involved, however, it’s a remarkable indictment of the secret state.

I hope Mr Williams can rest in peace. Yet, whatever the precise circumstances of his death, I suspect we should be resting less easily until justice is achieved.

The inquiry into Gareth Williams’ death is finally underway and the media are finally paying attention to it. The Guardian, the Indie, the Mail and the Beeb all have reports, but I’ll quote from the Telegraph’s…

Gareth Williams could not have locked the bag from the inside, meaning a “third party” must have done it, according to a lawyer representing his family.

Relatives believe his death in 2010 may have been linked to his work at MI6, where he had recently qualified for “operational deployment”, and that fingerprints, DNA and other evidence was wiped from the scene in a deliberate cover up.

Police have always said they were keeping an open mind on whether the 31-year-old codebreaker was murdered or died as a result of an accident, possibly during a bizarre sex game.

But at an interim hearing ahead of the full inquest into his death, Westminster Coroner’s Court in London was told that a delay by MI6 in notifying police of his disappearance meant a post-mortem examination had been “ineffective” and the cause of his death remained unclear.

A series of blunders, including a mix-up over DNA found at the scene, had also hampered the inquiry, Dr Fiona Wilcox, the coroner, was told.

The police haven’t seemed to have kept an open mind. In fact, Detective Chief Superintendent Hamish Campbell said, “This is not linked to his work – it’s his private life.” This, along with a host of dubious police claims about the man’s alleged homosexuality, tranvestism and interest in bondage, prompted reporters to indulge in lurid speculation about his demise being a sex game gone wrong, a murder carried out by a boyfriend or even the result of a bizarre art experiment. The Telegraph’s own Victoria Ward issued a vile piece on how his supposed “bondage fetish may be related to childhood”; a “childhood trauma”, indeed, that forced him to seek “accept[ance] and nurture” elsewhere. An apology might be a tad late now, but I wonder if the Williams family would consider suing.

The family themselves believe…

The unknown third party was a member of some agency specialising in the dark arts of the secret services, and perhaps evidence was removed from the scene post mortem by an expert in those dark arts.

The latter claim was doubtless prompted by reports that there were no fingerprints or DNA at the scene, and that the door had been removed and, apparently, the knob detached.The heating, we learned earlier, had also been cranked up to intensify the decomposition of the body.

The investigators, who claim to have spent a year basing inquiries around DNA that turns out to have been left by one of their own forensic scientists, and a mysterious pair of Mediterranean suspects who are now said to have been completely irrelevant, seem to have raised a lot more questions than they’ve answered. The spooks, meanwhile, refuse to detail the nature of Williams’ work because, yes, it might “endanger national security”. They’ve yet to explain why, despite Williams failing to appear at work for several days, they failed to check the “safe house” where he’d lived and where his body lay. It was left to his sister to raise the alarm.

The investigation is as much a scandal as the death, and, as the inquest continues, they both remain mysterious and frightening.

So, we have a dateanother date – for the inquest into Gareth Williams’ death. It was originally set for last February; then for March; then for “before Christmas” and now, apparently, it’s going to be in April. God knows if it’ll happen but at least there’s been some substantive reportage this time…

It remains one of the most baffling mysteries in the history of the British secret services.

Does it? Yes, I suppose it does. I do wonder, though, why if journalists are aware of its significance they’ve failed to report on its progress.

The spy’s badly-decomposed body was found at 6.30pm on August 23 at his flat in Pimlico, barely a mile from the headquarters of MI6, the Secret Intelligence Services, across the River Thames.

The property was used by MI6 as a safe house. In what was apparently a secret services in-joke, the building was owned by a British Virgin Islands-registered company called New Rodina, meaning ‘new motherland’ in Russian.

Prompting some journalists – from guess which paper – to propose that the fiendish KGB were involved.

Mr Williams had not showed up at work for several days. But it was only when his sister Ceri, a physiotherapist, rang police from her home in Chester to say she had not heard from him in over 10 days, that a constable went to the top-floor flat in Alderney Street.

Here he made a gruesome discovery.

The flat was “spotless”. But in the bath was a red North Face holdall from which red liquid was seeping. It had been padlocked.

Inside the officer found a body so contorted that he initially assumed the “legs and arms had been cut off”. There were no signs of a struggle.

And that’s where we come in. The police insisted that despite the man’s job and the manner of his death it was “not linked to his work [but] his private life”. This prompted journalists to link the death to an imaginary “gay lover; a hypothetical interest in BDSM and downright fantastical “kinky sex liasions”. Most shamefully, a Telegraph writer, Victoria Ward, asserted that his “apparent interest in bondage and auto-asphyxiation” – an “apparent interest” that’s never been more than possible – could have been linked to “a childhood trauma”. She even rolled out a sexual therapist to propose that he could have been denied the “accept[ance] and nurture” that he’d sought. The victim’s family had their loved one stolen from them, then, and now, on top of that, had to endure the papers leering about his supposed deviance and one shameless hack proposing that it was their fault for allowing him to be traumatised, and for not nurturing him. That was three days before Christmas. A friend reported that they didn’t celebrate the festival: “they weren’t going to anyway but the latest revelations…just made it even worse for them”.

I’ve wondered at times if I should stop writing about the case. After all, I didn’t know the man, and I’m hardly equipped to say what happened to him. But it is relevant to society at large and it has to be explained. Not only as the killing seems to – and is said to – bear the features of a “tidy” hit job by smart, ruthless professionals but because the actions of the police and the media are so demonstrative of the artifice and callousness of British public life.

Time for two brief updates on affairs that were the subjects of this blog in recent times. The news? There’s no real news. And that’s interesting in itself.

Earlier promises notwithstanding, I feel compelled to note that the inquest into Gareth Williams’ death was said to have been organised for some time before Christmas. Two weeks later there’s been no mention of it. None. Not an informative sausage. That’s a shame as answers – and apologies – are due.

I’d also like to note that it’s been four months since Colonel Gaddafi was deposed. Where are all the papers demonstrating Libyan involvement in the Pan Am Flight 103 bombing? Why haven’t former officials – anyone remember Moussa Koussa? – been arrested? Why isn’t anyone interested in pursuing answers as to who conceived the biggest terrorist atrocity to hit British lands, and how it was planned and executed? It’s all up for question – but these are questions nobody in power seems to be asking. And that, while not “news” as such, is intriguing.

I said I wouldn’t dwell on this but as the Leveson inquiry is taking evidence I feel moved to recall the time the tabloids, and at least one broadsheet, smeared the victim of a murder as a cross-dressing masochist who died as part of a “sex game gone wrong” or was murdered by his gay lover depending on which lurid claim you stumbled over. This was unpleasant but it was also darned sinister in the context of the thing. One investigator was moved to say, apparently, that “someone, somewhere, who has access to case material, is saying, ‘He’s queer and asked for it’”. The police didn’t investigate this allegation. They haven’t even charged anybody with the murder. Over a year after the death they, and the media, have just stopped mentioning it.

It’s been a year since the death of Gareth Williams and they still haven’t finalised a date for the inquiry. I’ve no wish to haul you through the sordid details of the case again, nor dismiss or defend particular explanations, but I will say that if it was a simple accident it’s taken ‘em a long time to investigate it! There’s a “yes, there was”, “no there wasn’t” sort of article on WalesOnline on the question of whether there was more to the death than we’ve been told. Prof. Anthony Glees, best known for a being a sort of one-man watch group of the academia, thinks that it’s suspicious…

Professor Anthony Glees is among those who believe Williams’ reported fondness for gay clubs, bondage websites and women’s clothing is just a smokescreen.

He added: “I would continue to suggest that if Gareth was not killed as a result of a sex crime or sex game gone wrong – and nobody has presented any serious evidence of this – then this must be the work of a hostile intelligence service.

Paul Moorcraft, director of the Centre for Foreign Policy Analysis, knows there’s another possibility but doesn’t think it’s very plausible. He…

…believe[s] the answers lie in Williams’ sex life. One theory he strongly discounts is that Williams was murdered by British intelligence colleagues for leaking information to our enemies.

“Whenever you get a mysterious death you get all sorts of conspiracies,” he said.

“Looking back at it I would have thought it probably was a sexual incident that went wrong – either with somebody else or on his own.

“He’d been on a couple of trips overseas so he wasn’t just a computer geek. But he was pretty junior and there was no reason to knock him off.”

Anthony Glees has been saying this for a year. Frankly, given his spooky past, I have no faith his opinions, but it’s interesting that the case is weird enough to make someone who thought it was “naive” to think intelligence was falsified before the Iraq War question the authorities. Paul Moorcraft amused me with the notion that “whenever you get a mysterious death you get all sorts of conspiracies”. I assume he meant conspiracy theories but for a certain kind of analyst it’s just an indivisible blob of silliness. Sad.

The article includes this note…

Gareth’s uncle, Anglesey councillor William Hughes, declined to comment and said Gareth’s parents Ian and Ellen wanted to be “left alone”.

This makes me feel guilty for presuming that it’s my business to comment on the tragedy. Yet (a) whether it’s by the state, the media or both we have been lied to over this and so it is our business and (b) the journalism the case has inspired has been far more invasive and insensitive than anything I’ve written, and is spread to tens of thousands of times more people. Still, I’ll hold my peace until they give us something interesting. Assuming that ever happens, anyway.

RIP.

I’ve seen a lot of crap. Heck, I’ve believed a lot of crap. But this Mail piece takes the proverbial hobnob…

Cars registered to the Russian Embassy were spotted near the home of a British spy just days before his body was discovered in a locked holdall at his London flat.

The unexplained presence of Russian diplomats in the area will add to suspicions that the MI6 officer was killed because of his work.

The vehicles’ details were logged by a former KGB agent who fled to London 12 years ago after defecting to the West and who lives  near Mr Williams’s former home.

The claim inspires more questions than David Dimbleby. Why would a defector go to the Mail, not the police? Why was he so observant as to log the details of the cars but so oblivious to their significance for, like, a year? Why, if those darned Russkies were, as the “defector” states, “keeping someone under close surveillance” didn’t they at least get hold of phony license plates? I mean, using their own car? That’s the stuff of amateurs.

This much would at least be possible. What’s really egregious is the Mail’s attempt to flesh out the idea that Williams was murdered by the Russkies…

Further suspicions that Mr Williams’s death is linked to Russia were raised when it emerged that his former flat is owned by private company New Rodina.

In Russian, ‘rodina’ means ‘motherland’ and the name The Rodina Society was used as a cover operation for KGB activity in the West during the Cold War.

His flat was an MI6 safe house! In lieu of further evidence I don’t see how that represents a “link” with the Russians any more than the U.S. naming the mission to kill Osama “Operation Geronimo” means that it was “linked” to the Native Americans.

After this unsightly display of innuendo the Mail‘s hack has the balls to add this little comment…

The inquest into Mr Williams’s death – which sparked several outlandish conspiracy theories – resumes next month.

Outlandish conspiracy theories? What, like – this one?

It’ll be interesting to see how the inquest navigates the thickets of bullshit the media have tended. Well, if doesn’t get postponed. Again.

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