Sunday, 5 September 2010

Another Expert Falls

An awful lot of what has been published in the press about the murder of Gareth Williams, has not been theory, speculation or valid comment: it has been a downright lie, utterly unfounded in any fact. Much has been suggested, by "intelligence sources" to journalists who really ought to have known better than to believe, still less print, most of it.

Medawar will ignore anything to do with Mr Williams' personal life, still less his hypothetical sex life, as irrelevant, and the suggestion that he "might have been suicidal" is a vicious mockery in light of the fact that his body was found locked inside a large sports holdall, in a bath, filled with an unknown fluid. Although libel and slander actions cannot be undertaken on behalf of the deceased, any attempt to conceal or alter the circumstances in which a body has been found, prior to a coroner's jury returning a verdict, can be prosecuted as perverting the course of justice.

This doesn't mean that the case cannot be discussed (if criminal charges were laid, that might be a different matter) -and it's unlikely that anyone could be prosecuted for speculation. But "security sources" have told the press, with the intention of their telling the public, things which they know to be untrue, with the deliberate intention of changing how the circumstances of Mr Williams's death will be perceived, by press, public and any jury, as yet to be empaneled. The sources in question most definitely can be prosecuted for that, and jailed for a significant amount of time.

Here, then, is Medawar's analysis, sticking strictly to well tested facts from the public domain, and what has been said by the police investigating the case, rather than any third party.

Gareth Williams was a mathematician and encryption expert, working for MI6 and GCHQ, to intercept and analyse the communications of some of the world's most dangerous governments, criminal organisations and individuals. The probability that he might be murdered for any personal reason is certainly no higher than that for any other member of the public, and given that he was of above average intelligence, extremely self-disciplined, and apparently content with wholesome pleasures such as cycling in competition and, more recreationally, with his father, the probability that he would be murdered for any reason to do with his personal life is almost certainly lower than average. Most ordinary citizens in the UK don't get murdered in their whole lives, not even once.

It may be a truism (but not rigorously true) that when the average citizen is murdered, it's something to do with their personal life, but Mr Williams was not an average citizen in that respect. In fact, even most personal murders have something to do with the victim's work, because that's such a large part of what the person does.

The only semi-rational reason for supposing that there might be something "personal" about the murder of Mr Williams, would be if there was something extreme about the level of cruelty involved in his death. But serial killers can be cruel, too -and it's an unfounded myth that professional killers are not. Sometimes, extreme cruelty may be part of the client's specification for the murder, in which case third party sadism will be applied with clinical efficiency, as in the murder of Alexander Litvinenko, using roughly $3M worth of industrial polonium. The killers may have been professionals, but the client's specification was both psychotically cruel and financially extravagant.

Professionals may also apply extreme cruelty because the reason they became professional killers in the first place, was that they had psychotic tendencies which could safely be given full rein. It's another myth that such people would somehow never be employed by an intelligence agency: psychotic sadists are almost always pathological liars and they can get in anywhere, social or professional. Indeed, if intelligence agencies are selecting candidates for their skill in infiltration, as well as physical violence, the odds that they will find themselves selecting pathological liars, who tend strongly towards sadism, are pretty high.

What was particularly sadistic about this murder?

The published facts, suggest three possible ways in which Mr Williams might actually have died, all of which would have been painful and distressing:

1/ He was found packed into a sports holdall, which was padlocked shut. No need, other than superstition, to padlock a man who is already dead. Even a large sports holdall, would not allow a man of his stature much room to breathe, and it's not just a question of whether the bag would allow air in or not. Suffocation from excess carbon dioxide and insufficient oxygen isn't pleasant, but it's not agonising. But suffocation because one is forced into, and kept in, a position where it takes inordinate effort just to move the chest far enough to respire a bit less than enough air to keep on living, is tantamount to crucifixion: the posture may be compressed rather than extended, but one dies slowly, in the same way. The pathology would be very similar to a classic crucifixion. Medawar believes that this resembles methods of execution in some ancient cultures: more research is needed, though.

2/ When found by the police, the body in the bag was immersed in "fluid" so that it is possible that Mr Williams drowned, inside the bag. He might have been unconscious due to some sedative or muscle relaxant to get him into the bag, but the padlock, again, suggests that he was then expected to regain consciousness. This would also mean that any drug or poison would be fully metabolised before death actually occurred. This factor might be overplayed: the murderer has no particular need to fear identification of the drug unless it corroborates some other link to the killing. Many of the likely candidates are widely available and would hardly narrow down the field of suspects. Whatever killed him, he was expected to be conscious when it happened, and the bag would ensure that he could struggle much more than if he had been bound, perhaps making an entertaining video for the murderer's client, but that struggle would have been futile.

3/ If the "fluid" was intended, as police suggest, to accelerate the decay of Mr Williams' body, then it is likely that it was scalding hot when he was first put into it. (More on this below.) It may also have been kept hot, or warm, if the bath was a luxury model, so equipped, or if the murderers had recourse to portable immersion heaters, available for a variety of catering and animal husbandry applications. Scalding is not a gentle way to go, and again, classic methods of execution spring to mind.

Unless the client or commissioning party was physically present, the existence of video of Mr Williams' last moments, or quite possibly, last few hours, is a very good bet.

What Might the "Fluid" Have Been?

A grown man, immersed, in a bath. This requires rather more fluid than another man could easily carry up to a top floor flat, and more than even a team of men could carry without attracting some attention. So, even if the fluid was "not water" then either it was water based, or diluted with water from bathroom taps (and the hot tap is likely) -or some considerable effort or artifice was used to get fifteen gallons or quite possibly more of it, all the way up to the flat. It is hard to be exact when estimating how much fluid was involved, but an imperial gallon of water weighs ten pounds.

The police say that the fluid appeared to accelerate decay, they do not say that it was a strong organic solvent, an acid, or a strong alkali. (In the course of a week, these might have found their way through the bath, or the plumbing, into the flat below. An organic solvent might also have evaporated and caused a toxic fume hazard, or an almighty explosion. ) The probable candidate is surprising: biological detergent for a washing machine. A saturated solution (as much dissolved in water as will dissolve) of biological detergent, will, by enzyme action, completely strip flesh from bone on a human corpse in a week to ten days, but only if the solution is kept at something like blood heat (thirty-five to forty degrees centigrade) for several days. Whether and how this could be done, would depend on what sort of a bath it was and whether the murderers were able to operate in the flat for some time after the murder, perhaps revisiting it to remove any heating.

One hesitates to hand Fleet Street a catch phrase, but "Persil Bath Murder" probably does describe what was done.

Who Else From the Intelligence Community Was Murdered Around the Same Time?

GRU General Yuri Ivanov disappeared several days before Mr Williams appears to have died (the "fluid" means that the police don't know exactly when this was) and his dead body was discovered on a beach and reported to the Turkish police around the 15th of August. It took several days for the General's body to be identified: he had last been seen alive in Syria in the first week of August (?no-one outside Syria seems completely sure of the date?) having inspected a Russian naval base being built in that country and, reportedly, being on his way to meet his colleagues in Syrian intelligence later in the day. It seems most likely that General Ivanov died on the day he disappeared, or soon after, and his body drifted to Turkey, propelled only by wind and tide. Mr Williams may have died at more or less the same time that the General's body was found, but it's also possible that he died several days later and that the advanced state of decay was the result of the "fluid" and what may have been an optimal temperature for its enzymatic action.

Mr Williams did apparently tell his superiors that he was being followed, before he took leave to cover his intended move from London back to Cheltenham. There's no information about his actually travelling to Cheltenham in this period, but it would be strange not to, unless his London flat contained almost no possessions that needed to be transferred back to his Cheltenham flat. Indeed, sorting out his domestic arrangement for the move seems to be the purpose of the period of leave that he took. If there was no trip to Cheltenham, then it may be that his movements were already constrained by some factor, several days before his apparent time of death. This means that any timeline linking Mr Williams and General Ivanov, must start from the date the General was first missed by the GRU, rather than the date his body was found by the Turks, who didn't know who it was for another couple of weeks. The GRU may have known that he was dead, long before they knew where his body was, though.

It is possible that one death was retaliation for the other, but it's also possible that both men were targeted by some third party, or that it was just a bad month for top intelligence experts. Although General Ivanov seems to have been a much more brutal man than Mr Williams, he does seem to have been the top expert in what he did. In fact, he was the top expert in the world in the sort of thing that was done to Mr Williams. This could link them in four ways:

1/ The General might have ordered the murder of Mr Williams, or someone in MI6 or the CIA might have thought so, strongly enough to retaliate.

2/ Mr Williams may have been killed as retaliation for the murder of the General, the timelines are not clear enough to say which, if either.

3/ Someone planning to murder General Ivanov, may have feared that Mr Williams, with unknown technology and expertise at his disposal, could determine who had done it, which wouldn't be healthy for the murderer and his client if this was ever communicated to the GRU, FSB or SVR. Equally, General Ivanov must have known a lot about the world's best professional killers, and anyone planning to murder Mr Williams, might have thought that the General was the man most likely to suss them.

4/ Both of them independently posed a danger, through their differing expertise, to the same third party, and that the coincidence of timing of both murders, is due to that third party being about to make a move that they cannot afford to have compromised before D-day. This may not be the most likely possibility of the four, but, for obvious reasons, it's the one that requires the most urgent attention from the authorities in both London and Moscow.

Possible Suspects

Russian Intelligence and Security services are always suspect when someone valuable to the British Intelligence Community is found not to be alive anymore. Either for immediate operational reasons, or something more subtle.

The "something more subtle" is that, for at least three decades past, significant numbers of leading experts from or in the United Kingdom have died in strange or suspicious circumstances. Sometimes, as in the case of Timothy Hampton, David Kelly and no less than twenty-five people who worked on the Stingray and Spearfish torpedo projects, we're supposed to believe it's all suicide, sometimes, as in the case of Jonathan Moyles, we're supposed to believe in a tragic auto-erotic suffocation accident.

Mr Moyles is usually described by the press as an investigative journalist, and that's what he was doing when he died. However, as a post-graduate research student, sponsored by the MoD, he wrote a thesis "Soviet Air Attack on the United Kingdom" which basically proved, in excruciating detail, that UK air defences (since cut by about two thirds, about to be cut again) would only survive for a matter of hours against a sustained onslaught. Since nobody else had ever researched the subject as thoroughly and unemotionally as Mr Moyles, he was in fact the pre-eminent expert on UK air defences and most especially how they needed to be improved.

The net effect of all these deaths, however they happened, is that the United Kingdom is weaker for the loss of its best minds, and that the UK government, as a rule composed of people with no hard technical knowledge of any kind whatsoever, has no genuinely expert advice on which to base major decisions, and is at the mercy of vested interests offering partial advice, and predatory foreign powers.

In the past year, it has emerged that France, too, is losing swarms of experts in the same way, especially in telecommunications at the moment. Though, if the UK pattern is repeated, the cull of French experts will wander from one technical field to another as the party ordering the killings, literally turns the page. These people are not being killed for any specific thing they know, or anything they have done: they are being killed to make their countries weaker in the face of what someone else intends to do. They don't have to kill every expert in most fields, just weed out some of the best ones.

If the killings are linked to something more specific, and both Mr Williams and General Ivanov were killed because of the same thing, then it would have to be something that would be compromised by both GRU and Russian military involvement in Syria, and by the highly advanced signals interception technology being developed by Mr Williams and the MI6/GCHQ "cell" that he was part of, or perhaps leading. An invasion of Syria, by a third party, might fit the bill.

If Mr Williams was killed for something specific, rather just to reduce the pool of expertise available to the British as a nation, and this had nothing to do with General Ivanov, then the party that has actually suffered most damage at the hands of British code-breakers in the past year or two, are the American (North and South) Cocaine-trafficking cartels. Recent successes by the Serious and Organised Crime Agency, have involved officers walking into factories in West Africa with local police, pointing out exactly where false walls are concealing hidden rooms, which turn out to be full of cocaine, or computers involved with the multi-million dollars transactions essential to the trade. This is dramatic evidence that SOCA and HMRC know everything that the druggies say to each other, and can probably now backtrack on what they said a decade ago, too.

Yes, the Taliban are losing commanders because of British code-breaking, but this is something they are used to and there is no obvious way that the Taliban would blame a single person for this, and be able to identify him and find his address. One would expect any Taliban murder of a leading intelligence officer to be somewhat publicised by them, too.

The drugs cartels, though, probably know anything that American Intelligence agencies know. It's a staple Hollywood and airport thriller scenario, that renegade (or loyal, depends how paranoid the story is) agents run drugs and are involved with the cartels. What actually seems to happen and is quite evident, in fact, is that some ex-CIA agents are busy developing commercial and residential property in the very parts of Florida, Georgia, the Carolinas, Virginia and Kentucky, where the cartels and their US distributors, are buying commercial and residential property in order to launder and invest their profits. This makes it almost impossible for the former federal agents, and they may have FBI and Homeland Security people onboard as well as CIA, to be charged with any crime or conspiracy. They are building houses for sale, anyone can buy them. It's not their fault if the druggies are the only ones who can afford to do so at the moment! If a non-druggie has the money, they won't hesitate to sell him a condo or a mansion. But on balance, 80% of their profits are due to the drug-fueled property boom, in states whose real economies are weakened and made to totter by the same drugs racket.

These people may very well have been able to identify Mr Williams, who seems to have travelled to visit the NSA at Fort Meade around four times a year on average. The flat he was killed in, belongs to a company registered in the British Virgin Islands, and that's long been a favourite banking spot for the druggies and their attendant/dependent property developers.

It is possible to see how ex-CIA agents with contacts still active in US Intelligence and a compelling financial interest in the success of the cocaine trade, could have identified Mr Williams as a threat, or as the cause of grief and loss they had already suffered, and tracked him down. Whereas it's stretching credulity to the limit to suggest the Taliban or other Islamist terrorists doing the same.

The Iranian Intelligence services might have been able to do it, but it's not obvious that they ever had any reason to single Mr Williams out as an individual, or felt threatened by his work.

So the suspects have to boil down to:

1/ The Russians, for a variety of possible reasons.

2/ Someone planning to invade Syria, fairly imminently, or something very similar to that.

3/ Former American Intelligence Officers and Federal Agents who are profiting, directly or more probably indirectly, through property transactions, from the cocaine trafficking rackets which SOCA and HMRC have been busting with considerable help from GCHQ code-breakers.

Police now say:
Gareth Williams was seen out and about until the 15th of August. (Day before General Ivanov's body was found, but still some time before the Turkish Police knew who it was.)

He had been to the USA, on Holiday, up to the 11th of August. (This explains why no trip to Cheltenham. He apparently had an official second passport in a different name to ensure his personal safety when travelling.)

It begins to look more and more as if whatever comprised his personal security, happened from the United States end.

The police spokesman says he was found in an empty bath, the first officer on the scene reportedly said the bath was filled with fluid. Baths have plugs: this discrepancy may well sort itself out in the wash.

A man and woman, of "Mediterranean" appearance were seen to enter his flat some weeks before his murder. NB: this description often applies to any tanned or olive-skinned person with straight black hair and it mustn't be taken as a precise geographical origin. It could easily mean a South American person, given that many Argentinians have Italian (as well as Spanish) ancestors and many Brazilians have Portuguese ancestors.

When police entered the flat, they got the lettings agent to come with a spare key, so talk of iris recognition systems are far fetched. This means, though, that it's possible that someone could have copied the agent's key. If someone had been in while he was away before, they might have been able to enter while he was asleep and drug or overpower him. Given his physical strength, this might have been the only viable plan.

Nothing of substance in the above article is really changed by this, except that it's clearer why, if he was planning to move back to Cheltenham, he hadn't actually been there earlier in his leave.

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