Sunday, 20 May 2012

A Security Breach Waiting to Happen: Serving Officers as Consultants

Last week, Sam Hallam was acquitted by the Court of Appeal, after serving eight years in prison for a murder he couldn't have committed. Counsel for the Crown seems only to have read the full case files about halfway through the hearing, because that was the point where the Crown suddenly withdrew its opposition to the appeal without any public explanation. Interestingly, Mr Hallam uses his first major interview, with the Mail on Sunday, to express, not merely his indignation at the way he was treated by an inquiry team led by then-Chief-Inspector Michael Broster, but also his concern that the conduct of the now-Superintendent Broster in the Gareth Williams case may have fatally compromised what is now and always should have been, a murder inquiry. See several articles in this blog about the Williams case, below.

Mr Hallam rightly observes that the Gareth Williams case was "really important" and mistakes were unacceptable, let alone near duplicates of the kind of mistake which led to his own wrongful conviction and the escape from justice of the real killer. (Broster and his team ignored compelling evidence against one Tyrone Isaacs even as they ignored compelling evidence supporting Mr Hallam's claim to innocence.)

Above all, Broster failed to keep a  "policy book" which is a document designed to allow their superiors or any future inquiry team, or those working on a parallel case, to understand their reasons for taking specific actions, interpreting evidence in a particular way or why they should have pursued one line of inquiry whilst abandoning others. Without a policy book, other records reveal almost nothing about why an investigation went wrong. The only time anyone benefits from a policy book not being kept, is when the reason why an investigation went wrong is itself unacceptable: i.e: something more sinister than a mistake.

The action which, above all others, cries out for explanation, is why Broster's team actually gave back a stick that had been taken from Tyrone Isaacs as a potential murder weapon. It's simply impossible to see why an essentially valueless possession should be returned when it might still have yielded forensic evidence of value if subjected to the most modern techniques. It's almost as if Mr Isaacs had a kindly sponsor.

Medawar isn't going to draw the reader's attention to the ways in which all of this is an exact parallel with the ways in which Superintendent Broster and his SO15 colleagues systematically derailed the murder investigation in the Williams case, because they are quite obvious to anyone comparing the details of the two cases.

Medawar would like, instead, to draw the reader's attention to the ways in which Superintendent Broster's career trajectory parallels that of two former executives of "News Data Services", a News Corporation company which has been thoroughly implicated in a global hacking fraud designed to drive competitors to News Corp broadcasters, (On Digital, for example) out of business, causing News Corp to profit by billions of pounds and gain considerable global political power for its principals.

Superintendent (latterly "Commander") Ray Adams was the head of Scotland Yard's Criminal Intelligence Branch, SO11, and Reuven Hasak was a former deputy Chairman of the Shin Bet, Israel's security service. Like SO15, SO11 officers have a very high security clearance, which the unscrupulous can exploit to prevent other officers questioning or even knowing about, their activities, whether properly sanctioned or not. Especially not. The same goes for Shin Bet officers in general, let alone the deputy chairman.

In recent years, the high security clearance of SO11 and SO15 officers has led to their being given exclusive access to classified material, so that any senior investigating officer needing access to classified material, secure premises or military and intelligence personnel in order to solve a murder (or multi-billion pound fraud), have to channel all their requests via SO15 and simply accept whatever they are given or told, without question. Somewhere in the mind of successive Home Secretaries, this arrangement "serves national security". In practice, of course, it does the opposite:

Exclusive access to privileged information gives officers a very high market value. And being effectively beyond being questioned by their colleagues gives those officers the opportunity to exploit that market value for all it's worth.

Both Ray Adams and Reuven Hasak had top jobs at NDS within weeks of leaving public service, and it's simply impossible for them to have been up and running so quickly without overlap: they must have been briefed into their new roles, and had an idea of the (criminal, as it happens) large-scale enterprise they would be engaged in, even while between them they still had access to the most secret and sensitive files of both the UK's police and security services and those of Israel.

And since neither of them is exactly an ace programmer or experienced financier, what was it that made them ideal candidates for senior roles in News Corp's software arm, if it wasn't their security clearances and unfettered access to national secrets?

Now we learn that Superintendent Broster is due to leave the Metropolitan Police, later this year. But he is already advertising and presumably selling, his services as a "security consultant". This is precisely the same highly questionable overlap, which does not so much open the door to corruption as send hawkers round the streets, seeking out corruption and issuing invitations.

How in the world is this system more secure than simply allowing a senior investigating officer, whose investigation touches on military or intelligence matters, to go and talk to the relevant agencies and their officers on her or his own account? They would be in a much better position than SO15 or SO11 to judge what evidence was actually pertinent, and they would almost certainly occupy the attention of military and intelligence officers for less time in consequence. Not having a privileged "elite" position, their conduct could be scrutinised and any "mistakes" rectified. They could also benefit from the advice of peers and superiors in a way that "elite" officers never seem to.

Moreover, it wouldn't be possible for a foreign power or major criminal gang to predict which officers would end up having access to classified material, and when they did have access, it would indeed be limited to that pertinent to a single inquiry at a time. By reducing both the opportunity and the payoff for anyone corrupting an officer, in whatever way, national security -and the rule of law- would be strengthened.

Above all, allowing serving officers, with high security clearances, to enter private practice and advertise their services, is a suicidal practice in terms of national security and should be replaced with something like the quarantine period imposed on former ministers. Senior police officers have generous pensions, precisely to compensate them for all the opportunities for personal enrichment which they supposedly forgo in the public interest. So how come they need to be allowed to flaunt their security clearances on the internet and around City boardrooms -as if they were standing in a doorway in Soho with a set of  doorkeys in their hands and a look of bored acceptance, if not enticement, on their faces?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

An excellent suggestion M and one hopes that the powers that be listen.