BBC Panorama – SAS Death Squads, A British War Crime
by Philip Ingram MBE
I have waited to comment on the BBC Panorama programme “SAS Death Squads, A British War Crime?” and waited until this morning to comment as I wanted to think through what was presented against the knowledge I have and ignore the rightly emotionally driven comments from some and the clearly planted comments from others.
I have worked with special forces, including the SAS and SBS all over the world, on operations, and I couldn’t be clearer they are the most professional and capable soldiers I have ever come across.
I have also been struck that as individuals, on the whole they are some of the nicest characters you could meet. I hugely respect and admire their as units and formations and admire so many individuals from their ranks past and present at all levels. They remain one or the UKs best military capabilities and global influencers.
So, my immediate emotional reaction to the Panorama programme is this is complete bollocks.
This was backed by the over concentration on input from the Australians, the interviews of the local Afghan ‘family’ members, they will have been told exactly what to say by the Panorama local fixers, fixers – I have seen that happen in so many places before.
Special Forces Operations tend to go in quietly, deal with their target and extract quietly. I have been involved in operations where they have raided a house and got in and out without other occupants knowing they had been there, but that was Iraq and not Afghanistan, however I see no need for any different tactics.
I will caveat my praise and doubts by the fact that US General Stanley McChrystal had to tell all troops in Afghanistan that Hearts and Minds were more important than body counts and rein in overly aggressive operations. I am aware of instances where the legality of what happened is at best questionable and when discusses with the Service Police, ignored.
None of this was with Special Forces but to this day I remain convinced that some senior officers chased body count for medals and perceived career enhancement. This means that the standards of oversight and integrity of command did not on occasions meet the standards expected of a professional army. This is a personal assessment.
However, there are some things that do concern me and, in my view, MUST be investigated.
Panorama cited emails from within Directorate Special Forces, cited formal Unit Records, cited emails circulating within the MoD. The substance of those is not speculative – how did they get them and what are the wider security implications? Why were concerns recorded, what was done about them and where are the outcomes of any formal or informal enquiries? The needs to be a detailed counter intelligence investigation now. (**)
The Unit records, for anyone who has been on operations, citing so many prisoners getting AK47s or grenades after capture is something that should/would never happen in any military unit, never mind special forces. This questions leadership and therefore command at so many levels. Unless it is thoroughly investigated it will leave an indelible stan on units reputations.
The next concern is about the so called RMP (Service Police) investigation. Accusations of the investigation being blocked, evidence being withheld, the Chain of Command restricting the Service Police Investigation with a final conclusion meeting the wider MoD narrative of nothing to see, opens a pandoras box of issues.
The Service Police have come under very real criticism in recent years, HH Judge Lyons review into the Service Justice System, Sarah Atherton’s review into Women in the Armed forces and drawing those and other threads together the latest Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) report into the competence of the Service Police.
The defending cry as to why there needs to be service police and a service justice system is to investigate crimes on operations outside the jurisdiction of the Home Office Police or others and that the Service Police are completely independent of the chain of command.
This programme blows that cry out of the proverbial water. It accuses the RMP of being got at by the Chain of Command, how can any service police investigation be considered fair if this accusation remains? What was the influence on the Sgt Blackman investigation? Can any Service Police investigation past or present ever be trusted? This is something the Judge Advocate General needs to wrestle with and again mandates an investigation.
My concerns have been reinforced and reinforced by the MoDs own tactics. There is a policy across defence of not commenting on special forces operations, yet the MoD Press Office has been unusually vocal on its criticism of the Panorama programme before it aired and subsequently. Their approach to ‘information operations’ is clunky, and it is too easy to read between the lines of what they are saying – they are worried.
In addition, a number of accounts associated with a group loosely called ‘Defence Influencers’, who are given behind closed doors briefings by the MoD and asked to deliver or reinforce certain messaging have been very active and vocal. Why, unless the MoD is worried?
My final comment is the gossip networks of people in the know reinforce the assessment that the MoD are worried and because of this there needs to be a fresh and independent investigation.
The BBC Drama that has had over 7 million viewers, The Salisbury Poisonings, was a emotional look back at yet another unprecedented incident, the first use of the deadly nerve agent Novichok anywhere in the world, never mind on the streets of Salisbury, a sleepy hollow nicknamed ‘Smallsbury’ because of its village feel but made famous through its now infamous 142 m spire.
A difficult story to tell in a drama because there were and are so many moving components. We have to remember the incident is still subject to an active murder investigation after the death of Dawn Sturgess, having sprayed herself with what she and her boyfriend Charlie Rowley thought was perfume. In reality it was Novichok from a container discarded by the pair of would be assassins, Colonel Dr Alexander Mishkin and Colonel Anatoliy Chepiga of the GRU, the Russian Military Intelligence.
The drama focused on the human stories behind The Director of Wiltshire’s Public Health, Tracy Daszkiewicz, Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey, one of the early responders, and Dawn Sturgess, rather than the incident, the actual response, the investigation and the unresolved issues. It was a powerful piece of television especially considering the potential impact on many of these involved who are still coming to terms with what was a life changing event.
A clearly deliberate move gave the series a direction that people not familiar with the story could relate to and in a very emotionally charged way, it highlighted many of the stresses and strains of the time. It gave a personality to Dawn Sturgess, who in press reporting at the time had her as a person clouded by many of the daemons she was battling but never gave her that personality. It also showed the stress on the Bailey family and the impact of having their lives turned upside down. It tried to highlight the complexity Tracy Daszkiewicz had to face when coordinating a large multi-agency response but missed elements of that to concentrate on her personal journey.
For the informed as with any drama there will be frustrations, I am sure A&E consultants and staff cringe at Casualty when it is on, but still find it entertaining, so these observations are meant in that vein. I don’t think the initial paramedic and A&E response was portrayed as well as it could and the scenes in the hospital at times were a little wooden, as was the portrayal of Porton Down; but these were not central to the plot, the people were.
I was frustrated at the lack of trying to further interpret many of the unanswered questions, but that frustration is tempered by the fact is it still an ongoing and active murder investigation, so that speculation couldn’t have happened in any detail and wouldn’t have added to the people element of the story.
Some of the questions to my mind that remain unanswered include;
Why the public were not warned about a clear and present danger remaining, I had reported the probability to CT Police, written a detailed blog about it and had a story about it published in the Sunday Papers on 15thMarch as well as having commented on it on many radio and TV interviews?
What evidence is there of a second team that will have carried out a pattern of life study against Sergei Skripal in the days prior to the attack? How were he and his daughter Yulia monitored by Russian Intelligence and does Salisbury have a permanent interest from Russian Military Intelligence?
What were the full movements of Mishkin and Chepiga on the weekend of the attack? Where else did they go in Salisbury, who else did they meet? Why have we not seen more of the CCTV?
What happened to the gloves and other potential PPE Mishkin and Chepiga will have worn as they deployed the Novichok on Sergei Skripal’s front door? Why has that never been found and what is the real story surrounding the perfume bottle found by Charlie Rowley? Why has there not been a definitive statement about any potential remaining threat?
In all a very good series and well put together. However, I have to ask if it was too soon after the incident? Only Tracy, Nick and Dawns family can answer that. I feel it has reopened many of the questions I have highlighted above and think there should be a more documentary style look back at the whole, unprecedented event soon. I would go further and ask more about the Russian influence in the UK, their intelligence operations and if they have a particular continual interest in Salisbury and its surrounds?
COVID and the criticality of informed trusted communication.
by Philip Ingram MBE
One thing is becoming apparent, the last true global crisis on the scale of the developing COVID-19 pandemic, was the Second World War. In any crisis it is only natural that people hunt for as much information as they can get to try and get a sense of security for themselves, their loved ones and if appropriate their businesses.
Information itself is of little help unless it can be used to accurately ‘paint’ a realistic picture of what is going on and the implications of various decisions. During the Second World War people got their information from 4 sources, the newspapers, the radio, newsreels in the cinemas and local gossip. For three of those sources the accuracy of the information could be at the very least influenced by the government for the common good.
The local gossip networks were also influenced heavily through campaigns around careless talk with posters like “Are you a Megaphone Mouth? Don’t Spread Rumours,” making talking out of turn socially unacceptable, as this was also linked to wider consequences for security with posters such as “Lose lips sink ships.”
Those providing the news, whether journalist for print or, as there was only one source of Radio, the BBC, and news reels from Pathé News, trusted commentators were recognised, and this brought with it a degree of confidence for those who consumed the information. The potential for misinformation or disinformation that was not formally planned, was low. The limited information was pushed to the population, was easy to absorb and on the whole accepted by the general public.
However, today this type of control and social conditioning is impossible outside dictatorial regimes. With social media enabling anyone to publish an opinion or comment about anything and possibly reach a huge audience for very little effort, the potential for misinformation and disinformation is extremely high. The volume of information that exists means individuals need to pull what they believe is relevant form a variety of sources.
That wouldn’t be an issue if there remained trusted sources of information that operated outwit the sensationalist click bait approaches shown not only by some celebrities, but also by politicians who seek opportunities for political point scoring on every issue. For example, Piers Morgan at the weekend said, “The government seems to be avoiding draconian ‘shutdown’ action now because we will all get too bored with it,” accurate? Helpful? Or flippant clickbait?
Individuals tend to pull information from sources they like and too often it is from known celebrities or from politicians of their own political persuasion. The number of sources ‘trusted’ by individuals is massive, that doesn’t mean that their information should be ‘trusted.’ That trust is not necessarily based on the accuracy of the information, it is too often based on the popularity or agenda of the individual.
The ability of those individuals to unduly influence rather than inform needs to be recognised by those who listen to them and the motivation behind what is being said must be questioned alongside the accuracy of what they are saying. The point is rapidly approaching if it hasn’t been reached already, where unreliable sources of information or individuals who are sensationalising for their own position, must be called out.
We are facing a threat at the level that is almost stimulating the need for a total war footing, we are seeing industry being asked to switch manufacturing from their normal goods to essential medical products and capabilities. We are seeing government initiating daily ministerial and expert briefings, we are seeing controls being imposed across the globe that six months ago would have been described as impossible. We need common sense to start to prevail in the information and communication sphere.
For those who fall into the category where they could say, “Could be. I’m a pretty dangerous dude when I’m cornered.” (Not a Nigel Farage quote)
Remember the next line was,
“Yeah,” said the voice from under the table, “you go to pieces so fast people get hit by the shrapnel.” ― Douglas Adams, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe
Don’t let the Nigel Farage’s, or Piers Morgan’s who stir up clickbait type comments kill you with their shrapnel as their opinions go to pieces. For once, it is probably time to trust government sources once again. To trust press outlets like the BBC or Sky or ITN and remember in ratio terms 2 ears and one mouth means that listening should be done more than speaking. By all means question what is being said but learn to accept informed assessment from proper sources you can trust.
This article was first published in August 2016 but remains relevant.
Iran has become the first country to outright ban Pokémon GO outright. Despite restrictions on internet usage in Iran the BBC says, “there have been a number of discussion on social media about the game.”
They then added, “The Iranian High Council of Virtual Spaces, which is the official body overseeing online activity took the decision to ban the game after having tried to see to what extent the game’s creators would co-operate with them.” It is not known what cooperation was requested.
What’s on Dubai says Pokémon GO “is slowly beginning to take over.” However, Pokémon GO from developer Niantic has only been released officially in the US, UK and Australia. For those not in the know, it is a craze to catch virtual monsters in real world settings. As well as safety concerns of people playing it in dangerous areas, there seems to be a very real number of security concerns.
So what are the issues and potential threats associated with this growing craze? Philip Ingram MBE takes a look.
In the terms and conditions for the game it clearly states that the data used by the game, and this is personal data, locational data and with the option for the user to photograph themselves with their captured Pokémon character, photo data, could be moved to USA based servers; essentially bypassing any home country security or privacy laws given the option to capture local images. This will “almost certainly have concerned the Iranians”, James Abernethy a former British Intelligence officer told Security News Desk.
Thomas Rid, Professor of Security Studies with King’s College Londonhas said guidelines for US military and government workers when using Pokémon Go, were shared with him by a US government officer. They discuss Operational Security (OPSEC) best practices and include “avoiding playing the game anywhere that shouldn’t be geo-tagged, not using a personal Gmail account with the game or a username associated with your social media accounts, exercising caution when taking pictures of Pokémon with the in-game augmented reality camera, and staying aware of your surroundings.” Rid then noted this is, “generally good advice even if you aren’t an intelligence officer.” The Indonesian police have banned its use whilst on duty.
The issue with Gmail was identified by the blogger Adam Reeve who wrote, “To play the game you need an account. Weirdly, Niantic won’t let you just create one – you need to sign in with an existing account from one of two services – the pokemon.com website or Google. Now the Pokémonsite is for some reason not accepting new signups right now so if you’re not already registered there you’ll need to use a Google account – and that’s where the fun begins.”
He went on to highlight how logging in via your google account gave Pokémon Go full access to all of your Google account services, ie they could see and modify anything to do with your account.
Niantic quickly released a statement on their website saying, “We recently discovered that the Pokémon GO account creation process on iOS erroneously requests full access permission for the user’s Google account. However, Pokémon GO only accesses basic Google profile information (specifically, your User ID and email address) and no other Google account information is or has been accessed or collected. Once we became aware of this error, we began working on a client-side fix to request permission for only basic Google profile information, in line with the data that we actually access. Google has verified that no other information has been received or accessed by Pokémon GO or Niantic. Google will soon reduce Pokémon GO’s permission to only the basic profile data that Pokémon GO needs, and users do not need to take any actions themselves.”
It seems the developers of the game got it out to market before all of the security implications around the app had been considered. If that wasn’t enough a leading cyber security company has commented on potential issues where the game is available on BYOD in the workplace.
Devin Jones, SVP of Product Management at Cyber adapt said, “The release and popularity of Pokémon Go came out of the blue for everyone except the 40 million teenagers in the United States. This application provides an interesting case study that illustrates the risks of BYOD in the enterprise. Businesses can’t prevent users from downloading apps on their personal devices and those apps will drive traffic to and from the corporate network. How does a business maintain control and visibility of their corporate traffic when users are hunting down virtual monsters and sharing GPS coordinates directly with other users? More importantly, how do you know that GPS tracking packets aren’t exfiltrating your financials?”
Vladimir Kuskov, Security expert at Kaspersky Lab outlined another flaw, that could cause the BYOD problem when working on android devices: “The Android version of the Pokémon Go app has been affected with malware called the “HEUR:Trojan-Spy.AndroidOS.Sandr.a” and there has been a lot of advice online about how to get the app early if it has not been made available in a certain country.”
Kuskov concluded, “The use of popular online games as a vehicle for installing malware is well known, and the best way to protect yourself and your device is to only install apps from official app stores and to complement this with an appropriate security solution. Don’t take short cuts, disable device security or download software from an unverified source; it’s just not worth it.”
This article was first published in August 2016 but remains relevant – for further comment from Philip Ingram please visit the contact us page.