Friday, 6 September 2013

Blue Chips And The New SOCA Dossier - What The Media Missed

The latest from my regular contributor.

Yes, it is quite clear that getting information from SOCA is like pulling teeth.

So many questions and loose ends. Wouldn't it be interesting to know more about what offences are in dispute? have SOCA really been liaising with the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) or not? Who's been sitting on what information, for how long, and why? Wouldn't some more clarity on Project Riverside (here) be informative? Who knew what when about Operation Millipede and the 'blue chip' list? What was the sequence of contacts between SOCA and Metropolitan Police Service (MET) about Millipede? And also Operation Tuleta? (For background on Millpede and Tuleta see here).

Considering the recent press 'revelations' and 'outrage' over blue chips, it is remarkable that there is so little interest in the detail of these key questions. Or, in many cases, bothering with accuracy.

What would help, presumably, is if SOCA were to release into the public domain its answers to these key questions. Say, a 14 page dossier of responses to criticisms with detailed timelines etc etc.

It has. You can read it (here).

But apparently there's no interest from the mainstream press, despite them calling for answers for weeks. Baffling, isn't it?

THE SOCA DOSSIER

Firstly, SOCA reports there is NO blue chip 'hacking' scandal as yet uncovered. And the Home Affairs Select Committee (HASC) is at pains to agree. This flies in the face of what has been reported in the Telegraph, Daily Mail, Independent, Daily Mirror etc - and even the Financial Times. Reasons for this lack of accuracy might be speculated upon - ranging from inaccurate research or wishful thinking to sheer bloody minded ideological obstinancy. A wilful assertion of blue chip 'hacking' doesn't make it fact, but does mobilise a narrative skewed towards journalists being picked on and victimised.

The SOCA report to HASC says:
There has been some confused reporting over these matters in the media over the past few weeks...the clients of the private investigators convicted as a result of Operation Millipede have been characterised by some sections of the media as 'blue chip hacking'. However, it is important to note that the main focus of Operation Millipede was around the use of 'blagging'. There are different legislative penalties available to investigators and a lack of particularly dissuasive penalties for 'blagging' under the Data Protection Act, as opposed to 'hacking'.
Offences to do with 'hacking' are different to those associated with 'blagging', and different to those convictions for Operation Millipede which were for 'fraud' - which is why accuracy is preferable to muddle.

ANNEX B: 
"PROJECT RIVERSIDE TIMELINE"

SOCA denies Riverside has "suppressed" blue chip 'hacking' and provide a detailed timeline (Annex B) which includes the dates that the Riverside intelligence report was shared with The MET, Home Office ICO and Leveson Inquiry. Operations Flandria and Gloxinia were focused on intelligence other than 'blue chip', and it is fair to assume some sections of the press were already well aware of the associated trajectories of Operation Abelard II and Operation Caryatid (the original 06-07 News of the World phone-hacking investigation). Press characterising "suppression" must therefore emanate from Operation Millipede rather than Project Riverside?

ANNEX C: 
"TIMELINE OF ENGAGEMENT WITH INFORMATION COMMISSIONER'S OFFICE IN RESPECT OF OPERATION MILLIPEDE."

Operation Millipede was widely reported at the time of convictions, including both identified blue chip names and further alleged links to News international - itself a blue chip corporate. Undoubtedly, where SOCA can be criticised is for its tardiness in collating a structured list of corporate Millipede clients. 

The ICO appear to have been formally involved and informed early in Millipede, even before arrests were made. There were consultations on offences to be prosecuted with both ICO and Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) particularly bearing in mind lack of public interest defence and the history of paltry sentences for Data Protection Act offences per se. There seems to have been a formal understanding and division of labour on Millipede: SOCA would progress Private Investigators prosecutions then provide ICO with the Millipede evidence to follow up and evaluate potential CLIENT prosecutions. Client prosecutions have never been ruled out - this is confirmed by ICO evidence in the public domain (see here).

And, with the imminent publication of the blue chip list by HASC, the ICO may be best placed to use that precedent to release the Motorman Files too.

ANNEX D: 
"TIMELINE OF ENGAGEMENT WITH METROPOLITAN POLICE SERVICE ON OPERATIONS MILLIPEDE and TULETA"

Where both SOCA and MET can be criticised is perhaps in their failures to be clear about their division of labour, and why Millipede evidence was not passed to the ICO sooner. SOCA's intentions to pass Millpede to the ICO were altered in light of the launch of Operation TULETA. Tuleta (and sub-operation Kalmyk) involve very serious alleged offences - these were perceived as having precedence over lesser DPA infringements. That should have been made explicit to ICO and indeed Home Affairs Select Committee. This understandable but badly communicated decision has led to perceptions of cover up.

WHAT NEXT?
  • Kick-started by HASC, SOCA has belatedly drawn up a structured list of Millipede clients.
  • The ICO has now received Millipede evidence and will begin evaluating whether or not there is sufficient evidence that Millipede private investigator corporate 'blue chip' clients were aware of illegalities used on their behalf.
  • The MET continues to investigate alleged email hacking and other offences under Operation Tuleta.
  • There were 107 corporate clients on the 'blue chip' Millipede list given to HASC. Keith Vaz (HASC Chair) proposes 102 of those corporate clients be publicly named
The discrepancy in the numbers? That is because 5 client company identities have been redacted and witheld at the insistence of the MET for operational reasons. Those 5 are currently under investigation by Operation Tuleta which may potentially lead to serious corporate prosecutions. Those are the 5 to watch.

The latest news is that SOCA is still refusing to publish the blue chip list, and is supported in that stance by the MET. SOCA and MET reiterate the potential damage to on-going operations in a fluid and changing context. For example, "since SOCA provided the lists of 102 clients to the Committee on 22 July 2013, the MPS have identified a further four crossovers with MPS operations other than Operation Tuleta." (here)

None of which excuses the press itself for failing to cover the 14 page public dossier already presented to HASC. Why the deafening silence? Like Ouroboros eating its own tail, will the mainstream press now accuse itself of "suppression" and cover-up?

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