MI5 accused of ‘extraodinary and persistent illegality’

Agency has been obtaining surveillance warrants based on false information, high court told

The MI5 building

MI5 has lost control of its data storage operations and has been obtaining surveillance warrants on the basis of information it knows to be false, the high court has heard.

The security agency has been accused of “extraordinary and persistent illegality” in a legal challenge brought by the human rights organisation Liberty.

The failures have been identified by the official watchdog, the investigatory powers commissioner, Lord Justice Fulford, and admitted in outline by the home secretary, Sajid Javid.

The full extent of the problems within MI5 became apparent in disclosures made public at the hearing on Tuesday. The revelations relate to bulk interceptions of data acquired through surveillance and hacking programmes and downloaded to its computers.

The agency has a duty to ensure such material is not held longer than required or copied more often than needed.

Ben Jaffey QC, for Liberty, said there were “ungoverned spaces” in MI5’s operations where it did not know what it held.

In written submissions, Jaffey said: “Fulford’s generic warrant decision notes that warrants were issued to MI5 on a basis that MI5 knew to be incorrect and the judicial commissioners [the watchdogs] were given false information.”

An MI5 letter sent to Fulford and released to the court showed the agency did not know what material it held.

The letter said: “We are about to commence further scanning of [its computers] to ensure we have a full understanding of the data.

“The full scan had been challenging to action … We have also been seeking to understand working practices … so that we can take comprehensive action to improve assurance of our compliance with relevant safeguards.”

Julian Milford, counsel for the Home Office and Foreign Office, told the court: “We accept that this is material that discloses compliance risks with MI5.”

Correspondence between Fulford and MI5 released at the hearing showed he concluded the way the agency was holding and handling people’s data was “undoubtedly unlawful”.

He said: “Without seeking to be emotive, I consider that MI5’s use of warranted data … is currently, in effect, in ‘special measures’ and the historical lack of compliance … is of such gravity that [the watchdog Investigatory Powers Commissioner’s Office] IPCO will need to be satisfied to a greater degree than usual that it is ‘fit for purpose’.”

Awareness of the problem within MI5 dated back to January 2016 but ministers were not informed until earlier this year. Fulford said MI5’s description of the problem as “compliance difficulties” was a “misleading euphemism”.

In the absence of improvements, he said, future applications by MI5 for interception warrants “will not be approved by the judicial commissioners”.

A response sent by MI5 to Fulford earlier this year explained: “In 2016, as part of a wider review of legal compliance in anticipation of new legislation, the … problem led the team conducting the compliance review to identify, at a high level, that data might be being held in ungoverned spaces in contravention of our policies.”

Megan Goulding, a lawyer with Liberty, said: “These shocking revelations expose how MI5 has been illegally mishandling our data for years, storing it when they have no legal basis to do so. This could include our most deeply sensitive information – our calls and messages, our location data, our web browsing history.

“In addition to showing a flagrant disregard for our rights, MI5 has attempted to hide its mistakes by providing misinformation to the investigatory powers commissioner, who oversees the government’s surveillance regime.”

The Green party peer, Jenny Jones, said: “This report [on MI5] has confirmed what we’ve known for some time, that the security services, as well as the police, are operating their surveillance systems without accepting that they have to operate lawfully, and in a properly targeted manner.

“I know from my own experience of being put on the domestic extremism database that valuable security time and energy are wasted on the wrong targets.”

The shadow home secretary, Diane Abbott, said the case “highlights the failure of government legislation, which only facilitates more and more public bodies having access to and gathering information. Without proper scrutiny and oversight, the unauthorised handling and retention of data puts all our information at risk.”

Some of the material is thought to include exchanges between lawyers and clients that should have been protected by legal privilege. The National Union of Journalists has joined the legal challenge, which is due to be heard in full at the high court next week.

The hearing continues.

With many thanks to: The Guardian and Owen Bowcott Legal affairs correspondent for the original story@owenbowcott

MI5 under scrutiny after Belfast golf club bomb attack, claims security expert

The bomb under the officer’s car

An ex-policeman has claimed that an attempted bomb attack on a serving police officer over the weekend presents “a clear challenge” to MI5 as he warned about the dangers of routine.

Former deputy head of the criminal investigation department and ex-PSNI Detective Superintendent Alan Mains (58) said he is in no doubt that our intelligence services and apparatus will be under intense scrutiny.

“Those who serve in this capacity work relentlessly around the clock to prevent things like this and they will be asking how this happened,” he said.

“This will challenge them and they will see it as such.”

It comes after detectives from the PSNI’s Terrorism Investigation Unit renewed their appeal for information about two vehicles they suspect were used to transport a “sophisticated” IED across the city.

It was discovered underneath an off-duty policeman’s vehicle at 1pm after he completed a round of golf at Shandon Park Golf Club on Saturday.

The green Skoda Octavia with registration 01 D 78089 and a silver-coloured Saab 95, registration NFZ 3216, were discovered burnt out in Etna Drive in the early hours of the morning.

Anyone who saw either car in the area of Green Road, Knockhill Park, Upper Newtownards Road, Shandon Park and Shandon Park Golf Club any time between 10pm on Friday and 7.30am the following day has been asked to contact police.

But now detectives wish to speak to anyone – including taxi drivers with dash-cams – who saw the cars in the Ballyhackamore or Upper Newtownards Road area between the busy time of midnight and 2am on Saturday.

“This was the early hours of the morning when people will have been out socialising,” Detective Superintendent Sean Wright said.

“This was an appalling, cowardly attack on not just a police officer but on the local community and Northern Ireland as a whole.”

The Belfast Telegraph understands from one security source that police suspect a “small but growing” number of young republicans from Ardoyne were responsible.

“These young people are considered to be absolutely bloodthirsty by top republicans,” they said.

“They are considered to be hard work and represent a serious threat, there’s no doubt about that.

“These boys would take anybody’s life, no matter what uniform they are wearing.”

It is believed that police are focusing on the 20-minute route from the republican stronghold in north Belfast to where the bomb was planted in east Belfast.

“It’s very easy – but cowardly – to drive over, plant a bomb and walk away into the night,” a security source added.

Mr Mains, who now directs SecuriGroup, one of the UK’s leading security companies, warned that dissident republicans “do their homework” before they go in for the kill.

“They pick the ones they feel they can get away with, but routine is a big issue,” Mr Mains said.

“They prey on vulnerability, but human nature is what it is and even with the best intentions we all slip into a routine.

“We all have to do the school run, commute to and from work and take part in our sports and hobbies.

“The security services intercept the majority of threats and will be analysing how this got through – it’s a reminder that vigilance is crucial.”

Mr Mains said the officer who was targeted will require a lot of support from his colleagues as he now battles against the inevitable mental anguish.

He added: “It’s quite silent and it’s quite deadly – even when intercepted the impact can be devastating.”

With many thanks to the: Belfast Telegraph and Brett Campbell for the original story

Terror Trial: Defence dispute quality and veracity of MI5 video footage

Alex McCrory

The non-jury Diplock-style trial of three men allegedly secretly filmed by MI5 agents was yesterday shown two short clips taken in the grounds of a Co Armagh park on December 6, 2013, the day after a murder bid on police in the Ardoyne area of north Belfast.

Colin Duffy

The prosecution claim that the recording is of Colin Francis Duffy (51), Henry Fitzsimons (50) and Alex McCrory (57), whose addresses can’t be reported at this time.

Between them the trio deny preparing and directing terrorism and membership or professing to be members of the IRA.

Henry Fitzsimmons (50)

Fitzsimons and McCrory also deny attempting to murder police in the Ardoyne convoy and possessing of the two AK47 assault rifles and ammunition used in the gun attack.

The defence in the Belfast Crown Court trial, who claim the recordings are of “very poor quality”, have already told trial judge Mr Justice O’Hara that they intend to challenge the admissibility of the video content. They even suggested that it was impossible to make any identification in two of the cases.

They again repeated their objections yesterday to the surveillance footage, telling the court, while the prosecution claim the recordings, were made on December 6, 2013, and an hour apart, it was not accepted by the defence without proof of proper timing and continuity.

The two pieces of video, lasting approximately 20 seconds in each case, were allegedly taken from a video camera positioned in the laneway at the entrance of Demense House, Lurgan, looking in the direction of main road.

The black and white footage initially shows a parked car in the background of what appears to be the entrance of a tree-lined avenue with passing traffic. From the left-hand side of the screen three men, one a little stout, the others of average size and build, appear.

They are seen, growing ever larger, as they walk, one of them apparently with a slight limp, towards the direction of the hidden camera. Eventually they exit screen left. One hour later, according to the prosecution, the same three men are captured on tape again.

This time, their backs to the viewfinder, three men, similarly dressed, are filmed walking back down the laneway, until they reach the entrance, turning left, back the way they allegedly came.

MI5 operatives who deployed the surveillance camera have refused to say anything “on the grounds of national security”, about their workings, or even when they were put in place, save that it occurred “on or before December 6, 2013”.

However, the team leader of the group of agents responsible for setting up the covert device has disputed defence claims about the quality of the black and white footage, claiming it was “pretty clear”.

At hearing.

With many thanks to the: Belfast Telegraph and Michael Donnelly for the original story

Tory MP: Robert Nairac was my captain and a gentleman, he should be honoured

Captain Robert Nairac in Belfast before he was abducted and executed by the IRA in South Armagh

Captain Robert Nairac in Belfast before he was abducted by the IRA in South Armagh.

An MP whose commanding officer was murdered by the IRA has called for Parliament to mark his death amid a row over draft proposals on the prosecution of Armed Forces veterans.

Sir Mike Penning (Hemel Hempstead) paid tribute to Captain Robert Nairac in the House of Commons as a number of MPs spoke about reports saying plans to block prosecutions against ex-military personnel would not apply to the North of Ireland.

Rising to make a point of order, he said: “42 years ago in the early hours of that morning, a brave British soldier who was from 3 Company, 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards was abducted by the IRA.

“Captain Robert Nairac was my captain, a gentleman that in the boxing ring broke my nose, the first person to have done so.

“We still do not know what happened to him. This country owes a great debt to our soldiers in the North of Ireland, and particularly those who have given the utmost for their country.

“Mr Speaker do you think there is any way that I can mark 42 years of Captain Robert Nairac giving his life for this country and for the peace of the North of Ireland?”

His tribute was echoed by Tory MP and former army officer Bob Stewart (Beckenham), who said Captain Nairac had received a George Cross posthumously, after being “tortured heinously” by the IRA.

He said he had “died in an incredibly gallant way and I agree we should recognise the great gallantry of this man”.

In reply, Commons Speaker John Bercow said he was “very open to the idea of recognition in the way that he suggests”, and called for Sir Mike to visit him to discuss it further.

But it led to further points of order, with the DUP’s Gavin Robinson (Belfast East) saying that he sought assurances from the Attorney General Geoffrey Cox earlier this year that any proposal to protect veterans from prosecution would “apply equally across the UK”, and that he was told it would be “plainly wrong if it didn’t”.

So he said he was “perturbed” to read that plans will not apply to Northern Ireland, saying: “It shows scant disregard for people the length and breadth of this United kingdom who stood to protect our interests, our values and our democracy.”

Tory James Grey (North Wiltshire) asked whether any bill which excluded Northern Ireland could be amended to out it back in, with Mr Bercow agreeing in principle, saying “with very few exceptions bills are amendable”.

And fellow Conservative Richard Drax (South Dorset), another ex-military officer, called on the Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley to make a statement to the Commons on the matter.

Gavin Robinson MP
Legal protections for military veterans must apply equally across the UK, says MP
He added: “This pursuit of our armed forces, our veterans, 200 of them for things allegedly done many, many years ago is totally unacceptable and it must end forthwith.”

With many thanks to the: Belfast News Letter for the original story

Follow this link to find out more about a British traitor who was looking after himself and looking Brownie points. He was a national disgrace to his regiment: https://ansionnachfionn.com/2016/01/04/captain-robert-nairac-britains-death-squad-adventurer/amp/?usqp=mq331AQA

(2) – https://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-1227861/PATRICK-MERCER-MP-I-Robert-Nairac-night-IRA-killed–justice-done.html

RUC/PSNI murder plot discussion apparently ‘recorded by MI5’

Colin Duffy, 51, is accused of directing terrorism and being a member of the IRA

An undercover MI5 agent has told a court of how recordings were made of three men allegedly discussing a failed murder attempt on police.

Colin Duffy, 51, Henry Fitzsimons, 50, and 57-year-old Alex McCrory are on trial at Belfast Crown Court.

They face a range of terrorist-related offences connected to a gun attack on the PSNI in 2013.

All three men deny preparing and directing terrorism and being in the IRA.

Mr Fitzsimons and Mr McCrory also deny attempting to murder police and possession of two AK47 assault rifles and ammunition with intent to endanger life.

The charges relate to a gun attack on a police convoy in the Crumlin Road area of Belfast on 5 December 2013.

On Tuesday, the court heard evidence from the MI5 officer, known as witness 9281, on video and audio surveillance carried out on three men in December 2013.

Harry Fitzsimmons, 50, is accused of attempting to murder members of the RUC/PSNI Image copyright © PACEMAKER

However, before the witness was sworn in, defence lawyers said they would be seeking to exclude three audio exhibits.

They said the exhibits were at the centre of the prosecution case.

Speaking from behind a curtain, the MI5 officer said he placed 15 audio devices at a park in Lurgan in December 2013.

The security service officer also confirmed he placed video recording equipment and that its images were transmitted directly to MI5.

‘Grounds of national security’
He was asked by a defence lawyer about a statement he made saying he replaced one of the audio devices.

However, in cross-examination, he said he placed all 15 audio devices at the same time.

When asked about the technical details of the devices and their recording capabilities, he replied a number of times: “I am not sure I can answer that on the grounds of national security.”

Alex McCorey, 57, is accused of attempting to murder members of the RUC/PSNI Image copyright © PACEMAKER

The judge, sitting without a jury in the Diplock-style trial, has heard the surveillance operation was carried out the day after the gun attack on a police convoy in the Ardoyne area of north Belfast, in which 14 shots were fired at a three-vehicle patrol by two gunmen.

At an earlier hearing, the prosecution claimed the accused can be identified from the covert video footage and from an hour-long audio recording of them as they talked in a public park in Lurgan, known as Demesne Park.

Prosecution case
It is the prosecution’s case that an analysis of the audio recordings by two voice recognition experts provided strong to moderately strong support that the defendants were those captured discussing how to go forward “in light of Ardoyne, and how the leadership were regrouping”.

The prosecution lawyer further alleged this was supported by the video recordings, as the clothing worn by the three suspects in the Demense Park were similar to that seized from the defendants following their arrests.

“The prosecution case is that the three men present and recorded talking in Demense Lane are Duffy, Fitzsimons and McCrory,” counsel claimed.

“The three defendants are close associates and have been seen together by police prior to the meeting and are also friends,” added the lawyer, who further claimed the men spoke using their first names.

Further proof
The voice analysis evidence of the conversation, which the prosecution alleged was not a “normal one” as it involved “an operation which had not gone to plan, and the failings and difficulties in arming a terrorist organisation”, was further proof of the men’s guilt.

The prosecution told the court the men’s discussions lasted almost an hour and “related almost exclusively to terrorism… there was no discussion about everyday issues”.

The trial continues.

With many thanks to: BBCNI and Dan Stanton for the original story

Special Advocates and the murky role of MI5 at the expense of former Republican prisoners in the North of Ireland


I HAVE KNOWN Ciaran Collins for several years. Days before we first met at a political meeting in Dublin, Ciaran had attended the funeral of Michael Lutton in Lurgan, Co Armagh. Lutton was a member of the Continuity IRA (CIRA) who died on 1 November 2010 and received a military funeral.

I had never heard the name Michael Lutton before, but Ciaran, still mesmerised by the atmosphere of the funeral kept on talking about him.

It was, coincidentally, Michael Lutton’s anniversary when I met Ciaran on a chilly All Hallows 2018: I had just arrived in Belfast from Vienna. It was almost 6:30 pm when I reached Ciaran’s house on the outskirts of West Belfast, and I was looking forward to the cup of tea in his kitchen that is usually the first thing I do in Belfast.

The kettle was puffing nicely when suddenly he jumps up, throws the tea in the sink and shouts: “I haven’t produced myself today”. Before I understand, Ciaran is in his car on his way to the PSNI police station.

Ciaran is a former Republican prisoner. After four years in HMP Maghaberry, he was released on licence in September 2016 under strict terms. Although his sentence was over in 2017, he got handed an extra two years for “national security” reasons.

Every single day since his release he has had to produce himself before 7 pm at the PSNI police station, he is not allowed to leave Northern Ireland, he has a list of ten people he shall not have any contact with, and he is not allowed to reside in the Greater Craigavon area.

Ciaran is originally from Craigavon, his 72-year-old father, his relatives, and his partner with their three children aged one, six, and ten, all live there.

His legal representative, Darragh Mackin of Phoenix Law in Belfast says: “Ciaran is subject to the most restrictive conditions in the constituency.

He has been deprived of his liberty and forced to live in isolation away from his family”.

“The Governor just came to me and said: That’s it, you are out of here”, remembers Ciaran of the day he was released from prison: “So I went to the reception desk to collect my stuff, and they told me that I could not go home. I went to my aunt in Belfast and stayed there for a while”.

Ciaran is one of many former Republican prisoners with particularly harsh conditions imposed upon them. There are currently about a dozen Republican prisoners held in Roe, the separate area for Republicans in HMP Maghaberry.

There are dozens who have served their sentences but face strict licence conditions. However, Ciaran’s case is different from other cases.

On 7 October 2014, Megan Lindsay wrote in a letter to the Offender Management Unit HMP Maghaberry on behalf of the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) that “the PSNI has confirmed that it does not hold any information indicating that Kieran [sic] Collins is involved in terrorism or linked to a terrorist organisation, or any information which if disclosed would be damaging to national security” (emphasis in original).

The only security information provided about Ciaran in a security report dated 25 June 2014 is that he took part in an “ongoing protest/issues with Dissident Republican Prisoners in Roe”.

This line refers to his participation in a series of protests by Republican prisoners demanding the implementation of an agreement reached between the prisoners and the Northern Ireland Prison Service in August 2010. This on its own would not have affected his release terms.

Based on this report from the NIO, Ciaran and his legal representatives expected his release in 2015. However, Ciaran was not released, and in autumn 2015 closed material procedures (CMP) were initiated.

In CMP, also known as “secret courts”, the evidence is withheld from the accused and his legal team for “national security reasons”. Instead, a Special Advocate represents the accused during closed hearings.

This Special Advocate is not allowed to provide any information from the closed evidence to the accused and his legal team.

“I was supposed to be out the previous year”, Ciaran remembers. He only met his Special Advocate twice: “That was a guy from England.

He said to me: In there, I am your eyes and your ears, you need to trust me. But I said I don’t know who you are. I never met you before’. His legal representative was told not to contact the Special Advocate. He points out that “I have never seen the full evidence against me”.

As of today, Ciaran still does not know why he was not released in 2015 despite a favourable report from the NIO the previous year. He also does not know why his release on the licence was extended for another two years despite his having served his full sentence. In addition, he does not know why the evidence was withheld from him and his legal time.

In other words, he is not aware of all the allegations being made. In this way, Ciaran’s legal representatives were kept in limbo, unable to defend Ciaran.

Why did Ciaran get a Special Advocate appointed after a favourable report from the NIO was issued? Special Advocates are used sparsely in the UK justice system.

In Northern Ireland, they are merely used for high-profile Republican and Loyalist cases. The use of a Special Advocate in the case of Ciaran indicates that his case is of particular interest to the Security Service.

Ciaran was convicted of unlawful possession of a gun. On 20 September 2012, he travelled in a convoy with two other men. Both cars were stopped and searched.

The statement of evidence says that the “two other men were assessed by the Security Service (MI5) to be CIRA members”. However, solely Ciaran was charged and eventually pleaded guilty to possession of a weapon in suspicious circumstances.

In prison, Ciaran disassociated from his former comrades, leaving the prisoners’ support group Cabhair which supports CIRA prisoners, and became a guest of the Cogús prisoners’ support group. On 7 October 2014, the NIO cleared him from any “links to a terrorist organisation”.

But his early release was blocked because the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State signed a certificate of confidential information. It was noted that confidential information within the meaning of Rule 9 (1)(e) of the Parole Commissioners’ Rules (Northern Ireland) 2009 and Rule 9(2) “would not be in the public interest”. Reinforcing this, Ciaran’s release would be “contrary to the interests of national security”.

Although Ciaran was not linked to paramilitary Republicanism, he was not released. The reasons are found in his open evidence.

For it mentions that the information collected about Ciaran came from a person “providing information or assistance in confidence and disclosing evidence would make it impossible for the person to continue with providing such information”.

Furthermore, the “information (was) received in confidence by the security forces (…) and intelligence agencies”. In other words, the information used to prosecute Ciaran came from within the Republican group.

Ciaran was set up for prosecution in 2012, cleared by the NIO in 2014, but still forced to serve his full sentence. Two years after his sentence expired in 2017, Ciaran is still not a free man.

“My father is 72. Last year he had an operation and needed care, but they didn’t let me stay overnight. One evening, he had to be rushed to Craigavon Hospital, but I got no permission to visit him during the night. Mentally the whole situation is torture”, Ciaran says.

Ciaran is not allowed to reside in the Lurgan/Craigavon area. In this small area with significant Republican support, two other cases appeared in the past decade that provide the context for Ciaran’s situation.

When Martin Corey’s licence was revoked for almost four years, the intelligence-based evidence was also not disclosed. Likewise, the cases of Brendan Conville and JP Wootton, who were convicted for a CIRA attack that killed police officer Stephen Carroll in March 2009, point to the involvement of State agents in their prosecution.

Certainly, all the evidence collected by the author confirms that both men had had no involvement in the shooting. They were innocent.

Ciaran is the fourth man from the same area whose conviction has been based on the words of a State agent. MI5 linked all four men to the CIRA.

To what extent do the Security Services pull the strings within Republicanism, namely the CIRA, in North Armagh? Have North Armagh Republicans been prosecuted where for some reason that was necessary to protect State agents still operating in the CIRA?

Throughout the Troubles, The British State ran paid State agents inside paramilitary organisations. Some of them like Freddie Scappaticci were high-ranking IRA members who not only provided information but also tortured and killed other Republicans to hide their own identity; and yet they were protected by MI5.

The cases of Ciaran Collins, Martin Corey, Brendan McConville, and JP Wootton indicate that obsession with protection for State agents remains the same in today’s Northern Ireland.

With many thanks to: Village Magazine and Dr Dieter Reinisch for the original story

Dr Dieter Reinisch is an Adjunct Professor in International Relations at Webster University and Lecturer in History at the University of Vienna. He tweets on @ReinischDieter and blogs on http://www.ofrecklessnessandwater.com.