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15 Jan 07. Alert system dubbed a ‘shambles’. Activists at Spyblog investigated the MI5 alert system. MI5 has overhauled an e-mail terror alert system for the public following detective work by privacy activists. Digital detective work by campaigners revealed that the alerting system did little to protect the identities of anyone signing up. They found that data gathered was being stored in the US leading to questions about who would have access to the list of names and e-mail addresses. The Cabinet Office denies the changes were a response to the investigation. The public e-mail alert system was announced on 9 January and will send messages to subscribers when threat levels change. The move followed the success of similar public information systems started by MI5 and the Home Office in August. Despite the announcement no sign-up form for the service was available on the MI5 website at the time of the unveiling. This was despite claims from the Home Office that the system had been under development for some time. This changed on the evening of 9 January when a web form appeared and this kicked off an investigation by activists behind the SpyBlog to see how it worked. What they found led the group to describe the e-mail alert list as a “shambles” and drove them to suggest that the system had been put together in a hurry. The activists discovered that the whole system had been contracted and some of it was being run by a company called Mailtrack that specialises in handling large e-mail mailing lists. The initial MI5 system did not use built-in encryption systems. More worryingly when people signed up to use the alert system, the standard encryption software had been disabled. This would have scrambled personal data, such as name and e-mail address, to stop others eavesdropping. Also the computer system to manage the list was based in the US on a server run by Seattle-based firm What Counts. SpyBlog researchers suggested that this put it at risk of being snooped on or inspected by US law enforcement authorities. “We would not release data to anyone without a subpoena,” David Geller, managing director of What Counts, told the BBC News website. (Source: BBC)

14 Jan 07. The 7 July bombers who killed 52 people in terrorist attacks in London in 2005 were once described by Britain’s security service as ‘clean skins’. The vivid phrase implied that a gang of homegrown terrorists had come from nowhere, without an intelligence trail. But Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller, the director-general of MI5, is bracing herself for embarrassing revelations on the full extent of what the British intelligence community knew about the bombers, and in particular the ringleader of the attacks, Mohammad Sidique Khan. The disclosures will add to pressure for a full public inquiry. Manningham-Buller is retiring in April and some Whitehall sources have suggested this is a pre-emptive move by MI5 to avoid embarrassment over revelations about intelligence failings. Senior security officials insist it was always known Manningham-Buller would leave her post in April. MI5 now admit that far from being a ‘clean skin’, Khan had been on their radar screen since 2003. And The Observer can now reveal that more than a year before he detonated his Tube bomb, Khan had been listed as a ‘desirable suspect’ by MI5, along with fellow bomber Shehzad Tanweer. One senior security official gave a chilling warning that even with the increase in resources MI5 has now been given, it is unlikely they would have been able to pick up somebody like Khan, given the information they had at the time. He said: ‘If the threat was the same as in 2005 – that is, we were looking at 50 potential terror networks in the UK – we would have a better chance of picking up somebody like Khan. But we are now dealing with some 200 potential terror networks in the UK and to be quite honest we wouldn’t have a hope in hell. ‘We can’t put every person who expresses anger about British foreign policy under 24

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