Chapter 42: A Hint About The Motive?

Previous: Departures

National Security Agency Headquarters,
Fort Meade, Maryland
I awoke Tuesday morning to find another note from Holmes.

I've been called away on an urgent matter.

If you have time to help with the Williams case, look through my archive for the earliest mentions of Gareth's work history. In particular, try to find the articles Bucky mentioned.

I'll be back as soon as possible.

I spent the next few hours thumbing through the file of newspaper clippings pertaining to the case which Holmes had assembled without my knowledge, before he even had a client. I had read, or at least glanced at, the same articles less than a week earlier, in preparation for our visit from William Hughes. But now, having met Hughes and some of the other people mentioned in the clippings, the gruesome reality hit me even harder than it had done the first time.

Fortunately I was on a mission, rather than a sightseeing journey, and I knew enough not to dwell on my own feelings. Clearly there was much more at stake, and I tried to emulate my friend's cold, logical approach to the problem at hand. Nevertheless, I found it more difficult to control my emotions than to find the clippings I sought.

The Mirror of August 27 contained a piece by Jon Clements called "Security chiefs mourn loss of ‘genius’ spy Gareth Williams," which began as follows:
The full extent of murdered spy Gareth Williams’ role in the world of espionage slowly began to emerge last night.

He was rated as one of the best code-breakers in the business – an elite agent who fought in secret to thwart al-Qaeda terror attacks at home and abroad.

And the 31-year-old maths genius’s unique skills were also recognised by spy chiefs across the Atlantic.

Despite a dislike of flying, he regularly travelled from London to Baltimore to meet US National Security Agency officials at their Fort Meade HQ – dubbed the Puzzle Palace.
Later in the piece, Clements provided some very specific information:
Britain now relies heavily on the NSA to help monitor phone calls, emails, texts and other communications of UK terror suspects.

When MI5 discovered the plot in 2006 by British Muslims to bomb transatlantic jets, GCHQ called in the NSA to help – and Williams worked closely alongside them.

Spy satellites tracked and secretly copied emails from mastermind Rashid Rauf in Pakistan to the two ringleaders in Walthamstow, East London. The messages were vital to the 2008 convictions of Abdullah Ahmed Ali, Assad Sarwar and Tanvir Hussain.
This appeared to be the piece Bucky had mentioned. But what did it mean?

Was it a hint about the motive behind this apparently senseless murder? Was Gareth Williams killed because he cracked the terrorists' coded emails?

I found several other articles, all published at or around the same time, which said more or less the same thing. And I found many others, published later, which said very different things. If Slate was correct, these later pieces would be the "barrage of disinformation" he described.

And -- again, if Slate was correct -- the piece by Jon Clements in the August 27th edition of the Mirror must have contained the grain of truth the barrage was intended to bury.

But why? If Gareth Williams had foiled a planned attack by terrorists, why would anyone want to keep that a secret?

Perhaps, I thought, someone with ties to the investigation and access to the press was determined to have Gareth portrayed as a pervert. And perhaps this information, if it became common knowledge, would interfere with his plans. But what was the point of it all? The more I thought about it, the less sense it seemed to make.

Luckily, my instructions from Holmes had been very clear. I was only supposed to find the articles Slate had mentioned. I wasn't supposed to understand them.

I found myself hoping that Holmes would return soon, and that what I had found would make more sense to him than it did to me.