Chapter 44: A 'Safe' Story

A Britten-Norman Islander.
Gareth Williams reportedly helped to outfit aircraft
such as this with eavesdropping equipment.
My eye lit on a long piece by Patrick Sawer and Gordon Thomas which was published in the Telegraph of September 11.

Under the headline "Concern grows over foreign involvement in spy's death," the authors explained why
Concern is growing within the intelligence community that the MI6 spy found dead in his London flat may have been the victim of a professional hit by a foreign power.
One of the reasons was clearly stated:
Some officials are starting to believe the way the killing was carried out – leaving few, if any, immediate clues as to the cause of death – could point to a professionally-carried-out assassination.
The other reason was unstated but clearly implied: if it was a professionally-carried-out assassination then it must have been done by a foreign power because ... well ... because ... um ... oh, never mind.

This style of "logic" was by no means unique to the Telegraph. It permeated all the press coverage, without any exception that I could find.

As for the police, Sawer and Thomas wrote:
Scotland Yard, which is leading the investigation into his death, said: "We're not at the stage where we can pinpoint how Mr Williams died and all avenues in this investigation remain open. We are keeping an open mind."
This, according to Bucky, would be an expression of the Jackie Sebire school of thought. But Hamish Campbell's view of the case was present as well:
Security service sources suggest that the most likely explanation for Mr Williams's death is still to be found in his private life...
Meanwhile, Scotland Yard continued to hunt for the mysterious 'Mediterranean' couple, and to hope they would suddenly appear on the doorstep. As the Telegraph put it:
Detectives said they were trying to trace a couple Mediterranean appearance, aged between 20 and 30, who visited the house in Pimlico late one night in the weeks before Mr Williams died.

The Yard revealed the couple were the only people who had been seen around the time of his death at the property in Alderney Street not to be accounted for.

Neighbours told police the pair were let in through the communal front door late one evening, in either June or July. It is believed they were visiting Mr Williams and detectives want them to come forward so they can be eliminated from their inquiries.
The wording seemed to substantiate Slate's claim that everyone connected to MI6 who had been in the building would automatically be considered "accounted for," whereas the "Mediterranean couple" alone were not.

The casting of "late one evening, in either June or July" as equivalent to "around the time of his death" struck me as a bit of a stretch and hinted that Bucky may have been right in describing "a barrage of disinformation."

As for the story itself, it seemed unlikely that anyone would let strangers in through a communal door of a "safe house," and it seemed very odd that police would ask these strangers to step forward. But the reason given by the police was positively bizarre: so they could be "eliminated" from the inquiries!

It seemed much more likely, to me at least, that they were being asked to present themselves so they could be framed for murder.

Aside from all these interesting details, the article contained a flurry of information about what Gareth Williams had been doing at work:
The 31-year-old was seconded from GCHQ to work on top-secret systems to defend British banks and transport infrastructure from cyber attack and to eavesdrop on terrorist communications....

It is understood Mr Williams's job at the time of his death was creating computer defences in the City of London....

It can be revealed that Williams had also played an important role in creating signal intelligence equipment, known as sigint, to listen to Taliban communications in Afghanistan.

He had helped in fitting out three Brittan-Norman Islander aircraft with this equipment to be used as airborne-listening stations.

Based at RAF Northolt in West London since 2007 they have flown over selected British cities searching for communications between suspected terrorists.

A key part of the equipment is the wide-band recorders that Mr Williams helped to develop. Each has the capacity to vacuum up continuous mobile phone traffic in a city the size of Bradford.

The "product" is then downloaded to GCHQ where state-of-the-art computers analyse the voices using voice-recognition software.
The rest of the article consisted of background information with which Holmes and I were familiar, combined with speculation meant to tie the murder to a "foreign" motive. For instance:
The 31-year-old was seconded from GCHQ to work on top-secret systems to defend British banks and transport infrastructure from cyber attack and to eavesdrop on terrorist communications.

As a result he may have come to the attention of foreign intelligence agencies....

It is feared that by the time of his death last month Mr Williams's presence in London had become known to foreign spies, despite the fact he was living in a MI6 safe house with an alarm system linking him to nearby MI6 headquarters.

"It would have been part of their brief," said a British intelligence officer....

One theory being examined is that Mr Williams may have had an approach from a rival agency, and either rebuffed it without informing his superiors or initially agreed to co-operate then got cold feet.

If such an approach had been exposed there would have been severe political and diplomatic repercussions, making it expedient for Mr Williams to be killed.
I couldn't quite wrap my mind around the distinction implied here: if Gareth Williams had rebuffed an approach from a foreign intelligence agency without telling his employers about it, then -- according to the Telegraph -- it would have been "expedient for him to be killed" so that nobody would ever find out. On the other hand, if he had told MI6 that he had been approached, then the secret would already be out, and presumably the foreigners would have nothing to gain by killing him, and quite a bit to lose.

But how could this hypothetical rival intelligence agency be sure that he had not reported the hypothetical approach? And wouldn't it be dangerous to kill him, in case he had reported it?

My mind was swimming. If Slate was right, and if intelligence officials were upset that a few details of Gareth Williams' work history got into the press in the days after his body was discovered, it seemed strange that this piece, published two weeks later, should be so full of such details.

Perhaps, for some reason, the story being presented here was deemed "safe" for the public. But why?

Why was it all right for people to read that Gareth Williams had helped to create airborne listening stations that flew over British cities, but not that he had deciphered intercepted emails between terrorists planning to blow commercial airliners out of the sky?