Internet: 13May1999

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Internet Story: 13 May 1999

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Has the UK Government Overreacted?


SIS List on the Net  Yesterday it was widely reported in the UK news media (e.g. BBC) that a list of Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) agents had been published on the Internet.  This is just the latest tale in what seems to be a saga of government blunders in dealing with an ex-employee of the SIS, Richard Tomlinson.   In 1997 Tomlinson was jailed for breaking the Official Secrets Act and has, since his release, apparently been persecuted by the SIS ever since.  In an attempt to try and get the SIS off his back Tomlinson has threatened to publish a list of names and addresses of SIS operations around the world.  Although he appears, so far, not to have published anything that is not already in the public domain, the UK government has kicked up a storm as though he has.  They have successfully, with a court order, had his website in Switzerland (where he lives now) removed and yesterday managed to have his new site on Geocities shut down (without any court order, because it apparently violated their "content agreement").  Tomlinson has denied publishing any new material in various emails to the media.  However, although names don't seem to have appeared on Tomlinson's site they have on another.

Although the sites have been taken down they are not too hard to find on the Net (took me only a few minutes).  By simply typing "MI6 List" in at the Google search engine a list of possible sites appears near the top.  If you then select the [deleted site info] link it doesn't then take much to find a page called [deleted site name] with details and a copy of the Geocities site.  As you will see, no new names.  Another more extensive list was found by searching the newsgroups on Freeserve(*) or DejaNews.  One appeared in the [deleted news group name] newsgroup that appears to have originated from a magazine called Executive Intelligence Review (EIR), though it no longer seems to appear on this site.  EIR is a publication of Lyndon LaRouche, a somewhat colorful US president wannabe who also claims to have been falsely convicted and persecuted by his government.  Whether this larger list is valid or not only time and misinformation will tell.  Whitehall, as one might expect, is claiming that the list is a mixture of fact and fantasy.

It's seems somewhat ironical that the Internet, created by the military establishment to protect it, is now being used to great effect against it.  There is no way that governments can control the propagation of information, though they haven't yet realized this.  Once the information is up there (especially when it is a high profile as this) it is effectively out there for good.  Some people will have copied the site, other engines (such as the Google search engine) will have automatically have cached the site.

Although not condoning the actions of Mr. Tomlinson I do believe it's about time that agencies such as the SIS and MI5 (and the CIA & NSA!) were held accountable for their actions and didn't consider themselves above the laws that the rest of our civilization lives by.

If only some of what Tomlinson claims is true then we should be very worried about what kind of society we are living in!

(*) Does this mean that Freeserve (and probably other UK providers) are breaking the law?

Note: Although we don't believe that the D-Notice affects us, we have deleted the names/addresses of the sites containing the actual lists until they become so widespread that we can safely re-insert them.



16:40    There are now several postings in various newsgroups of the list.  So far no mirror sites have appeared for either Tomlinson's site or the other one, though the Tomlinson site can be downloaded as a Tar.Z (unix zip) file from the site found on Google.
19:30    According to Channel 4 News the list has been available for 10 years.  It was published in the print version of Lobster Magazine.  Another indication that this is a storm in a teacup!

Friday (14May1999)

Video Still of Richard Tomlinson

09:00   As expected the site has been mirrored all over the place and copies of the newsgroup posting have appeared all over.  It took me exactly 1 minute to track down a copy of the list this morning - it took me almost 30 minutes yesterday (and only then because I started looking in the wrong place)!  The easiest place to find it is on a Dutch site [name withheld].

10:00    The Lobster article referred to on Channel 4 last night probably appeared in Lobster Issue 15 in 1987.  And article entitled, "Inside 'Inside Intelligence' by Stephen Dorril: Inside Intelligence by Anthony Cavendish (1987): Intelligence Personnel Named in 'Inside Intelligence'" was probably the source.

11:00    A full list also appears on the site found in Google yesterday.

13:00    Spotted this brilliantly accurate article on how the finding of "the list" happened and the crucial point that all the news media and the government missed yesterday... "the newsgroup -- had scored one over the web.  Britain's Government had been looking in the wrong place."   :-)  I must admit I was embarrassed for Robin Cook ranting about the issue last night on TV.

Sunday (16May1999)

12:00    Interesting possible connection to Mohamed al-Fayed in the Sunday papers!  Maybe the UK government should have given him a passport! :-)  He has had close connections with the LaRouche magazine previously.

Thursday (20May1999)

15:00    The plot thickens.  Tomlinson has now denied (convincingly according to newsgroup contributors), on TV and various email interviews, that he had anything to do with posting the names on the Net.  This has not, however, convinced some journalists.  They have pointed out that, "Most of the list is accurate.  Many of the names in the list are from the Balkans, where Richard Tomlinson worked.  Some of the names were known only to Richard Tomlinson and a very small number of other people.  Every name that Richard Tomlinson has privately revealed in the past is included in the list.  [...]  The person described as a "wanker" in the list is Timothy Clayden.  This is the person who sacked Richard Tomlinson from MI6. Mr Tomlinson has previously said that he dislikes Mr Clayden."  They also discount that the list came from Lobster or any other publication that has been around for some time.  Less than 20 out of 115 names have been published in these sources.

It is not believed that subsequent lists that have been published are correct.   They are apparently all hoaxes.

I agree with several commentators on this story that had the UK government not created such a fuss and told everyone not to look for the information then it would probably have blown over without anyone noticing.  The list was available on the EIR website for days and on the newsgroup since the 11th of May without anyone creating any fuss.

So has the UK government shot itself in the foot?  Was this all a ploy to victimize Tomlinson?  Is the list a piece of dummy information to act as some smoke screen?  Is MI6 and its cronies trying to create a just cause for censoring and controlling the Internet?  Does this spell the inevitable end for organizations such as MI6?

We will probably never know the real truth - we seldom do in such matters.  The most effective way of hiding the "truth" is in the noise of half-truths that have rapidly emerged over the last week.


Andrew Stringer, Pendle.Net Ltd, 1999

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