Physical Meetings

Physical Meetings

"But why did we not breakfast at the Parpaillot?"

"Because we have very important matters to communicate to one another, and it was impossible to talk five minutes in that inn without being annoyed by all those importunate fellows, who keep coming in, saluting you, and addressing you. Here at least," said Athos, pointing to the bastion, "they will not come and disturb us."

"It appears to me," said d'Artagnan, with that prudence which allied itself in him so naturally with excessive bravery, "that we could have found some retired place on the downs or the seashore."

"Where we should have been seen all four conferring together, so that at the end of a quarter of an hour the cardinal would have been informed by his spies that we were holding a council."

"Yes," said Aramis, "Athos is right: animadvertuntur in desertis."

"A desert would not have been amiss," said Porthos; "but it behooved us to find it."

"There is no desert where a bird cannot pass over one's head, where a fish cannot leap out of the water, where a rabbit cannot come out of its burrow, and I believe that bird, fish, and rabbit each becomes a spy of the cardinal. [...]"

Chapter 46, The Bastion Saint-Gervais, The Three Musketeers, by Alexandre Dumas, 1844 - text available online via Project Gutenberg

It may sometimes be possible to be a whistleblower without physically meeting a journalist or blogger or anonymous source. Often this is unavoidable, if the story is to be made public.

  1. If you decide to meet with an alleged "journalist" or blogger (who may not always be who they claim to be), or if a journalist or blogger decides to meet with an "anonymous source" (who also might not be who they claim to be), then you should switch off your mobile phones, since the proximity of two mobile phones in the same approximate area, at the same time, is something which can be data mined from the Call Data Records, even if no phone conversations have taken place. Typically a mobile phone will handshake with the strongest Cell Base Station transmitter every 6 to 10 minutes, and this all gets logged, all of the time.

  2. Similarly choosing a suitable location for a meeting needs some care. Nipping down to a local pub near to to the Marsham Street Home Office complex may be convenient, but your presence and that of the journalist etc. is likely to be noted by some of your work colleagues.

  3. There are now vast numbers of CCTV camera in UK cities, especially in London, none of which are of much use in preventing or deterring crimes, and very few of which are monitored by humans in real time. However, the sheer numbers of cameras and recording equipment does pose a threat to whistleblower anonymity.

    Luckily, the vague 1980's planning rules apply, which treat CCTV cameras like external advertising signs etc. on buildings, into which, inevitably, people could bang their heads, so almost all CCTV cameras are mounted more than 2.5 metres above the ground. They therefore rarely get a clear picture of anyone's face, if they are wearing a hat or a hoodie. or a scarf etc. .

  4. If you travel by public transport in London, to get to your physical meeting with whistleblowers, journalists, campaign activists or bloggers etc.bear in mind the tracking capabilities of the Transport for London Oyster SmartCard. This stores the pttern of your last 20 or so journeys on the Card itself, with a 6 month history at least , being kept on the central computer system. If you have registered the card or have paid for it with a credit card etc., then it could easily betray your identity, especially if your use of it on the tube or Bus is also caught on CCTV camera.

  5. If you drive a vehicle in London, remember that there is the City of London "ring of steel", the Central Congestion Charge Zone, the Westward Expansion Congestion Charge Zone and the wider London Low Emissions Zone, all of which are enforced using Automatic Number Plate recognition CCTV cameras. Apart from the City of London cameras, the rest are all linked to Transport for London central control rooms. Since July 2007, all of this CCTV camera and the Automatic Number Plate Recognition, and lookups to the DVLA, and mobile phone / credit card payments are all being slurped, "in Bulk, in Real Time" to some secret Data Warehousing project run by the Metropolitan Police Service, supposedly for "national security", all of which has been made exempt from the Data Protection Act, by Ministerial fiat. If you are in a vehicle, it is certainly worth trying to avoid crossing any of the ANPR Zone boundaries on your way to or from the meeting

    See Home Secretary Jacqui Smith cripples the Data Protection Act regarding the London Congestion Charge ANPR Mass Surveillance scheme

    This vast amount of data,on millions of innocent people and powerful computer analytical tools could easily be turned away from its supposed task of hunting for suspicious terrorist movement patterns, and could be asked to help to track down potential Government whistleblowers and their journalistic or other contacts, since "national security" can easily be invoked, even when the only secrets being leaked are political coverups, incompetence or corruption.

  6. Remember the Cold War Moscow Rules from espionage fiction.

  7. Some idea of the precautions necessary for making sure that you have not been followed to clandestine physical meetings, on foot or by car, can be gleaned from this re-print of advice and techniques given to ANC / Communist activists under the South African apartheid regime in the 1980's - How to Master Secret Work . This is even more difficult now with CCTV cameras, Automatic Number Plate Recognition and mobile phones. The common use of mobile phone and MP3 music players means that people wearing earpieces and apparently talking to themselves in the street is no longer as suspicious as it used to be.

  8. The more up to date A Practical Security Handbook for Activists and Campaigns (v 2.6) (.doc - 62 pages ), by experienced UK direct action political activists ( is full of practical advice, on many of the topics in this blog, including physical meetings, surveillance and mobile phones.

  9. See also the section on Covert Channel Signals for Meetings or Dead Letter Drops for some ideas about Covert Channel Signals, which might also be useful for arranging an urgent secret physical meeting between a whistleblower source and their journalist or activist or other contacts, without arousing suspicion.

About this blog

We know that there are decent, honest, trustworthy individual politicians, civil servants, law enforcement, intelligence agency personnel and broadcast, print and internet journalists etc., who often feel powerless or trapped in the system. They need the assistance of external, detailed, informed, public scrutiny to help them to resist deliberate or unthinking policies, which erode our freedoms and liberties.

Some of these people will, in the public interest, act as whistleblowers, and may try to leak documents or information to the mainstream media, or to political blog websites etc.

Here are some Spy Blog "Hints and Tips", giving some basic preecautions, and some more obscure technical tips, which both whistleblowers, journalists, and bloggers need to be aware of, in order to help preserve the anonymity of whisteleblowing or other journalistic sources, especially in the United Kingdom, but applicable in other countries as well.

Whistleblower anonymity may not always be possible, or even necessary, forever into the future, but it is usuially crucial during at least the early stages of a "leak", whilst it is being evaluated by others, to see if it merits wider publication and publicity.

Email & PGP Contact

Please feel free to email your views about this blog, or news about the issues it tries to comment on.


Our PGP public encryption key is available for those correspondents who wish to send us news or information in confidence, and also for those of you who value your privacy, even if you have got nothing to hide.

You can download a free copy of the PGP encryption software from
(available for most of the common computer operating systems, and also in various Open Source versions like GPG).

We look forward to the day when UK Government Legislation, Press Releases and Emails etc. are Digitally Signed so that we can be assured that they are not fakes. Trusting that the digitally signed content makes any sense, is another matter entirely.


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CryptoParty London

CryptoParty London

Most months there is a CryptoParty London event. where some of these Hints and Tips and other techniques are demonstrated and taught.

Usually at:

Juju's Bar and Stage 15 Hanbury St, E1 6QR, London

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BlogSafer - wiki with multilingual guides to anonymous blogging

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Home Office Watch blog, "a single repository of all the shambolic errors and mistakes made by the British Home Office compiled from Parliamentary Questions, news reports, and tip-offs by the Liberal Democrat Home Affairs team."

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Committee to Protect Bloggers - "devoted to the protection of bloggers worldwide with a focus on highlighting the plight of bloggers threatened and imprisoned by their government."

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Public Concern at Work - "(PCaW) is the independent authority on public interest whistleblowing. Established as a charity in 1993 following a series of scandals and disasters, PCaW has played a leading role in putting whistleblowing on the governance agenda and in developing legislation in the UK and abroad. All our work is informed by the free advice we offer to people with whistleblowing dilemmas and the professional support we provide to enlightened organisations."