The Observer has, mysteriously, gained access to a Confidential letter from William Ehrman, the Director General (Defence & Intelligence) at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office. He was also the temporary Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, and will soon be taking up his post as the United Kingdom's Ambassador to the People's Republic of China in Beijing (currently Sir Christopher Hurn).
"Revealed: MI6 plan to infiltrate extremists
Read the letter from the head of the intelligence arm of the Foreign Office here (pdf)
Read the memo from the FCO's Islamic issues adviser here (pdf)
Martin Bright, home affairs editor
Sunday September 4, 2005
British intelligence officers planned a 'black propaganda' campaign against Islamic extremists, infiltrating their groups through the internet, documents leaked to The Observer reveal."
The leaked/briefed letter, entiled "Hearts and Minds and Muslims", isdated 23 April 2004, is addressed to Sir David Omand, the then Security & Intelligence Co-ordinator at the Cabinet office, whose successor is now Bill Jeffrey, the former director general of the controversial Home Office Immigration and Nationality Directorate (IND), at the time of the resignations of Beverly Hughes and the disgrace of ex-Home Secretary David Blunkett, both over Immigration department related scandals.
Sir Nigel Sheinwald was the United Kingdom Permaanent Representative to the European Union, and is now the Head of the Overseas and Defence Secretariatat the Cabinet Office, and is also the Foreign Policy Advisor to the Prime Minister.
"Hearts and Minds and Muslims" of course has resonances of the anti-communist insurgency policies in Malaya or Vietnam, where "If you've got them by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow." seemed to be the mindset.
William Ehrman's "Hearts and Minds and Muslims" (.pdf) letter, assuming that it is genuine, also includes this interesting paragraph:
"6. The McColl paper also mentions Cyberspace. I presume there are opportunities for engaging in the debate on Islamist websites, unattributably. But whoever was doing this would need a carefully worked-out script. There may also be ways to disrupt or impede extremist websites. I hope some proposals on all this will emerge from the ongoing cross-government work on setting up better systems for monitoring websites."
Who is "McColl" ? Presumably not Bill McColl, Professor of Computing Science, Fellow of Wadham College, at Oxford University ?
Does this letter explain the basis for the dubious tactics of infiltration, agent provocateurs, and attempts at website hacking and disruption which the recent Sunday Times "climate of fear" article on alleged MI5 tactics, seemed to be trying to promote ? Or does it the fact that it does not mention MI5, the Security Service at all, but does mention FCO (Foreign & Commonwealth Office), SIS (MI6), the Secret Intelligence Service and MOD (Ministry of Defence) and USA, Egyptian and Saudi agencies, cast even more doubt on that Sunday Times article ?
"ways to disrupt or impede extremist websites" is entirely the wrong strategy, The advantage will always be with the extremists if there are crude attempts at banning, hacking, denial of service attacks, legal requests to ISPs to shut down websites etc. All such extremist websites are physically hosted outside of the United Kingdom, therefore any such "disruption" activities involves "cyber warfare" attacks on foreign countries, which may well inspire Governmental or amateur cyberspace retaliation against the UK.
After all "a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush", and communications traffic analysis of such extremist websites must surely be far more valuable than any minor propaganda value in "disruption", only for new mirror sites to spring up elsewhere ?
Whose political or bureaucratic empire building agenda is served by this "leak" of a letter from someone with the very highest security clearance in the UK ?