The Guardian has a good summary of a limited investigation conducted by the Chief Constable of Thames Valley Police, Sara Thornton QPM, into the public relations disaster which was the West Midlands Police Project Champion.
This was a Labour government approved and funded plan to literally create CCTV Camera and Automatic Number Plate Recognition enforced apartheid ghettos in two districts of Birmingham.
Such mass surveillance schemes attack or destroy the fundamental human rights to freedom of travel and freedom of association, of millions of innocent people. Such schemes are a victory for our enemies, who aim to destroy our free society and help to create domestic extremists or terrorists.
The full text of the actual Review: Project Champion Review (.pdf)
N.B. this was not a full inquiry, with powers to punish the guilty or incompetent bureaucrats, however the Report is reasonably hard hitting in its conclusions.
This Review benefited from the expertise of one of our favourite Cross-Bench Peers, the Intelligence and Security Committee.
The blame for this scandal should not be heaped entirely on the West Midlands Police.
- Who will cross examine the roles played by the West Midlands Police Authority and Birmingham Council ?
- Since the £3 million was approved from central government public anti-terrorism funds, who will identify and cross examine the bureaucrats and politicians responsible for this evil Orwellian mass surveillance scheme ?
- Who will investigate the Home Office (especially the Office for security and Counter-Terrorism) , ACPO (TAM), the Security Service MI5 and the "Prevent" strand of the CONTEST counter-terrorism strategy ?
This is a long term and vital element of CONTEST, focusing on building relationships with all members of the community and enhancing links with key organisations.
Our 'Prevent' work will provide not only reassurance to vulnerable groups but also potentially impact upon the underlying causes of terrorism and diminish support for terrorists.
If the appalling NuLabour cheerleader Hazel Blears is allowed to serve on the Intelligence and Security Committee. then they cannot be trusted to investigate this scandal properly. Hazel Blears was the Secretary of State at the Department for Communities and Local Government when this Project Champion was proposed implemented. She was politically responsible for at least part of the PREVENT strand of CONTEST - so there would be an obvious conflict of interest whenever.the ISC looks into this policy area.
She cannot be trusted to keep classified documents secret, so her presence on the ISC will mean that they will not be given full access to documents and witnesses - see the previous Spy Blog article: Proposed Intelligence and Security Committee appointments - do *not* let Hazel Blears anywhere near the ISC !
We would also like to know
- Are there other secret mass surveillance projects using overt and covert CCTV and ANPR technology in other British cities ?
- Are there there Mobile Phone based "security cordons" using the same sort of combination of Cellular transmitter ID and / or antenna triangulation and web based geographical mapping and tracking used for Electronic Tags worn by criminals or by people subjected to Control Orders , to snoop on the locations and movements and meeting patterns of thousands or millions of innocent people in the Alum Rock and Washwood Heath areas of Birmingham or in London or Manchester or Leeds / Bradford etc. ?
- Are there any other non-Mobile Phone call technologies e.g. BlueTooth and / or WiFi or contactless Passport or Oyster travel card etc. unlicensed Industrial Scientific Medical band radio snooping and surveillance schemes in these areas, which have supposedly been installed for anti-terrorism purposes, but which have mutated , through lack of transparent public scrutiny, into secret mass surveillance schemes, which are open to abuse by authorised insiders or by external agencies ?
- Have any of these technologies been used to target and stigmatise or harass members of ethnic or religious minorities or otherwise peaceful political opponents of the Labour government, as has already happened with the national ANPR database and the Police National Computer ?
- Will the Conservative / Liberal Democrat coalition government actually investigate what the creepy Labour control freaks specifically authorised, or turned a blind eye to, in terms of such mass surveillance schemes and will they undo the damage which has been done to our freedoms and liberties ?
If you know about any other such current or future mass surveillance schemes, please contact us pseudo-anonymously via the blog comments or email, PGP encrypted if possible, taking the usual precautions - see our http://ht4w.co.uk - Hints and Tips for Whistleblowers - Technical Hints and Tips for protecting the anonymity of sources for Whistleblowers, Investigative Journalists, Campaign Activists and Political Bloggers etc.
Police covered up counter-terrorism unit's £3m camera operation which spied on Muslims in Birmingham
* Paul Lewis
* guardian.co.uk, Thursday 30 September 2010 21.54 BST
A secret police operation to place thousands of Muslims living in Birmingham under permanent surveillance was implemented with virtually no consultation, oversight or regard for the law, a report found today.
Project Champion was abandoned in June after an investigation by the Guardian revealed police had misled residents into believing that hundreds of counter-terrorism cameras installed in streets around Sparkbrook and Washwood Heath were to be used to combat vehicle crime and antisocial behaviour.
In fact, the £3m project was being run from the West Midlands police counter-terrorism unit with the consent of security officials at the Home Office and MI5.
The network of CCTV and automatic number plate reading (ANPR) cameras, which were weeks away from being switched on, were intended to monitor people entering and leaving the predominantly Muslim suburbs.
According to the Review:
• ANPR Cameras. 106 traffic lanes covered by multiple ANPR cameras
(some with overview CCTV to record vehicle details) all feeding into the open system.
• CCTV Cameras. 38 CCTV cameras feedings into the CTU only.
• Covert Cameras. 47 ANPR cameras (some with overview CCTV to record vehicle details) and two CCTV cameras with a wide street view.
These mass surveillance cameras would have been snooping on non-Muslims as well.
The overwhelming majority of Muslims and non-Muslims who would have been snooped on by these cameras would have had nothing to do with terrorism or any other less serious crimes..
Revealing the findings of her damning report into the project, Sara Thornton, chief constable of Thames Valley police, revealed how:
• Police devised a "storyline" that concealed the true purpose of the cameras. Counter-terrorism insignia was removed from paperwork as part of a deliberate strategy to "market" the surveillance operation as a local policing scheme to improve community safety.
• Top police officers failed to ask questions about the operation's "proportionality, legitimacy, authority, necessity, and the ethical values inherent in the proposed course of action". The report documented 11 instances when "oversight" mechanisms offered limited or no scrutiny.
• Police assurances that security cameras would be used for local policing were highly misleading. Although ANPR data was to be shared on regional and national databases, the network was controlled by the counter-terrorism unit. There was "no local facility to view the cameras" and "nobody in place to monitor them".
• Attempts by police to conceal the true purpose of the project caused "significant damage to community relations" in the West Midlands. One community leader was quoted as saying the project had "set relations back a decade".
• Officers failed to comply with national CCTV regulations or conduct proper consultation. They did not obtain statutory clearance for the use of covert cameras and, Thornton said, there was "very little evidence" that police had even considered their legal obligations.
Sir Christopher Rose, the chief surveillance commissioner, confirmed in a statement that 29 covert cameras had been removed. Police had planned a total of 218 cameras in the area, 72 of which would be covert.
The Review hints at an utter disregard for the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 requirements for authorisations for covert surveillance:
Pages 37 - 38
Part of the project created a closed system, for use in proactive police operations only, and the Review Team therefore took the view that its use should have been governed by the procedures set down by the Regulation of Investigatory Procedures Act 2000 (RIPA). Some of the cameras may have been able to operate outside of the RIPA authorisation process insofar as they did not gather personal information.
There was, however, nothing available to the Review Team that demonstrated that the authorisation process for the use could of the cameras had been considered, and there was no policy, plan, or procedures in place for their management in compliance with RIPA or other applicable legislation, codes, or guidance37.
It is theoretically possible that the appropriate authorising body under RIPA could have considered that the system being created by Project Champion held too much collateral information and its use could have been rejected for that or any other objective reason (e.g. ts proportionality)
As with other CCTV / ANPR mass surveillance schemes, it is worth noting, yet again, that the West Midlands Police did not actually consider CCTV to be of such vital utility to helping them prevent crime, that they were willing to allocate any substantial sums of money from their own Policing budget to pay for this scheme. They let the Home Office pay for the Counter Terrorism Unit focussed scheme and would have let Birmingham Council fund any "general policing" CCTV scheme.
Sara Thornton says she tested three hypotheses:
In reviewing events I have tested several hypotheses which might explain what happened. Was the threat so severe and was the activity in the West Midlands so intense that the normal considerations of policing were ignored?
Or was the consultation with the community and the marketing of crime reduction benefits just a cynical ploy to cover up counter terrorist activity?
Or was there a more mundane explanation - that the project was poorly conceived and managed and while there was an intention to use the technology to reduce crime nobody ever ensured that this happened?
Unsurprisingly, Chief Constable Sara Thornton, who is a member of the the secretive ACPO Terrorism and Allied Matters committee which was involved in the approval of the £3 million of public money wasted on this scheme, favours the last of these three: the well intentioned but poorly planned and managed cockup hypothesis.
However, the Review hints at evidence which more strongly suggests the second "cynical ploy to cover up counter terrorist activity" hypothesis e.g.
Pages 16 - 17:
On 3 February 2009 ACC Stuart Hyde and ACC Patani met with local police commanders to discuss Project Champion.
The minute of this meeting recorded that:
"ACCs Patani and Hyde stated that they wanted a storyline on which to hang the project"
"A discussion was then had around how to use the data to specifically support the need for cameras in Alum Rock along the Stratford Road Corridor"
An Action in these minutes recorded that:
"WM CTU badge NOT to be included on any Project Champion documentation"
As such the involvement of the CTU took a back seat and the Project moved forwards as a Safer Birmingham Partnership crime reduction / community safety initiative. CTU insignia were replaced by the Safer Birmingham Partnership (SBP) logos and an 'open document' was produced as a brief on Project Champion - titled "Project Champion
This can only be read as a pre-meditated attempt at deception to help gull the "Safer Birmingham partnership, Birmingham Council, the West Midlands Police Authority and the general public about this scheme.
Pages 21 - 22
Olive Group Project Initiation Document (latest version 1.4) from Project
"The clients requirements for output from the system at a high level is:
CCTV coverage to aid surveillance
ANPR movement information
Imaging of vehicles both still and moving
Deliver ANPR data to the WMP Police BOFII system
Deliver ANPR data and CCTV imaging to the CTU TVM environment"
"It is understood that the CCTV images captured by the Champion CCTV system are not going to be accessible to partners such as Birmingham City Council as such access could result in an operation becoming compromised."
Olive Group's remit was to connect the CCTV into the CTU only. Any further dissemination of the images was a matter for West Midlands Police to resolve. Although there were signs that senior managers intended for this to occur, it never happened.
What was being built remained an entirely Counter Terrorism Unit scheme to which the local Police would have had little or no access at all, for general policy activities especially during any actual Counter Terrorism operations i.e. virtually all the time.
There appears to have been a media spin strategy, in response to a local blog:
A story appeared on the 'About Brum' weblog with concerns about the
rollout of ANPR and CCTV in Birmingham.
The Project Champion team realised that these concerns were not about their system but that the issue of public disclosure "will have to be fronted and a strategy put in place to cover as we are not going to install 150 plus cameras without questions being asked, may need a secure person in the press office being briefed."
Who was that "secure person at the press office" ?
Investigative journalist and freedom of information expert Heather Brooke is rightly scathing of the West Midlands Police Press Office over this Operation Champion public relations disaster - even now, when they are supposedly apologising to the public, they tried to ignore or snub Paul Lewis, the Guardian journalist whose original story brought this Project Champion disaster to national media attention
West Midlands Police had failed to tell him about the press conference and then refused to respond to any of his enquiries once another reporter told him about the event. He ended up tweeting:At 1.07pm: 'West Midlands police press office ignoring my queries about inquiry into Project Champion Muslim spy plan.'
Then at 2.21pm when there was still no response he named the head of the press office directly: 'could @mattmarkham1 or his colleagues in west midlands police office answer questions about this story? http://bit.ly/bRy5zb'
'I phoned seven times and they still never responded,' Paul said.
Matt Markham is Chief Inspector at West Midlands Police and the Head of Press and PR.
The common excuse given by public bodies for excessive spending on press offices is to say it's needed to help the media. As I document in The Silent State, nothing could be further from the truth. PR exists for control purposes, to hinder, rather than to inform, and this is a fine example.
Public officials also often complain about the irresponsibility of the press. Yet here we see a responsible reporter who writes stories based on facts and in the public interest being frozen out of a press conference precisely because of the strength of his journalism, by a police force already accused of misleading the public with false information.
It is entirely too common for public officials like Matt Markham to believe they don't have to account for themselves and their organisation to the public. Mr Markham's refusal to answer Paul's questions isn't just an insult to a good reporter, it's an insult to all the people who pay Mr Markham's wage and in whose name he is supposedly working. By keeping silent and refusing to answer important questions that people have a right to know he has shown the absolute contempt with which West Midlands Police views its citizens.
Sadly, this is not unusual. Too many public servants refuse to account to the public directly. And too often journalists collude in protecting this corrupt system of secrecy. Journalists need to blow the lid on this lack of accountability. If press officers want to insist they are the only conduit for official information but can't be bothered to respond to serious questions then they need to be named and shamed.