The Daily Telegraph reports that former the MI6 employee Daniel Houghton, who is being tried under the Theft Act and the Official Secrets Act, for ineptly trying to sell alleged MI6 and MI5 "intelligence gathering technique) secrets to undercover UK counter intelligence agents, used DVD / CD and USB flash memory technology to smuggle out and store the alleged top secret and secret documents:
Spycatchers trap MI6 man 'trying to sell secrets'
A former MI6 spy has been accused of trying to sell "top secret" intelligence files to a foreign government for £2m.
By Duncan Gardham, Security Correspondent
Published: 5:12PM GMT 03 Mar 2010
Daniel Houghton, 25, was caught in a sting operation after allegedly approaching a foreign intelligence agency offering to sell them information he had collected while working for the Secret Intelligence Service, known as MI6.
The files, which belonged to the domestic security service MI5, allegedly related to the capabilities of the security and intelligence services and the techniques they have developed to gather intelligence, sources said, and were labeled "top secret" and "secret."
Houghton, who worked for MI6 between September 2007 and May 2009, allegedly telephoned the foreign intelligence service three months after leaving MI6 to try and arrange a deal.
He telephoned a "foreign intelligence service" and expected not to alert the UK counter-intelligence units ??
But undercover MI5 officers, known as "spy catchers", met him in February to view the material on his laptop and allegedly negotiated a price of £900,000, while recording the meeting with hidden listening devices.
If the alleged "top secret" documents really deserved that level of classification, then some people and organisations would be willing to pay much more than that.
Houghton allegedly told them he had downloaded the information onto a number of CDs and DVD disks which he then copied onto a secure digital memory card of the type used in cameras.
He also allegedly told the undercover MI5 officers that he had copied material onto a second memory card which he had hidden at his mother's home in Devon.
They arranged to meet him again at a central London hotel where he allegedly showed them the material on a laptop and then handed over two memory cards and a computer hard drive.
Sources said he was allowed to leave the hotel room with £900,000 in a suitcase before he was arrested as he waited for a hotel lift by plain clothes officers from the Metropolitan Police Counter Terrorism Command.
It is understood Houghton told them: "You've got the wrong man."
Police have conducted a series of raids since the arrest on Monday at Houghton's shared flat in Hoxton, east London and at his mother's home, a farm house in Holne, near Newton Abbot in Devon.
They are understood to be looking for any copies of the material he may have downloaded and any other material he may have stolen.
Sources said they had found additional hard copies of material marked "top secret," "secret" and "restricted."
According to The Press Association etc
The two detailed charges he is facing are: Between September 1, 2007 and May 31, 2009 within the jurisdiction of the Central Criminal Court he stole property, namely a number of electronic files containing techniques for intelligence collection, belonging to the British Security Service. Contrary to section 1(1) Theft Act 1968.
The other charge is that on March 1, 2010 within the jurisdiction of the Central Criminal Court, being a person who has been a member of the security and intelligence services, without lawful authority he disclosed articles relating to security or intelligence, namely a number of electronic files containing techniques for intelligence collection, which were in his possession by virtue of his position as a former member of the British Secret Intelligence Service. Contrary to section 1(1) Official Secrets Act 1989.
- Does this imply that the authorities have no proof as to exactly when Houghton is alleged to have stolen the secret and top secret documents and have just bracketed his entire period of employment with MI6 ?
This case shows that trusted employees, even of MI6 the Secret Intelligence Service, can use easily concealed USB flash memory devices to smuggle out secret documents from supposedly heavily guarded buildings or computer networks.
This should be of interest to other, more honourable and less corrupt whistleblowers - see our 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.
However, this case also shows a lack of professionalism by the wannbe corrupt spy, who seems to have revealed rather too much personal information about himself and his family to his supposed "foreign intelligence agency" customers. Meeting them in person a hotel room in London (rather than in a foreign country), not making use of Dead Letter Drops or encryption and expecting to simply walk away with £900,000 in cash in suitcase (without being robbed or murdered) after handing over the secrets , seems rather arrogant, naive, and obviously illegal.
- Did Houghton work on a joint MI6 Secret Intelligence Service and MI5 Security Service operation ?
- if not how did he have access to MI5 secrets when working for MI6 ?
- Why did he leave the employment of MI6 last year ?
At the age of 25, he must have started stealing secrets only a year after leaving the University of Birmingham. Given the six months or more it can take for recruitment and Developed Vetting (DV) security vetting clearance, he must have started stealing secret stuff almost immediately that he had access to it.
According to the Daily Mail: Ex-MI6 agent appears in court charged with trying to sell top secret files 'for £2million'
Born in Holland, Houghton has dual British-Dutch nationality and is fluent in English and Dutch. Educated at Dartmouth Community College in Devon where his family live in nearby Holne, Houghton studied graphic design at Exeter College.
At Birmingham University, he studied computer interactive systems, achieving top marks which brought him to the attention of the security services
- Did he hack in to their supposedly secure computer systems from the inside ?
We doubt that Daniel Houghton was employed as an "agent" or as a "spy" i.e. a Covert Human Intelligence Source (usually foreign but also within the UK) as the mainstream media headlines claim.
- Was he employed as an Intelligence Officer or was he employed to work on their Information Technology systems ?
- Which "foreign intelligence agency" did he think that he was betraying and selling the secrets to ? There really is no good reason for keeping that a secret from the British public.
- Was he working alone, or did he have accomplices ?
Why the Theft Act 1968 but not the Terrorism Act 2000 section 58 Collection of information ?
- The Official Secrets Act 1989 section 1 (1) carries a penalty(defined in section 10 Penalties of "only" up to 2 years in prison and / or a fine (per offence), is obviously applicable to a former member of MI6.
- Unless Houghton was stupid enough to steal and to hand over the original CDs, DVDs or the computer hard disk, which physically belonged to his former employer MI6, then how does the Theft Act 1968 apply ?
There would be no need for all the civil Copyright legal cases, if somehow, a mere digital copy of information or data could be misinterpreted as Theft as defined by the Theft Act 1968 section 1
(1)A person is guilty of theft if he dishonestly appropriates property belonging to another with the intention of permanently depriving the other of it;
This cannot apply to digital copies of the information or documents - it can only apply to the originals or master copies on physical media or hardware.
The theoretical maximum of up to 7 years in prison is for major thefts of property or money.
- Why is Daniel Houghton not also facing a Terrorism Act 2000 section 58 Collection of information charge, which attracts a penalty of up to 10 years in prison ?
Surely "top secret" MI5 "intelligence gathering techniques" is obviously "information of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism" ?
This is a catch all offence which does not require proof of any actual terroristic intent, only knowledge of the fact of its potential usefulness to terrorists.
These documents, if accurately reported above, would be much more useful to terrorists, than the stuff which several people are in currently in prison for, which they downloaded from the internet.
Anonymous briefing before Court Reporting Restrictions apply
It is also worth questioning why the authorities seem to have anonymously briefed Duncan Gardham, the Security Correspondent of the Daily Telegraph in so much detail ?
This report (and our blog analysis of it) comes before any media reporting restrictions have been ordered, as Daniel Houghton is not yet facing trial by jury.
This seems to be a feature of recent national security trials - the accused is found guilty in the mainstream media, well before he faces an Judge and Jury, on the basis of anonymous leaks from nameless Whitehall bureaucrats, given to selected, favoured mainstream media journalists.
N.B. if the UK Government or legal system authorities want bloggers not to comment on a trial in progress, then they will have to inform us directly via email or through a comment posting, or through a prominent online public announcement that there are actually reporting restrictions in place and the details of exactly what they cover. We are reasonably intelligent, but not psychic.
Those of you taking an interest in this, or similar cases, should download and save your own copies of any relevant newspaper or blog articles to your own (secure and encrypted ?) computer systems, since the online versions could easily be be censored through secret injunctions or takedown notices, or just the threat of expensive legal action.