Daily Mail : MI6 'body-in-bag' spy learned to pick locks at Las Vegas escapology convention weeks before he died after being sent there to mix with criminals

Friday, May 04, 2012

MI6 'body-in-bag' spy learned to pick locks at Las Vegas escapology convention weeks before he died after being sent there to mix with criminals

By Chris Greenwood | May 4, 2012

Spy Gareth Williams may have studied lock-picking and escapology weeks before his naked corpse was found in a padlocked bag.

It has emerged that MI6 sent the 31-year-old to mingle with hackers, fraudsters and other criminals at the Def Con conference in Las Vegas.

It included classes on opening padlocks without keys, escaping from handcuffs, tampering with objects without leaving traces and confounding drug tests.

The event is a magnet for spies from agencies across the world.

Delegates are encouraged to ‘out’ government agents and undercover police officers, raising the possibility that the highly sensitive nature of Mr Williams’s job was exposed.

Earlier this week, the inquest into Mr Williams’s death was told he travelled to Las Vegas for the well-respected Black Hat hackers convention.

The event, which costs more than £1,000 to attend, features high-profile guest speakers and lavish hospitality funded by technology firms.

Less was made of the fact that Mr Williams stayed in the US to attend Def Con at the Riviera Hotel and Casino.

Its unusual conference pass – a working circuit board – was discovered in Mr Williams’s Alderney Street flat.

Two Scotland Yard detectives have already retraced Mr Williams’s steps in Las Vegas and during a week-long driving holiday that followed.

They linked an orange fancy-dress wig discovered at his flat to a shop there, where a member of staff remembered selling it to him.

However, they are unlikely to have discovered what he did during the secretive second conference, which he attended with a team of colleagues.

A British security expert told the Daily Mail he met GCHQ staff at Def Con, but said Mr Williams was not among them.

‘We met for a chat and coffee,’ he said. ‘They were just one of several intelligence agencies that I do business with. I did not see [Mr Williams] and I would remember his face.'

Mr Williams flew back to London on August 11, 2010, but never returned to MI6’s headquarters at Vauxhall Cross.

His family suspect that an agent of the ‘dark arts’ was involved in his murder, in the early hours of August 16.

Detectives have been instructed not to rule out the ‘legitimate line of inquiry’ that an MI6 colleague or foreign agent was responsible.

Delegates queue for hours to pay £60 admission for Def Con, which was founded as an alternative to the main Black Hat conference. Few provide their real names.

In 2010, one of Def Con’s main stands included a huge range of padlocks that attendees were invited to pick.

Elsewhere, three escapology experts gave an hour-long presentation demonstrating how to release handcuffs using slim pieces of metal and skeleton keys.

Delegates could also win a prize by working around supposedly tamper-proof stickers, metal clasps and plastic ties with a range of tools and chemicals without leaving a trace.

Most seminars and talks focused on computer hacking, including password cracking, eavesdropping on phone conversations and seizing control of wi-fi networks.

In one demonstration, a well-known hacker showed that he could make a cash machine spew out notes.

Chester Wisniewski, of computer security firm Sophos, said Def Con has a ‘free-wheeling spirit’ and an ‘anything goes environment’.

He added: ‘There are probably criminals there – anyone from a Russian mafia guy, a child pornographer to God knows who else.

‘It’s a well-known fact that lots of spies and Government agents go.

There is even a game called “spot the Fed”.

If you call them out and they admit to being from an agency the person gets a T-shirt.’

Mr Williams attended the same conference two years earlier, according to one of his colleagues at GCHQ who gave evidence at the inquest.

It was also revealed that Mr Williams ran up a substantial credit card bill at the two 2010 conferences, sending his account into the red.