Notes From The Borderland : GARETH WILLIAMS: MURDERED TWICE? (part 1, excerpt)

Tuesday, June 26, 2012


[Editor's Note: Here is the beginning of a long and very interesting article by Larry O'Hara, from the magazine Notes From The Borderland. Some of the research discussed in the article is supported by video clips available here. A timeline published along with this excerpt is also available here. If you wish to read the rest of the article, contact NFB and buy a copy of the magazine -- or subscribe!]

Larry O'Hara | June 26, 2012

On 23/8/10 the naked body of Gareth Williams, a 31 year-old Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) worker, seconded from Cheltenham to MI6 was found, inside a holdall placed in a bath at his home. The door of flat 4 36 Alderney Street Pimlico was locked from the outside, and despite three post-mortems and police appeals for help, exactly how and why he died remains unclear. On current evidence, and in the view of the coroner, it was almost certainly murder--and Williams’ reputation has certainly taken a hit, with an abundance of lurid and fantastical stories about his life and death still swirling in the media ether. Hence the title: murdered in reality and memory. NFB has taken a keen interest from the start.

At time of writing the inquest has just concluded, coroner Dr Fiona Wilcox declaring that “on the balance of probability Gareth was unlawfully killed“. The inquest itself was startling, not least because new facts came out that even DCI Sebire, in charge of the investigation, had not known earlier. Six aspects are covered in this first article, which chronologically focusses on what happened before the inquest.

(1) Who was Gareth Williams? How important was his work for GCHQ & MI6?

(2) What are the broadly accepted facts of both denouement and resultant investigation? A time-line is useful: as is discernment. In that regard some contested but relevant snippets are included.

(3) Scanning the extensive news coverage, in light of NFB’s basic paradigm of the media as a battleground on which vicious inter-agency turf wars take place. The principal conflict here is the Metropolitan Police (Homicide Squad) versus MI6. I sketch out the phases (to date) in this 'disinformation war'.

(4) Supplementing the previous point, an exploration, via output analysis, of the journalistic spook outriders reporting events, providing dates & references. With the exception of Times/Sunday Times/News of the World journalists whose oeuvre is only available in hard copy or by 'pay to view', most articles specified can be obtained on two excellent sites. The first is devoted specifically to the Gareth Williams case: The second has most relevant items (if you search) plus other articles by featured journalists placing their work in context-- As it happens, the sheer profusion of journalistic output has precipitated me to refine and further codify the various types of SPIJ (State-compromised Pseudo-Investigative Journalism). That research will be placed on the NFB web-site in due course.

(5) Having (hopefully) put 'official conspiracy theorists' to the sword, I look at unofficial conspiracy theorists, just as pernicious in spreading disinformation, and at times equally ludicrous.

(6) Some journalists have acquitted themselves honourably, and other commentators raised useful points: all are analysed and given due credit.

Part Two, in NFB11, will cover:

(6) The inquest. In particular we will look at what contradicts and illuminates the earlier narrative. Not just media stories, but inter-agency friction, especially the role of SO15 (anti-terrorist squad) as a lightning rod protecting MI6.

(7) Reasoned conjecture as to the possible involvement of domestic and overseas secret state agencies.

(8) A reprise/summary of suspicious aspects to this case: disinformation peddled, facts/lines of inquiry glossed over, agendas pursued. Sifting should highlight the questions to be answered, and who exactly needs to answer them. This will hopefully help his family and other interested parties achieve ‘closure’.


Detailed biographical speculation need not concern us , but a few points. Welsh in origin, hailing from the lovely island of Anglesey, Gareth was somewhat solitary, his main hobby cycling to a high level of proficiency. A mathematical genius who obtained a PhD at a young age, but 'kept himself to himself'. Regarding this consensus view, two comments.

First, his family would not realistically know all details of his intimate personal life--especially as he had lived away from home for many years.

Second, the image of Gareth as a 'loner' has been propagated by MI6, the very body that prevented homicide police talking directly to actual friends (within SIS/GCHQ) who might have a different story to tell.

Fragments of his career, most uncontested, have emerged, and given the lack of dispute (one source aside, it seems reasonable to put them together chronologically, pending further illumination. Recruited at Manchester University in 2000 he joined GCHQ Cheltenham (the British state's listening/surveillance centre) in 2001. Rather less glamorous than MI6 or MI5, GCHQ is nonetheless indispensable to the UK's intelligence apparatus. Integrally linked with, and subordinate to, the USA's National Security Agency (NSA) , this nexus has done GCHQ no harm since 9/11, as perceived CIA failures at that time led the Bush White House to favour the NSA over the CIA. Williams first assignment of note was a trip to Bulgaria, on behalf of MI5. In 2003 he supposedly spent 6 months at the Menwith Hill listening centre, Yorkshire . In 2006 he worked at Fort Meade Texas, home base of the US 'National Security Agency' (NSA), their GCHQ equivalent, and reportedly visited frequently, up to four times a year, in three to four week stints . It has been suggested that Williams first rose to internal prominence helping monitor/foil the August 2006 'Liquid Bomb Plot'.

He seems to have been an outstanding code-breaker, helping to monitor Taliban communications in Afghanistan (two trips to Kabul claimed) and 'serious crime' suspects at home . A clue to his Afghan role can be gleaned from a 2008 story about the Taliban using Skype calls (rather than land-lines/traditional mobiles) to evade MI6 detection. Apparently, the "British and American governments are investing considerable resources to crack the codes" --Williams was most likely one. Al Qaeda and their allies were not just tackled overseas--he played some part in a recent operation whereby three aeroplanes fitted with listening devices swept over a city the size of Bradford to hoover up all mobile phone conversations for analysis . The Bradford reference is no accident, given its ethnic composition. It has also been claimed that Williams' took part in a "secret eavesdropping mission in Afghanistan...just weeks before his mystery death", using his skill at voice analysis to identity Pakistani-born Briton Abdul Jabbar & Ahmed Sidiqi, both involved in (alleged) recent plots to carry out mass atrocities in Europe . Whether he flew to Afghanistan from the US or UK is not stated. That might be because he visited as part of a ten-strong joint GCHQ/NSA team, according to one report.

There is no doubting the high priority work Williams probably undertook--cyber-terrorism & 'terrorism' per se are among the British state's declared highest (Tier 1) security priorities . Since his death, the importance of such work has been reiterated time and again. While such matters are usually reported in the media as the UK/West generally 'defending' itself against external cyber-threats, the reality is more complex, and the top-secret US Presidential Directive 16 of July 2002 explicitly authorises pre-emptive cyber-war against foreign enemies, something Williams would be aware of, perhaps involved in . There is an undoubted overlap between cyber-crime & more traditional illegal enterprises, and defence against Turkish Chinese & Russian organised crime was reportedly something Williams was involved in.. Of these, the Russian is the one most talked about in UK security circles. Although Williams was fast approaching the end of his MI6 secondment, on return to GCHQ he was to head up (or at least play a part in) the new 'Cyber-Security Operations Centre', continuing his work shoring up the City of London cyber-defences . It has been strongly suggested by a ‘security source’ (MI6) that Williams was “working on secret technology to target Russian criminal gangs who launder stolen money through Britain”

How vital an asset Williams was is difficult to assess without knowing how many others were involved--but he certainly had the signs of a technical high flier. Was he, however, operational in the sense of meeting/running field agents, or undertaking missions involving the assumption of fake identities & so forth, moving into James Bond territory? No hint of such has been disclosed by official sources, even though possessing at least four mobile phones is suggestive. Though certainly not conclusive: in drugs trials for instance only 10 phones or more are routinely interpreted as legally significant. An unofficial source, his friend Sian Lloyd-Jones, spoke of him having fake passports and learning new identities while visiting her London flat in January 2010 . Also, a ‘security source’ told two Guardian reporters Williams visited West London for work “monitoring foreign embassies”This contention aside, we can say Williams possessed arcane up-to-date knowledge, that would have been prized by many, whatever 'side' they might be on. There is no reason to dissent from Sir John Sawers, MI6 chief, describing Williams as "hugely talented...he did really valuable work with us in the cause of national security" .

Williams' death is luridly fascinating for the following reasons.

First, it is rare (excluding Northern Ireland) for a British spook (as opposed to asset/sub-contractor) to be killed on home soil--hence the shock.

Second, the multiple state agencies involved: MI6, GCHQ, Met Police & of course, MI5 and overseas services with an interest (the CIA/NSA for starters) make this a complex case.

Third, the mendacity of some 'journo-cops' covering this story is a salutary reminder of the parlous state of 'investigative journalism'. Additionally, the episode affords a chance to elaborate, and codify, NFB’s concept of 'SPIJ' (State Compromised Pseudo-Investigative Journalism), by analysing the different types of journalist-spook relationship.

Finally, the enigma of how he died: a riddle worthy of Sherlock Holmes (or Houdini) inevitably fascinates, not least because of the claustrophobic horror it evokes. Inasmuch as the flat was locked from outside, and stories he climbed into the bag freely outlandish, a true conundrum. The official police position pre-inquest, of a "suspicious and unexplained death" was oxymoronic and ludicrous.