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Monday, 2 September 2013

Don’t Menshn The Evidence

The obsession of former Tory MP Louise Mensch with the detention of David Miranda at Heathrow Airport while en route from Berlin back home to Rio de Janeiro continues unabated. So do the logic leaps. And so does her ability to take poorly researched and highly speculative reporting as fact. As a result, she believes she knows the facts, when she knows very little indeed.
Has she got news for us? No chance

Ms Mensch has taken as fact the idea that Miranda was carrying the password for an encrypted external hard drive that the security services are trying to analyse. That the spooks have briefed that there are “58,000 classified documents” on the drive has also been swallowed without question. Along the way, she has formed the belief that one of 75 files already inspected is an index for the 58,000.
"His password was to the index file"

So on this basis, she wants all those involved to be immediately slung in the nearest slammer and have the largest available book projected in their general direction. But the evidence given by Police and Civil Service is not as conclusive as Ms Mensch and her fellow cheerleaders would like to think, and the numbers pitched to journalists do not stack up.

We are told that the external drive contained 60Gb of information, and that 20Gb of this had thus far been accessed. The latter appeared to contain 75 files, although the Police testimony called these “reconstructed”, which is not how you access encrypted files. “Reconstructed” fits more with recovering previously deleted files, as one might have done in days gone by with Ye Olde Norton Utilities.
"To one of the files which is clearly the index"

The disk was encrypted using TrueCrypt. There is apparently 40Gb not accessed. There could indeed be 40Gb of information there, but the spooks have had two weeks and they still haven’t got in. Moreover, there could be, say, only 1Gb of information, or, worse, there might appear to be only 1Gb, but no sign of whether there is another volume of up to 39Gb as well.

Moreover, TrueCrypt provides plausible deniability, so that, on being forced to reveal the password for the encrypted drive, what is then revealed by using that password may not be the totality of what is actually present. Naomi Colvin’s analysis has questioned whether the “58,000 classified documents” figure is fact, or merely a GCHQ estimate based on their knowledge of Edward Snowden.
"They identified our agents' names and addresses"

Her analysis has concluded “where does that leave the ‘58,000 documents’ figure? Nowhere good. It looks like nothing more than a worst-case scenario GCHQ based on guesswork”. The security services have to give the courts sufficient reason to let them keep trying to crack that external drive, but without being dishonest. That does not seem to have occurred to hacks, and certainly not to Ms Mensch.

So some are urging caution. But one inhabitant of New York City isn’t listening.

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