Secret Scotland

If it's secret, and in Scotland…

The secret cow stampede of Eilean Mor and the World War II spies

The tiny island of Eilean Mor (Mòr) in the Scottish Hebrides gets a mention in the book by Ben Macintyre, Double Cross: The True Story of the D-Day Spies (Crown, 2012).

You can see the page here, and this is the relevant section:

When six cows stampeded on the tiny island of Eilean Mor in the Scottish Hebrides, this was immediately ascribed to secret enemy activity. That the spies were invisible was merely proof of how fiendishly clever they were at disguising themselves. Even pigeons were suspect, since it was widely believed that enemy agents had secret caches of homing pigeons around the country that they used to send messages back to Germany.

Cow spy

Innocent cow, or spy giveaway?

While this may be easily dismissed as mere paranoia, it would be unfair to do so without reflecting on what was happening at the time, and had gone before.

It seems that in World War I, more than 100,000 carrier pigeons carried important messages, saving many lives.

And in World War II, British Intelligence used more than 250,00 pigeons, and Macintyre claims that Flight Lieutenant Richard Melville Walker (who worked for MI5), was convinced “that Nazi pigeons were … pouring into Britain, by parachute, high-speed motor launch, and by U-boat.” Such was the anti-avian frenzy of the time that “Some experts claimed to be able to identify a pigeon with a German ‘accent.’”

And there were other used that they served, saving the lives of aircrews when their normal means of communication (radios) were rendered useless. See the story of Winkie, the pigeon that saved the lives of a downed bomber crew, and won the firs Dicken medal.

February 19, 2013 Posted by | military, World War I, World War II | , , , , | Leave a comment

Loch Long Torpedo Range lost to development

Loch Long torpedo ruin

Loch Long torpedo station ruin

The historic Loch Long Torpedo Range, which operated on the loch from 1912 to 1986, and has been subject to the various attentions of vandals, arson attacks, and even a failed demolition, has finally had its fate sealed with the news that The Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park Authority is doing its usual upstanding job of retaining the original nature of the park area, and has approved the development of a large resort on the site.

I remain singularly unimpressed by much of what this supposedly protective authority has done since it arrived, and have seen the area change more, and become more modern and commercial, with more rules and regulations than seem necessary.

But that’s just my impression – I’m probably wrong.

In January 2013, the media carried a short news item which reported that the site of the torpedo testing station near Arrochar was to be transformed into a £70 million five-star resort, following approval by the Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park Authority of the Ben Arthur Resort developer’s plans.

210 construction jobs were promised, together with 300 jobs in the 130-bed hotel to be built there.

The plans also include a 250-berth marina on the loch, and a restaurant to be created by Sir Terence Conran.

The once quiet corner of the loch may not be so quiet if the resort is a success, as it has its own helipad (I’m a fan of helicopters, as long as they’re in the right place – I recall the disturbance they used to cause on Rothesay’s pier some years ago, when a service was tried there for a while. This was the equivalent of landing in the middle of the town.)

There does not seem to be any apparent provision to provide any sort of memorial or reference to the torpedo range or its history in the plan, but I confess to not reading it in minute detail. Something like that should be easy to find… if it exists.

You can go straight to the 76-page brochure produced by the developer by following this link:

Brochure « Ben Arthur Resort

There are some interesting stories associated with the torpedo range, such as the execution in 1915 of a spy caught there during World War I, and his subsequent incarceration and execution in the Tower of London:

Secret Scotland – Loch Long Spy Executed

January 31, 2013 Posted by | Lost, military, Naval, World War I, World War II | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Teflon Phorm and BT escape prosecution for secretly spying on subscribers

SpyEven before I learnt how insidious and nasty Phorm was, I had an instant dislike of the company and those behind it.

I don’t like having my time and money wasted by advertising – and I am compelled to pay for advertising as the cost is built into the price of everything I buy.

Phorm seems to think it makes advertising ‘better’ by intercepting people’s web browsing, reading their web pages and inputs, and then serving ads on the pages they are looking at. The idea being it only shows people the ads they are interested in.

Those behind it could potentially make a fortune by selling precisely targeted advertising.

Apparently their twisted minds think this makes things better.

IT DOESN’T!

Not having animated adverts and other rubbish clogging most web pages and covering my screen would make things better – something that blocks every advert from my sight forever would make things better (and thank goodness there is such a thing, even if some advertisers have conspired to block all access to some web sites if they find us using it, so we can vote with our feet, and avoid any site that does such a thing).

Back in 2006 and 2007, Phorm and BT conspired to track the browsing of some 18,000 internet users, secretly and without informing them or seeking their permission.

The CPS recently ruled that there was insufficient evidence to prosecute BT and Phorm under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA), which makes it an offence to intercept internet traffic without either the user’s explicit consent or a judicial warrant.

How much evidence do they need?

The CPS also said that a prosecution against BT and Phorm “would not be in the public interest”. It said that any offending was “the result of an honest mistake or genuine misunderstanding of the law” and that there was no evidence that anyone “suffered any loss or harm” as a result of the trial.

Since when was ignorance of the law an excuse?

I must try that if I am ever stopped for speeding (Sorry officer, didn’t see the sign, but I didn’t kill anyone, so it is okay and there is no need to report me).

Not surprisingly, BT said it was pleased that the CPS had decided not to prosecute, while Phorm had not returned a request for comment at time news of the “Get out of jail free card” was announced.

(I have noticed a few articles published recently which have criticised the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) for not acting, but these are wrong, as this sort of offence simply does not fall under the commissioner’s remit, and unfortunately only demonstrates ignorance on the author’s part.)

The last I heard was that Phorm was off to try to sell itself in countries like Brazil and China – which tells us about their morals.

The potential revenue must be huge if Phorm can impose itself on users, it seems to be a huge money-pit for investors looking at its published accounts: no recorded turnover and a pre-tax loss of $29.35 million (£17.95 million) in 2009 (last full year where this info is available). At it’s best, back in 2006, the American-based company recorded pre-tax losses of $11.54 million, on revenues of $1.27 million.

There is a much more detailed explanation of Phorm, their insidious activities of covert spying, and the weasel worded logic that appears to have aided their evasion of prosecution to be found in this article:

Phorm and the CPS’s playground justice | Richard Clayton | Comment is free | guardian.co.uk

This seems to omit an earlier revelation made a few years ago, when the matter first came to light, and that was a claim that Phorm was, shall we say ‘blessed’ with unofficial approval to carry on with developing their deep packet inspection techniques.

Why?

So that the authorities could have them do the work to develop the method, and then take the same technology and use it to spy on internet use under the umbrella of the need to carry out such monitoring as an anti-terror technique.

May 8, 2011 Posted by | Surveillance | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Another nail in Phorm’s UK coffin

SpyInsidious behavioural net advertising system Phorm felt another mail being driven into its UK coffin with the announcement that its UK manager director has jumped out of the boat.

When the media asked for a comment, the comment was No comment, and at the time of reporting, there was no indication that the former MD had gone to another job.

Interestingly, he is said to have become part of the operation back in December 2008, when then UK Chief Executive, Financial, and Operating Officers went, together with four other board members, at which point, the company also seems to have decided it would be a good idea to stop including a list of its executives’ names on its web site.

Since the UK ISPs (BT, Talk Talk, Virgin) have pulled the plug on their association with this sneaky organisation that carried out secret testing (with BT, and without customer’s consent or knowledge) of its intrusive behavioural ad-targetting system, seems that we may be seeing the ejection of this thing from our country, although it seems that foreign operators, such as those in countries like South Korea, see this as the sort of thing they want to have Phorm’s method of profiling a user’s every web visit via his/her ISP.

There seems to be some attempt to confuse the issue by comparing Phorm with Google, but the two are quite different, and Google certainly does not have direct access to user’s web history with the collusion of their ISP, as Phorm does. Google is nothing like Phorm, and uses information collected in the course of using its services, and does so cleverly, which has made them their fortune (and clearly made them their enemies too). Google tracking of user history can easily be thwarted by users if they really want to.

If someone tells you Google and Phorm are the same, or even similar, smell a rat, don’t believe them, or better still, have them explain how. They’ll either fail…  lie… or prove their ignorance. Or be part of the “Google is Evil” party, but you should be able to see that lot coming. Read the information – not the propaganda – and that even includes what you might read here, just in case I might be ever so slightly biased against Phorm, and get carried away (before them).

November 18, 2009 Posted by | Surveillance | , , | Leave a comment

Phorm financial report reads like a death certificate

SpyPhorm’s six month financial report is out, and if you happened to be an investor, despite apparently having been written by a team of comedians, there’s nothing to laugh at, and little comfort as the deluded writers dress up the loss of your investment in glowing terms that are clearly written by someone looking a glass of whisky that they as half-full, while everyone else can see that it is half-empty, and has a serious leak.

Some of the fun was quoted and printed by The Guardian:

  • Launch of Webwise Discover, the personalised content consumer and publisher proposition. Excellent response from consumers, publishers and ISPs.
  • Nearing completion of a substantial market trial, launched in May, with KT, the largest ISP in South Korea.
  • Discussions with ISPs in over 15 markets, including nine of the top ten globally. Significant progress in a number of major markets.
  • Phorm remains active in its domestic market, and remains confident in the opportunity.
  • Completion of restructuring, launched during 2008, with forecast monthly cash expenses now reduced to $1.8 million (£1.1 million) per month, in line with expectations.
  • As at 31 August 2009, cash of $30.1 million (£18.5 million), reflecting equity fundraising and substantial reduction in monthly cash expenses.

You could burst a blood vessel on the first point alone, as the reality is that BT, Talk Talk and Virgin have dumped Phorm, and as for consumers? The only active or interested ones I’ve ever seen have been setting up campaigns to resist the advance and implementation of Phorm technology. I’d say that anyone who saw that as an “Excellent response” needs glasses, or a rehab appointment.

As for the rest, after cleverly wording a run overseas to chase potential business in markets where consumers do as their masters bid them, the last line item cleverly repackages a cash injection that all but stopped the thing imploding as a positive round of equity fundraising, and an opportunity to reduce monthly expenses – and burn off a mere $1.8 million per month, as it makes… er… well… not a lot, since all it has done is burn money in the 18 months it has been around for to date. A year ago it had assets of $57.2 million, same time this year it had $35.5 million – and that was after raising a further $24.2 million. And those assets have already fallen to $30 million. Phorm burnt, or lost, $15 million in around six months.

Could you picture it on Dragons’ Den?

The language would be choice, and after Theo Paphitis asked why he should hand over his children’s inheritance, whatever he came up with along the line of preferring to “stick pins in his eyes rather than invest” would have to be a classic.

Coincidentally, and perhaps worryingly significant if you were an investor (if there’s any sense in using that term for a zero-return business), then a burn-rate of $15 million corresponds almost exactly to working through a £15 million pile of dollar bills, and burning one every second for six months!

September 21, 2009 Posted by | Surveillance | , | Leave a comment

Nasty Phorm begins to decompose

SpyI wish I could find another word to prefix Phorm with (I just used nasty for the title of this post, purely for the sake of change), but after looking up a medical dictionary, insidious Phorm is just too good to avoid.

What did the medical dictionary say? The American Heritage® Stedman’s Medical Dictionary said: “a disease that progresses with few or no symptoms to indicate its gravity“. What can I say? How about, “If the cap fits…

Phorm has stank (or is it stunk, or just both) since it first hit the news, if you’re an ordinary web user that is, and has no idea what is being done with the “oily bits” under the bonnet of your web browsing.

Breaking into your personally identifiable data by carrying out DPI (deep packet inspection) of the information sent to your ISP, with their cooperation, and probably not your permission since they intended to make it a sneaky opt-out service, rather than a legitimate opt-in, it would then use that info to deliver targeted advertising personalised to your browsing habits. Apparently we’re supposed to think this is great, and the twisted minds behind Phorm think that this makes our web experience better by preventing us from being bombarded with web ads we have no interest in.

HELLO!!! We’ve no interest in ANY web adverts, whatever they are for, as they eat into our bandwidth and slow down the loading of our web pages. We don’t want to see them, ever, and I’m pleased to say that since I started using Firefox I haven’t seen a web ad in there for years. Firing up IE or Opera is now something of a shock, as pages crawl onto my screen, and I’m assaulted by insulting and irritating animations aimed at drawing my eyes away from the page I want, and to some puerile advert for… I was almost going to name some there, but as they’re not paying me, they’re not getting the free ad either! One of the best add-ons is an automated Flash blocker, as those are amongst the worst ad offenders, with the controls to kill the animation disabled to force you to watch them, and sometimes able to bypass conventional adblockers.

After being caught carrying out secret tests with BT, where no users were not informed or given any choice about being spied on or participating in these tests, Phorm was dumped by BT and then Talk Talk, which was followed by the good news that its share prices were collapsing, and that Virgin Media was also reconsidering their interest.

This was then followed by some “dirty pool”. Anyone involved in respectable Sales & Marketing activities learns at an early stage not to rubbish the opposition, or throw mud at their critics – it will stick, but probably not to those it’s thrown at. Phorm tried this, and its Stopphoulplay.com website was launched back in April, and basically poured scorn on anyone that took and active dislike to Phorm by adopting smear tactics:

“Over the last year Phorm has been the subject of a smear campaign orchestrated by a small but dedicated band of online ‘privacy pirates’ who appear very determined to harm our company,” explains the site.”Their energetic blogging and letter-writing campaigns, targeted at journalists, MPs, EU officials and regulators, distort the truth and misrepresent Phorm’s technology. We have decided to expose the smears and set out the true story, so that you can judge the facts for yourself.”

And judge you may now, and draw your own conclusions, as the site has vanished – and now just redirects to Phorm’s FAQ page (last time I looked).

Never mind, you can still find plenty of other links at AntiPhorm.

Phorm is beginning to look a bit like a sinking ship, and you know what the little occupants do when that happens.

Directors appear top be following the Stopphoulplay.com web site, and vanishing. Its chief technology officer, Stratis Scleparis, who was with BT when Phorm carried out its first secret and naughty trial, then left BT and joined Phorm, has left.

Then its director of corporate communications, David Sawday, also left.

If I was involved with that ship, I’d be asking where the lifeboats and lifebelts were, and if they had been certified recently.

Founder and chief executive Kent Ertugrul is still reported to be there, with four non-executive directors keeping him company. Again, four non-execs and not a lot else… that’s not really a very good mix for a company that’s going anywhere (anywhere good that is). Its forthcoming results will make for interesting, and hopefully be depressing (for them, not us that is), with The Telegraph suggesting losses in the range of $15 million to $20 million compared to a pre-tax loss of $48 million last year. You can understand why some folk ask about the burn-rate of businesses – this is like throwing petrol on a burning fire.

There are good ways to do things, and bad ways to do things, and Phorm is surely an example of the latter. Its concept of “targeted online advertising” that would help ISPs out by routing some of the ad money back to them, was bad to start with, and just went downhill as time went on. It’s probably the sort of bad idea that has a good salesman behind, a visionary that deludes themselves into thinking they have the proverbial “best thing since sliced bread”, and the ability to talk others into following them, with their money – until it all eventually implodes.

Phorm has said that it will aim for other countries that are more interested in its products. Reading into the other media reports, this seems to mean countries where surveillance can be carried out without worrying about their opinion, as the state, or their government (dictatoship?) will make that decision for them, and they will like it.

September 21, 2009 Posted by | Surveillance | , | Leave a comment

Good news – and bad news about insidious Phorm

SpyIntrusive internet advertising company Phorm has released some good news and some bad news in recent weeks.

The company has provoked the wrath of provacy campaigners and prompted a European commission legal action against the British government over secret tests of its technology by BT in 2006 and 2007. Ministers had ruled that BT had not breached privacy laws.

The suspicious might be forgiven for suspecting the British government was giving Phorm the green light to develop technology that it would be slated for developing itself. No, surely not.

Phorm‘s prospects were dealt a welcome blow when online retailer Amazon decided to opt out.

The bad news was that Phorm has raised more than £100 million from greedy advertisers who think Phorm’s technology will transform the value of internet advertising, and that a further £15 million had just been raised. The company’s hopes of success also depend on getting consumers on board and persuading them that the service is a benefit rather than a threat. The company recently announced a new free consumer service called Discover, which provides web users with links based on their online browsing habits.

When will these people learn that NOBODY wants to see adverts, targeted or otherwise, as they delay the loading of web pages, and become ever more irritating as the degree of animation included increases, making it almost impossible to read some pages.

I reckon I could make millions if I developed a version of Phorm that killed all ads before they were ever seen. I’d make millions every year with only a £1 annual subscription.

The good news was that Phorm saw its pre-tax loss grow to some £30 million last year (compare with a 2007 pre-tax loss of $32.1 million), but there was more bad news when it said it has enough funds to continue operating. Phorm had cash reserves of £8 million as of May 31 this year, and announced a cutback in its US operation, meaning monthly cash expenses would reduce to $1.8 million (£1.1 million).

Wouldn’t it be terrible if some challenge to their interception and theft of our data as it passes over the internet and through conspiring ISPs was to delay their achievement of gaining commercial returns from their nasty service, and they ran out of money and evaporated?

One of the things I learned early on in business was that, unless the circumstances were very exceptional (and the things said were true), then one of the greatest mistakes was to rubbish the competition or opposition, or makes derogatory statements about them.

In a move that speaks for itself, web sites belonging to Phorm can now be found on the web doing just this to those who may be less than supportive. I’m not listing or publicising them directly, some of the claims and accusations are downright nasty, but they can be found with search.

June 21, 2009 Posted by | Surveillance | , | Leave a comment

Auxiliary Units and the British Resistance

Previously thought to be void of any interesting information and accurate data, the activities of the Auxiliary Units, sometimes referred to as the British Resistance, have gone relatively unknown in Scotland.

It was particularly pleasing therefore, to come across an item originating within the Caithness Field Club, which was entitled The Caithness Secret Army in World War II, and went on to provide details of the activities of the Auxiliary Units in the north east of Scotland.

The article is essential reading for anyone with an interest in such things, and provides an account of not only the now fairly well known sabotage activities that the personnel concerned would have been involved in, had Britain been occupied, but goes on to describe the much lesser known Special Duties Section, which would have been concerned with the gathering of intelligence regarding the occupying forces. In other words, spying on them.

I’m avoiding a page link, since I’m not currently sure if the name should really be British Resistance or Auxiliary Units, but a search on either title will bring up the required page on the main site. Either way, the map on the page gives the detailed locations reported for the hides, so you can check them individually, or as a group, to see their locations on our Google mapping.

February 13, 2007 Posted by | World War II | , , , , | 2 Comments

   

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