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Posted at 9:39 PM ET, 09/ 2/2010

U.S. officials: Gareth Williams death not spy-related

By Jeff Stein

British media reports suggesting a spy-world connection to the gruesome death of U.K. code-breaker Gareth Williams are groundless, according to U.S. intelligence officials.

While refusing to comment publicly about the death of Williams, whose decomposing remains were discovered stuffed in a duffel bag in the bathtub of his London apartment on Aug. 23, the officials advised treating the British reports with great skepticism.

Williams, 30 or 31 at the time of his death, depending on reports, was said to be a "math genius" at Britain's code-breaking agency, the Government Communications Headquarters, or GCHQ. He was on temporary assignment with the U.K. foreign intelligence service MI6. Williams's work decoding terrorist communications caused him to consult frequently with the U.S. National Security Agency at Ft. Meade, Md., according to British news reports.

But James Bamford, author of three authoritative books on the NSA, scoffed at hints of a terrorist or other intelligence-related murder conspiracy.

“There’s been a lot of hyped-up coverage in the U.K., but even codebreakers die from unrelated violence occasionally,” Bamford told SpyTalk. “Hundreds of NSA and GCHQ personnel travel back and forth between agencies every year, and leaving a body in a canvas bag sounds more like a jealous lover or drug deal gone bad than a political assassination.”

Bamford, who has developed scores of NSA sources over the years, added, “I haven’t heard anything of concern from my people on this.”

"Strange story," said a former top CIA official in London, "but I would be very surprised if it involves espionage foul play."

An NSA spokesperson, Vanee Vines, declined to comment on any relationship Williams may have had with the agency, or whether agency officials had been quizzed by British police. The CIA likewise declined to comment.

“I can tell you that we do not confirm or deny agency affiliation,” Vines said by e-mail. “I don't have any information to share with you.”

In a typical British report, the Telegraph of London reported Monday that “murder detectives say they are still looking at whether Gareth Williams may have been killed by a foreign intelligence agency seeking to stop his work on intercepting messages and code-breaking.”

“Interviews with friends and family of Mr. Williams, 30, have so far offered no clear leads as to how or why he died,” the paper said.

Still, after two autopsies, according to reports, police are treating the death of Williams as "suspicious and unexplained."

By Jeff Stein  | September 2, 2010; 9:39 PM ET
Categories:  Homeland Security, Intelligence, Justice/FBI, Lawandcourts  
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Why does James Bamford sound like Inspector Renault here?

"Round up the usual suspects."

Speaking of which:


Posted by: scrivener50 | September 3, 2010 11:06 AM | Report abuse

"my people," says Bamford? Sounds like the police better get busy.

Posted by: silencedogoodreturns | September 3, 2010 11:58 AM | Report abuse

Based on the background of the guy, there is almost no chance that the death was accidental, random, or some other simple explanation.

And of course, there was probably quite a series of pow-wows about what to do before the police were told of the body.

My guess is that the only people who don't really know what happened are those learning about it in the media, which would include me and, um, you.

It is odd that London has the most public cameras on people and the guy lived in a super-secure building, but no images were recorded of the people coming and going.

Posted by: blasmaic | September 3, 2010 1:27 PM | Report abuse

By the way.

1260 D Ballistic Nylon fabric is not a "canvas bag."

Posted by: flipper4 | September 3, 2010 1:43 PM | Report abuse

based on chandra levy's background there was almost no chance she was not murdered by congressman condit, his wife or an associate. oops.

Posted by: george32 | September 3, 2010 3:57 PM | Report abuse

Good to know the police consider remains found inside a duffel bag in a bathtub to be "suspicious." Great deduction there, Sherlock!

Posted by: SageThrasher | September 3, 2010 4:24 PM | Report abuse

I think his homosexual lover did him in.

Posted by: john_bruckner | September 3, 2010 9:31 PM | Report abuse

Cell phones spread in the room, persons of middle eastern appearance.
Another Mosad operation?

pattern is very similar to Harari and Dubai.

Now that would be fun!

Posted by: zebadie | September 6, 2010 1:39 PM | Report abuse

All that initial hype about him being a homosexual cross dresser turned out to be a load of BS, as has been stated in the British papers for the past week.

Bamford doesn't sound too clued in, at least at the time he provided those quotes to the press. If he were, he would know Gareth Williams didn't HAVE a personal life for which there would be a jealous lover feeling jilted about. He would also be aware of toxicology results turning up negative, lessening the chances of a "drug deal gone bad". Bamford should stick to writing fiction instead of speculating on non-fiction so as to avoid making too much of a fool out of himself.

Posted by: el8one | September 7, 2010 4:10 AM | Report abuse

Jeff. One point here to clarify. There is no dispute over the victim's age. He's 30. See police statement:

Posted by: davidjs121 | September 7, 2010 11:01 AM | Report abuse

The Mediterranean couple was said to have been dressed in dark trench coats and hats. The male was overheard to exclaim to the female upon exiting the building, "Natasha, we must get moose and squirrel!"

Posted by: gce1356 | September 9, 2010 7:52 PM | Report abuse

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