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Posted at 5:24 PM ET, 09/ 7/2010

Gareth Williams probe focuses on mystery couple

By Jeff Stein

London police, still stumped by the bizarre death of British code-breaker Gareth Williams last month, are looking for a young couple "of Mediterranean appearance" who were recorded by security cameras while visiting his building late at night in the weeks or months before he died, according to local reports.

Police have also been studying tapes from London’s closed-circuit security cameras that reportedly recorded Williams shopping in London’s fashionable Sloane district West End and Knightsbridge in the days before his decomposing body was discovered in an athletic bag in his apartment.

An autopsy discovered no drugs or alcohol in his system, said police, who were also investigating whether anyone made a duplicate of Williams’s keys.

An expert on the National Security Agency, meanwhile, speculated that Williams was working for the Special Projects Activity, a little-known clandestine unit buried deep in the U.K.’s General Communications Headquarters, Britain’s equivalent of the NSA.

The SPA and its American equivalent, a joint CIA-NSA operation known as the Special Collection Service, conduct ultra-sensitive operations against foreign targets from U.S. and allied embassies abroad.

Williams, a “gifted mathematician,” according to news reports, frequently visited NSA headquarters at Ft. Meade.

“All the people I talk to say Williams was probably involved in what is referred to in the intelligence trade as ‘technical operations,’ which is a broad cover-all term which generically refers to clandestine signal intelligence or telephone tapping, things like that," Matthew M. Aid, author of "The Secret Sentry: The Untold History of the National Security Agency," said in a telephone interview.

“The targets of the clandestine special collection units include the cell phone communications of (foreign) government ministers, police officials, military commanders (and) … security teams that are following (our) intelligence agents around the city,” added Aid, a onetime Russian linguist with the NSA’s Air Force branch.

The synergy of American and British eavesdroppers, Aid and other NSA historians say, is particularly valuable to U.S. intelligence, if only because the U.K. (and other English-speaking allies, such as Canada, Australia and New Zealand) have embassies -- and thus listening platforms -- where Washington doesn’t, such as in Iran and North Korea.

The NSA supplies the allies with advanced interception and code-breaking equipment, they say, and gets to share the take in return.

By Jeff Stein  | September 7, 2010; 5:24 PM ET
Categories:  Intelligence, Lawandcourts  
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