The Suspected Assasination of Gareth Williams and Shadow Brokers’ Focus on SWIFT

If you haven’t seen it, BuzzFeed has been doing a superb series on the UK deaths that US spooks included in a secret report on suspected Russian assassinations. Yesterday they published the story I knew had to be coming, confirming that GCHQ spy Gareth Williams is among those deaths suspected to be Russian assassinations.

Police declared the death of Gareth Williams “probably an accident” – but British intelligence agencies have been secretly communicating with their American counterparts about suspicions that the spy was executed by Russian assassins, four US intelligence officials told BuzzFeed News.

An ongoing BuzzFeed News investigation has revealed that British and American spy agencies have intelligence connecting a string of suspected assassinations in the UK to Russian state agents or organised criminals – who sometimes cooperate. One high-ranking US intelligence source said: “The Kremlin has aggressively stepped up its efforts to eliminate and silence its enemies abroad over the past couple of years – particularly in Britain.” A second serving official said the circumstances of Williams’ death and 13 others “suggest Russian involvement” and demand “more investigation from the UK”. In all 14 cases, police ruled out foul play while intelligence agencies secretly compiled information connecting the deaths to Russia.

Williams, a 31-year-old codebreaker for Britain’s Government Communication Headquarters (GCHQ), had been assigned to MI6, and in the months before his death, sources said, he was working with the US National Security Agency. Two senior British police sources with direct knowledge of the case said some of his work was focused on Russia – and one confirmed reports that he had been helping the NSA trace international money-laundering routes that are used by organised crime groups including Moscow-based mafia cells.

While the report revisits and expands on all the suspicious details of Williams death and the thwarted British investigation into it, that spooks suspected it had ties to Russian mobsters is not new (though that theory does solidly explain why Williams would be among those targeted in this apparent assassination wave). The Daily Mail reported that theory back in 2011.

At the time, I noted that Williams’ impact on the Russian mob was described as a knock-on effect of a generally improved ability to track money laundering, something I tied closely to NSA’s ability to track SWIFT messaging.

[M]oney laundering is money laundering. Terrorists do it. Organized crime does it. Spy services do it. Corporations do it (often legally). And banksters do it, among others.

And there doesn’t appear to be anything about this description to suggest the Russian mafia would be specifically targeted by the technology. Indeed, the description of their exposure as a “knock-on effect” suggests everything would be targeted (which sort of makes sense; you can’t track money laundering unless you track the “legitimate” part of finance that makes it clean).

Which is why I find this latest narrative–with its complete lack of attention on the technology, instead focusing exclusively on the Russian mob–so interesting. Because finding a way to track money laundering, of any sort, would just be a new way to do what US intelligence has already been doing with SWIFT.

The following year, I noted that Gauss, a variant of StuxNet, sounded like the kind of money laundering tracking that might piss off the Russian mob.

That feels so long ago now: before the time we learned, in 2013, that the NSA was double-dipping at SWIFT, accessing SWIFT data directly at targeted customers in addition to its legal access via Europol, and before the time in April when Shadow Brokers not only dumped details of how the NSA hacked SWIFT but also (particularly ominously given the reminder of Williams’ death) doxed the NSA hackers who had carried that out.

Remember: Shadow Brokers has promised more details on “compromised network data from more SWIFT providers and Central banks” as part of its monthly tools of the month club.

There’s a lot that’s going on here. But a big part of it appears to be striking at US asymmetric visibility into the world’s financial system (I don’t say transparency because the US is increasingly the haven of last resort).

11 replies
  1. Bob In Portland says:

    Since our intelligence services generally lie to us, why would anyone believe what they say? Since our intelligence services have worked hand-in-glove for seventy years with organized crime all over the world, why shouldn’t our intelligence services be suspected of working with Russian mobsters? In the 70s we actually got lists of reporters who worked for the CIA’s Mighty Wurlitzer. Do we have a current-day rating system for reporters around the world? Asset, agent, ass?

    By the way, I lost attention after asking for months for proof of the “general Russian hacking claims”. I see now that Russia is accused of hacking 30-odd state elections. Any proof for that? Any proof of the original claims? Any proof of anything?

    Any more nuclear power plants hacked?

    Anyone spend any time looking into the Ukrainians who are protecting Americans from fake news?

  2. Bob In Portland says:

    I seem to remember back during the various congressional hearings about CIA assassinations, to include JFK’s death, that a lot of organized crime figures familiar with JMWAVE et al were turning up dead. One was in a drum floating in Miami harbor. There was another guy whose head was split open by an ax.

    Do you think the Russians were behind that too?

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      There’s a long list of reputed mobsters found in Florida waters, deaths that were clearly “no boating accident”.  But you might be referring to Johnny Roselli, a well-connected man from Chicago alleged to have had strong ties to the creme de la creme of mafiosi.  His death followed Sam Giancana’s, and preceded testimony he was to have given a congressional committee investigating Kennedy’s assassination.  The murder, like so many others, remains unsolved.

  3. earlofhuntingdon says:

    With respect to Williams’s death, there is the small matter of how a suicide slipped himself into a large duffel bag and then zipped and padlocked it from inside before expiring, while leaving no trace evidence on the outside of the bag – all in a secret service flat just over the Vauxhall bridge from MI-6’s London headquarters.

    Forensic evidence was just as compelling [not], confused further by Williams supposedly turning up the heat on the apartment, in mid-summer, to full blast, accelerating decomposition and obscuring analysis. The spy who came in from the heat, I suppose.

    • pdaly says:

      Yes, and by some news reports there were no fingerprints on the tub either.
      If there is security camera recordings of this high security apartment complex the findings  have not been publicized.

      One article states plainly that he was injected behind his ear with a lethal dose of diphenhydramine (Benadryl) which was then undetectable after the body was left in the heated flat. What? Undetectable but cause of death is known or assumed?

      I read another article from a few years after the suspected assassination of Williams that states the apartment was entered from a skylight AFTER William’s dead body was discovered and therefore AFTER the scene secured. No security footage of the roof?

  4. RickR says:

    So now Mike Flynn’s life has an ever-diminishing value except to Chuck Schumer and Robert Mueller, and I’m not sure about Mueller.
    And Trump’s got NDAA section 1021 to contemplate. Flynn just disappears. No discussion required. No habeas corpus needed. Just gone. That’s real godfather stuff, and a constitutional crisis, right up Trumps’s alley.
    Anybody wrapped their head around that yet? Is this a setup?

    • maybe ryan says:

      Believe it or not, there’s a difference between not appearing on national media and disappearing.  Mike Jr. seems unlikely to hold back if he thought his father had “been disappeared.”  He continues to tweet whatever oddness is on his mind.

    • RickR says:

      Bonus: Virgins (or not) who sign up NOW get a chance to become instant celebrities in the next Fappening!

  5. Scott says:

    I dunno.  This dude seems less than impressed with Buzzfeed:

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