back to article IBM in £24m battle with UK spooks

British spymasters are involved in a multimillion-pound wrangle with IBM over a secret intelligence network that was scrapped after years in development because of security fears and missed deadlines. Phase Two of the SCOPE programme - designed to allow wider access and collaboration on intelligence across ten government …


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  1. Michael Fremlins

    Security through sharing

    "The organisations involved in SCOPE are MI5, MI6, GCHQ, SOCA, HMRC, the Cabinet Office, the Home Office, the Foreign Office, the MoD and Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (ex-DTI)."

    And they hoped to keep this secure???

    I am reminded of a line from Blackadder: List of personnel cleared for mission Gainsborough, as dictated by General C. H. Melchett: You and me, Darling, obviously. Field Marshal Haig, Field Marshal Haig's wife, all Field Marshal Haig's wife's friends, their families, their families' servants, their families' servants' tennis partners, and some chap I bumped into the mess the other day called Bernard.

  2. Anonymous Coward

    Big shock

    All these people:-

    "MI5, MI6, GCHQ, SOCA, HMRC, the Cabinet Office, the Home Office, the Foreign Office, the MoD and Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (ex-DTI)."

    and you expected them to agree the requirements and the solution? Or even the name of the project without on-going delays ?

    The Cabinet Office can put this stuff about knowing that IBM can't really respond due to the secret nature of the project. As well as the legal side obviously.

    £24m for nothing - but I guess they asked for scads of people to be on site with them all those days, and they didn't check in to see what was happening? gateway reviews anyone? hello?

  3. The Mole 1

    Odd one out?

    So we have involved in this:

    MI5 - spies (home)

    MI6 - spies (foreign)

    GCHQ - spies (signals)

    SOCA - spies (criminals)

    HMRC - spies (money)

    Cabinet Office - oversees everything,

    Home Office - oversees home stuff

    Foreign Office, - oversees spies foreign

    MoD - spies (military)

    Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (ex-DTI) - presumably spies(trade) or do we have people looking at top secret intelligence about universities and training causes?

  4. H 5

    *Weary Sigh*

    Why am i not f******g surprised at all. They should have just piled £24.4 million up in Trafalgar square and set it all on fire. The scale of the Government's Incompetancy isn't even comical anymore its just pitiful.

  5. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    Money for nothing and the Turing tips for free.

    Can one honestly naively believe that IBM will furnish any foreign power with the means for its Secret and Sensitive Intelligence Services to Work/InterNetwork efficiently ie without them knowing what information is being discussed/exchanged.

    FFS, when are you going to wise up and realise that Phishing is their Great Game Plan because their Intelligence is neither Sophisticated nor Advanced enough, to conceal their Alien Vulnerabilities and Compete on a Level Playing Field in AI and PerlyGatesPythonesque XSSXXXX Scripts.

    We are not Silos and continue to adapt at much higher levels. And £24m is peanuts and not even worth bothering getting excited about whenever it is so easily delivered via the magic of quantitative easing ..... and the printing press. It certainly won't bother them over the other side of the pond.

    Time to Take Control of Colossal Destiny, methinks, rather than Pussyfooting around like Frightened Fairies and Obedient Cuckolds.

  6. Dan 10

    @Odd one out

    Hmmm, that one did stick out a bit didn't it?! I wonder if maybe they keep an eye on the trade unions in conjunction with MI5. Otherwise I'm with you on this one.

  7. Maty

    Huge Government IT project fails at ginormous expense!

    Keep this headline handy - it's been needed often in the past, and no doubt will be needed if the govt does decide to push on with operation ID card (code name 'Titanic')

  8. jason 7

    Has anyone at Whitehall heard of PRINCE2?

    They should do really.

    Always makes me laugh when I hear folks say they use PRINCE2 project management.

    Oh really? Even the Govt doesnt use that and they came up with it!

  9. Tony S

    Oh dear

    In the overall scheme of things £24 million is not that much - a couple of trips abroad by Gordon or Alistair to rub shoulders with other "Important People". Or maybe a couple of dozen MPs need to get their wisteria cut back or moats cleaned again at the public expense. It soon mounts up.

    Of course for me it's a tidy sum - I could actually retire on 2% of that. I suspect that a lot of others would be happy to do so.

    But more importantly, this is about National Security - you know the thing that they have to have the DNA database, ID cards, no fly lists etc for. All to make sure that no bad people do anything naughty. Yet it is being managed by a company that is HQ'd outside of the UK, probably using consultants from outside of the UK. And no-one in government thinks that this might not be a particularly good scenario for security?

    Perhaps we need to start thinking up new words to describe just how poor a job our current crop of people are doing because most of the words I can think of don't quite describe the complete ineptitude of these people.

  10. smudge

    following on from the first comment

    ""The organisations involved in SCOPE are MI5, MI6, GCHQ, SOCA, HMRC, the Cabinet Office, the Home Office, the Foreign Office, the MoD and Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (ex-DTI)."

    And they hoped to keep this secure???"

    Indeed. One might suspect that getting these organisations to trust each other and share information would be a bigger problem than getting any computer system to work.

    Shame, really, because although I'm not a fan of the spooks, even I can see that some joined-up intelligence instead of inter-service rivalry could have been a good thing.

  11. Mike Richards

    Tessa Jowell?

    Isn't it a little rich of the minister in charge of the 2012 bread and circuses farrago to be condemning others for going over budget and failing to deliver?

  12. Anonymous Coward


    Another big IT project being scrapped for being late and not working, how shocking (NOT!).

  13. WinHatter

    EDS not involved

    Why ???

  14. Nomen Publicus

    Gold plated solutions?

    So, what would IBM have provided beyond a secure web server (ie not a PC running any microsoft product) and a few https based web services?

    I ask because when the Post Office wanted a secure "network" to connect the post offices, the usual suspects suggested a dedicated X25 (!!!) network, proprietary software and a dedicated PC. The rest of us sane people wondered why SSL and a few certificates could not have done the same using the Internet.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Big Brother

    IBM didn't deliver a network on time? Never!!!??

    They'll probably settle it out of court again with a 'too fantastic to be true offer of a support contract for next to nothing', maybe throw in some Stinkpads for MP's to leave on buses, tubes and at the houses of mistresses.

    Don't know why I posted as anonymous, one of the two big brother organisations involved will be battering my door anytime now...

  16. RW

    Why does this not surprise me - or anyone else?

    It's gotten to the point that if the UK gov is involved in *any* kind of IT project, its cack-handed ways guarantee failure.

    Betcha they formed a "committee" of representatives of the various organizations named, didn't give their reps any real authority to agree to anything, didn't have any one person in overall control who was able to say NO WE ARE NOT ADDING ANY NEW FEATURES, and trusted to groupthink by a bunch of incompetents to do the job.

    Of course, after 12 years of NuLabour, the senior levels of the civil service are stuffed with fuckwits selected not because of their competence but because they toe the party line in all things, have the right skin color, are the right sex, or meet some other irrelevant criterion.

    It's funny how NuLabour adheres to the flawed thinking taught in business programs: thinking that treats all employees as interchangeable cogs and ignores profound differences in talent, wisdom, experience, education, and general expertise. I suppose this is an expression of NuLabour's dislike of anything that smacks of elitism.

    Nice going, guys.

  17. Big Al
    Black Helicopters

    @ The Mole 1

    Corporate espionage is a big deal, it would be extraordinary if the government branch that talks to big blue chip British firms to find out what they want was NOT involved!

  18. Stevie



    Wassat then? I read the bloody article several times *and* swept it with a regex but couldn't find any likely culprits. I thought it was usual to use a TLA only *after* it had been spelled out, or was this phased out along with the rest of the education system after I left the UK?

    Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells.

  19. Gannon (J.) Dick

    What did you expect ?

    A paltry 24 million GBP ? Barely enough to print the failure notices.

    The spooks in the US doubtless have the same problem, but we have no idea what they spend. Law Enforcement (FBI) on the other hand did spend almost ten times that amount on their "Virtual Case File". I therefore continue, with the premise that "birds of a feather shop for IT together" ...

    The problem in the case of the FBI was a simple confusion of the terms "security" and "proprietary". It costs a few hundred million dollars just to redefine the terms you need to make a proprietary information exchange system before you can even worry about security. To mate proprietary systems together is often nearly impossible, but the mistake is made earlier than that - when existing standards are ignored in favor of a proprietary framework. Spooks are bureaucrats with their own favorite language to protect, before they are cooperating professionals.

  20. Luther Blissett

    nu labour does not do IT

    When nu labour puts a bunch of people in a room they call it a focus group. When they put MI5, MI6, GCHQ, SOCA, HMRC, the Cabinet Office, the Home Office, the Foreign Office, the MoD and Department for Business, Innovation and Skills in a room they call it... an IT project? Who gets to pin the tail on the donkey?

  21. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    Making a Case for HyperRadioProActive IT Engagement. .... Bit by Bit/Softly Softly

    .... so as not to Scare the Natives

    "When nu labour puts a bunch of people in a room they call it a focus group. When they put MI5, MI6, GCHQ, SOCA, HMRC, the Cabinet Office, the Home Office, the Foreign Office, the MoD and Department for Business, Innovation and Skills in a room they call it... an IT project? Who gets to pin the tail on the donkey?" .... By Luther Blissett Posted Friday 25th September 2009 21:19 GMT

    Quite simply, Luther, that which Dares 42 Win Win for All. And if you consider that not to be within the Realms of Human Intelligence, then the Boundary is moved to Artificial and Alien Fields of Intellectual Endeavour ..... and HumanistIQ Existentialism?

  22. Neil Greatorex


    Either you didn't scan TFA properly, or this was added later. Whichever, read and inwardly digest :-)

    "Her claim is repeatedly directly contradicted by the the Intelligence and Security Committee's (ISC)"

  23. Geoff 1


    ISC stands for Intelligence Sub Committee.

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Nu Labour

    WTF do they have to do with anything, the people who funded this will have been the agencies themselves not the politicians. I can't remember offhand who the lead agency was probably the Home Office. I suspect that IBM bought the business, and then found it couldn't deliver for the price when internal governance decided that they had to make a profit.

    As someone who has worked in government IT for years, I can also say there are relatively few fuckwits running our civil service, but what there is, is a reticence to make decisions because if you get even a small one wrong you will get crucified by the PAC, the Minister, the press and just about anyone else, so the longer they vacillate, the more likely the IT company will fail to deliver and it won't be their fault. The key for the big programme ego's is to let the contract manage a couple of years whilst spinning success, and at the first hint of failure high tail back to the private sector with a fat payoff and an unsullied reputation.

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @ BAH!

    "Her claim is repeatedly directly contradicted by the the Intelligence and Security Committee's (ISC) annual reports, however."

  26. Anonymous Coward

    oh bugger....

    the analogue to digital conversion of the uk government seems to proceeding 'normally' as far as i can see. Only problem is that we are paying for it. In this example these org's are 'supposed' to be intelligent, gawd help us all.....

  27. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Thumb Up

    @ Luther Blissett

    nu labour does do IT

    and lots of it

    but not very well. I especially like the comment that after c£15bn on the HNS IT system the total number of "outcomes" has increased by 0.

    which kind of tells you how much impact this system has had. Except on the national wallet of course.

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters


    The Cabinet Office told The Register work has now begun on an unnamed replacement system ......

    A-Space per chance?

  29. kain preacher

    @Gannon (J.) Dick

    CIA budget is classifier. Very few people every get to see it. Actually the CIA budget is hidden in plain sight, its just never once reffed to as the CIA . Its broken up into 50 different items . As Lay person good look figuring it out.

  30. dreamingspire


    EDS is no longer - got HP labels stuck all over it last week.

  31. dreamingspire
    Thumb Down

    Secure exchange between public bodies

    There was to be a secure email system for police forces, using proprietary boxes.

    Then there was to be a secure email system for local authorities, using (the same?) proprietary boxes. Last I heard of that they were scratching their heads over the usual problem: do we have a new CA or do we try to get LAs to trust each other (phone calls to say: "I'm sending you a secure email so that's my signature on the bottom of it").

    Closer to this article: ukcrypto had a report recently that different govt depts have separate PKIs, not federated...

  32. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Should have backed ICL

    The UK government should have backed ICL back when ICL was leading the world instead of letting the Old School Tie brigade take over and run it back to ruin.

  33. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    When you forget KISS, & @secure exchange

    In 1995 I walked into Cabinet Office and turned a powerpoint slide into something that actually worked. I saw the bigger plan, and I changed the details, then took care of building it. It is still working today, but it was successful because tech was shaped in sync with demands being formulated, and it was kept simple but solid (I had a feeling we would not be able to switch it off, so our pilot platform was actually already the real thing - and I was proven right).

    Since that day I helped out occasionally where they got themselves into a mess because there are too many people able to baffle them with BS, whereas the key to doing things government wide is keeping things so simple they (a) remain understandable, even to non-technical people (explain to me how you could otherwise trust it) and (b) stand a chance of actually working in a secure way. KISS is a good principle, also in security.

    IBM isn't a bad setup but without this direct interface between the people that build and the people that will eventually use the stuff it's very likely any project comes off the rails at some point, and people running around in cloak-and-dagger MIx land aren't naturally very talkative.

    As for "Secure exchange between public bodies", I actually rescued a trial system, and that worked after I changed a few things. However, at the time of rescue I also told the club implementing it that their Proof of Concept implementation would never scale, and did some proposals to improve it. I guess they didn't listen - they didn't strike me as people that knew how to handle government level systems anyway.

    I think it's time I pick up a phone and see what is going on..

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