back to article GCHQ's spy death riddle shines light on UK hacker war

British intelligence agent Dr Gareth Williams’ last mission before he was “unlawfully killed” was to infiltrate and report on US hacker meetings, evidence given at his inquest this week has indicated. Williams appears to have been one of a team of intelligence officers and agents sent to penetrate hacking networks in the US …


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  1. Steve Evans

    Wait for it...

    Headline tomorrow:

    "Williams killed by evil hackers"

    Next weeks headline:

    "HM Government reintroduce hanging for hackers"

    1. Inachu

      Re: Wait for it...

      He was a noob hacker and instead of learning he wanted instant power perhaps.

  2. Rameses Niblick the Third (KKWWMT)
    Black Helicopters

    Intentionally useless

    Am I the only person here thinking that the investigators have been intentionally rubbish here? They seem to have spent more time trying to ruin his character than investigating who killed him.

    Maybe they already know?

    Maybe the investigators have been categorically told that they wont find out who killed him, if you take my meaning?

    Sod beating about the bush: maybe, for reasons as yet unknown, MI6 had him killed?

    1. NogginTheNog
      Thumb Down

      Nice idea, but...

      Would the spooks really have killed someone off in a way that would almost guarantee weeks if not years of sensational coverage across TV, print, and the Web?

      1. itzman

        Re: Nice idea, but...

        well, possibly, if they wanted to divert attention away from something else.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Intentionally useless

      Few conspiracies of that sort seem likely to stay watertight for very long. On the contrary, it seems whoever killed him was smarter than to leave the kind of trail you suggest by raising such obvious suspicions with anyone likely to have passed these on. The extraordinary fact that seems to leap out at me when reading about this case is how little of a trail the killer has managed to leave.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Perhaps he went native

    and had to be dealt with.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      An Hero

      Or perhaps he did it for teh lulz!

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Can death get any worse?

    Not only died, possibly horribly in a bag. But then his web viewing history is revealed to the world plus a video of him waggling his arse. Ouch.

    1. h4rm0ny

      Re: Can death get any worse?

      At some point, the British public will grow up and accept that something like 9/10 people in this country have (a) browsed fetish sites at some point and (b) tried kinky sex. Statistically, you're more of a freak if you haven't tried bondage, I would think.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Can death get any worse?

        Given that the readership of this site tend towards the Daily Mail/Clarkson/pure vanilla and angry end of the spectrum, maybe you're looking in the wrong place for open mindedness.

        It's not worth expecting anything too adventurous or tolerant from the readership here :)

        (AC because, well, there are some strange people out there, and head over the parapet still isn't so smart)

        1. diodesign (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

          Re: Re: Can death get any worse?

          "Given that the readership of this site..."

          Correction: "Given that the readership of this site who actually post comments..." :-)


          1. LinkOfHyrule

            Re: Can death get any worse?

            For the record, I post comments quite a bit and I am somebody who dose wiggle his bum, browse fetish websites and has been known to "try" self bondage! When I die it will probably be a case of 'in the wardrobe with the tangerine'!

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Wow, anonymous really have stepped up their game.

    posting as AC so I don't end up in a bag in my bath.

    1. Anonymous John

      Re: Wow, anonymous really have stepped up their game.

      You don't really think that is any protection, do you?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward


        GOOD LUCK

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    A loner, multiple telephones, strange comings and goings, interest in photography (videos). No wonder MI6 knocked him off, he was a terrorist.

    1. BristolBachelor Gold badge

      @Chris W

      You forgot:

      "...two live Macs, parts of a dead Mac, four iPhones..."

  7. Paul Johnston

    Bright young man!

    "after graduating with a first in mathematics in 1996 aged 17"

    Very sad the way his name has been dragged through the mud!

  8. A Non e-mouse Silver badge

    RIP - If only

    I feel sorry for his friends and family.

    The Police investigation into his death is piss poor. His private sexual life is spread all over the media. And I bet his employers aren't being totally truethful or co-operative either.

    Not the kindest of circumstances under which to grieve.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: RIP - If only

      >His private sexual life is spread all over the media

      What you think you know about his private sexual life is all that you've been told by the people who are investigating this and even then after the scene had been cleaned where cleaned could equally mean staged.

      1. Matt Bryant Silver badge

        Re: Re: RIP - If only

        ".....where cleaned could equally mean staged." Staged by whom? The authorities? Puh-lease, do provide an at least vaguely realistic motive for the authorities to want to kill him, and then explain why they would do so in such a means as to guarantee plenty of media attention? The killer? How would a killer fake weeks of bondage site browsing, and then get Williams to make the video?

        Williams evidently had some "unnatural" hangups (or maybe tiedowns), simple as that. People like you keep the tinfoil industry healthy.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          @Matt Bryant

          Did I mention the authorities? I'll answer that for you because you seem to lack an ability to comprehend what you read, NO.

          Now let's look at facts. It was a week between not tuning up at work and his decomposing body being discovered. Bodies do not start to decompose overnight so it's likely he had been dead most of week. Someone did a bit of housekeeping. Whoever did was comfortable being in his flat and was sure they wouldn't be discovered, that takes some nerve. You decide who it could have been but don't try to say I suggested who it was.

          I said, based on what has been released, that the flat had been cleaned and *COULD* have been staged. Whatever, it was left for the police to find in an un-natural state.

          1. PT

            Re: @Matt Bryant

            From the article, "Save for exceptional tidiness, Williams’ London government-rented flat was equipped as a nerd should wish..."

            Exceptional tidiness? Hmmmm. I've been in a few nerds' flats. I'm inclined to agree with you that his flat probably had a visit from the cleaners before the police became involved. Whoever it was that killed him, I don't have any difficulty believing that his employers went in for a thorough search and clean up when they discovered him and before notifying the police. In that case, the competence or otherwise of the police investigation is quite irrelevant.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          @Matt Bryant

          So a rather large facet of human sexuality is "unnatural", how nice for those of us who enjoy it.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: RIP - If only

      If the whole inquest had been done behind closed doors then that would have justified much greater public suspicion, than the suspicions now being stated on this forum, that the inquest was part of a wider cover up. Given much of it was carried out in public this unfortunately makes some release of personal details inevitable which must unfortunately be very upsetting to close friends and family.

  9. Silverburn
    Black Helicopters

    Is it just me, or does anyone else get the nagging sensation that perhaps, you really don't want to get any more details on this case.

    Perhaps there are some things we just don't need to know.

    (Where's the 'see no evil' icon?)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      See No Evil

      Either the Police are actually as incompetent as we are always led to believe or the Secret Services are incompetent in covering things up. Either way the public are unlikely ever to know what really happened and are left as always with a distrust and lack of confidence in our government institutions. But perhaps they'd like us to think of them as a bunch of clowns.

      To do it properly they should have out-sourced the investigation and cover up to the Chinese ;-)

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Welcome to PsyOps ....

    Let's sprinkle some rational fairy dust over this, and see what emerges ...

    1) Even the official verdict on his death is that it was not a lone act

    2) The "crime" scene is mysterious "clean", if we are to believe this is just a sex game which went too far. There are very few criminals who are able to sanitise a crime scene beyond a thorough forensic sweep (the ones that can haven't been caught). Let alone a non-criminal.

    3) This unforunately shorts occams razor. The guy was *killed*.

    4) Who by ?

    5) First off, UK security services do not go round "bumping off" agents - especially not their own. Quite aside from the illegality, it has the unfortunate tendency to draw attention *to* the security services, rathet than *away* from (which they would obviously prefer).

    6) It was not a UK operation

    7) Who else ?

    8) Any sufficiently aligned, and equipped agency which wanted to send a message

    9) Message ?

    10) Look at how this guys death has played out. If you were a threat to a foriegn agency, would you want to go like that ?

    Of course, the tantalising question we can't really be sure of is "why ?"....

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Welcome to PsyOps ....

      Methinks someone has been reading too many spy novels. Nevermind, at least you provoked a chuckle.

      1. JimmyPage Silver badge

        Re: Welcome to PsyOps ....

        Bear in mind, reality has a tendency to overshadow fiction.

        Remember the bugged rock in a Moscow park ?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Welcome to PsyOps ....

      A little less David Icke here please.

      As for Occmam's Razor :

      "The explanation requiring the fewest assumptions is most likely to be correct"

      The most likely explanation was a sex game gone wrong and maybe there was another party present. I am sure the security services have much less clumsy methods to kill and make it look like an accident. There are a long list of people who have died in similar bizarre circumstances such as David Carridine or Stephan Milligan. I am sure someone is going to make a career and a long list of (lucrative) conspiracy theory books out of this unfortunate case.

      1. TheOtherHobbes

        Re: Welcome to PsyOps ....

        A sex game gone wrong with someone who apparently swabbed the scene of the crime and left *no* DNA evidence, and also made sure - or perhaps SiS or the Police made sure - there was no incriminating evidence on any of the technology left in the flat.

        You're right - that sounds completely plausible.

        Mysteriously evidence-free accidental bondage murders happen *all the time.*

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Welcome to PsyOps ....

          Interesting assumption hovering in these comments.

          The ability to clean a scene properly and an interest in sex games are not mutually exclusive, so both could have happened..

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Welcome to PsyOps ....

          "Mysteriously evidence-free accidental bondage murders happen *all the time"

          Of course, there was the strange case of Jonathan Moyle back in 1990 - found dead in a wardrobe in his hotel room in Chile. British officials initially punted the idea that he had accidentally killed himself whilst engaging in some masturbatory bondage. He had been attending a defence conference and was hoping to expose an arms deal between a Chilean arms dealer and Saddam Hussein's government in Iraq.

      2. JimmyPage Silver badge
        Black Helicopters

        Re: Welcome to PsyOps ....

        As the original comment suggested, there was no desire from the perpetrators to try and make the death look unsuspicious.

        I'm old enough to remember Stephen Milligan ... there was never any suggestion someone else was involved in his death.

        At the end of the day, as you yourself say, this case will be written about for a long time.

        *Maybe*, that was the intention all along ?

    3. Ilgaz

      Always one title comes to mind

      "three days of condor". It is a novel/ movie so not spoiling it.

      Btw, if agency sent him to black hat circles and he went into real dark stuff, those guys aren't really polite/ passive aggressive nerds you see on movies. They just know computers and likely powerful&merciless as 1930s gangsters. Just stay away.

    4. Alan Firminger

      Re: Welcome to PsyOps ....

      In the eighties the Soviet Union was famous for setting up sexual adventures for visitors then blackmailing on the basis of photographs or cine film. You knew you were lucky if your hotel room had extremely bright lighting with no opportunity to access the bulbs. And a mirror securely fixed to the wall.

      There was the tale of one young businessman in Moscow who retired to his room. There was a knock at his door which he opened to find an impossibly beautiful woman. He could not refuse such an invitation. He put a pillow case over his head and followed the script for the camera.

      Williams death could have been caused by any agency. Perhaps he was identified as a spook with unusual tastes. A game went wrong. The flat was professionally cleaned.

  11. Cliff

    With everyone pointing in one direction shouting 'look'...

    I can't help but feel the real story lies in the other direction, behind a big screen of smoke...

    My fullest commiserations to his family, no matter what else, he died a horrible death and it must be mortifying for his family to see all this in the papers.

    I would not be in the least bit surprised if in 50/75/100 yrs time when the files are released to the public he turns out to be a very different character from how we are seeing him protrayed right now. But *anyone* working for GCHQ / SIS has my respect, for generally taking risks hoping to improve the world in some way.

    1. Mark 65

      Re: With everyone pointing in one direction shouting 'look'...

      You really don't believe that such papers are ever filed in order to come out do you?

  12. Bakunin
    Big Brother

    "Let El Reg know by dropping us an email"

    I know nothing about this story beyond the media coverage. However, your closing boot note made me think; does the Register publish a public key for email encryption? Particularly for whistle blowers and tip offs.

    If someone had information pertaining to SIS or GCHQ they wanted to share, I doubt they'd want to send it in the open.

    Just a thought.

    1. diodesign (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

      Re: "Let El Reg know by dropping us an email"

      Re: public key

      Fair point, which had occurred to us.

      #include <std/healthwarning_about_email.h>


  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Lets say.....

    To quote from the quintessential BBC TV series Between the Lines -"Lets say" that the Police were asked to look at the Laptops / Phones of this poor individual. These were the phones and laptops that were found at this address. Who's to say who got to these devices before the police? It would be wrong to say "cover-up", more like "housekeeping". Didn't want the cops finding anything they shouldn't did we? They had to be seen to be going through the motions of an investigation - but they couldn't risk anything getting out into the public arena, so what they examined was a sanitized version of his laptop and phones. This was probably a sad accident during some kind of sex game - nothing more or less, but unfortunately "there are people out there who can weave a conspiracy out of the fluff in their belly-buttons" (Between the Lines, BBC). AC of course, as I don't fancy waking up padlocked inside one of those Nigerian shopping bags !!

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    The case is quite bizarre and gets more so the more that comes out.

    Aside from the obvious elements, it seems curious that a very bright, computer savvy man would record intimate videos and browse to potentially embarrassing web sites without taking precautions to cover his tracks.

    1. Gordon 10

      Re: Bizarre

      What you mean just like dozens of Anonymous should have known better?

      Even if it's your job it's hard to stay paranoid 100% of the time. Especially if you only want to keep things private rather than actually keep things hidden.

      1. Dan 10

        Re: Bizarre

        Yeah, but he makes a very good point if you consider that:

        a. it was in his job description to mingle at Blackhat/Defcon etc

        b. (assumption) he had unusual private interests

        c. the *really* (in hindsight, natch) obvious route to having a hold on him would be to obtain access to his browsing habits etc in the interests of blackmail

        d. we (or any black hats so inclined) wouldn't know all of the above, but he did - all along

        e. I'm not buying that he had a careless personality that would have ignored such a threat

        The whole thing stinks, and his family have my deepest condolences - almost any other death in recent memory hasn't been followed up by quite such an awful line in sordid detail.

      2. Mark 65

        Re: Bizarre

        @Gordon: I'd have thought it quite easy to stay paranoid all the time if you were as smart as this guy. Surely browsing for your wanking material using the minimum of a live cd/USB would be a start?

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    SIS team leader

    So he testified under oath but the phone records contradict it. And in fact directly imply he is lying because they show he phoned later "in a panicked fashion" (it's not just that he used an untraceable phone or something).

    Why is he not under arrest for perjury and attempting to pervert the course of justice? Oh wait never-mind, I forgot that there was one rule for them and another one for everyone else.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Your mission should you choose to accept it

    is to look in the back of 2600 magazine and attend one of these super secret meetings that take place in public spaces. its highly dangerous but we think your up to it

    1. Ilgaz

      Re: Your mission should you choose to accept it

      2600 , "black hat" conference, public in freaking USA city are just media events or tip of iceberg.

      Things like stuxnet, conficker (still alive!) are basically way deeper and I believe you would end up in bag if you found slightest evidence. These new breed actually targeted the virus analysts in person although digitally. There is a very thin line between real and virtual.

      1. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

        Re: Your mission should you choose to accept it

        <quote>There is a very thin line between real and virtual. </quote>

        At exalted levels of immaculate communication does the line disappear and the one is the other with both real and virtual merged [with AI Singularity Control for Better Beta Presentation of Virtual Reality ProgramMING to the SMARTR Masses..... Rabid Knowledge Receivers.©™]

        And what does one imagine that means and tells one all about the Nature of Reality? That it is Truly Heavenly in IT?

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Sex play gone wrong?

    It's entirely possible that his investigations into self bondage just went too far. Maybe he thought he could bust the zip open. From experience, it's not difficult to put a padlock on a zip/closure on the outside of a restraint, even with your hands inside the restraint. Some zips give very easily when pushed against, maybe he underestimated the strength of the one on this bag. If the holdall had been in his office for some time before this event, he could have been planning it. Self bondage is always a risk, that is the thrill and draw of it. But without a safety person, self bondage can be fatal, as is easily seen by searching for self bondage fatality on google.

    This would explain the complete lack of any evidence of a ner-do-well in the flat and the door being locked from the inside.

    AC because I practice self bondage and have had some issues escaping in the past, though not anything that would prove fatal.

    1. ukgnome

      Re: Sex play gone wrong?

      except experts in escapology contradicted this for this style of bag.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Sex play gone wrong?

        "except experts in escapology contradicted this for this style of bag."

        Am I the only one who find it incredulous that, for the purposes of the investigation, somebody should attempt to fit themselves into a similar bag "more than 300 times", as was given in evidence.

        That takes a lot of dedication and a lot of time, or perhaps the inability to count.

        1. durandal

          Re: Sex play gone wrong?

          or possibly some difficulties with their short term memory!

        2. Eponymous Bastard

          Re: Sex play gone wrong?

          I heard the guy, who did these tests, interviewed on the radio. It seems his job involves "exhaustive" tests attempting to replicate any given scenario involving suffocation victims some of whom are children; the guy deserves a medal.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Sex play gone wrong?

            I'm still confused though, if a person with Ehler's Danlos syndrome tried it I bet they'd succeed, it's possible he was undiagnosed as many people with mild EDS live their entire lives without knowing they're anything other than a bit more flexible than others..

            Also, who says the bag had to have been padlocked *after* he was in it?

            Any padlocked holdall without solid sides and/or rods sewn into the fabric next to the zip can be opened without removing the padlock just by pulling apart the zip in the gap between the zipper and the end, it will unzip itself, try it.

            The side effect of this is that as you stretch the bag in the direction of the zip, the zip will fasten itself up again so entirely possible that someone could trap themselves in a bag sufficiently large to fit into.

  18. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    I spotted a Fed

    Presumably they registered with a CIA email address, paid with a CIA credit card, asked for a receipt for a cup of coffee - for expenses - and turned up wearing a suit, dark glasses and driving a Escalade with dark windows.

    MI5 agents would have been more inconspicuous, except that they would have tried to register with a telegraph address and been surprised to find that telephones no longer needed wires.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Not turning up for work

    I thik it quite curious that someone with that much clearance not turning up for work including a meeting you are supposed to chair doesnt raise a few alarm bells with a supervisor. From my understanding of a friend who works on a highly secured site, if he doesnt turn up to work and fails to inform anyone, military police are sent round to find out whats wrong on the first day.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    knock at the door . who could that be?

    you would think that someone from one of these geek conventions would have piped up to say they saw him at one.all sounds like bollox to me.

    Also glad to see the mentally ill hoarders that populate gchq somehow have nothing of value concerning this incident. makes me feel safer already.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Maybe the guy had issues, I don't know, but some of the facts in this article seem distasteful.... is it really important that we know about the video found on his phone? Are some of the other facts that important for news' sake?

  22. Blah Blah

    most plausible explanation

    If you were a hitman, could there be a more showy- off, f*** you, nasty way to kill someone?

    "here's someone dead in a bag, with no way they could have got in themselves, and the police are going to fumble around for weeks eventually proving themselves to be totally impotent to find out what happened, how safe do you spies feel now?"

    I fail to believe that a maths prodigy, spy, in a safe house, would have invited a random stranger to zip him up in a bag. It strains credibility.

    I feel deeply sorry for him and his family, in my view he died for his country in the most horrible of ways and it is terrible the way his name has been blackened. Who among us would want our browsing records to undergo that kind off scrutiny.

    How about a bit of sensitivity, el reg?

    1. diodesign (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

      Re: most plausible explanation

      "How about a bit of sensitivity, el reg?"

      It's a tricky line to walk. It's uncomfortable reading, but that shouldn't be a reason to gloss over details that were shared in a public court and could be essential to the story.


      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: most plausible explanation

        Or to highlight how it all sounds a bit like bullshit.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: most plausible explanation

      If you cannot think of at least a dozen more showy-off nasty ways to kill someone, your imagination is sadly lacking.

      As a hitperson, you make the killing a lot more blatantly murder (and a lot nastier), make it a likely suicide, or 'vanish' them so their body is never found.

      My bet would be on a sex game with someone else in the service that went wrong.

  23. Ilgaz

    One question to British

    We keep hearing about the great privacy rights of people and EU citizens in general.

    So, why do we read a murder victims sex life? Really puzzled here.

    1. JimmyPage Silver badge
      Thumb Down

      Re: One question to British

      Dead people have no rights.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: One question to British

        Hence the plethora of tacky turtleneck wearing toys for worship, fanboi thereof..

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Positive Vetting

    One might have thought that positive vetting would have picked up things like secretive interests in bondage and women's clothing. Anyone with lots of issues to hide might be considered a security risk because they would be more susceptible to blackmail.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Positive Vetting

      >Anyone with lots of issues to hide...

      Anyone who hides lots of issues...

      There is a difference. Nothing wrong with being, let's say, different if you are open about it.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Positive Vetting

      AC @ 00:18

      A major part of positive (nowadays called developed) vetting is to get all the dirty secrets out - if you are prepared to disclose everything to the vetting officer then the blackmail risk is negated. If you fail to disclose (and they have ways of finding "stuff" out...) then that is the FAIL.

  25. A J Stiles
    Big Brother


    Does "Close down GCHQ" feature in any political party's manifesto promises?

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    spot a Fed is now a joke at DFECON

    Sorry folks, the persona and mystique around DEFCON and the longtime 'Spot a Fed' is no longer how you describe. Only if the Fed is willing to participate and be outed will the DEFCON staff interrupt the session for the staged outing. Where in the early years of DEFCON the scenario described happened, more recently the Fed are protected.

    Seems the DEFCON staff have become more in league (or even pawns) to the Feds.

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