Let the Devil Wear Black - Memoirs of an analyst

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Resources - Barium Meal Information

How 'xeno–information' can reveal the existence of internal structure.

Chapter 18

Barium meal is an interesting counter–intelligence technique in that when it is done properly, it can reveal information that even the most highly resourced establishment department is trying to hide.

‘Like the real–life Barium meal, which shows up on x–ray any otherwise hidden imperfections in your digestive tract such as ulcers, polyps or that pack of crayons you swallowed as a child, the telephone variety uses unique, false but plausible information that is fed into the system from only one point.’

Barium meal can be used in a variety of situations from finding out if your telephone is tapped — as was the case in the book — to finding out if your department or even group of friends is passing on information and who it is. This is the basic principle that applies to all of these situations.

Barium meal requires information to be put into a system, where that information is unique, plausible and false. It needs to be plausible so that it is treated by the system the same way as any other information; it needs to be false so that when you are looking for signs that your information has been passed down a path, it is your information and not some ‘naturally occurring’ information; and, it needs to be unique. Unique can mean that: it only goes in, in one place so that you identify a particular entry point; that it only goes in at one time so that you can identify one path of many; or both.

Single source — Does the path even exist?

This is the scenario in the book: you suspect that someone is listening in on your telephone conversations and you want to know if it is true.

Effectively, your task is to prove the existence of a path between your telephone and some point that you can identify that by implication at least, involves the people whom you suspect of listening in — your information, your bait, has to be something that will be passed on only from them.

Your suspected entry point is your telephone and you have an idea of who will be handling the information so you can tailor your information to be something that will get passed on — something that is irresistible.

For a while, it had been suspected that the telephone had been tapped — I had been a union rep in the 1990s so it was a known policy for those numbers to be tapped any way — but there had been a number of clues. One of them was the incident on the 3rd June which, to be thought of as nothing more than coincidence would have required a level of credulity that would be equivalent to thinking that the royal family were reptiles.

In this case, it was information that the DSS would have found interesting and its use would have precipitated a particular response.

  Required  
 
Why   If not...  
   
Unique
  So that when you see it, you can identify where and when it went in, thus revealing the existence of the path.   You are not able to identify the signal therefore you cannot establish a particular source/sink path.  
   
Plausible
  So that it goes through the proper internal channels, not being treated differently to other data.   It might be detected and alert them that something is going on thus allowing them to reject it or send you back false signals, or even take alternative action.  
   
False
  So that it could only have come from the controlled source.   If the signal is appearing from other, ‘natural’ sources, you won’t know when you are seeing your signal.  
         

To confirm, further information was put into the system. That information let the ‘path’ know that as a result of the original information being passed on to the DSS, the ‘interview’ was going to be recorded with a view to using the recording either for the purposes of prosecution or to go public.

Allowing the interview to take place and be recorded as they knew it would be, would have meant that there was additional evidence in existence of corruption and how far up it went. As the game was that there was no game, that could not be allowed so stopping the interview was the only option.

Even though it confirmed the existence of the path, it was less damaging than having the confirmation as well as additional, unwanted actions of an unknown nature causing further problems further down the line.

Somebody claiming that their telephone line was tapped fell into the realm of plausible deniability but a tape recording with out–of–control copies in circulation was completely different.

One advantage of barium meal is that there is no way that the ‘path’ can tell if the information that it has is genuine or if it is barium meal.

Path known to exist — Which source?

So, that is what happens when you have one suspected source and you are trying to find out whether a path exists at all. Where you know that there is a path and you are in a position to influence its route to some extent, you can try putting slightly different versions of the information down each one.

Supposing that someone is passing on information but you don’t know who. You know where the information is coming out but you need to identify where it is going in. What you do is give each of your suspected sources slightly different versions of the information and see which crops up.

In the case of photographs, digital recordings and so on, it is fairly easy to identify but in the case of a story or some other information that is mainly words and not that long, you are relying upon lazy writing where words are simply copied. In that case, re–wording a story can defeat process unless you plant different details in each version that you hand to your suspects — communication between suspects is the reason why in the case of multiple sources, you need it to happen at one time.

 
We hadn’t received any pizzas to date so I wondered if that was going to be on the menu from now on.

Copyright © 2012-2014 James F Linden. All Rights Reserved.