a bag similar to the one Gareth Williams was found in (photo: mattk1979)

Remember that GCHQ/MI6 agent, Gareth Williams, who was found dead in a duffel bag last year?

At first, the narrative around his death centered on rumors he had been killed in a weird gay sex game. Amid such sensational reporting, other articles revealed Williams worked closely with the NSA on wiretapping Rashid Rauf, one of the men involved in the 2006 plot to bring down planes with small bottles of liquid. Williams’ work with NSA is all the more interesting when you consider American manipulation of that investigation and their subsequent squeamishness about sharing the intercepts.

But now there’s a new theory out now (from the Daily Mail, which was early to the now discredited sex crime theory): that Williams was killed by the Russian mafia because he was working on a way to track money laundering.

But now security sources say Williams, who was on secondment to MI6 from the Government’s eavesdropping centre GCHQ, was working on equipment that tracked the flow of money from Russia to Europe.

The technology enabled MI6 agents to follow the money trails from bank accounts in Russia to criminal European gangs via internet and wire transfers, said the source.

‘He was involved in a very sensitive project with the highest security clearance. He was not an agent doing surveillance, but was very much part of the team, working on the technology side, devising stuff like software,’ said the source.

He added: ‘A knock-on effect of this technology would be that a number of criminal groups in Russia would be disrupted.

‘Some of these powerful criminal networks have links with, and employ, former KGB agents who can track down people like Williams.’

The rest of the Daily Mail article on this hypes how scary and omnipresent the Russian mafia are.

But money 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.  [cont’d.]



Marcy Wheeler aka Emptywheel is an American journalist whose reporting specializes in security and civil liberties.