How MI5 keeps Britain’s secrets safe-ish, and other news from Britain

MI5 has warned LinkedIn users that they’re at risk of spilling the nation’s secrets. 

Let’s take that apart, okay? What’s MI5? 

It’s the British domestic security service. MI6 does the overseas spookery. To quote its own website, “MI5’s mission is to keep the country safe. For more than a century we have worked to protect our people from danger whether it be from terrorism or damaging espionage by hostile states.” 

Some other agency gets to deal with non-damaging espionage. 

MI5 is also dedicated to keeping the nation safe from commas, both the necessary kind and, the, unnecessary, sort. 

Irrelevant photo: It’s red berry season. I have no idea what these are. They’re not edible, though, at least as far as I know.

Linguistic problems aside, though, they’re spies. Or counter-spies, but countering spies can involve doing a bit of spying, because otherwise how do you know what your presumed spies are up to? Every country has some, although it’s bad manners to say so. When Lord Google directed me to MI5’s website, I got a brief message saying the site wasn’t available and thought, Ooh, that really is secretive. Then, disappointingly, it loaded. 

Maybe they used the pause to snip out the commas.

Next question: What kind of secret is the great British public at risk of spilling? 

The sad truth is that not many of us hold secrets anyone cares about. The people MI5’s worried about work in government and key industries, and MI5 says some10,000 UK nationals have been approached by hostile states on LinkedIn (which they don’t mention by name–they’re good at keeping secrets) over the past five years.

How does that work? Your average hostile state sets up a non-hostile fake profile, connects with likely users, and offers them speaking gigs, travel, business deals, lollipops, whatever sounds enticing. It all looks legit, not to mention flattering and lucrative. Presumably, these lure the targets into flapping their gums about whatever they’re supposed to be keeping secret. 

People who’ve been working from home since the start of the pandemic are said to be more vulnerable to these approaches, possibly because they’re working on less secure home computers, but possibly because they’re bored out of their skulls and lonely. 

Or possibly not. Maybe MI5 just threw the pandemic into the explanation to make it newsworthy.

 

Meanwhile, in other countries

In the US–you may well know this–Texas passed a law making abortions illegal if you’ve been pregnant for more than six weeks. Even if the preganancy’s the result of rape or incest. Even if you didn’t know you were pregnant until you were 6.1 weeks along. It’s also now illegal to help anyone get an outlawed abortion, and the law creates an odd, and potentially threatening, situation where individuals, not the state, are supposed to enforce it. So an antiabortion group set up a whistleblower website, and TikTokers promptly flooded it with Shrek memes, pornography,, and fake reports. 

My favorite report is an accusation against the State of Texas for maintaining the highways people use to reach abortion centers, although the 742 accusations against Texas’s governor run a close second.All 742 were all sent by one woman. Anyone who was even vaguely interested could find information online about how to convince a computer to submit mass reports.

Shortly after that started, the site’s host, the ironically named GoDaddy, kicked the site off its platform. It’s not considered nice to collect private information about third parties. The site moved to another platform, Epik, which (I’ve read but not confirmed) hosts assorted ultra-right and outright fascist sites. Then Epik kicked them off for pretty much the same reason. 

It was kicked off a couple of other platforms and last I heard had dropped out of sight..

The law, however, has not.

*

A Spanish bishop, Xavier Novell, resigned after falling in love not just with another human being but with a divorced one who writes erotic fiction with satanic themes, Silvia Caballol. The blurb on one of her books describes it as a journey into sadism, madness, and lust. The plot, it says, will shake the reader’s values and religious beliefs.

Well, either the plot or something else seems to have shaken the ex-bishop’s. He was known for for carrying out exorcisms, as well as for backing “conversion therapy” for gay people.

I can’t help hoping that he falls in love with a man next, although I probably should wish this gem on anyone.

 

An important report from a non-existent department 

The Department of Reasonable Caution isn’t concerned with LinkedIn. Instead it urges us to be more careful than the Mid-Kent Planning Support Team was when it tested an online system.

The team took five real planning applications from the town of Swale, inserted assorted wise-assery where bland responses normally land, and then–oops–put them online. After that, Swale discovered that not only was the incident embarrassing, it was legally binding. They can’t just say, “Sorry. Now we’ll publish the real response.” Instead the phony ones have to be overturned in the courts, which will take two or three months at an expected cost of £8,000.

And that’s only if the process isn’t challenged.

The blame’s landing on the head of some junior officer. I’m not sure what junior officer means in this context, but I can’t help feeling for him or her. This is some ill-advised soul who was trying to stay awake (not to mention amused) at work one day. And, briefly, succeeded.

In fairness, a bit of blame may land on the heads of the people who made the test documents public.

What did the docs that shouldn’t have gone live say? One application was turned down because “your proposal is whack.” Another was approved with the comment, “The incy, wincy spider.” A third was approved with the comment, “Why am I doing this, am I the chosen one?”

Yes, dear, you are: the one chosen to catch 96.3% of the flak.

Some of the place names sound like they were made up by the incy, wincy spider author, but they’re real: Bobbing, near Sittingbourne, home to the Happy Pants animal sanctuary. 

Pants, in British, are underwear. What kind of animal sanctuary does that make it? Sorry, you’re on your own there. *

 

And a yet another caution warning

This past week, Britain’s education secretary, Gavin Williamson, demonstrated that he couldn’t tell one Black public figure from another by confusing Marcus Rashford and Maro Itoje. He told an interviewer he’d had a pleasant Zoom meeting with Rashford. He’d been talking to Itoje.

When it all blew up in his face, he explained that he’d made “a genuine mistake.”

And here we’d thought he was faking the mistake to fool us into thinking he’s the kind of clueless racist who can’t tell one Black person for another and doesn’t think that’s a problem. And I say that as someone who can’t tell most people apart–Black, White, or Anyone Else. But my problem is with faces. The difference between the names Rashford and Itoje might give me a clue that they’re different people. And if I had to invest enough time in one of them to hold a meeting, I might take the time to find out who he actually is. 

Williamson also got Itoje’s first name wrong. It’s Maro, not Mario.

 

 

How smart does a prime minister have to be?

One of the non-burning questions in British politics is whether the prime minister is, contrary to all appearances, intelligent or whether he’s the kind of dope whose overpriced education taught him to say dumb things in Latin. 

Why isn’t that a burning question? Because if he is smart, it’s his dumb act that’s leading the country, so the impact is pretty much the same.

Still, it’s something people talk about, and the only argument I’ve heard in favor of him being smarter than he acts is that he wrote a biography of Churchill. No one mentions his novels. Presumably any idiot can write one, although as a novelist I’d like to think that  depends on how low your standards are.

If the Churchill biography is our key evidence, then it matters, in a non-burning sort of way, that a few months ago an eminent (and unnamed) Shakespeare scholar was asked to help Johnson write a biography of Shakespeare

Why is a prime minister messing around with a project that’s even less burning than establishing whether he’s clever enough to be allowed out alone? Because in 2015 Johnson signed a £500,000 deal with the publisher Hodder & Staughton. How much of the advance has been paid is anyone’s guess. I’d assume not all, and the publisher will be glad of that because he hasn’t finished it. Possibly hasn’t started it–he’s been distracted by this silly country he’s supposed to be running–although for all I know all the ands and thes are in place and only the connecting words are missing. 

The scholar was contacted by an agent and asked if he or she would “supply Mr Johnson (and a dictaphone) with answers to questions about Shakespeare. . . . The originality and brilliance, his agent assured me, would lie in Mr Johnson’s choice of questions to ask and in the inimitable way in which he would write up the expert answers he received,” 

The expert was told Johnson wrote his Churchill biography using the same method. S/he told the agent to take a hike. And then, apparently, called the press.

That leaves the nation still debating the prime minister’s intelligence. I’m not sure anyone’s arguing about his character.

 

Talking ducks

A musk duck in Australia has been recorded saying, “You bloody fool.” It’s the first documented instance of a duck imitating human speech. You have to watch the video a few times before you catch the words, but once you do, yes, it really does sound like the duck’s saying, “You bloody fool.” Maybe it’s talking about the ways we waste our time on this planet.

I found it disconcerting to hear a creature talk when its lips aren’t moving. And disconcerting that something that talks doesn’t have lips.

The duck was–or so the article I read told me–hatched from an egg, which I would’ve thought was common enough not to need mentioning, but since we’re talking about a talking duck I don’t suppose we should take anything for granted. The duck was also hand reared. 

Whether any of that is relevant to its ability to insult the world at large is up for grabs, but I’m thinking the duck–he’s called Ripper–wouldn’t make a bad prime minister. I don’t know what Britain’s unwritten constitution has to say about non-citizens becoming prime ministers, but ducks aren’t specifically ruled out.

Even with an unwritten constitution, I’m sure of that.

*

  • My thanks to Bear Humphries for the tip about Swale. I’d have missed it without him. The link is to his photo blog, which is well worth a look.

52 thoughts on “How MI5 keeps Britain’s secrets safe-ish, and other news from Britain

  1. One other commonality between Marcus Rashford and Maro Itoje is that both are probably more eloquent than most of the current cabinet. I’m a rugby fan so can recognise Maro Itoje possibly better than a significant proportion of the population, but you’d think that government ministers would have memorised the features of the man who keeps making them look like idiots.

    As for Boris and his Latin, Himself (who had a education in classics, unlike myself) tells me he gets a lot of it wrong. I’m inclined to believe that he;s right, as it fits the whole “doesn’t do detail” aspect of our current leader. Ripper the duck sounds a great prospect :)

    Liked by 2 people

    • Doesn’t do detail. Doesn’t do overview. Doesn’t do planning.

      What’s left? Why, Ripper, of course. At least the world hasn’t run out of alternatives.

      Himself’s comment about the Latin is interesting. And not that surprising, now that I hear it. It figures he’d do Latin as well as he does politics and journalism–and be unapologetic about it.

      And since I’m the one who tossed in problems in recognizing faces, I should say that Williamson’s problem wasn’t really facial recognition. The mixup came after the Zoom meeting, and his brain apparently tossed both men into a bucket labeled famous Black guys who piss me off but who I have to be nice to. Or–since I admit that’s speculation–something along those lines.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Williamson may be an unthinking racist. Or just unthinking. In the gallimaufry of nitwittery that passes for a cabinet, he is – and he knows it – pretty near the exit. The only thing that keeps him on is that his presence makes Johnson look as though he’s on the ball. That, and their backbenchers not yet fearing ejection at the next election.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I would never in a million years mix up Our Marcus and a London rugby union player :-), but, to be fair, give me two “influencers” or two people off Love Island and I wouldn’t have the remotest clue which of them was which. Not everyone’s into sport … although they really should be.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’m not only not into sports, I’m allergic to them, but here’s a government minister holding a meeting with someone and he conflates him with someone else? It would be bad enough if it weren’t for the long history of white people whispering to each other, “They all look alike anyway.”

      True, not every white person does that. But I have heard people say it, although I’m damned if I can remember who it was, or even when. But many have over the course of our shared histories that any white politician (or non-politician) with half a brain out to know there’s a minefield out there.

      And I wouldn’t know influencers apart either, but if I had a meeting with one I’d damn well want to figure out who I was dealing with.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I’d have to say you read that right. For a while there, it seemed like you wouldn’t have time to turn around twice before you read about someone leaving classified documents on the train, or the bus, or some other odd place. It happens less often now (or it’s written about less often, anyway), but there was an incident again a few months back. Not that that’s the only reason, but it’s the most amusing one.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Is it true then that a duck’s quack doesn’t echo ?
    And the general use of the term “quack” seems rather apt in this instance/

    Re: Texas abortion events : Texas Gov. Abbot gave reassuring statements that he was going to eliminate rape and rapists. Many people were questioning how he would do this. Then came the news that Ivermectin (the newest Covid treatment not recommended by anyone un the medical – or veterinary-community) causes male sterility.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. That duck should be on LinkedIn. Might make it more interesting. We have a spy agency in Canada called CSIS, but I don’t think they do much. I’ve heard they use the Oxford comma, however, so that’s something I can get behind.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I enjoyed your wit. Whilst the topic you write about here is interesting to me, your style made it more so. Very engaging, and awesome comedic timing. I’m a fan.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I found this post amusing entertaining and educational especially the part about M15 and its accidental or is it deliberate omission of commas and the fact that its website after warning you that it’s top secret loaded anyway. I think the use misuse or “non-use” of commas must be a sort of Morse code for spies and counterspies alike.
    Thanks for this post 📫

    Liked by 1 person

    • I couldn’t find a minimum age in a (very) quick search. Given that the constitution’s unwritten, I’d be surprised if there is one. Or if anyone knows it if there is. The youngest ever was 24.

      The thing about setting a minimum age, though, is that it’s measurable. At the time, intelligence wasn’t. Many people–including me–would argue that it still isn’t. The IQ tests measure something, but no one really knows what.

      Liked by 1 person

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