Sail Chains is Published

Sail Chains is published today

Available as a Paperback and on Kindle as an e-book. It is part of the Sailing Clear series and a sequel of sorts to Sailing Clear but can be read as a stand-alone. As it provides a tale heavily connected to intelligence systems run by the NSA and GCHQ, there is a forward in the book which can also be found in this blog post

Sail Chains Cover

Captain Tom Larring barely escaped alive from a mission in Afghanistan. He now has another task. Effi Miani has been undercover in the Middle east but is needed for the same operation. Together they must find Bravo-One-One who is the highest priority target for MI6. He is believed to be building a chemical weapon in Northwest Pakistan. A previous MI6 operation has already failed. A leak or a traitor inside MI6 may have destroyed that mission, so extra precautions must be taken otherwise, this team will also fail.

Tom and Effi need a faultless back story before embarking on their mission. The operation needs financing and a cover story. The help of a former disgraced MI6 officer, Michelle Houston, and her lover, Hugh Turnbill, is sought. They successfully control the laundering of black funds for the security services whilst sailing clear of the security services. Some of the MI6 leadership wants to gain direct control of the money and the couple, despite previous agreements. They want that control regardless of the risks to the operations in Pakistan. They think they may get leverage using two former teenage runaways connected to the couple.

The hunt for whoever leaked the information continues. Suspicions are raised. The internal security team needs to prevent the traitor putting the financiers and the operation at risk. An MI5 team is on the trail of a suspicious Saudi diplomat. He may be connected to Bravo-One-One.

Closed missions should not be re-opened. The NSA and GCHQ are monitoring and tracing communications using secret programmes and techniques, but some secrets should not be shared with allies.

Government Snooping Chains

The NSA and GCHQ Programs provide insight into government snooping chains. This blog also provides a forward to my book Sail Chains. The current focus on surveillance and privacy is based on the actions of Facebook, Amazon and google. The allied western intelligence agencies do much more. Previous blogs

Secure communications, tracking, and other jargon is used within this tale. The descriptions are based on real techniques used in Information Technology and Intelligence Surveillance. Some are described below to avoid lengthy passages of explanation in the narrative of the book and here in this blog for public edification.

Five-Eyes

Five-Eyes is an intelligence alliance comprising Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States. These countries are parties to a multilateral agreement which is a treaty for joint cooperation in signals intelligence. It is a wide ranging agreement and includes facilities in each country including the Government Communication Headquarters, GCHQ, in Cheltenham, UK, and the National Security Agency, NSA, with its HQ at Fort Meade in the USA. Both organisations also carry out their own operations and programmes. Many of these programmes were known in small parts to the media and hence general public; however the extent of these programmes was not well known until the revelations leaked or stolen by Edward Snowden.

GCHQ

GCHQ
NSA Signpost
NSA Sign post

Legal restrictions in all Five Eyes countries are supposed to restrict or prevent gathering of information on citizens. Secret courts, FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) in USA and CMPs (Closed Material Procedures) in UK provide legal cover. Parliamentary or Congressional scrutiny is very limited. In many cases the elected representatives or their advisors do not have sufficient levels of security clearance to see the material about the programmes let alone the technical understanding of the implications.

The NSA is not supposed to spy on US citizens without a warrant but they can collect data about US citizens whilst spying on foreigners. In one example 90% of the data collected in one sweep was about US citizens (>9,500 citizens out of 11,000 contacts). In this way GCHQ can spy on US Citizens and vice versa and each can pass data to the other through the Five Eyes and not be subject to any scrutiny. It is clear from multiple sources that this spying is not just on threats but also on journalists, whistleblowers and multiple other targets that the security services have decided are legitimate targets.

Snowden

The main details were leaked by Edward Snowden to two reporters Barton Gellman who published via the Washington Post and Glenn Greenwald in The Guardian. A film maker, Laura Poitras conducted interviews and also acted as a go-between, especially between Snowden and Gellman during the initial contacts when source VERAX was making contact. Many of the electronic copies of papers and programme details remain unreleased by the journalists. The NSA and GCHQ continue to deny many of the details, see here


STELLARWIND

was the code name of a warrant less surveillance program begun under the George W. Bush administration’s President’s Surveillance Program. The National Security Agency (NSA) program was approved by President Bush shortly after the September 11, 2001, attacks and was revealed by Thomas Tamm to The New York Times in 2004. STELLARWIND’s output is fed into the MAINWAY database

PRISM

PRISM is a code name for a program under which the NSA collects internet communications from various US internet companies. The NSA had placed collection systems directly in the data centres of the large tech companies including Microsoft, Google, Apple, Facebook and others. Due to the nature of Internet routing many non-US connections route or partially route via the data centres. Thus privacy campaigners use Virtual Private Networks, VPNs, and other techniques to mask their messages. These techniques are also used by enemies including terrorists.

MAINWAY

MAINWAY is a database maintained by the NSA (and Five Eyes partners) containing metadata for hundreds of billions of telephone calls made through the four largest telephone carriers in the United States: AT&T, SBC, BellSouth (all three now called AT&T) and Verizon. The existence of this database and the NSA program that compiled it was unknown to the general public until USA Today broke the story on May 10, 2006. It is estimated that the database contains over 1.9 trillion call-detail records. The records include detailed call information (caller, receiver, date/time of call, length of call, etc.) for use in traffic analysis and social network analysis, but do not include audio information or transcripts of the content of the phone calls.

Contact Chaining

Contact Chaining is a method of querying data held in MAINWAY to produce contact maps and then using associated algorithms of contacts of a target several levels away e.g. secondary, tertiary and beyond contact of contacts of contacts. Because MAINWAY holds historical data, officially 5 years worth for US citizens but with many caveats, previous contacts can be traced. Exceptions to deletion are any link to on-going or security investigations. This gives rise to an exponential increase in potential contacts. If the first contact has ten contacts and each has ten more and these in turn have ten more at 3rd degree of separation there are now 10x10x10 = 1,000. Most humans have far more than 10 contacts thus chains become very large very quickly. The game 6 Degrees of Kevin Bacon, the US Actor, demonstrates this is more humorous ways.

Algorithms are used to reduce the numbers or combine them into groups. This data is then combined with other communications data, for example, social medial posts and email, to build up a contact map. The seed in this case is the initial target or intercept which by correlating with another seed B. Contact C is thus linked in the chain.

Or a real one shown by the US news programme 60 Minutes

NBC Real Chain

Any one of these contacts or nodes could be the enemy that is sought or allow movements, locations and activity patterns to be tracked thus enabling potential targeting for surveillance or more direct action. Sometimes the enemy is unknown. The node shown is a phone, email address, social media handle, website, which the technique attempts to link to an individual or organisation. A phone number of a head office could be used by hundreds of contacts. How the data is processed into MAINWAY with other named systems mentioned is shown below:

Mainway Dataflow showing Government Snooping Chains

Enemies attempt to hide this activity by changing contact methods, encryption of the content of messages and other evasion techniques. For the NSA and GCHQ they are also tasked with creating method of protecting data from such intercepts by foreign powers or bad actors. Other techniques such as operating cell techniques can founder with just a single contact under the chain. Thus operational security measures are overcome. For example two terrorist cells with a leadership planning a coordinated attack can be linked.

CO-TRAVELER

A system called CO-TRAVELER is designed to track who meets with whom and covers everyone who carries a mobile/cell phone, all around the world. CO-TRAVELER collects billions of records daily of phone user location information. It maps the relationships of mobile/cell phone users across global mobile network cables, gathering data about who you are physically with, and how often your movements intersect with other phone users. The program even tracks when your phone is turned on or off.

TOR – Protects from government snooping or does it?

Tor is free and open-source software for enabling anonymous communication by directing Internet traffic through a worldwide overlay network. It consists of more than seven thousand relays designed to conceal a user’s location and usage from anyone conducting network surveillance or traffic analysis. Using Tor makes it more difficult to trace the Internet activity to the user: this includes “visits to Web sites, online posts, instant messages, and other communication forms”. Tor’s intended use is to protect the personal privacy of its users, as well as their freedom and ability to conduct confidential communication by keeping their Internet activities unmonitored. It was created by the Office of Naval Research and DARPA as a security protection project and the papers from Snowden demonstrated that the NSA had managed to set up infiltration into the network.

VPNs – Encrypt channels of communication thus protecting chains but not that a connection exists

Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) are encrypted channels between one or more network points. They normally use some form of shared encryption key between the end points thus preventing interception of the communication content; however, the metadata (data about data) can still be traced including locations, of end points, times of transmission, etc. Therefore, STELLARWIND can collect this data and deposit into MAINWAY for use in Contact Chaining. If a phone is used as the data connection CO-TRAVELER can match locations and obtain more metadata in addition to location and other data sources nearby.

GCHQ

GCHQ has a different set of names achieving the same ends see here. This shows the applications CARPART, PRIMETIME, SNAPDRAGON, MoaG, SORTING FRIENDS sending data into a system called CHART BREAKER, and onwards into CONTACT LENS which is the Contact Chaining output from MAINWAY and CHART BREAKER

SQL for Sequels

Mixing my topics today and probably confusing everyone in the process including me.

SQL stands for Structured Query Language a method of querying databases to find results but often used to describe the database itself. It is normally pronounced sequel hence the connection.There are several databases that call themselves SQL including Microsoft’s larger server based system, right down to SQLite Personal Edition running on various operating systems. Why is a SQL database on my mind? Because my sequels are causing me problems.

Part Three of the Demise Conspiracy, An Agent’s Prize, Part Two of The Observer Series, Intervention and an as yet unnamed sequel to To The Survivors currently named TTS2 by file name. What has this to do with databases. Characters that is what. Characters and timelines and scenes. Of course it’s all my own fault for trying to write several books (not just these) at the same time, but now I have added to my problem. Which character appeared, when, in which book, and do I need to explain their role or half the story of the earlier parts.

As I have previously blogged, I use Scrivener to write and it is an excellent system to list characters and scenes within a manuscript. I have tried importing all the characters over from the earlier parts but that just makes the lists longer. What I need is a clever database that tells me when, where and in what context I wrote about the character or the scene. In other words i need to add all the meta-data and link all the appearances of the character in Scrivener. I also need to know how much I should cover of the earlier story in order to have the current actions make sense. Not sure any tool can help with that. Many might say it did not make sense in the first parts!

Currently, I end up re-reading long sections of the earlier books, using Scriveners’ tool set to find the relevant section, but then comes the real problem. I end up wanting to change the original for grammar, construction or even plot to fit in with the next part’s scene. Oh if only I had written it differently, called the character something else, not killed off xx. God knows how longer series writers manage. Did J K Rowling have a database of Harry Potter characters? Now, if I had a database of all my ideas, characters etc there would be one place to go. This would avoid one section I just had to change where I used the same character name in two different manuscripts.

So clever database designers get on it. Get me a SQL database with the right easy to use queries so that I can look it all up. My writing would increase in speed, I could effortlessly cross reference and the world would be a better place.

Of course I could just get better organised get the sequel written without SQL at all.

Not An Election Post

Aside

Not an election post was written in April 2015 ahead of the general election in that May

I was making a major effort not to write about the election. With this I have just failed – sorry.

First rant on the way is about coverage. This is a vote for MPs standing in 650 constituencies across the UK. The MP once elected is supposed to represent all the constituents not just the minority that actually voted for the individual, whatever the rosette.

Second rant, concerns who we can vote for. I cannot vote for David Cameron, Ed Milliband, Nigel Farage, Nick Clegg or any of the other party leaders. They are not standing in the constituency in which I live. They are not standing against each other either. The constant portrayal by the media of the battle between them is factually and practically wrong. Another reason why the TV debates were farcical. Yes, as leaders of their parties they may be involved, if re-elected by their constituencies, with one exception for one leader.

Nicola Sturgeon is not actually standing for Westminster but she seems to be the only focus of much of the coverage. She is so convinced that she knows what is right for the UK she has decided to stay as an MSP. This fact has not even received any coverage – democratic deficit anyone? Her former boss Alex Salmond is standing (after allegedly retiring). This reminds me of Putin becoming Prime Minister so that he could comply with re-election rules in Russia before returning as President. Is there something the SNP is not telling us?

It was supposed to be a six week campaign leading up to the vote on the 7th May but thanks to the new fixed terms it seems we have gone straight from the Scottish referendum into the General election. As I have previously covered, when discussing the referendum, the media seem to be totally focused on the role of the SNP and the likely results in Scotland deciding what the rest of the United Kingdom should do. Whereas, in the referendum we had over 6% of the electorate deciding whether to breakup the UK we now have the potential for the similar 5% deciding who governs. The lower percentage is due to the 16 and 17 year-old’s who could vote in the referendum but cannot vote in the General Election.

At the end of the 2010 election we had the Liberal Democrats forming a formal coalition with the Conservatives who were by far the largest party and had the largest share of the UK vote. The Conservatives missed out on forming a non coalition government by 23 MPs. The SNP in its public statements has already ruled out any support for a Conservative led government (although in the Scottish Parliament the SNP has in the past relied on Conservative support).

The public statements have been made by Nicola Sturgeon the SNP leader who is not even standing in the election! She next stands for election in 2016 in the Scottish Parliamentary elections. Therefore, she is saying that regardless of the result in the rest of the UK she will not support potentially the largest democratic vote.

Of course combined with Labour, the share of the vote may well exceed that of the Conservatives, but previous results have shown this not to be the case. Boundary changes were supposed to correct the anomaly. Scotland’s 5% of voters 9% of population equates in Westminster MPs to 9% of MPs (59 out of 650). Polls seem to indicate that the SNP may win over forty of these, predominantly from Labour. As with public sector spending per head Scotland seems to be batting above its position. UKIP proposes to change this position by reforming the Barnet formula for devolved spending. Of course UKIP may have some MPs itself to support or otherwise any planned coalition.

Meanwhile the polls tell us it is too close to call but that some informal or formal arrangement nay have to exist. Labour has said no to any formal coalition with SNP. Liberal Democrats have said they will work with anyone depending on the results. The Conservatives only talk about overall majorities. If the Conservatives do have an overall majority will the SNP respect the democratic decision of the majority of the voting population?

Enough politics I have books to write!

New Book Description For Landscape

Aside

There is a new book description for Landscape

She is a PA who dreams of running her own art gallery. He is an IT technician gambling away everything he wants. They meet and fall in love. Their relationship is threatened by endless bets even whilst they share their love of paintings.

Years later some dreams are fulfilled others are dashed. Will the former lovers meet again?

Progress Update

Progress update as described in April 2015

I have not been updating all the sub-pages of this site as frequently as I would like. Still I’ll have some time soon to devote to writing and the supporting effort.

On that theme I have joined Readers In The Know as another way of trying to reach more readers, especially when I have offers for books going like the ongoing Smashwords deals I have although in this case the primary links are to Amazon.

To the point of the blog – updates to current writing progress:

An Agent’s Prize – the third book in what I’m calling the Demise series – after a long stall this has finally got going again. I have had to sort out the plot’s timeline to make it work and drop a major scene idea which was forcing to many other scenes.

Intervention – Another stalled process that has got going again. This is the second part of The Observer Series. I was making it too complex, so some cutting and altering needed to be done before progress could be made. That revision has mostly been done and further chapters added

Collection One – Not far off finishing, but in the put away and think about it for a while. Not happy with the proposed cover nor the title. Actually, not totally convinced by a couple of the stories. – Editor’s note – remains unfinished and uncollected. See Coming Soon

Revolt – No progress, this may be put away for a while

To The Survivors – The Sequel – Has been started but I have a conflict in where it starts with several alternate ideas and three opening chapters. The biggest problem has always remained, where does it go and from when, till when? The original spans twenty years or more.

Others

There are other snippets and starts but nothing definite. For those of you who have heard snippets from me – I can’t say when or how these will evolve.

Enough blogging – there is lots of writing to do as well as promoting existing works, setting pricing, and not checking sales

Mea Culpa

Yes, I’m guilty. In this case guilty of hypocrisy. What leads to this confession you ask? Mea Culpa!

Reviews, yes reviews the bane of all self-published author’s lives (alongside marketing, editing, sales – oh and writing). The reason for this self-assessment is that I was about to bemoan the lack of reviews on Amazon for my work. Despite steady sales reviews seemed to have dried up. How can it be that no one wants to post how much they loved/hated/ignored my last work. Then, as I started to compose this blog I stopped and thought. I don’t review on Amazon either and haven’t for ages. I do review and rate, briefly, almost diligently on Goodreads for all my reading. This has led, once, to a minor disagreement with the author about my review, but generally I have written a paragraph about the latest Read book. Some people have even liked my review or retweeted the rating across the World.

For me though, on Amazon, nothing despite email reminders from the Amazon team. Of course the ratings systems are different between the two sites, despite Amazon owning Goodreads. Reviews do not flow through. Book purchases can flow from Amazon to the My Books section on Goodreads, if the user selects to do so, but no review transitions.

Now, I could go back and cut and paste my reviews for each book onto Amazon adjusting star ratings as I go. It’s a lot of work as I am at least 50 books behind. Still I may have some time soon as I switch main jobs.

It doesn’t help my lack of reviews on Amazon, Goodreads or anywhere else for that matter. What would help is if Amazon.com allowed other Amazon sites’ reviews to show up on Amazon.com. They do the other way round, then my latest reviews, more recent in the UK and for books not reviewed in the US, would be available to all. Not sure why Amazon has it set up that way – I’m sure it does not help sales, but then again if I don’t review on Amazon, I’m not helping either. As I said Mea Culpa!

Smashwords Deals

I no longer publish through Smashwords

To celebrate the forthcoming launch of Landscape I have some coupon codes via Smashwords to grab my existing books at special discounts for a limited time only!

Simply add the coupon code at check out

An Agent’s Demise – AC79Z – Special Offer with the code $1

An Agent’s Rise – WT3H – Special Offer with the code $1

To The Survivors – BN59T – Special Offer with the code 50% off

The Persuasive Man – YE67W – Special Offer with the code $1

The Observer Series-Part One-The World of Fives – LP55E – Special Offer with the code $1