Tuesday 8 November 2011

Brodie Clark alone

Rt Hon Theresa May MP
Open letter
Secretary of State for the Home Department
Marsham St
London W1 SW1
8 November 2011

Dear Home Secretary

Brodie Clark alone
I write to suggest the right course of action to follow now.

You have started three enquiries. You must start a fourth.

Without that fourth enquiry, although you may keep your job, your name will be tarnished.

With it, even if you lose your job, your reputation will be enhanced. You will eventually be recognised as having struck a blow in favour of the businesslike investment of public money and against the present practice of Whitehall wasting it by the lorryload. And you will eventually be recognised as having struck a blow in favour of democracy and against the present practice of rule by an unelected and unaccountable Whitehall.

The media are convinced, to a man and a woman, that the biometrics chosen by the Home Office, to defend the border, work. Increase the use of those biometrics, and you get a better defended border, they say. Reduce it, and border security automatically suffers.

If that relationship between the chosen biometrics and border security holds, then you’re guilty, Brodie Clark is guilty, you’re both out of the job and your names will be Mudd.

But does it? Does that relationship hold true? Why do the media believe in the efficacy of the Home Office’s chosen biometrics? Why do they make that assumption?

If you assembled the entire corps of Whitehall editors, home affairs editors and political correspondents of the press and of the broadcast media, you wouldn’t find a single biometrics expert among them. Not one. They don’t know what they’re talking about when it comes to biometrics, and they haven’t bothered to check.

Which means that when you launch your fourth enquiry – into the efficacy of the biometrics chosen by the Home Office – the corps shouldn’t find it difficult to change their tune.

Once they realise that there is a substantial amount of respectable evidence against the biometrics chosen by the Home Office, the media story will change. Once they realise that there is no respectable evidence in favour of these biometrics, the media will start at last to ask the right questions.

Why has so much public money been wasted on investments in a technology that doesn’t work? Why have the public been consistently misled by politicians about its efficacy?

Nobody expects politicians to know anything in detail about the “false non-match rates” and the “receiver operating curves” that constitute the study of biometrics. We just expect you to be properly briefed. So who has been misleading the politicians? There are only two possible answers. The biometrics suppliers themselves – but they presumably don’t have daily access to ministers. And the Whitehall officials who do have access to ministers. Officials who have apparently acted as unpaid salesmen for certain biometrics products and who have given part of the industry an unsolicited and undeserved testimonial.

For about 48 hours after the story broke on Friday evening, the media focused on Brodie Clark alone. One man. Decades of experience in policing and prisons, a man capable of running 20,000 staff doing a dangerous job in the interest of national security, a man at the height of his powers – he didn’t go barmy one day and just decide to stop bothering with passport checks on a whim.

It takes one small change in the reporting of this case and Brodie Clark becomes a hero. If he is described correctly as a professional having to do a very hard job – quite beyond the powers of any of his detractors – while being lumbered with useless technology by a bunch of dilettantes in Whitehall, then the focus changes.

The focus has already changed, of course, the media now have you in their sights. They have skipped from the Head of the Border Force to the Home Secretary without taking into account any of the intervening people responsible. You have to get the media to start joining the dots.

Brodie Clark doesn’t run UKBA on his own.

He’s one member of the Board. What were the other directors doing while he was supposedly impairing national security? Looking the other way? What were the non-executive directors doing? Do they turn up to Board meetings just for the sandwiches? What about the Chief Executive of UKBA, Robert Whiteman? He was appointed in July 2011. Lin Homer, the previous Chief Executive, moved on in December 2010 to become Permanent Secretary at the Department of Transport. Why did it take so long to find a replacement?

UKBA is an executive agency of the Home Office. How come we haven’t heard from Dame Helen Ghosh, the Permanent Secretary at the Home Office? Is she responsible for UKBA or isn’t she? And where’s Sir Gus O’Donnell while the shrapnel’s flying? He’s Head of the Home Civil Service. He’s responsible for everything. He’s the man with a budget of £710 billlion of public money for the year 2011-12. Why don’t the media find out from the horse’s mouth what’s going on? This is an operational matter. The media should be quizzing the operators.

And that’s where your fourth enquiry comes in. Who chose these useless biometrics? James Hall. No-one’s ever heard of him. One of Whitehall’s numerous imports from Accenture, James Hall was Chief Executive of the Identity & Passport Service (IPS) until the 2010 election, when he was allowed to go quietly into retirement. No public recriminations against him for having spent £292 million on the National Identity Service with nothing to show for it. Nothing whatever. By contrast, some of the newspapers are keen to tarnish Brodie Clark’s good name, deprive him of his bonus, gloat at his salary and question whether he should be allowed his pension.

James Hall reported to Sir David Normington, Permanent Secretary at the time at the Home Office. He retired at the end of last year, his KCB was uprated to a GCB and he is now our First Civil Service Commissioner. He is garlanded. Brodie Clark is pilloried. But it’s Sir David who had operational responsibility for IPS and UKBA ever since John Reid pointed out that the latter was not fit for purpose. No questions about Sir David’s pension. Why?

The Home Office was advised on biometrics by the Home Office Scientific Development Branch (HOSDB) and by external consultants. Marek Rejman-Greene was the biometrics expert at HOSDB at the time and has moved on smoothly to advise the Cabinet Office on identity assurance. Still in the job, still on the public payroll, and no impertinent questions about his bonus, if any, for Mr Rejman-Greene.

Who are the external consultants? PA Consulting. See Helping the UK Border Agency International Group to deliver a world-class biometric visa service on the PA Consulting website. That’s the same firm of management consultants who charged £42 million for project management on John Prescott’s FiReControl fiasco, a project which the National Audit Office (NAO) assures us will waste a minimum of £469 million of public money.

Who provides the biometric technology being used by the Home Office? Morpho. Once again, no-one will have heard of them. They used to be called "Sagem Sécurité". They're a subsidiary of Safran Group, the French equivalent of BAe. And they're the world leaders in biometrics, selling their unreliable wares to Australia, the US and India as well as us and presumably the poor unfortunate French.

PA Consulting and Morpho would benefit from a close inspection by the UK’s media quite as much as, if not more than, you and Brodie Clark.

You would have some powerful support for a fourth enquiry from the NAO and from the chairmen of the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee (whose excellent report on the Home Office’s ID cards plan was rudely and unwisely ignored), the Public Accounts Committee and the Public Administration Select Committee. Margaret Hodge at PAC has a wide selection of adjectives to describe the wisdom with which public money is spent by Whitehall and Bernard Jenkin at PASC doesn't seem to be too impressed with the quality of public administration in the UK either.

You would also have the support of the unions. They want to protect their members’ jobs. Faced with the prospect of replacing thousands of UKBA frontline staff with computer technology that doesn’t work, you, too, may want to protect the border by protecting their jobs.

The Guardian, of course, won’t support you. Not because you’re a Conservative. But because they believe in a state where a grateful populace is wisely served by an all-knowing cadre of public officials. Men from the ministry. Whitehall. Which is why their editorial today asks everyone to turn the rhetoric down.

Don’t start the fourth enquiry and then wait patiently for its findings to be announced in six months time. Make them report publicly once a week, orally and/or with interim written reports and plenty of press releases. The only reason Whitehall have been able to waste our money on unreliable biometrics for the best part of ten years is that they operate in secrecy.

Behind closed doors, Whitehall seem to make one unbusinesslike, irresponsible and downright illogical decision after another. They desperately need to operate more openly to keep their noses clean. And we the public desperately need them to keep their noses clean – we can’t afford for Whitehall to carry on wasting our money like this.

The enquiry could find itself going to unexpected places. Don’t be surprised to see the European Commission figuring large. The European Commission's white paper on electronic identity will be one important source. The Commission's plans for Project STORK will be another. And the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) also will figure large. Via the eBorders scheme, the DHS get access to all UK API data (advance passenger information) whenever we fly, whether domestically or internationally.

eBorders must be included in the enquiry. Partly because it depends to a large extent on biometrics. And partly because this is the Home Office system which manages UKBA’s watchlists for terrorists and criminals which Brodie Clark is accused of not using.

The BBC’s File on 4 programme, ‘Open Borders?’, explains why Mr Clark might well not use eBorders.

The last government appointed Raytheon as the lead contractors on eBorders. One of the first acts of the coalition government was to fire Raytheon for breach of contract. It’s never been explained what breach took place. IBM have now taken over as lead contractors.

For £1 billion, in the 21st century, we’re getting a computerised system that would disgrace the 19th century.

eBorders relies on little scraps of paper being delivered to the desks of UKBA border force staff. Sometimes, these little bits of paper go astray. And then anyone can get into the country, even “Sheikh [Raed] Salah, an Arab-Israeli activist, [who] flew into the UK last month [June 2011], days after Home Secretary Theresa May had signed an order denying him entry to the UK”.

Let’s see the media grill Raytheon and IBM as well as Brodie Clark and you.

We elect politicians. You politicians seem to be immediately trussed up by officials who control your every move, only allow you to take the calls they put through, attend the meetings they arrange, see the letters and papers they choose. We do not elect officials. But who has the power? Certainly you politicians keep taking the responsibility. But power? It looks as though that lies with Whitehall. That is the unacknowledged fact of our present democracy. It is not the democracy the public thinks it partakes in.

There’s a lot riding on the fourth enquiry. I append an outline of the first topic to research. There’s a lot more to come. If you would like it.

Yours faithfully
David Moss


The Fulminator said...

Complex - but incredibly clear and to the point, DMOssEsq. Unfortunately, I suspect the only way Theresa is ever going to get to see this lucid and pertinent critique is if one of her civil servants shows it to her - and what are the chances of that happening?

I hope I'm wrong. Whatever, it feels like it's important for someone to be saying what you're saying. It has the tang of truth and sheer common sense about it.

I'll admit to being a knee-jerk "hang Brodie up by testicles" man before reading this article - and feel mildly ashamed at having so easily swallowed that message. I found your defence of the chap rather touching.

David Moss said...

The Home Office public relations officers were apparently let loose last Friday/Saturday to make sure the press knew he was no good at his job.

His first brush with national publicity was in 1994 when six men, including five members of the IRA, escaped from the special secure unit within Whitemoor prison in Cambridgeshire.

An official report into the escape said: “So many things were wrong, so many procedures and policies totally ignored and with such regularity, that the escape could have taken place on any day of the week with the same chance of success. At times it was difficult to find something being done in accordance with the manuals.”

No good, you see. Clark was Governor at Whitemoor when the escape took place. And had been ... for a couple of weeks. All those non-existent procedures and unimplemented policies? Not his fault. Not in a couple of weeks.

From the same source:

Martin Narey, a former director-general of the Prison Service, said that when Mr Clark worked for him, he had been a man who would never cut corners.

“The thing about Brodie Clark is that he is meticulous to the nth degree. When he worked for me I thought he was outstanding,” Mr Narey said.

Nice people, public relations officers, and hugely effective when it comes to defending the border.

Mark Benney said...

The answer to your question about Dame Helen is probably that she was concentrating on her application to become Head of the Civil Service. I gather that interviews were held last Friday. I do not know for sure whether Dame Helen applied, but it seems a fair bet bearing in mind that some organs have been telling us that the "safe money" should be on her.

David Moss said...

Thank you for your comment, Mr Benney.

Let's see now, senior appointments come under Sir David Normington and Sir Gus O'Donnell, who will bear in mind the Prime Minister's preference for a female or ethnic minority candidate, that being his definition of "meritocracy".

Sir Gus accompanied Lin Homer to her Civil Servant of the Year prize-giving a few years back. She could fit in Transport and Head of the Home Civil Service more easily than Helen Ghosh at the Home Office – surely that really is a full-time job.

How about the lady at Defence with Liam Fox?'s scalp on her belt? She must be in with a chance. Or Diane Abbott?

David Moss said...

There's a story coming up on the BBC, no link yet:

Cabinet secretary investigating claims home secretary's special adviser briefed against ex-UK border force chief Brodie Clark

Dirty business.

David Moss said...

And the new head of the home civil service is ... Sir Bob Kerslake, Permanent Secretary at the Department for Communities and Local Government:

Before joining DCLG, Kerslake was the first chief executive of the Homes and Communities Agency. He has also been chief executive of Sheffield City Council.

David Moss said...

Lot of horses in a lot of races.

My horse won the Gold Cup:-

Lin Homer to take top job at HMRC
Lin Homer, the permanent secretary at the Department for Transport, is to become chief executive at HM Revenue and Customs

Lin Homer has been announced as the next chief executive of HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC).

Homer, who has been permanent secretary at the Department for Transport since December 2010, takes over from Lesley Strathie, who stepped down last month on health grounds.

Sir Gus O'Donnell, head of the civil service, welcomed the announcement and said 'a wealth of experience working in the public service in central and local government' would allow Homer to excel in her new role.

O'Donnell said he was "very sorry" that Strathie had to step down last month, to concentrate on her health, at a time when HMRC was "achieving very real improvements in its performance".

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