7/7 inquest photo crop blunder: How hard can it be? (update)

February 22, 2011

7/7 bombers

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Secret service agents failed to properly crop a vital surveillance image of two 7/7 bombers a year before the terrorist attacks that killed 52 people, inquests have heard.

Though it has not been revealed what type of photography software MI5 officials were using in 2004, off-the-shelf technology was widely available to help amateur photographers carry out basic photo editing tasks.

Among the software available at the time was Adobe Photoshop Elements 2.0 which was aimed at non-professional users and cost less than $100 when launched in 2002.

A colour picture of 7/7 bombers Mohammed Siddique Khan and Shehzad Tanweer (above) was yesterday presented as crucial evidence at the inquests into the terrorist attacks on London in 2005 and a golden opportunity missed.

The image was captured covertly at a motorway service station in February 2004.

During the inquest it was revealed that the MI5-edited image did not show Khan when it was sent to an Al Queda informant for possible identification.

And many of the identifying features of Tanweer, who was on the left of the original picture, were removed before being sent to the FBI (see below).

Furthermore the final version appeared in black and white when it was sent to FBI agents who were working with the informant in the United States.

Asked to explain MI5?s actions, a senior secret service official ? referred to only as ?Witness G? ? told the inquest that officers were under ?significant pressure.?

Witness G added: ?There?s no contemporaneous documentation on this but my judgement would be that, when photographs are cropped in this way, it is, for whatever reason [that] we are concerned that by, including the background we are giving away too much detail about the covert means in which it was collected.?

Hugo Keith QC responded: ?I am bound to observe, if you will forgive me, I think one of my children could have done a better job of cropping out that photograph.

?You can see that not only has it left Tanweer? without any identifying marks on his hat – much of a nose, the stubble has disappeared and part of his clothing. It is not really a very satisfactory cropped photograph is it??

Lord West, a former security minister, last night admitted it was ?slightly strange? that British intelligence officers failed to show the full unedited colour picture to an Al Queda ?supergrass? who was working with the FBI,

In an interview on BBC?s Newsnight, interviewer Jeremy Paxman asked Lord West: ?Do you have a theory about why they would have cropped a photograph in such a way as the person is almost unrecognisable, when there is a perfectly clear photograph from which they were readily identifiable?

Lord West replied: ?I have to say I don?t understand that and don?t know how it happened? it does seem slightly strange.?

Defending the difficulties faced by the security services Lord West said that, at the time, they had around 800 people under surveillance.


Picture credit:

AP edited image

Above:This basic crop, carried out by Amateur Photographer’s newsdesk as an experiment, took less than 30 seconds to complete using Adobe Photoshop software. It shows 7/7 bomber Mohammed Siddique Khan

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