MI5 spies blame software for 7/7 cropping disaster

July 20, 2011

MI5 has blamed poor image cropping software and a flatbed scanner for the loss of potentially crucial photographic evidence ahead of the 7/7 bombings.

Woeful cropping of a colour image, showing 7/7 bombers Mohammed Siddique Khan and Shehzad Tanweer, was the most heavily criticised aspect of the Security Service?s actions during the Coroner?s Inquests.

Inquests into the deaths resulting from the 2005 terrorist attacks revealed that the MI5-edited image – captured covertly at a motorway service station in February 2004 – failed to 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 one side of the original picture, were removed before being sent to the FBI.

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

The inquests heard that the photograph was not shown to the informant, possibly because of its poor quality, though better images were shown ‘shortly afterwards’, allowing identification to be made.

Accepting the recommendations of the coroner, the Government and MI5 yesterday stated that, in 2004, most Security Service photographs were taken using film.

They added that ?the process of cropping a photograph involved scanning a “wet film” print onto a flatbed scanner, uploading the image onto the corporate IT system and cropping it, and/or removing the background, using the software available in the Service at the time?.

Their response to the coroner?s recommendations, published yesterday, continued: ?The quality of the image was reduced during the scanning process and the cropping software available at the time reduced the quality even further?.

MI5 says its ?current system for the cropping of photographs has now been improved significantly so that the risk of recurrence of such an error has been substantially reduced?.

All its photos are now captured digitally – removing the need to scan images – and MI5 says it has access to ?up to date commercially available software?.

?The Security Service has also invested in an IT system for enabling the electronic transfer of photographs to encrypted electronic devices used by our agent handlers when showing photographs to agents. This has improved the overall quality of the photographs we show to agents.’

However, the Service admits that the system is ?not yet perfect? and that MI5 still needs to improve ?the connectivity between it and some of those partners with whom it shares images?.


7/7 photo cropping blunder

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