[ISN] Phones stolen in Iraq used for sex chatlines

InfoSec News isn at c4i.org
Fri Mar 3 05:29:59 EST 2006


David Hencke
Westminster correspondent
March 2, 2006
The Guardian 

It certainly was not part of Britain's plans to win the hearts and 
minds of the people of Iraq. But the Foreign Office has been 
apparently paying for an adult sex chatline in a Baghdad street for 17 
months without knowing it.

The Foreign Office has had to tell MPs that an investigation into how 
a diplomat lost two satellite phones in Iraq has nothing to do with 
terrorism but more to do with a budding entrepreneur and a telephone 
porn network.

FO officials had already admitted that the lost phones had cost them 
£594,000 in unauthorised phone bills but it is now bracing itself for 
an extremely critical report from the Commons public accounts 
committee on how it came to pay phone bills, which at one stage hit 
£212,000 in one month, without asking questions.

Sir Michael Jay, permanent secretary at the FO, told MPs: "All the 
pattern of usage of these phones ... points to some kind of criminal 
activity ... It was almost as though they were taken and used as a 
kind of mobile phone booth at the end of the street where anybody 
could come along and use them.

"After that, they appear to have been used for a couple of scams based 
on what are known as personal numbers and premium numbers."

Sir Michael said the premium rate numbers were used for betting 
agencies or adult phone lines, and that one of the FO phones had been 
"on virtually full time with the person who is, as it were, making the 
call getting some benefit from it."

Sir Michael said initial inquiries had revealed a series of blunders. 
The phones were already activated when they were sent to Baghdad and 
they were not properly logged in - so no one realised at first that 
they had been stolen. None of the bills were initially challenged 
until people realised the phones had gone missing. The rules at all 
embassies have now been changed and no phone is sent abroad already 
activated for use.

Edward Leigh, chairman of the committee, told him: "In terms of this 
mobile phone being on permanently at the end of a street in Iraq, that 
gives a whole new meaning to winning hearts and minds in Iraq, but it 
is quite serious."

Austin Mitchell, Labour MP for Great Grimsby, whose phone had been 
swiped and used to dial a betting agency, asked if the FO had tried to 
get its money back.

Since the disclosure, Richard Bacon, Tory MP for Norfolk South, has 
made further inquiries: "It appears that they haven't been able to 
find the culprit or trace the phone. You would have thought having 
spent hundreds of millions of pounds setting up a sophisticated 
listening centre at GCHQ it would be very easy to trace a satellite 
phone and who was operating it in Iraq. But it doesn't appear anything 
was done. It just beggars belief that the FO kept paying the bills."

Sir Michael has promised to try to get the money back. But so far the 
only thing FO staff appeared to have done is to try to ring the 
premium rate number. Sir Michael told MPs they did not get a reply.

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