Catch a leaker? Djanogly was wasting his timePosted on September 9, 2010
Jonathan Djanogly has got himself into some trouble today for hiring private investigators to snoop on his own colleagues and constituency party officials. Reportedly, he was trying to find out who was leaking information about his dubious use of expenses.
This was an error in general terms, particularly given the Conservatives’ pitch against snooping and widely publicised conversion to expenses transparency. It doesn’t look good that while he was saying he “completely understood” the public’s concern about his expenses, he was also seeking to prevent taxpayers finding anything more out about them.
More specifically, he was simply wasting his time and money trying to catch the leaker(s). In the modern age they are increasingly difficult to track down, due to a combination of technical and human failsafes that you can use to protect their identities. Having handled a fair number of leaks from official bodies, political parties and elsewhere in my time I thought it be useful to provide a brief guide to why his attempts were futile.
For a start, the kind of information that was coming out about Djanogly seems to have been human intelligence, which doesn’t require a documentary trail. The Telegraph’s initial story about allegations surrounding his cleaner/au pair does not contain any new information – rather, it means someone rang the Telegraph up and talked them through the expenses documents they already had. That suggests it was someone who was acquainted with the Djanogly family, or a contact of someone who was.
Furthermore, even if there were documents being leaked they are very hard to trace back to anyone. In the rare cases where leakers are identified it tends to be when the material involved had a very limited circulation list, allowing investigators to deduce the identity of the leaker by a process of elimination (or entrapment).This seems to be what happened to Chris Galley, who was leaking very high level information to Damian Green.
There are always rumours of computer programmes that insert deliberate errors or graphics in documents on larger circulation lists, allowing you to identify the leaker from the code hidden in their document. However, doing so is complex and too costly for the limited benefit. Even then, any would-be leaker is likely to protect against digital records by photocopying the document and then rescanning it or simply transcribing the information by hand, trading the quality of the documents in return for some added security.
The final and biggest challenge for Jonathan Djanogly is that judging by the findings of his own investigators, there were a lot of people around him who weren’t his biggest fans. If the PIs had found everyone loved him except one obviously grudge-bearing individual, then they might have got their guy. Even then, most leakers are too savvy to go round drawing suspicion by making their dislike or resentment publicly known. As it happened, it seems that most of his constituency party were happy to slag him off even to someone whom they thought was a journalist.
In that situation, he should have realised that the leaker was the least of his problems.