12 May 2012
Charles Farr Expanded
In reference to:
The print edition of this Sunday Times story has a lot more unflattering
detail about Charles Farr and his malign influence in promoting expensive,
counterproductive failed "security" policies within the the previous Labour
and current Conservative / Liberal Democrat governments.
It seems that the "Westminster village" of favoured mainstream media journalists,
Whitehall mandarins and politicians are familiar with what Charles Farr looks
like, but he is trying to keep in the shadows, hiding from the British public.
Are there really "no pictures of him any where on the internet"?
Cryptome welcomes a photo: cryptome[at]earthlink.net
The Sunday Times, 22nd April 2012, page 23
Profile Charles Farr
Chief snooper pops out of the shadows
The volatile former spy turned security mandarin is going public to defend
his plan to monitor all our digital communication, writes David Leppard
When the embattled Theresa May appears before a committee of MPs on Tuesday
to give evidence about her work as home secretary she will be accompanied
by one of Whitehall's most powerful, controversial and secretive mandarins.
Charles Farr, the Home Office's top "securocrat", is set to emerge from the
shadows for the first time as he is asked to defend the coalition's plans
to monitor the internet use and digital communications of everyone in Britain.
Farr is probably Whitehall's most important and influential spy, the man
most closely associated with "Big Brother Britain". He was responsible for
the so-called "snooping bill" that caused the government so many problems
earlier this month. He personally oversaw the introduction of the coalition's
rebranded regime of control orders to detain terror suspects without charge
and he drove its ambitious attempts to curb the radicalisation of young Muslim
A bright and driven bureaucrat, he has shaken up Whitehall's security machine,
impressing successive ministerial bosses with his vision since he was plucked
from MI6 in 2007 by John Reid, the former Labour home secretary, to head
the Home Office's security and counterterrorism office. Farr won plaudits
for overhauling the government's handling of the war on terror.
"He has made a major contribution to the government's counterterrorism efforts,
principally because of his leadership," said Patrick Mercer, former chairman
of the Commons subcommittee on counterterrorism. Yet talk to current and
former colleagues, and they will tell you there is a flip side to the 52-year-old
Farr. They portray him as a buccaneer whose intelligence past and explosive
temper raise questions about his constitutional role as a civil servant --
and the robust style in which he does business.
Little is known of Farr's early life and career. He was educated at Monkton
Combe, a private school near Bath, of which Slr Richard Dearlove, a former
M6 chief and his future boss, is also an old boy. After leaving in 1977 Farr
studied English at Magdalen College Oxford, alma mater of several spies including
Sir John Scarlett, another former MI6 chief.
He joined MI6 some time in the 1980s, serving in South Africa and Jordan.
Farr is understood to have come to prominence, as one contemporary recalled,
"flying around Afghanistan in a helicopter with thousands of dollars in bundles,
doing deals with farmers to not grow opium. Bad policy as it turned out,
but he did it very well". So well, in fact, that he was appointed an OBE
in 2003. He would go on to run MI6's counterterrorism department before Reid
Farr's critics say he still carries the legacy of his MI6 heyday -- a mindset
they claim is inappropriate for his job at the heart of Whitehall security
policy. "When you are an MI6 officer out in the field, trying to stop people
getting nuclear weapons in, say, Kazakhstan, you have to be very independently
minded and very confident in your own judgment. There's not a lot of ministerial
control or public accountability," says an admirer who knows him well. "Charles
feels very uncomfortable in the world of domestic politics and doesn't read
it very well."
A former Home Office official went further: "When you're suddenly flung into
a top position with management and policy responsibility in the Home Office,
you can't go on behaving like you are in the Tora Bora caves doing deals
with warlords. Your job is to advise ministers who decide policy. You can't
go around thinking you are a player in your own right. It's a constitutional
Farr's handling of the now infamous snooping bill seems to typify these
contradictions. Ministers ran into a storm of criticism after The Sunday
Times revealed they were planning to allow the intelligence agencies to monitor
social media, Skype calls and email communications as well as logging every
site visited by internet users in Britain. The plans were due to be announced
in next month's Queen's speech, but were put on hold when they were leaked.
It is no secret in Whitehall that the grandiosely titled communications
capabilities development programme was Farr's "policy baby". In fact, it
was a rehash of an earlier attempt by Farr in 2009 to persuade the then Labour
home secretary to build a giant database where the government could hold
details of all emails and telephone calls. It obviously needed sensitive
handling, but its delivery was bungled by Farr's office and it was dumped
by Labour after an uproar. When a new government was elected he tried to
resurrect the plan -- with similar results.
A similar lack of deftness befell Farr's efforts to develop "Prevent", a
controversial plank of the government's counterterrorism policy that aimed
to identify and thwart thousands of young Muslim men who might be vulnerable
to violent extremism. A key strand of Prevent was the pol icy of dishing
out tens of millions of pounds of public money to Muslim youth groups and
charities. Basically Farr believed the government should engage with
fundamentalist Muslim leaders because they were best placed to stop the
radicalisation of the youths who were the most likely to become violent
extremists. The problem with the policy was some of these groups were asked
to "spot" potential extremists and report on teenagers who might be vulnerable
Critics inside and outside the government soon saw it as turning the Home
Office into a giant spying machine. "They were offering money to youth groups
and Muslim charities contingent on them spying for the Home Office," said
a prominent lawyer, who saw draft documents outlining the conditions of the
The scheme became characterised as a huge bid for surveillance. "It was a
blurring of the policy of surveillance with a different policy of community
engagement and building a civil society" said a former Home Office official.
"But if like Charles Farr, you are a career spook you just don't get that.
You see everything as an opportunity for surveillance and you see everybody
as potentially sinsister."
In the end the policy was binned after a speech in Munich in February last
year by David Cameron on Islamic extremism. The prime minister argued that
any kind of Islamic extremism, whether violent or not, was unacceptable.
It was seen by insiders as an explicit attack on Farr. Reports that Farr
"went ballistic" when he read the speech are overblown. But one insider said:
"He was unhappy with the Munich speech. But obviously not unhappy enough
Although his single-mindedness is widely admired, Farr's volcanic temper
has won him few friends in Whitehall. Dealing with warlords on the front
line in Afghanistan requires different skills from managing sensitive egos
in the supposedly collegiate environment of a government office.
In the often heated exchanges during the government's review of control orders
in late 2010, a former official recalls one particularly fiery exchange between
Farr and a civil liberties campaigner. "He was having one of his explosions,
which seemed to last 45 minutes and was quite sinister. You just think: what
on earth is going on? Is he all right? It was all very embarrassing and
Another former official, who had a showdown with Farr over policy, recalls:
"He's almost messianic. He's like he's on a mission to protect the nation.
When you disagree with him he gets very emotional. He's one of these guys
who goes white and shakes when he loses his temper."
Farr's relationship with MPs reflects the unique challenges of putting an
MI6 hawk at the heart of the public policy machine. Farr feels uncomfortable
when he is called to give evidence before Commons committees.
On the few occasions when he has testified he has always insisted he is heard
in secret. He has told Keith Vaz, chairman of the home affairs committee,
that as a serving spy he can't give evidence in public.
"Charles likes being a secret squirrel," said another MP. "Keith asked him
why he can't give evidence in public. Charles replied that there were no
pictures of him any where on the internet. Nobody knew what he looked like,
which is how he wanted it.
But Keith replied: 'Everybody knows what you look like: you look like an
older version of Harry Potter'."
Unlike the star of JK Rowling's books no one inside Whitehall says Farr is
Mr Popular. "He has on occasions adopted a style that could be considered
inappropriate," said a former official. "He's a very uncivil servant."
Additional reporting: Richard Kerbaj