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On a mole's trail
August, 31st 2006
Accountants know well about intangible assets and secret reserves. Here is Secret Asset by Stella Rimington, from Hutchinson ( A thriller that takes the reader `into a world where no-one can be trusted and nothing is what is seems.' No different from the field of financial disclosures, one may fret, but this is different: About a mole in the intelligence services! Meet Liz Carlyle, `an experienced and extremely talented investigator' with `particular skills in assessing people'. Liz leads a two-person team. To help her is Peggy Kinsolving, who follows the paper trail. Peggy loved `the world of print, fact, data, information'. The author describes: "It was her metier. She could disinter information which might seem meaningless and sterile to others, then, like a primitive fire maker blowing on a spark, bring it to life. Peggy saw drama where others saw dust." Peggy catches up with `Technical Ted' Poyser, `the counter-terrorist branch's specialist on all matters electronic, back at Thames House.' She has disks dating back to the early 1990s. Ted's office is `more a cubbyhole, a windowless space, than an office,' though even `space' could be an exaggeration, says the author. "The walls were piled high with hardware devices, wires draped everywhere, and in the middle of it all was Ted, crouched on a stool like a spider in a very complicated web." He looks at the `blast from the past' that Peggy hands him. "What you've got here is a disk from a North Star computer, circa 1980. It had 64K of RAM," explains Ted. "The files on the disk are written in a word-processing program called PeachText, and the disk itself is five-and-a-quarter-inch, single-sided, single density. It's 360K, which is rough equivalent of 50,000 words. Not bad for the early eighties." Beat a trail to the Operations Room where investigators study the CCTV footage from Irwin Patel's shop. "There," calls Judith Spratt, and the screen froze. "It was not a very clear picture, but three figures were clearly discernible at the front of the shop by the till, where they were captured at a range of seven feet by the camera positioned high on the wall above the Lucozade clock." Foxhunt team assembles in a clinically bare room, that of Tom Dartmouth. "No family photos, no desk set, no curios brought back from abroad. Not even a favourite mug." Only, "Operation Foxhunt did not seem to be getting anywhere. And time was clearly running out." Elsewhere, Peggy is tracking a newspaper clipping that talks about `Ravi Singh and an associate,' who are under the Office of Fair Trade investigation for insider share dealing. "The Serious Fraud Office has been called in, because they think Ravi and this other chap may have been involved in an identity-fraud scam using other people's credit card numbers." Real fears, because a three-hour-old alert on Channel News Asia, Singapore informs, `Hackers steal credit card data from AT&T computer system.' A recent posting on alerts, "College students ID theft targets". And Arlington Advocate offers `10 tips to protect against identity theft'. Sleuthing can be tough. As much as auditing, you'd agree! For instance, Liz is trying to track a car, with a number, from among two lakh cars of the type she's looking for. Yet, to help, "there are 8,000 number-plate recognition cameras in the UK," so if the suspect is driving with the licence plate in question, a camera would pick it up at some point. Unless... he had changed the number. A pick for quick read.
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