BBC Spooks series 7 - good atmosphere and style, but utterly implausible technology

After suffering through the laughably dire spooks code 9, low budget spin off, the "proper" version of the BBC's flagship prime time spy / terrorism drama Spooks, came as a relief.

The new series 7 of Spooks has higher production values, and manages to convey some dramatic tension in its handling of various clandestine meetings, and also during the various "following a suspect in the street or on public transport" scenes, which use far fewer people than are actually needed to do this without being detected.

However, the BBC still manages to pump out utterly implausible technology nonsense.

Not since Spooks series 2 episode 3, which came up with the the physics defying idea of a fake radioactive isotope source, which could magically fool Geiger counters into only appearing to be giving off deadly levels of radiation, has there been a more technologically implausible plot McGuffin, than the one in series 7 episode 2.

Again, this involves "computer hacking", presented in an utterly implausible way.

The Russian government is, for no good reason, launching an alleged "cyber attack", some sort of Denial of Service attack via the internet, which is somehow supposed to cripple the UK economy and cause panic on the the City of London's financial markets etc. This is hardly necessary, given the incompetence of Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Chancellor Alistair Darling, who have manged to do this without any outside help.

This attack is to be launched from a Russian submarine, tapping into a single fiber optic telecommunications cable, off the Cornish coast.

This dastardly plot is foiled, through the simple means of magically getting a CD/DVD full of secret communications software, not from any Russian Navy base, but from the Russian Embassy in London.

Somehow, this allows Malcolm, back in Spooks HQ, to communicate in secret, with the submerged spy submarine, before it is starts to tap into the fibre optic cable (which is plausible technology), and then to transmit a Zero Day Virus to magically disable three sets of computer firewalls, and to physically cripple the submarine.


He does this via some unseen communications method, having somehow automatically determined which of the many undersea cables was going to be tapped into, giving no thought to trying to isolate that target cable from the rest of the UK's infrastructure.

See The Register Spooks foils fictional Russian plot for more comments about the idiocy of this plotline.

Getting the details of the existence of this "cyber attack", involved the increasingly deadly Ros, who seems to be able to outdo even James Bond or Jason Bourne, by overcoming the security of a Russian oil oligarch billionaire, with close connections to the Kremlin, who has a penchant for stolen artworks

This involved getting him to strip naked and then physically torturing, threatening to blackmail etc. him. This is the stupid way in which the spooks code 9 secret police thugs also magically obtained vital intelligence information, and it is simply not believable.

This series of Spooks, like spooks code 9, appears to have a "find the traitor in MI5, but do not confide in your colleagues" ongoing sub-plot.

Episode 4, also contains some more utterly pathetic "technology", this time alleged nanoparticles which can magically be tracked via microwave signals from satellites, even inside buildings in central London.

Meanwhile, the more mundane and plausible use of mobile phone technology, including Location Based Service tracking on a computer screen, whilst used very heavily throughout Spooks, also rings alarm bells , to anyone who actually understands a bit about how mobile phones work.

Episode 4 involved a secret Al Quaeda courier, who passes on a mobile phone SIM card to MI5 (whilst getting stabbed in Victoria train station). Even though they determine that there is only a single telephone number stored on this SIM card, they somehow have to wait until they actually phone it, in order to try to physically track the other mobile phone down.

Supposedly once the brief phone conversation is terminated by the terrorist mastermind at the other end who wants to talk to MI5, they are then unable to trace the location of the mobile phone.

In reality, a mobile phone is obviously traceable via the mobile phone network infrastructure, whether or not anyone is using it to make or receive a voice call or SMS text message, provided that it is switched on, and has established a signal with a Mobile Phone Cell Base Station transmitter. Getting an accurate position fix is not guaranteed, even in cities like London with lots of mobile phone Cell transmitters, but also with lots of radio reception blackspots, reflections off metalised window glass, the vast radio coverage dead zones on the London Underground etc. etc.

If the terrorist mastermind's mobile phone was not switched on, and was not traceable at all, then how did they manage to phone him on it ?

Why on earth did Harry, the head of MI5 section D and his second in command Ros, go to a secret meeting with the Al Quaeda terrorist mastermind, who they obviously cannot trust, and then meekly surrender their own mobile phones full of secret contact information, along with their high tech GPS tracking lapel pins ? Such phones would be rather more valuable to an enemy, than the Blackberry mobile phone / PDA, which was allegedly stolen from a Downing Street apparatchik during Prime Minister Gordon Brown's visit to China before the Olympic Games.

Is it genuine ignorance of how modern computer and telecommunications technology actually works, or is it deliberate disinformation, on the part of the BBC / Kudos Productions script writers and directors ?

About this blog

This blog is discusses and analyses the new book Spook Country by cyberpunk author William Gibson, published in August 2007.

This will be primarily from a United Kingdom perspective, as some of the themes of espionage and surveillance and hidden forces really do resonate in our endemic Surveillance Society.

This blog has been described, quite fairly, as "otaku-worthy immersion"

Email Contact

email: blog @ SpookCountry [dot] co [dot] uk

Here is our PGP public encryption key or download it via a PGP Keyserver.

Hints and Tips for Whistleblowers

Please take the appropriate precautions if you are planning to blow the whistle on shadowy and powerful people in Government or commerce, and their dubious policies. The mainstream media and bloggers also need to take simple precautions to help preserve the anonymity of their sources e.g.

Spook Country Links

William Gibson Books discussion bulletin board Spook Country *NO SPOILERS* forum

William Gibson Books discussion bulletin board Spook Country - *SPOILERS OK* forum

William Gibson video about "Spook Country" on YouTube and on the official website.

William Gibson Links

William Gibson blog - written by the author himself, on which he has test marketed fragments of his novel Spook Country whilst writing it.

William Gibson Books discussion bulletin board - William Gibson book promtion website in Germany

William Gibson aleph - lots of resources about William Gibson's works.

The Cyberpunk Project - some online texts of some of William Gibson's writings hosted in Russia.

Wikipedia Links

Wikipedia entry for "Spook Country"

Wikipedia "Spook Country" page edit history RSS feed or Atom feed

The character "Hubertus Bigend" has his own fictional Wikipedia entry in "Spook Country", which has now become now a real one.

Node Magazine

  • Node Magazine - a fictional magazine which "seems to be actively preventing the kind of buzz that magazines normally cultivate before they begin to exist" mentioned in the hints given about the Spook Country book, which has already been created online by a fan (patternboy), before the book has been published.
  • - Node Magazine is publishing 2 Chapter Summaries and Quotations each day in the 42 day countdown to the official publication of Spook Country
  • Spook Country blog's "cloud of hyperlinks" in numerical chapter order - commentary and annotations on the annotations to Spook Country.

Fictional British TV Spooks

James Bond 007

Stylish, if somewhat far fetched, BBC TV drama based on MI5 the Security Service - Spooks

BBC children's TV series M.I.High

2008 spin off TV series from Spooks [spooks] code 9 , set a few years into the future in 2013, in the Orwellian Police State which has emerged after a nuclear bomb attack on London.

Fictional Spooks

The Spy Wise Blog by Wesley Britton

Real Spooks

MI5 - the Security Service - counter-espionage, counter-terrorism, domestic surveilance

GCHQ - the Government Communications Head Quarters - intercepting and deciphering enemy communications, and protecting UK ones.

MI6 - SIS - the Secret Intelligence Service - mostly foreign intelligence - not quite like depicted in James Bond films.

Ex - Spooks - Richard Tomlinson - still being harassed by his former employer MI6. There are also links to Cryptome's archives of articles and alleged, unproven, lists of names of former or mcurrent MI6 agents (including, improbably, some UK Ambassadors), which caused lots of controversy. Tomlinson denies publishing anything not already in the public domain.

Martin Ingram, Welcome To The Dark Side - former British Army Intelligence operative in Northern Ireland.

Operation Billiards - Mitrokhin or Oshchenko ? Michael John Smith - seeking to overturn his Official Secrets Act conviction in the GEC case.

The Dirty Secrets of MI5 & MI6 - Tony Holland, Michael John Smith and John Symond - stories and chronologies.

Naked Spygirl - Olivia Frank

Spooky Info - including various spooky documents which some Government agencies would prefer not to be online.

Alan Turnbull's - "An entertaining guide to using Internet-based research tools – Ordnance Survey's maps, Getmapping's aerial photos and Google Earth! to reveal the UK's "hidden" MoD facilities and military sites"

Eye Spy Magazine - " The world's leading newsstand magazine on intelligence and espionage" - photos, articles, book reviews, private sector surveillance equipment and services adverts etc. N.B. Sometimes uncritical articles on various anti-terrorism and espionage topics, presumably in order to keep in favour with their anonymous sources.

Historical Spooks

Science Museum, London - Science of Spying Exhibition - for Spy Kids of all ages until September 2007.

Bletchley Park - "Historic site of secret British codebreaking activities during WWII and birthplace of the modern computer."

Imperial War Museum. London

Spooky CyberPunks and CyberGoths

The Dose is a "free, downloadable PDF zine ranging from industrial and gothic music to indie game development, Japanese visual kei, eyecandy, cyberpunkness" produced in Hungary.The three (so far annual) issues so far, with another promised in July 2007 contain plenty of CyberPunk and CyberGoth images and reviews, with the occasional reference back to William Gibson or other cyberpunk fiction authors.

Spy / Surveillance Art Projects

Spy Box - "A digital camera inside a parcel looks out through a small hole and captures images of its journey through the postal system. The Spy Box was sent from my studio to the gallery taking an image every 10 seconds recording a total of 6994 images these were then edited together to create an animated slideshow." - by artist Tim Knowles

Benjamin Males - "Face Targeting and Analysis System (2008) - Software designed to find and analyse faces in a video stream. First stage in an ongoing project looking at the potential misuse of technology"

London CyberPunk Tourist Guide

As part of the preparations for William Gibson book signing and lecture event promoting Spook Country in London, during August 2007, this "local knowledge" guide to places of interest to cyberpunk fans was compiled, and has been subsequently expanded.

London CyberPunk Tourist Guide -

Please feel free to add comments or send emails, to keep it up to date.

Zero History


Zero History blog - - discussion and hyper link cloud enhanced literary criticism of William Gibson's forthcoming novel, entitled Zero History, which is due to be published on 7th September 2010.

See the Fragments of a Hologram Bill thread on the William Gibson Books discussion forum for the snippets of writing which have been released for discussion to the public so far.

Syndicate this site (XML):

Zero History


Zero History blog - - discussion and hyper link cloud enhanced literary criticism of William Gibson's forthcoming novel, entitled Zero History, which is due to be published on 7th September 2010.

See the Fragments of a Hologram Bill thread on the William Gibson Books discussion forum for the snippets of writing which have been released for discussion to the public so far.

Cover Artwork

US cover art (the design we prefer):

UK cover art:

See how the cover artwork designs have changed slightly over time in the Cover Artwork category archive

"Spook Country" hyperlink cloud annotation

Our "Spook Country" hyperlink cloud annotation - re-orderd into numerical Chapter sequence

The Node Magazine, which this was a collaborative online contribution to, was online even before the official publication date of the first hardback edition of the book in August 2007.

This has been commented on by the author William Gibson, and described by Emeritus Professor of English Literature John Sutherland as "the future of literary crticism"

Campaign Buttons

Campaign for the Freedom of Information

Gary McKinnon is facing extradition to the USA under the controversial Extradition Act 2003, without any prima facie evidence or charges brought against him in a UK court. Try him here in the UK, under UK law.
Free Gary McKinnon, who lives in London, is accused of hacking in to over 90 US military computer systems, and is facing extradition to the USA under the controversial Extradition Act 2003, without any prima facie evidence or charges brought against him in a UK court. Try him here in the UK, under UK law.

FreeFarid_150.jpg - Kafkaesque extradition of Farid Hilali under the European Arrest Warrant to Spain

Watching Them, Watching Us, UK Public CCTV Surveillance Regulation Campaign
Spy Blog - UK Public CCTV Surveillance Regulation Campaign

NO2ID Campaign - cross party opposition to the NuLabour Compulsory Biometric ID Card
NO2ID Campaign - cross party opposition to the NuLabour Compulsory Biometric ID Card and National Identity Register centralised database.

Peaceful resistance to the curtailment of our rights to Free Assembly and Free Speech in the SOCPA Designated Area around Parliament Square and beyond Parliament Protest blog - resistance to the Designated Area restricting peaceful demonstrations or lobbying in the vicinity of Parliament.

Petition to the European Commission and European Parliament against their vague Data Retention plans
Data Retention is No Solution Petition to the European Commission and European Parliament against their vague Data Retention plans.

Open Rights Group
Open Rights Group

Tor - the onion routing network
Tor - the onion routing network - "Tor aims to defend against traffic analysis, a form of network surveillance that threatens personal anonymity and privacy, confidential business activities and relationships, and state security. Communications are bounced around a distributed network of servers called onion routers, protecting you from websites that build profiles of your interests, local eavesdroppers that read your data or learn what sites you visit, and even the onion routers themselves." The project makes use of Tor as part of their anonymity infrastructure.

BlogSafer - wiki with multilingual guides to anonymous blogging

NGO in a box - Security Edition privacy and security software tools

Reporters Without Borders - Reporters Sans Frontières - campaign for journalists 'and bloggers' freedom in repressive countries and war zones.

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