Cabinet Office Minister Damian Green has been caught up in a fresh row over his Parliamentary computer habits after the BBC reported that he had porn on his parliamentary PC a decade ago.
Neil Lewis, a former Scotland Yard detective specialising in computer investigations, was given a platform by the BBC's morning TV news programme in the UK to make his allegations against the Conservative MP.
Lewis claimed to have found "thousands" of thumbnails of legal porn in Green's computer's browser cache, adding that he was in "no doubt whatsoever" that this was done by Green, according to the BBC – in spite of claiming that "you can't put fingers on a keyboard".
Veteran investigative journalist Duncan Campbell, who doubles up as a data forensic expert, told The Register: "The interviewee's careful caveat about 'not being able to put fingers on the keyboard' sounded credible to me. That is consistent with the the interviewee being an experienced computer forensic investigator, who has given forensic evidence in court."
The ex-police officer also appeared to confess that he himself had broken the law by keeping his own personal copies of material he obtained from Green's laptop, in spite of being ordered to delete the official copies by his managers. According to the Daily Telegraph, he said: "Morally and ethically I didn't think that was a correct way to continue."
The Metropolitan Police later said it had opened an investigation into Lewis over the release of confidential information. It is also cooperating with a recently opened Parliamentary investigation into Green's alleged harassment of a young Conservative activist.
Campbell said: "The manner of his disclosure today raises questions of malice. Why, when the police were investigating Green on the previous occasion, could it be relevant or proper to have examined his lawful porn viewing activities, if indeed that happened? If this investigator thinks that the public interest now requires disclosure as Green is under investigation in Parliament, what he could have said is 'call the Met and ask for my reports from the time.'"
Green's fellow minister, David Davis, the Brexit secretary, has threatened to resign if Green is forced out of his ministerial post as a result of the copper's leaks.
The minister himself denies watching or downloading porn in Parliament. An aide said: "From the outset he has been very clear that he never watched or downloaded pornography on the computers seized from his office."
Green was arrested and his Parliamentary office was raided in 2008 by police who entered the Palace of Westminster without a warrant after persuading Serjeant-at-Arms Jill Pay to let them in. Policemen insisted at the time they were investigating allegedly criminal leaks from the Home Office to Green.
That criminality, according to BBC reports from the time, included emails from Labour Home Secretary Jacqui Smith's private secretary confessing that thousands of illegal migrants had been granted licences to operate as security guards; a memo revealing that another migrant had become a cleaner in the House of Commons; and a draft letter to Prime Minister Gordon Brown from Smith, warning that an economic recession could lead to a rise in crime.
Smith publicly denied at the time that she knew police had been instructed to arrest Green and raid his office, responding to accusations from Conservative MPs that as head of the government department affected by the leaks, she must have had a hand in the police raid.
Something's strange here
If Lewis, the ex-detective, kept personal copies of embarrassing information on a cabinet minister he obtained during work hours, it is to be hoped that his (former) friends at the Met charge him with breaches of the Data Protection Act.
Nonetheless, Green has denied having any porn on his parliamentary machine at all. Lewis's claims are also subtly different from other police leaks aimed at Green: a month ago Bob Quick, a disgraced former assistant commissioner of the Met, described Green as having "extreme" porn – which is illegal to own. Quick was sacked from the Met for letting press photographers see details of a secret briefing document as he walked into Downing Street, though he was also head of the police inquiry which decided to arrest Green.
Prominent Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg commented that the allegations against Green are being brought by "police officers who besmirched their office in the past and are now shaming themselves with their public comments".
For his part, Green is under investigation by Parliamentary authorities for allegedly inappropriate behaviour with a young Conservative activist. It appears that this has prompted the ex-coppers to start talking to the BBC about their decade-old investigation – which was dismissed by the Crown Prosecution Service at the time. An AOL email address supposedly in Green's name was also allegedly found in the Ashley Madison hacked data dump.
Campbell told El Reg, based on his forensic experience: "When people go to porn sites, it's very common to first look at overviews, or image galleries. By the time you've gone through the subsets to find the particular lad or lassie whose flesh you want to see more of, an investigator can virtually read your mind by that point. Do you click on that? If not, you might not have seen it."
The issue of thumbnails is also strange. One could reasonably assume that a man seeking gratification would view individual (large) images, not just small thumbnails, which is what his police accusers have repeatedly accused him of having on his work computer. A possible explanation in his favour is that 2008 was the time when extreme porn was about to be criminalised, though Green's blanket denials mean this is probably not the reason – and the latest police leaks explicitly rule out extreme pornography, despite the disgraced Met assistant commissioner's claims.
Nonetheless, Green's denials that there was any porn at all on his work machines ring hollow to anyone with any knowledge of human nature – or, indeed, with knowledge of digital forensic work. Campbell commented: "It's rare in computer forensics for criminal cases, whatever the alleged crime and if the user is male, not to find traces of porn viewing, especially in late-night sessions. The evidence in my experiences is that that is a norm for most British blokes, even those whose religion might forbid it. If he was working late, it's to be expected."
All in all, the Green computer porn affair seems to have more in common with Plebgate than anything else – a scandal in which some police officers lied, some politicians lied, at least one officer was jailed, and a Conservative MP had to pay hefty libel damages. ®