Who is Brian Lord?
We parody the headline adopted by the New Straits Times recently with regard to the Swiss national Xavier Justo, who is currently being held by the Thai police on what now turn out to be merely immigration issues.
The NST proceeded in this article to pour a slew of defamation against both Mr Justo and Sarawak Report, which certain quarters of UMNO have been desperate to discredit, owing to our series of exposes on the corrupted ‘development fund’ 1MDB.
This line of defamation was then taken up en masse by the UMNO controlled media in Malaysia and also Najib’s closest ministerial defenders.
According to their narrative, Sarawak Report’s multi-sourced and detailed series of exposes on 1MDB were based purely on “tampered documents” procured from Justo.
Therefore, the good people of Malaysia should now rest assured that nothing has gone wrong with 1MDB and that its missing billions will soon be accounted for, because Justo and Sarawak Report could be dismissed malicious and deliberate liars motivated by money (from quarters unknown).
The ‘evidence’ on which all these seriously defamatory claims were based were quotes attributed to a UK based “cyber intelligence” company called Protection Group International (PGI).
PGI has been hired by none other than PetroSaudi International, the company at the centre of the storm of allegations surrounding malfeasance at 1MDB.
However, Najib’s newspapers and ministers seemed to have no problem with this conflict of interest and have quoted PGI as if they were independent experts.
So what did PGI say, why did they say it and who are PGI anyway?
At first New Straits Times was only able to cite an ‘unnamed’ spokesman from PGI, who came to rather a lot of conclusions very quickly on the reliability of Sarawak Report, based primarily on the accusations made by their employers, PetroSaudi, against Justo.
An expert from PGI said: “Our investigation is still ongoing, but it is clear that we are looking at a case of large-scale data theft, and our analysis substantiates that Justo is the source of the data published on Sarawak Report….. “There are many inconsistencies between the published data and the data which still exists on files within PetroSaudi relating to that period of time. Simply put, it is incomplete data, creatively selected and edited to fit a desired narrative. “These cases are all too familiar and we have unfortunately dealt with so many of them; where a greedy or malicious employee removes confidential data and threatens to publish it, or has it published, for personal gain – financial or otherwise. Published data then invariably goes through selective editing, and not infrequently plain forgery, in an attempt to up the ante and create the most damaging story possible. “This case is an almost textbook match to that profile. PetroSaudi, like many companies, individuals or even governments that we have seen before them, and no doubt will continue to see after them, will suffer unfair scrutiny caused by a misinformed online onslaught. In this case, what started out as a simple story of personal gain by a former employee, became a story of politically-motivated allegations through the use of irresponsible online blogs.”
The quote ended with the confident conclusion from the anonymous spokesman that:
“All of the investigations we have conducted thus far would lead me to say that, from both a forensic and expert perspective, the information [relating to this issue] published on the Internet should be considered unsafe and unreliable by those wishing to draw conclusions from it,” he said.
When Sarawak Report’s lawyers enquired of PGI whether their company had indeed authored these remarks and if so who had uttered them, the “cyber intelligence” outfit became coy.
They could only speak on this matter if “given permission” by their clients they explained – meaning the company PetroSaudi, which is itself being officially investigated by four separate agencies over the disappearance of nearly two billion dollars of development money from Malaysia.
The same response was given to other online news portals seeking to authenticate these adamant, yet strangely unsubstantiated, accusations.
Eventually, some two weeks into the saga, a decision was clearly made by PGI’s paymasters that someone needed to be willing to stand by these quotes, since the entire case against Justo and Sarawak Report in the Malaysian media relied upon them.
The Home Minister in particular had snatched at the PGI allegations as vindication against queries about 1MDB, citing the company as an independent and international sort of outfit you could trust.
Frankly it had become embarrassing that no one had put a name to the quotes.
Thus is was that the very day after telling the Malaysian Mail online that they were unable to disclose who said what, PGI came back to the same outlet last Sunday to put a name and a face to their accusations and to load on a whole lot more attacks besides .
Their front man was Managing Director, Brian Lord.
In his updated and this time acknowledged attacks, Mr Lord really ladled on the sauce:
“Having gone through the process of trying to extort money from the former employer with threats to leak the data and being refused, he (Justo) could have still gone to the authorities had there been any wrong doing. But he chose to go to Sarawak Report.
“I am not making any comment on the political persuasion of Sarawak Report but he chose to take it to that kind of blog site. So even before we move on to the forensics, any information that he presented to the public after that process has to be treated with a huge amount of caution,” said Lord who has more than 20 years experience in cyber security….
“It is a combination of all those three things; inconsistency between the original and published reports, substitutable communication and the whole private information claim into Sarawak Report … I can firmly say the information is unreliable and, therefore, it is unfair for anybody to draw judgments on it.”
Mr Lord made these judgements, while admitting in the same article that he has yet to complete his ‘forensic analyses’ of the data, something that he says will take six months (of highly paid contract work for PetroSaudi, of course).
In fact, Sarawak Report had already in less than a day been able to disprove the one piece of ‘cyber evidence’ that Lord and his team at PGI had previously been able to adduce, in order to accuse us of using “tampered material”.
We demonstrated that whilst PGI had attempted to claim we had used a document that had been “tampered with”, that document had not been altered at all from the original.
We also pointed out that none of these accusations address the mass of corroborative evidence that US$700 million was taken out of the original PetroSaudi deal and that further hundreds of millions were siphoned out of the joint venture project over the following two years – all into the bank account of the PM’s friend, Jho Low.
Nevertheless, despite having been so thoroughly shown up on his own turf, Mr Lord has ploughed on, pompously straying into territory well outside his own supposed expertise.
Referring to what he gives out to be a very long career in the practice of exposing malicious journalists, who routinely “distort” documents to misrepresent the truth, he opined:
“Published data then invariably goes through selective editing, and not infrequently plain forgery, in an attempt to up the ante and create the most damaging story possible. This case is an almost textbook match to that profile. PetroSaudi, like many companies, individuals or even governments that we have seen before them, and no doubt will continue to see after them, will suffer unfair scrutiny caused by a misinformed online onslaught….” [NST]
“Responsible media outlets such as newspapers check their sources, the validity of such sources and information as well as the motive of the sources before an editorial decision is made to publish. That is a sensible, matured decision. If a blogging site is considered as an independent voice, then it has to do the same thing and if it chooses to just publish random information obtained, then it has no right to be taken seriously.
“I support the Sarawak Report’s right to publish whatever political opinion they have … people have different opinions, but the point remains how seriously would it take itself if it gets hold of data obtained inappropriately and chooses to publish it in that way, editorialising it to meet political ends. Freedom of speech comes with responsibility.” thundered Brian Lord [Malaysian Mail online]
Yet, once again, Mr Lord was sadly short on examples to back up his theories on such malignant journalism.
It is, after all, something well outside his own professional experience for which he would normally have been hired.
PGI has only been in business since 2012. Lord himself only joined the company just over a year ago.
Before that, Mr Lord spent his entire working life travelling from the bottom up at the UK listening service GCHQ, which has nothing to do with servicing private companies on computer protection nor analysing news journalism.
Mr Lord’s was a typical civil service grind by the look of his CV – 23 years of step by step promotions, before finally getting one of the deputy jobs that abound at such establishments.
Mr Lord will have started at the bottom, because he didn’t hold a degree. So, all power to him for his progress, but he is clearly now determined to cash in on his retirement and standard-issue OBE, in order to make as much money as he can out of the cache of having worked at GCHQ.
One has to ask if this makes him particularly objective or whether this is an honourable way to exploit the respect generally accorded to GCHQ?
The British do accord a considerable amount of tolerance to the snoopers from Cheltenham (left), on the basis of trust that these intrusive listeners are working for the national and world interest on the side of liberty, freedom and peace.
But, when former employees leave with these credentials, ought they not deploy what skills they have acquired with discretion and in favour of upright and honest businesses, rather than outfits which have such powerful questions to answer as PetroSaudi, regarding the stealing of billions from the people of Malaysia?
Sadly, it appears that Mr Lord is instead of the opinion that he has done his time earning civil service wages and is now a gun for hire for maximum gain.
He is even willing (as long he is sufficiently indemnified by his clients one assumes) to opine in fields in which he has no expertise whatsoever.
Mr Lord’s public pronouncements have further sought to imply that his company is well known, established and reputable.
In fact, Protection Group International was only set up in 2012, by a couple of ex-marines, who apparently picked up on some cyber training while in the forces.
Despite the “thousands” of cases that Mr Lord laughably describes his ‘independent’ “laboratory” and “forensic” teams as having unravelled, PGI nearly went bust last year, according to ex-employees posting on-line.
PGI was bailed out by “middle eastern money” say the ex-employees.
It is a claim backed up by company records which show an Omani businessman, Mohamed Al Bawani bought a majority share in the company last autumn and most of the Directors were replaced in the shake up.
It is therefore fair to assume that PetroSaudi are very important paying clients indeed for PGI, who are struggling to turn a profit on a company that boasts a share capital of a mere £174.92.
So, Lord’s PR which paints PGI as an established and successful business does not match the reality of a struggling firm trying to make a break through.
It explains why Brian Lord has put his neck on the line for PetroSaudi.
He has broken the normal rules for the sort of discreet professional service that firms such as his generally attempt provide.
And he has walked into an open publicity battle on behalf of his clients, spawning headlines and articulating defamatory attacks on the targets of his paying customers.
Already, his comments are being exposed as hogwash and the reputation of PGI is being exposed with them.
The money from PetroSaudi had better have been worth it.