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Spooks scramble to replace failed secret messaging system

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MI6 and GCHQ have begun work to replace an aborted secret communications system that wasted tens of millions of pounds.

The failed project, SCOPE Phase II, was run out of the Cabinet Office with IBM as the main contractor. The intelligence agencies have taken direct control of its replacement, CLiC (Collaboration in the Intelligence Community).

CLiC is described as a "a low-risk, inexpensive approach, providing incremental changes to existing systems". SCOPE Phase II aimed to extend a new secret messaging system to thousands of terminals across the intelligence agencies, as well as the Home Office, SOCA, MoD and other departments.

The disclosure is made in the annual report of the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC), the cross-party group of MPs that provides the main outside scrutiny of MI5, MI6 and GCHQ.

"We are doing really quite well on this more modest CLiC programme, which is not being run out of the Cabinet Office, it is being run out of SIS and GCHQ," John Scarlett, director general of MI6 for the period covered by the report, told the ISC.

The new programme will aim at first to connect HMRC to the SCOPE Phase I desktop, develop "STRAP3A messaging" - a secure email system - for seven departments by the end of the financial year, and pilot a shared work space for organised crime allowing SOCA, MI6 and GCHQ to collaborate.

"It is regrettable that this same practical and incremental approach was not adopted in the planning of the SCOPE programme," the ISC said, in criticism that will be heard loudest at the Cabinet Office, which has overall responsibility for government IT strategy.

The ISC report also reveals that Cabinet Office officials are still trying to recover the £24.4m paid to IBM for SCOPE Phase II, almost two years after they abandoned the project.

"We had hoped to include in this Report a detailed account of the Cabinet Office's decision to abandon Phase 2 of the SCOPE programme," the MPs said.

"However, the Committee is still investigating the circumstances surrounding the decision, and commercial and legal negotiations between the Cabinet Office and contractor [IBM] continue." ®

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