ISIS returnees

Like many people, I have been reading a lot of articles about the issues of ISIS returnees, which arguably became a mainstream topic after the London Times and BBC interviewed Shamima Begum. Like many there are mixed emotions about Ms Begum and her plight. Questions have come up in regards to whether she was groomed online, or whether she enthusiastically joined ISIS. I do not know the answer to that, and many commenting on this also do not know the answer.

Why people turn to terror is a very complex issue and there is no single answer. The only commonality I have seen in my reading and interviews around the subject of radicalisation and turning to terrorism, is that generally the individual in question is unsettled with themselves and their life circumstances. And that can mean many things for many people.

With regards to Shamima Begum, she was and still is a teenager. I’m not being groundbreaking here by saying that being a teenager is a difficult time for anyone. All of us have memories that can be embarrassing or in some cases shameful. It’s a time in which we start to form our identity and some of our early choices can shape our later life for good or bad. I don’t think that should give her a free pass, as she did follow her convictions through to the extreme and fly to Turkey and then made her way to Syria and joined what has arguably been one of the most brutal terrorist organisations in recent history. It is possible that she may have even participated in recruiting other young girls to follow in her footsteps. It is also possible she may have been involved with the brutal treatment of Yazidi women who were taken and kept as sex slaves for male fighters.

With all of the above it is actually hard to know what she did and did not do and to what extent that she was involved within the inner workings of ISIS. And this presents a huge legal problem as far as I can see as it will be very hard in a criminal court, without eye witness testimony and other physical evidence to prove what she did or did not do.

Does that then mean that the British government were right to strip her of her British citizenship? I do not believe they are. In fact I think that very act does a few things, it firstly plays into terrorist propaganda about how the West is deeply racist and that Muslims will never be safe or able to co-exist in the West. Secondly the government have lost any high ground with her case as they have literally washed their hands of her (pending court appeal by her family). Thirdly they have made her someone else’s problem, which has unknown repercussions, could she end up in another European country or somewhere else and be allowed to spread terrorist propaganda or worse? We have also lost an opportunity to behave like compassionate adults in this situation, by ignoring her we have lost the opportunity to challenge any extremists beliefs she may have. I also have to ask, with the world watching, what example has Britain set?

Another point that does deeply concern me about the conundrum of ISIS returnees is what if people manage to return and escape any justice for their actions? As I mentioned before ISIS has been involved in some of the most horrific acts of terror in the Middle East and has been linked to the 2017 terrorist attacks in Manchester, London and the many many attacks across Europe from the Charlie Hebdo attack, Bataclan terror attack and the vehicle based attacks that suddenly became popular around 2015.

Without a calm and legal focused debate, we risk allowing ISIS returnees the opportunity to get away with their crimes, go on to commit more acts of terror and use examples of the Home Office stripping peoples citizenship for their recruitment purposes.

I personally do not know the answer to this problem, but I do know there are some excellent people out there who do and have been tirelessly been working on this complex issue in government and academia for years.

if time will allow I hope to record a special or series of special podcasts on this issue. But until I do I hope you will take a moment to listen or re-listen to some of my past podcast interviews on this deeply complex and important issue around terrorist acts committed in the name of Islam, by groups with a political agenda.

The Double Bind: The Anglo American Left and the Islamic Far Right

Former CIA officer on Islam and CounterTerrorism

Salafi Jihadism: The History of an idea

The Battle For British Islam

The Rage: The vicious circle of Islamist and Far-Right extremism

Pre-9/11 Terrorism

Prevent, what it is and how it works

Invisible Martyrs, how and why some women turn to terrorism and are exploited

I hope you find these interviews helpful.

Thanks for listening

All the best


Who was behind the Novichok poisonings?

Who was behind the Novichok poisonings? 

On Sunday 4th March, 2018, a former Russian Intelligence officer Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were found on a bench in a catatonic state in the town of Salisbury. It has subsequently been found that the pair were poisoned. After many weeks of treatment the Skripal's recovered from the poisoning and have subsequently gone into protective custody. 

On the 30th June 2018 Charlie Rowley and Dawn Sturgess were both found unconscious at a house in the town of Amesbury, Wiltshire. The pair were rushed to hospital and it was later revealed that they had also been poisoned with the same type of nerve agent "Novichock" that was used in the Skripal poisoning. The house they were found in is approximately eight miles from the Skripal's house in Salisbury. Sadly Dawn Sturgess died as a result of the poisoning on July 8th 2018.

The police have been investigating the link between the two poisonings and it has been reported that they have identified a number of suspects through CCTV and travel records. Those suspects are reportedly Russian. 

Since news broke of the Skripal poisonings it has been widely suspected that the Russian intelligence services were behind the attack due to the similarities with the poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko in 2006. In that case it was found that two Russian "agents" Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitry Kovtun were responsible for slipping radioactive material called "Polonium 210" into Alexander's tea at the Millennium hotel in Grosvenor Square. A lengthy investigation concluded that it was a "strong possibility" these men were acting on behalf of the Russian FSB. 

State sponsored assassinations are difficult to prove definitively, and that is by design. The Russian government has a long history of using assassinations as a tool to silence their critics. Two examples that come to mind are the assassination of Leon Trotsky with an ice pick in 1940 and the assassination of Georgi Markov in London using a special umbrella that fired a poisoned dart into his leg in 1978. Both of those assassinations were directly linked to the Russian Intelligence services of their time. In the case of Georgi Markov, the Bulgarian Intelligence services were used as a "cut out" for the plot. A "cut-out" is spy parlance for a mutually trusted intermediary. 

Also one of our podcast guests, former DSS CounterTerrorism agent Fred Burton, worked several cases in which the KGB had been linked to a number of assassinations.  In Fred's excellent book "Ghost" he recounts the investigation into the death of Pakistani President Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq and US Ambassador Arnold Lewis Rapheli, who were both killed as the Presidential plane "PAK-1" mysteriously crashed. In that case it was discovered that a nerve agent incapacitated the flight crew resulting in the crash. The nerve agent used was reported linked to the then KGB. The reason for the assassination was retaliation for the Presidents support of US backed forces fighting the Russian's in Afghanistan. 

Its also worth noting that a large number of critics of Russian President Vladimir Putin have been killed.  In 2015 the popular leader of the opposition party and Putin critic Boris Nemstov was shot and killed by an unknown gunman.  In 2009 Human Rights lawyer Stanislav Markelov was gunned down on the streets of Moscow. A trainee journalist Anastasia Barburova, who was with Markelov was also killed by the same unidentified gunman. Also in 2009 another Putin critic Lawyer Sergei Magnitsky died whilst he was in police custody. He was allegedly subject to a brutal beating and then denied medical treatment. In 2006 journalist Anna Politkovskaya who had just published a book "Putin's Russia" which accused Putin of turning the country into a "police state". was killed She was shot to death outside her apartment.  Five men were arrested for the crime and the judge ruled it a contract killing after it was discovered that the men had been paid $150,000 by "persons unknown".

The list of Putin critics who have died under suspicious circumstances goes on and on. Yet it has hard to directly link any of them to the man himself, but he is clearly benefiting from those deaths. Firstly he gets the critics out of the way, secondly it makes him appear "strong" and thirdly it gives future critics pause for thought. 

It will be interesting to see how the Novchok poisoning investigation pans out. I suspect like the Litvenenko case and the others I have mentioned, that the killers will be linked to Russia and there will not be enough evidence for a definitive link to Putin and the Russian intelligence services. This will undoubtedly leave room for speculation, like the Russian media's ridiculous claims that some how the UK government's chemical weapons research facility "Porton Down" was responsible due to its close proximity to the site of the original poisoning. But what do the UK government have to benefit from poisoning the Skripals? Nothing. What does Putin? Another critic is silenced. It makes him look strong and it will give pause for thought for any future defectors and spies to work with the British. So for Putin it really is a win. At least it appears that way from here. 

If you are interested in this case, please check out the five podcasts I recorded a few weeks after the poisonings.

Jeremy Duns

Fred Burton

Edward Lucas

Iain Ballantyn

David Videcette

I hope to record more podcasts on this as soon as more information comes to light.

Thanks for checking this out.

All the best





SPYMASS™: Spy gift suggestions for the holiday season

It’s Spymass™!

Well it is here at the brand new “Dry CleanerCast” website.


The holiday season has crept up upon us once again. 

NORAD will track Santa’s progress on Christmas Eve. However Santa needs something to deliver to those of you who have been good and to those who have been bad but avoided getting caught due to good tradecraft. 

So the golden question is, what does every spy buff need? Well that’s a good question and I am here to help you with a few suggestions.


Next Stop Execution – Oleg Gordievsky

Now this is the book that really started it all for me. It's the autobiography of Oleg Gordivesky, who was MI6's mole deep inside the KGB. Oleg was eventually discovered after being betrayed by an American double agent working for the KGB and he had to escape Russia or face execution by a firing squad. This book tells the amazing story of Oleg's escape and gives us an overview of his career in the KGB. It also has lots of interesting tips on spy tradecraft, making it a must for any spy buff or future spy!

Fun fact, Oleg used to be one of my regular customers when I worked part time at my local supermarket 20 years ago.

The Black Banners – Ali Soufan

Ali Soufan was on of the FBI’s top counterterrorism agents who investigated Al Qaeda before and after the 9/11 attacks. This book gives a fascinating insight into the complexity of counterterror investigations. For me this one of the best books on 9/11, its causes and understanding how Al Qaeda operates.

Agent Storm: A spy inside Al Qaeda - Morten Storm

This book is a fascinating account of a western spy deep within Al Qaeda, a man named Morten Storm. Morten worked for MI5, MI6 the CIA and PET. The book is co-written by journalists Mark Cruickshank and Tim Lister. 

The book is currently in development as a movie with Director Paul Greengrass (of Bourne film fame). So read it before the movie comes out!

The Plot to Hack America – Malcolm Nance

Malcolm was a guest on the podcast and he was writing about the "Russia Hack" before it became a fashionable topic.

Despite coming out in September 2016 this book is still a brilliant account of all the details of who the key players are and their motives. In many ways this book is a modern classic as some of the things mentioned when it was written were totally ignored by the press during the 2016 election. Now much of the book is headline news! 

Well done Malcolm for being hot on the money with this one!

Deception – Edward Lucas

I first read this book in late 2013 and it was a real game changer for my understanding of contemporary Russian geo-political aims. The book goes into detail about how Russia uses its vast intelligence network to achieve those aims. If you need a crash course into the background as to why Russia would use, what is known as "active measures" to influence public opinion, you could not go far wrong with this book.


Alongside being a huge spy-buff, I am equally a film-buff and TV Nerd.

Here are some suggestions for spy related holiday viewing that does not involve James Bond, Jason Bourne or John Le Carre (Though I am a big fan of them all).

Spy Game– 2001

I love this movie! It’s a fun film that really gives the viewer an idea of the double crossing and game of wits that espionage really is.

CIA veteran Nathan Muir, has to go up against the CIA top brass to rescue his protégé Tom Bishop, who faces certain death in a Chinese prison.

Spy Game stars Robert Redford as Muir and Brad Pitt as Bishop. The film was directed by the late and great Tony Scott (Director of Crimson Tide, Enemy of the State and True Romance, to name a few)

The Sandbaggers – 1978-1980

This is a classic British TV drama that is centered on SIS’s (MI6) special operations division, which is nicked named “The Sandbaggers”.

This show has been called the best and most accurate spy drama to be ever made, and John Le Carre is nowhere to be seen. In fact there is speculation as to whether its creator Ian Mackintosh was once connected to SIS (MI6) himself.

Sadly during the third and what would be final series of the show, creator Ian Mackintosh disappeared under mysterious circumstances on a plane trip over the Gulf of Alaska. Due to the nature of the show and his knowledge of the world of intelligence, many have speculated as to whether he died or defected. 

Code Name Kyril -1987

In keeping with our double crossing theme, it is the holiday season after all, and one has to keep their wits about them!

I suggest getting a copy of this late 1980’s British Spy Mini-Series starring Edward Woodward (of “The Equalizer” and “Callan” fame)

The show focuses on a KGB agent who has been tasked with an “off book” mission to try and flush out a double agent deep within the KGB.  Needless to say this mission does become quite complex. Do keep with it as it has some very satisfying twists and turns. (Someone on YouTube created a flow chart to keep track of the plot)

You thought Bill Hayden was a tricky devil, you ain't seen nothing yet!

Black Sunday – 1978

This film involves three of my favourite topics; espionage, terrorism and blimps! Yep, since seeing “A View to A Kill” in 1987 I have had bit of a blimp fascination.

Anyway, blimps aside this film is based on a book by Thomas Harris (creator of Hannibal Lector) and is directed by the late and great John Frankenheimer, (The Manchurian Candidate, The Train, Ronin and many more!)

The story follows a MOSSAD agent played by Robert Shaw (Jaws, From Russia with Love) as he tracks a terrorist from the "Black September" group to the United States. MOSSAD and the FBI have to find this terrorist before "Black September" can action their plan. The film is an action thriller as well as a character drama. You can see how it has influenced films such as "The Sum of All Fears" as well as the first series of "Homeland".

Fun game, see if you can spot the scene that inspired a character in Kill Bill



Carlos – The Mini Series or The Movie (your choice)

Now if you have six hours to kill over the holiday period and you want to find out more about terrorism in the late 1970s through to the early 1990’s, then may I suggest to you “Carlos: The mini-series”.

If you only have three hours spare then I suggest you watch “Carlos: The Movie”. Which is a cut down version of the TV series.

"Carlos" is a French made portrait of one of the world's first celebrity terrorists “Carlos the Jackal” AKA Illich Ramirez Sanchez. The film follows his career of terror from its beginnings in Paris, then it focuses on the infamous OPEC hostage situation (which arguably put Carlos on the map) through to the end of his career in the 1990s.




Well I’ve had a look at a few and these stood out.

*DISCLAIMER: I have not used the following Gadgets and Toys. And unless you are a professional spy, then I suggest you use the following items under strict adult supervision or in the presence of a professional as you don’t want to get your self into trouble. In other words, Kids do not spy on strangers!!

Okay, my lawyers can breath again.

Spy Net: Snake Cam

This looks like a very low budget version of the camera the SAS famously used during the Iranian hostage crisis in 1980. It looks like a lot of fun. The snake cam connects to a video watch and enables you to watch things from awkward angles* (Please refer to disclaimer before use)

EACHINE E10C Mini Quadcopter Drone with HD Camera

Okay who watched “Eye in the Sky” and saw that cool little mini drone that snuck into the terrorist house and thought “I want one”?

Well I did!

Anyway, this appears to be the closest thing to that mini drone before you become a member of the intelligence services. Enjoy responsibly* (Please refer to disclaimer before use)

Mengshen: Mini Spy Microphone

Want to find out what your parents or loved ones are plotting for Christmas? Then look no further.

With the Mengshen Mini Spy Microphone you can evesdrop on conversations in the other room* (Please refer to disclaimer before use)

One Man Mini Sub

If your personal spy budget is on par with the CIA and you enjoy swimming, may I suggest to you the one man mini sub? 

Sadly the one man mini sub is not a mini “Red October”, however it is a submersible scooter which looks like something out of “Thunderball” or “The Spy Who Loved Me”.

So I would say it is a must for James Bond Fans.

For espionage activities, I'm not sure how effective it would be as its painted bright yellow! Though I am sure if you spoke with your local mini-sub dealer they could organise a camouflage paint job for you.


Armored Mercedes

If you are looking to pimp your ride in the new year, or you happen to live in a less than desirable neighborhood, then this car could be for you! 

Priced at a whopping £65,000 ($86,000 approx.), it disappointingly only comes with a CD player. Come on, its 2017, surely an MP3 player wouldn't be too hard to fit!

Though it does boast “B7-level protection" that can reportedly withstand a hand grenade detonation! Now that's pretty cool. 

I am not sure what resistance it has for supermarket carparks, but you would think if it could handle a grenade, it could handle a ding or two, wouldn't you? 

So maybe it's worth thinking of this car as an investment. Think of the money you could save on painting over scratches and dents.




Well I hope my suggestions were helpful.

I would like to just take a moment to wish you a safe and happy Spymass ™ holiday break!

Thank you for supporting the podcast.

Until next time…….


All the best