Thursday, May 21, 2009

Immigration and Intelligence - a view from the inside

Two front page articles caught my eye today, bringing together a number of issues that make my blood boil with eye watering intensity.

They both concern - in their own particular ways - the issues of immigration and the "work" of the intelligence services. I'll go through each article in turn then link them together towards the end.

"Shame Colleges"
First, today's Times front page: "Sham colleges opened door to terror suspects". Now if you aren't already aware of the internal intricacies of our wonderful Borders and Immigration Agency, let me enlighten you. In summary - the agency is not fit for fucking purpose. Having worked there (and resigned in disgust) I can give you a tour de force of the colossal shortcomings and mind numbing idiocracy that it is.

First I'll give you a few tidbits from the numerous articles on the subject in today's Times. Be warned, when you read parts of it your eyes might bleed:

The Times has been given evidence from a database listing every student admitted and every diploma and certificate that was sold. It records how the eight terror suspects and more than 1,000 others were given letters designed to fool the Home Office, Inland Revenue, banks and local authorities into believing they were students.

The implication here is that the documents would have to be pretty impressive to fool such sterling organisations, such pillars of Her Majesty's State, right? Wrong.

The fact of the matter is that it is indescribably easy to "fool" them. Any supposed "checks" are laughable and - often - circular in nature (checking a source of information that is already shoddy beyond belief - like the DfES Register, but we'll get back to that shortly). Take the Home Office for example (by this the Times means the Borders and Immigration Agency). The assessment of official documents from "official" educational institutions goes like this - do they look "kind of" legitimate? Yep. That's it. Even certificates and "official documents" with glaring spelling errors get let through. It gets better - if any one of the British organs of state (lets say either the Home Office, or Inland Revenue) has waved its magic wand over said documents then they're given legitimacy in the eyes of the other organs of state. So if someone casually gives a document a once-over at the Home Office and thinks it looks OK and isn't TOO shoddy, the Inland Revenue will also give it a pass. With me so far?

Now comes the amazing, the incredible, the bread and butter of British intelligence work - the DfES register. It was compulsory that in each application, the Immigration Caseworker checked that the institution applied to by the "student" was on the register. If it was, then all was well. It didn't matter whether it sounded dodgier than a dossier on WMDs, whether the institution couldn't even spell "University", whether it was a course in something like "a BA(Hons) in Puppeteering" (I kid you not), nor did it matter if it had an incredibly unlikely name like any of the following:

- Bradford College of Professional Studies
- Oxford College of Management Sciences (in Manchester)
- Cambridge Colleged of Advance Studies (in Dagenham). (Yes that's "advance", not "advanced" - a very common spelling mistake in the names of these institutions that nevertheless didn't hinder inclusion on the fantastic DfES register).

I queried what the requirements were for being on the register. Apparently the only deal breaker was if it didn't have sufficient fire exits. Everything else was effectively negotiable, many "institutions" never even received an inspection, never mind check the "teachers" were qualified.

What is surely incredible is that so many actual, legitimate educational institutions in the UK, such as Liverpool John Moores University would take any of this shit seriously and allow students to enrol on their courses on the basis of documents provided by these, shadier than Michael Howard, institutions. Try this for size, for example:

Diplomas and attendance records in the name of other colleges were also printed and sold, often to provide a "history" to account for missing years during a student's time in the UK. The men invented the grandly named, Dublin-based Greenford University.

This mythical seat of learning proceeded to accredit Manchester College of Professional Studies with a bewildering range of undergraduate and postgraduate honours courses that its few employees had no authority - let alone the capacity - to teach.

Manchester College of Professional Studies was also affiliated with Blackpool University, again based in Dublin established "under the order of the King of Belgium" and licensed by the Accreditation Council of Higher Education (ACHE).

All of which might sound impressive until one learns that ACHE is based in Wallis and Futuna, and island group in the South Pacific.

Finally, the college also posed as a study centre for the University of Newcastle, which is really the online University of New Castle, incorporated "in the sate (sic) of Delaware", and, like Blackpool University, accredited by a group of South Pacific islands.

Now I ask you dear reader, at which point in the above quote did you begin to experience absolute incredulity? I think if I hadn't worked at this POS institution I would have been so incredulous as to have become unconscious before I even read the last paragraph - having resulted from bashing my head against the desk until I reached the nirvana of Oblivion. Major, well known, Universities have accepted documents validated such as those above for years. For thousands of applicants, who as a result have been able to extend their stay in the UK. Many of these people have been able to extend their stay for a sufficient period of time to apply for citizenship. All on the basis of some incredibly shoddy fraudulent documents.

And it only takes one batch of these documents to get you in. After that, you're laughing.

As the Times articles details, one of the hucksters who set up one of these institutions wrote letters and documents to give himself qualifications. Its even more of a breeze to write fake attendance records and glowing references for your pals from Swat Valley.

Oh, didn't I mention that bit? That's right, through this secure system of assessment hundreds of applicants have arrived, and remained, in the UK who originated in the Taleban and Al Queda hotbeds of North Western Pakistan. And these are just hundreds from this one network of scams that the Times has exposed.

So here's one of the points I really really want to drive home: These kind of institutions, scams and applications were (and probably still are) the norm at the Home Office. < -- Read that again.

I estimate on a good day perhaps one in ten of the applications I dealt with actually involved a British educational institution I knew was legitimate. The rest all had names very similar to those three listed above. Complete with equally laughable documentary evidence.

But it was all OK, the DfES register said it was OK. The Home Office gave its seal of approval. And that was that.

I don't think many people (especially those mentalist "no borders" people) really, truly, realise just how utterly shoddy and mind numbingly incompetent the nation's border control is. I laughed hard when I realised that many people labour under the illusion that the Home Office keeps track of all these applicants. It doesn't. Very often no one even realises someone has overstayed unless that put in a fresh application. Which of course isn't a problem as long as you can stump up the several hundred quid for the visa, your local friendly "institute of advance studies", or "Oxbridge college of professional studies" can just fake all the relevant documentation for you.

Points based system

Supposedly the new system - only just put in place - is much better. The Times refers to a major aspect of this change - the list of valid institutions (they mean the DfES register) -

"At a stroke the number of approved colleges fell from 15,000 to 1,540".

That's right folks. For years and years, the number of dodgy institutions providing a magic carpet for equally dodgy individuals to fly into the country has been approximately 13,460.

Thirteen thousand, four hundred and sixty!!

I could rest my case on that alone.

There's a lot more I want to say (and reveal) on this subject, however in the interests of getting this information out in a timely manner, I'll leave it there for now.