VIGIL

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VIGIL is the name of a mysterious and probably amateurish terrorism research group which was behind alarmist reports on Muslim extremists by BBC 2's Newsnight and Radio 4's File on 4 in November 2006.

Contents

What is VIGIL?

The registered address of VIGIL's website in South Wimbledon

A Telegraph article published in November 2006 stated that VIGIL had been established "18 months ago", [1] suggesting that the group formed around May 2005. Founder Dominic Whiteman however told the Asia Tribune that VIGIL was formed after the London tube bombings of 7 July 2005. [2]

The group has a website which was registered on 13 December 2006, [3] which is after it first appeared in the media. The website describes VIGIL as a "private, international anti-terror network" which is "headquartered virtually" and backed by the VIGIL Foundation which, it claims, "is located in an undisclosed international location." [4]

According to the Telegraph, VIGIL "operates from a discreet office in London", but "the address is kept secret in case it is, in turn, targeted by Muslim extremists." [5] VIGIL's website is registered to Dominic Whiteman at an address in South Wimbledon, [6] which appears to be a residential property. There is no company registered at Companies House or the UK Charities Commission under the name of VIGIL.

People

The group is based around London, but apparently it is a "more than 50% an American network." [7]

The main figure behind VIGIL is its founder Dominic Whiteman who reportedly left the group in May 2008 to head up a new operation called V7 Europe. [8] In 2006 the Telegraph wrote that, Patrick Mercer, then the Tory spokesman for homeland security, had worked with the group. [9]

Dominic Whiteman (left) with Patrick Mercer outside New Scotland Yard

The group's website claims that VIGIL's personnel "have intelligence or military backgrounds", [10] and a report in the Telegraph also claimed that the group "has five paid staff and a further 25 workers, many with military, security, intelligence and financial experience". [11] In November 2006 Dominic Whiteman told Reuters that VIGIL had "just recruited a guy who's a senior figure in police training in Iraq." [12]

With the exception of Patrick Mercer's involvement, there is no evidence that VIGIL has any expertise whatsoever. When the Telegraph ran its story on VIGIL in November 2006 it stated that, "Only two of its staff are willing to be identified", [13] they were Dominic Whiteman - who according to the article "has a business background", but about which little else is known - and Glen Jenvey, an out of work actor who made dubious claims about having "infilitrated" the Tamil Tigers. According to Whiteman an account of Jenvey's infiltration of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam is given in Jeremy Reynalds's book on cyber terror.[14] According to Amazon, the book, War of the Web: Fighting the Online Jihad was published in 2007 by a far right publisher, World Ahead Publishing, but by mid 2008 Amazon was listing the book as 'out of print'.[15]

In May 2008, Dominic Whiteman said in an interview that he was leaving VIGIL and would be replaced by Jane Blunt. He said Blunt was "from a law enforcement background and has been working with me since the start of 2007 as my European deputy." [16] An article posted by Blunt on Whiteman's Westminster Journal describes her as a "British lawyer specializing in counter terrorism", but there is no individual registered with the Law Society or Bar Council under that name.[17]

Activities

VIGIL appears to be a loosely connected group of individuals involved mostly in monitoring internet chat rooms. VIGIL told the Telegraph that it "carries out an estimated 70 per cent of its work on the internet" [18] and Reuters that "Sixty percent of Vigil's work involves gaining information via the Internet, by infiltrating online chatrooms, while the remainder is face-to-face or telephone work." [19] It would appear that its modus operandi is the collection of online material deemed to be extremist, and then handing over the information to the British police, or encouraging the media to run stories alleging the infiltration of exremists.

Dominic Whiteman on Newsnight

VIGIL greatest coup came on 14 November 2006 when the BBC ran stories on File on 4 and Newsnight based heavily on VIGIL's research. Newsnight reporter Richard Watson referred to "radicalisation over the internet, on university campuses and in criminal gangs" and "alarming evidence which reveals how a minority of young British Muslims are being drawn into a life of extremism and crime." [20] Glen Jenvey warned the programme that Omar Bakri Mohammad, who had recently been barred from the UK, was "back in the cyber sense" through broadcasts on the internet. Another of Jenvey's supposed exposés was an advert he found calling for a protest at the Old Bailey. The defendant in the case was Mizanur Rahman, a 23 year old man who was later convicted for incitement to racial hatred for comments made during a protest at the UK's Danish Embassy over cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad. [21] "Sure enough," Richard Watson commented, "the next day the radicals turned up and there was a violence struggle with the police outside the court."

The Newsnight programme also included an investigation of the British Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir. For this section the programme used a VIGIL "source" known only as "J". Dominic Whiteman told Newsnight that "J" had been "supplying intelligence to our network for the last seven months. The evidence that he's been supplying has been on a voluntary basis. It's intelligence which we've always trusted. And why? Because his family was a victim of terrorism and he feels he owes quite a bit to this country for having looked after him and his family". "J" told Newsnight that Hizb ut-Tahrir were recruiting amongst young criminals and referred to a film he was shown of torture of Muslim prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. Newsnight said the film was staged, but made no reference to the fact that such torture was indeed occurring at Guantanamo Bay. Neither did the programme include any critical assessment of VIGIL which was presented as a bone fide source. In one clip Newsnight examines the authenticity of "J" by asking Dominic Whiteman if he thought he was genuine.

A video of the Newsnight programme and a Transcript of the File on 4 broadcast can be accessed below:

  • Video of 'Banned cleric preaches on web', Newsnight broadcast 15 November 2006
  • Transcript of “File on 4 - Islamic Radicalisation" broadcast on Tuesday 14th November 2006 2000 - 2040, repeated Sunday 19th November 2006 1700 - 1740

Reputation and connections

A spokesperson for the Metropolitan Polict's Counter Terrorism Command told Reuters in 2006 that it was "working closely with Vigil and in particular its director and spokesman who has made officers aware of chatroom material." [22]

Funding and finances

The November 2006 Telegraph article on VIGIL reported that the group is backed by "a City financier...[and] an ex-member of the Armed Forces", "both British and in their 50s", who "originally provided tens of thousands of pounds each for the group" [23] The article added that "Vigil's running costs for the past 18 months have totalled less than £200,000. As well as its two original sponsors, other donors have provided funding." [24] In May 2008 Whiteman recalled in an interview a "stressful funding crisis" after "two donors died in quick succession". [25]

Resources

Notes

  1. Andrew Alderson, 'Working on the internet from an anonymous city office, the shadowy figures exposing Islamic extremism', Telegraph.co.uk, 19 November 2006
  2. 'VIGIL UK anti-terrorists organization to take action against Tamil Tigers in European court and UN', Asia Tribune, 3 December 2006
  3. Whois Record of VIGILNETWORK.COM retrieved from Domain Tools on 7 November 2008
  4. VIGIL Website, ABOUT US (accessed 7 November 2008)
  5. Andrew Alderson, 'Working on the internet from an anonymous city office, the shadowy figures exposing Islamic extremism', Telegraph.co.uk, 19 November 2006
  6. Whois Record of VIGILNETWORK.COM retrieved from Domain Tools on 7 November 2008
  7. Adrian Morgan, Exclusive: Dominic Whiteman: Lessons in Fighting Islamism from Across the Pond, Family Security Matters, 15 May 2008
  8. Adrian Morgan, Exclusive: Dominic Whiteman: Lessons in Fighting Islamism from Across the Pond, Family Security Matters, 15 May 2008
  9. Andrew Alderson, 'Working on the internet from an anonymous city office, the shadowy figures exposing Islamic extremism', Telegraph.co.uk, 19 November 2006
  10. VIGIL Website, ABOUT US (accessed 7 November 2008)
  11. Andrew Alderson, 'Working on the internet from an anonymous city office, the shadowy figures exposing Islamic extremism', Telegraph.co.uk, 19 November 2006
  12. Michael Holden, 'FEATURE-Vigil, the "amateur" sleuths watching the radicals', Reuters, 22 Nov 2006 18:04:40 GMT
  13. Andrew Alderson, 'Working on the internet from an anonymous city office, the shadowy figures exposing Islamic extremism', Telegraph.co.uk, 19 November 2006
  14. The Hidden Truth behind the Sri Lankan Peace Process Last modified on: 2/14/2007 5:54:08 PM By Dominic Whiteman - posted on the Sri Lankan government Ministry of Defence website.
  15. War of the Web: Fighting the Online Jihad] (World Ahead Publishing, 2007)
  16. Adrian Morgan, Exclusive: Dominic Whiteman: Lessons in Fighting Islamism from Across the Pond, Family Security Matters, 15 May 2008
  17. Searches conducted online at Legalhub.co.uk and lawsociety.org.uk on 7 November 2008
  18. Andrew Alderson, 'Working on the internet from an anonymous city office, the shadowy figures exposing Islamic extremism', Telegraph.co.uk, 19 November 2006
  19. Michael Holden, 'FEATURE-Vigil, the "amateur" sleuths watching the radicals', Reuters, 22 Nov 2006 18:04:40 GMT
  20. Transcript of “File on 4 - Islamic Radicalisation" broadcast on Tuesday 14th November 2006 2000 - 2040, repeated Sunday 19th November 2006 1700 - 1740
  21. 'Cartoons protester found guilty', BBC News Online, 9 November 2006, 23:11 GMT
  22. Michael Holden, 'FEATURE-Vigil, the "amateur" sleuths watching the radicals', Reuters, 22 Nov 2006 18:04:40 GMT
  23. Andrew Alderson, 'Working on the internet from an anonymous city office, the shadowy figures exposing Islamic extremism', Telegraph.co.uk, 19 November 2006
  24. Andrew Alderson, 'Working on the internet from an anonymous city office, the shadowy figures exposing Islamic extremism', Telegraph.co.uk, 19 November 2006
  25. Adrian Morgan, Exclusive: Dominic Whiteman: Lessons in Fighting Islamism from Across the Pond, Family Security Matters, 15 May 2008
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