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Vigil, the "amateur" sleuths watching the radicals

Written by: Staff
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LONDON, Nov 23 (Reuters) It says its members brought about the conviction of radical Egyptian-born cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri, uncovered insurgent tactics in Iraq and are now working to provide intelligence from North Korea.

The organisation is not the US Central Intelligence Agency or Britain's security agency MI6 but ''Vigil'', a shadowy network of retired spies, senior military personnel, anti-terrorism specialists and banking experts.

The group's director Dominic Whiteman said he set up Vigil with two other businessmen last year to act as an interface between retired spies who were still party to good, raw intelligence, and the police and security services.

''This evidence was just getting lost in the system,'' Whiteman told Reuters in a telephone interview.

Vigil numbers more than 30 members and is spread across the globe from India to the United States, working with contacts ranging from a maid in Bangkok and a Mumbai train driver to senior intelligence figures.

''We just recruited a guy who's a senior figure in police training in Iraq,'' Whiteman said.

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.

The information gleaned is passed on to authorities like the US Federal Bureau of Investigation, the New York Intelligence Unit and British police's Counter Terrorism Command (CTC).

A CTC spokeswoman said the group was treated seriously.

''The CTC is working closely with Vigil and in particular its director and spokesman who has made officers aware of chatroom material,'' she said.

Whiteman said: ''We generally don't drop stuff off until it's pretty well formed and ready for them to use.

''It's quite a faceless relationship. You can never really tell if some of the evidence you hand over is behind some of the arrests that have been security service-inspired.'' ''MISS MARPLE'' One member of Vigil is credited with helping bring about the conviction of cleric Hamza, jailed in London in February for inciting racial hatred and soliciting murder, and wanted in the United States on terrorism charges.

Glen Jenvey said he tricked Hamza into handing over videos and audio tapes which were used by US authorities in their case against James Ujaama who pleaded guilty in 2004 to trying to help al Qaeda militants.

MORE REUTERS AKJ PM1018

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