Monday, September 29, 2008

Official charged over lost secrets

There is always a storm whenever data is lost and then all goes quiet as the issue is kicked in to the long grass of inquiries and internal reports. The suspicion is that these are just a cover up so that nobody is held to account.

It is therefore good to see that someone is being charged for a fairly serious loss of terror related data:

The Cabinet Office official who left top secret documents on a train in June is to be charged under the Official Secrets Act, the BBC has learned.

The individual was on secondment from the Ministry of Defence when he left two highly classified documents on a train to Waterloo
What really surprised me though was this response:

BBC defence correspondent Frank Gardner said the move came as a surprise to many in Whitehall.
Really? Someone subject to the Official Secrets Act (OSA) losses secret data and those in Whitehall are surprised. This must go to the heart of the attitude of the Civil Service to their duties and responsibilities. They seem to think that if us plebs make a mistake, lets say forgetting to declare all our income for tax purposes as a genuine oversight, then it OK for the full might of the state to come tumbling down on our heads. They also think its OK to send heavies round to a Director's house without warning to distress goods even when it was there mistake that got the tax bill wrong.

Yet they break the law and they are surprised! Why am I not surprised?

Lets be clear about this, people who work in sensitive areas are made fully aware of what the OSA entails. When I worked in some sensitive areas whilst in the Army the OSA was read out to us every 3 months, and it was made very clear that their would be no excuse for breaching it and the full force of the law would be applied if we did. Furthermore, I had to sign the OSA every year and also confirm in writing that I fully understood what I was signing and the consequences for breaching the Act.

If you don't want to be covered by the OSA all you have to do is say no and they will find you another posting.

So I have no sympathy for this person, they knew what their responsibilities were and by losing those documents broke the law. I hope they are punished severly, if found guilty, as a warning to others that we will not accept such lax behaviour with the security of the state.

And just in case you think those documents weren't important or that AQ isn't really a threat, that's not the point. The documents were covered under the OSA and should have been treated as such.

Let us not forget that these were "five eyes" secret ie information only to be shared between USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and ourselves. If the other countries lose confidence in our ability to keep this information secure then the source of a great deal of our intelligence could dry up.

1 comment:

Mark Wadsworth said...

Yup. This is part of a theory I am working on that in an authoritarian state, the ratio of severity-of-punishment to enormity-of-crime gets inverted, e.g.

bankrupt the country, invade Iraq = get of Scot free
stab somebody = community sentence
leave your dustbin out a day early = £500 fine.

Like most libertarian Ukippers, the 'authoritarian' wing of the party discomforts me ever so slightly, but looking at it as I do, they are not really authoritarian at all, as they would like to reinstate the old system where the punishment is proportional to the crime, rather than being inversely proportional.