Technical ineptitude - the "bomb Al-Jazeera memo" leak

Here is an example of how not to leak sensitive Government documents to the public:

The Tony Blair / George Bush "bomb Al-Jazeera" memo leak case involving former parliamentary researcher Leo O'Connor, and former civil servant communications officer at the Cabinet Office David Keogh, who were convicted in 2007 , under the Official Secrets Act, after passing the leaked memo, back in 2004, to the then Labour MP for Northampton South, Tony Clarke, who lost his seat at the next General Election in 2005.

Also implicated is former Labour junior Defence Minister Peter Kilfoyle, MP for Liverpool Walton, who, despite claiming that he had not seen the actual memo, tried to pass its contents on to the Democrat Presidential candidate Senator John Kerry's campaign team in the run up to the 2004 US Presidential Election. The did not make use of this, either because they thought it might actually help President Bush in his reelection campaign, or, because they had no way of properly authenticating the memo.

Apart from their political naivety, the mechanics of the actual whistleblower leaking, and the subsequent Police investigations described by the press, shows a surprising lack of "tradecraft" by the civil servant and the political researcher, and ignorance of the possibilities of the internet, of forensic document examination techniques, of mobile phone communications traffic data etc

It also demonstrates very lax security at the Cabinet Office fax machine room - how was it physically possible to smuggle a document marked "Secret" out of the building ?

Daily Mail
Facing jail, the civil servant who leaked Bush-Blair secrets,
Last updated at 23:22pm on 9th May 2007


But the jury heard that Keogh leaked the four-page document because he believed it exposed Mr Bush as a "madman".


The events leading to the trial began when Keogh, 50, was working alone in the Government's high-security Cabinet Office Communications Centre and a document rolled out of the fax machine marked "secret" and "personal".

It detailed talks on the war in Iraq between Mr Blair and Mr Bush and some of their most senior advisers in Washington in April 2004.

Among the limited detail that was made public was the line: "This letter is extremely sensitive. It must not be copied further. It must only be seen by those with a real need to know."

Keogh was so shocked by the contents of the document that he wanted it to be raised in the House of Commons and passed on to U.S. presidential candidate John Kerry.

He gave the document to O'Connor, 44 - a researcher for anti-war MP Anthony Clarke - who placed the memo in the MP's paperwork.

Why was it physically possible for Keogh to walk out of the building with a document marked Secret ?

But their plans were foiled when Mr Clarke handed the document over to Downing Street.

Keogh, a civil servant since 1979, had met O'Connor at a dining club in Northampton, of which Mr Clarke was also a member.

He first showed O'Connor a copy of the document over a drink at the town's Labour Club. Later the two men copied the fax.

The original was put back in the in-tray at Whitehall and O'Connor kept the copy.

Keogh said he thought O'Connor would have the contacts to get maximum publicity and that far from damaging British troops, the document would simply embarrass Bush.

By contrast O'Connor had claimed to have been terrified, and wanted to get it back to its original home.

His method was to conceal the documents in Mr Clarke's papers and later to tell police he hadn't "got a scooby" how it had got there.


O'Connor's claim sounds ridiculous - why would returning the document to Downing Street via an MP or even the Parliamentary internal mail system not immediately tip off the Cabinet Office that a Secret document had gone issing ?

If Keogh could smuggle the document out, then surely he could smuggle it back in to the secure area, if necessary ?

The Times has some more details of the forensic methods used to establish proof of the involvement of Keogh and O'Connor in the whistleblower leak, although, probably by that stage, their identities were actually known by the Police.

The Times
April 19, 2007 Blair aide 'leaked classified Iraq memo'

Michael Evans, Defence Editor


Mr Perry described how the police tracked down the source of the leak. The meeting between Mr Blair and Mr Bush took place in Washington on April 16, 2004, when Iraq was under the control of the US-led Coalition Provisional Authority. The record of the meeting, drawn up by Matthew Rycroft, Mr Blair's private secretary for foreign affairs, was sent by letter to Geoffrey Adams, private secretary to Jack Straw, then the Foreign Secretary.

The letter was faxed through to the Pindar communications centre, a Cabinet Office facility, where Mr Keogh was on duty when it arrived.

House of Commons Hansard 29th April 2004, Column 392

"Mr. Hanley : The PINDAR facility is located beneath the Ministry of Defence main building in Whitehall. Details of its size and layout are of an operational nature and it is not our practice to reveal such information."

The letter was to be given limited circulation because of its sensitivity. Those on the need-to-know list included Sir David Manning, Ambassador to Washington; Sir Nigel Sheinwald, the Prime Minister's foreign policy adviser at No 10; John Scarlett, chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee (now head of MI6); Jonathan Powell, Mr Blair's chief of staff; and David Hill, Downing Street's director of communications. It was also sent to the British representative to the UN and to David Richmond, Ambassador to Iraq.

Mr Perry said that the police were alerted to a possible leak when a copy of the secret document turned up in a pile of papers belonging to Anthony Clarke, then the Labour MP for Northampton South.

Mr O'Connor, who worked for the MP, had "slipped" the document into the other papers. Mr Perry said that the document was passed to Mr Clarke in the hope that it would be given wider circulation. The Labour backbencher had voted in 2003 against invading Iraq. The document was passed to the Special Branch.

All copies of the document were traced and retrieved, and scientific examination proved that the copy that ended up in Mr Clarke's constituency office in Northampton was a copy of the fax that originated at the Pindar communications centre. Further tests revealed Mr O'Connor's fingerprints and a trace of his handwriting, which had come through as "dents" on the document after it had been placed in an envelope with Mr Clarke's name written on it.

Contact between Mr Keogh, who was said to be "bored to tears with Iraq", and Mr O'Connor, who claimed to police that he was "95 per cent behind the military action against Saddam Hussein", was uncovered when the police examined mobile phone calls and text messages between the two.

About this blog

We know that there are decent, honest, trustworthy individual politicians, civil servants, law enforcement, intelligence agency personnel and broadcast, print and internet journalists etc., who often feel powerless or trapped in the system. They need the assistance of external, detailed, informed, public scrutiny to help them to resist deliberate or unthinking policies, which erode our freedoms and liberties.

Some of these people will, in the public interest, act as whistleblowers, and may try to leak documents or information to the mainstream media, or to political blog websites etc.

Here are some Spy Blog "Hints and Tips", giving some basic preecautions, and some more obscure technical tips, which both whistleblowers, journalists, and bloggers need to be aware of, in order to help preserve the anonymity of whisteleblowing or other journalistic sources, especially in the United Kingdom, but applicable in other countries as well.

Whistleblower anonymity may not always be possible, or even necessary, forever into the future, but it is usuially crucial during at least the early stages of a "leak", whilst it is being evaluated by others, to see if it merits wider publication and publicity.

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Please feel free to email your views about this blog, or news about the issues it tries to comment on.


Our PGP public encryption key is available for those correspondents who wish to send us news or information in confidence, and also for those of you who value your privacy, even if you have got nothing to hide.

You can download a free copy of the PGP encryption software from
(available for most of the common computer operating systems, and also in various Open Source versions like GPG).

We look forward to the day when UK Government Legislation, Press Releases and Emails etc. are Digitally Signed so that we can be assured that they are not fakes. Trusting that the digitally signed content makes any sense, is another matter entirely.


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