The latest Whitehall national security data scandal is, apparently, "very serious":
- Yes, Prime Minister Christmas Special - Party Games, BBC: 17 December 1984:
Jim Hacker: "Yes, well this is serious."
Chief Whip: "Very serious."
Sir Humphrey: "Very serious."
Jim Hacker: "What could happen if either of them became PM?"
Sir Humphrey: "Something very serious indeed."
Chief Whip: "Very serious."
Jim Hacker: "I see...."
Chief Whip: "Serious repercussions."
Sir Humphrey: "Serious repercussions."
Chief Whip: "Of the utmost seriousness."
Jim Hacker: "Yes, that is serious."
Sir Humphrey: "In fact, I would go so far as to say, that it could hardly be more serious."
Jim Hacker: "Well, I think we all agree then: this is serious."
Ed Miliband, the Cabinet Office Minister, and, incredibly, the brother of the Foreign Secretary David Miliband (the nepotistic NuLabour Cabinet resembles a Mafia organised crime "family") has made an oral Statement to the House of Commons, regarding this latest data security scandal (see below)
1) Sir David Omand , the retired former permanent secretary for security and intelligence at the Cabinet Office, seems to be conducting Yet Another Inquiry prompted by this Top Secret JIC papers left on a train affair.
2) Why is it not Robert Hannigan, the Head of Security, Intelligence and Resilience and Security Adviser to the Prime Minister who is conducting this review ?
He has supervised a similar review of procedures for his boss, Sir Gus O'Donnell, the Cabinet Secretary and head of the Civil Service (i.e. "Sir Humphrey Appleby") , across all Whitehall departments following the Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC) and National Audit Office (NAO) Child Benefit national scale database privacy disaster.
Has Sir David Omand been called in, because there is the possibility that Robert Hannigan himself is going to be blamed for the disaster, rather than Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O'Donnell, or any Labour Minister ?
3) Is the hapless idiot who broke the security procedures to cause this scandal, actually an MI5 Security Service officer attached to the JIC assessments staff, as has been alleged (under Parliamentary Privilege) by Andrew MacKinlay MP ?
Commons Hansard 12 Jun 2008 : Columns 485 - 495
Cabinet Office Assessment (Documents)
The Minister for the Cabinet Office (Edward Miliband): With permission, Mr Deputy Speaker, I would like to make a statement about events relating to the loss and recovery of two Joint Intelligence Committee documents.
The Joint Intelligence Committee, which is situated in the Cabinet Office under the chairmanship of Alex Allan, provides intelligence assessments to Departments across Government. An employee working in the JIC assessment staff left two documents on an early-morning commuter train on Tuesday of this week. While the documents do not contain the names of individual sources or specific operational details, they are sensitive high-level intelligence assessments. The individual concerned informed his superiors about the loss of the documents on Wednesday morning and they called in the Metropolitan police who began an urgent investigation.
On Wednesday afternoon, the Cabinet Office was contacted by the BBC, which told the Department that the two documents were in its possession. The nature of the documents was made clear to the BBC and it was requested that it did not broadcast the contents of the documents, and that they be returned. The original documents were handed back to the Metropolitan police on Wednesday evening. There is no evidence at this stage to suggest that our vital national security interests have been damaged or that any individuals or operations have been put at risk. However, the police investigation is continuing.
This was a clear breach of well-established security rules that forbid the removal of documents of this kind outside secure Government premises without clear authorisation and compliance with special security procedures. These rules are a clear part of the operating procedures for handling matters of this sensitivity. All individuals on joining the assessment staff are given a formal briefing on the rules by a specially designated security officer. That formal briefing is supplemented by clear, written instructions provided to the individual, who has to sign a statement to indicate that they have read, understood and will comply at all times with the rules.
In this case, no authorisation was sought for the removal of the documents. The official concerned has been suspended from his duties as part of a standard civil service disciplinary procedure. The chairman of the JIC, Alex Allan, has confirmed that there are clear rules and that they were not followed in this case. But in order to provide the reassurance that all necessary procedures and safeguards are in place, the Cabinet Secretary has asked Sir David Omand, former permanent secretary for security and intelligence, and former permanent secretary at the Home Office, to carry out a full investigation of the circumstances of the case.
Given the nature of the issues, I have asked Sir David to keep the Intelligence and Security Committee, which has a particular role in security and intelligence issues, fully informed. All JIC staff have been reminded by the chairman of the JIC of the fundamental importance of following all security procedures in full, and similar steps are being taken across government for those handling sensitive, intelligence-related material.
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It is a matter of utmost concern to the Government that this breach of security has happened. We will take all steps to ensure that all individuals who work within the Joint Intelligence Committee staff observe the procedures that are necessary for security. We will continue to do everything necessary to safeguard sensitive intelligence material so that we safeguard the British national interest. I commend this statement to the House.
After some comments from the Opposition, Ed Miliband continued:
Edward Miliband: My reason for coming to the House at the earliest opportunity was precisely to inform it of what I know about this serious situation, and, indeed, to take responsibility on behalf of the Government for sorting it out.
Let me deal with the questions asked by the right hon. Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude). Some, obviously, will be the subject of the continuing investigation by the police, and also the investigation by Sir David Omand.
The right hon. Gentleman asked when I was informed, and when the Prime Minister was informed. We were both informed yesterday afternoon. Then, fairly quickly, I spoke to Alex Allan, the chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee. The right hon. Gentleman also asked whether the copies of the documents that were returned were the original copies They were,. but obviously the police will investigate the question of the originals and how they found their way from the train where they were lost on Tuesday to the BBC.
This partially answers one of the Obvious Questions in the previous Spy Blog article: Top Secret Joint Intelligence Committee current intelligence assessments left on a train
Why did the individual concerned remove the documents? That is and should be a matter for the current investigations, but, as I have said, I think that it is an important point. There was a clear breach not simply of the rules, but of rules to which people sign up when they join the assessment staff.
The right hon. Gentleman asked why copies of such documents were provided. A very small number of copies are provided, some of them for people who attend JIC meetings.
Despite the advances in computer technology, Whitehall mandarins still seem to be operating systems in a culture which would have been familiar to their great grandfathers, when Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote the Sherlock Holmes story The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans back before the First World War in 1912.
As the right hon. Gentleman knows,
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information security of all kinds is not without its risks, although I take his point about the need to minimise the number of documents that are produced.
Obviously I shall not go into the details of any prosecutions or any other action that is to be taken. That is a matter for the police.
The right hon. Gentleman asked whether I was aware of any problems relating to the work of the JIC. I think that the JIC does an extremely good job for our country, and I was not aware of any problems.
There were clear rules in this case. I have set out those rules, and the way in which people sign up to them when they go to work for the assessment staff. This is a case in which those rules were not followed, and it is a matter of deep regret that they were not followed. As I have said, the rules are in place; but to provide the necessary reassurance, we have asked Sir David Omand to consider whether any more can be done to provide the necessary safeguards. We will of course await the outcome of his investigation.
We want Sir David Omand to conduct a review in order to look at questions to do with the security of intelligence-related material, and that is what he will do.
Note that there is no actual promise of a timescale target, by which Sir David is expected to report by, and no promise to make any of his findings public, and his terms of reference seem rather vague.
Andrew MacKinlay , the backbench Labour MP for Thurrock in Essex, who claims to be a target of Labour Government snooping, chose to exercise his Bill of Rights1689 article 9 Parliamentary Privilege (which, in theory, also protects our report about his comments):
Andrew MacKinlay: Is it not a fact that this official was a seconded MI5 officer, and that, therefore, all this business about him being part of the assessment staff is part of an attempt to play this incident down? Although the Minister is innocent of responsibility for this cock-up, he is responsible for addressing the investigation and the remedy. I have no confidence whatever in Sir David Omand; he is a safe pair of hands, and will be involved in a cover-up. Does the Minister recall a conversation I had with him three weeks ago, when I told him there was no parliamentary oversight of the security and intelligence services? He promised to come back to me, but he did not. I reiterate my point: unless or until there is a Committee of Parliament looking into these matters, we can have no confidence about the veracity of the security and intelligence services and the so-called investigations. Let us have a parliamentary Committee now.
Edward Miliband: My hon. Friend has very strong views about the status of the Intelligence and Security Committee. I recall our discussion, and it will no doubt be a continuing part of his discussions with the Government and those people who are responsible for these decisions.
Andrew Mackinlay: Is he an MI5 officer?
Edward Miliband: I am not going to get drawn into a discussion of the status of the individual concerned. Apart from anything else, I do not think that would be fair to that individual. As for my hon. Friend's comments about Sir David Omand, I met Sir David this morning and he is determined to conduct a rigorous investigation to ensure that, as far as possible, we have the necessary safeguards in place.
We are also not impressed with the alleged public scrutiny, by the heavily constrained Intelligence and Security Committee either. They always censor their reports excessively, and they do not have their own independent investigative staff.
What basis Andrew MacKinlay has for assuming that this scandal centres around an MI5 officer on secondment, or whether that is, in itself any more or less significant than if he were seconded from the Secret Intelligence Staff Mi6 or from the Defence Intelligence Staff, is a mystery.
Will this Review by Sir David Omand actually make any difference to the slap dash culture and ignorance of basic privacy / security technology which seems to be so prevalent in Whitehall ?
We are still awaiting the publication of Robert Hannigan's full report, and that of Kieran Poynter from PriceWaterhouseCoopers , appointed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, now that the May Local Elections are over.
We are also still awaiting the Review of the Ministry of Defence 's stolen laptop containing an unencrypted database of over 600,000 names, addresses, CVs and other personal details of potential and actual serving military armed forces recruits over the last few years, being conducted by Sir Edmund Burton
Ed Miliband's Statement, as is customary, was repeated in the House of Lords, by the Government Minister Baroness Morgan of Drefelin.
She faced serious Questions from the formidable Conservative frontbench spokeswoman Baroness Neville-Jonesherself a former Chair of the Joint Intelligence Committee and from the Liberal Democrat Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer who had secured a highly topical Debate on Data Protection immediately afterwards.
The Lords asked the Obvious Question about how it is physically possible to remove Top Secret documents from the secure areas within the Cabinet Office, withour setting off alarms, or being subjected to physical searches , no matter how senior an official you are.
Baroness Morgan of course gave no details, except to confirm that the documents returned yesterday were the original documents and not copies. (another of the our initial Obvious Questions), but that whether these had been copied or not, would, perhaps, be revealed by the ongoing Metropolitan Police Service criminal investigation.
She was also questioned about the role of the Security Commission, which hardly ever looks into any scandals regarding the intelligence services, but which is a mechanism for doing so, if required, She said that the Chair of the Security Commission , i.e. Baroness Butler-Sloss (who, in her capacity as a senior Judge was called on initially to conduct the Inquest into the death of Princess Diana) "was content" with the Cabinet Office plan for the Sir David Omand Inquiry.
Unless and until, Whitehall and the Government can prove that they have a decent track record of being able to keep Top Secrets from being accidentally or deliberately lost or stolen, then why should the public tolerate their mad plans to create even more vulnerable centralised national database targets full of our personal details and data ?