Can you keep a secret? Britain’s Ministry of Defence and the BBC evidently cannot

On the same weekend that internal cctv footage of then Health Secretary Matt Hancock in flagrante delicto with his advisor/mistress, in his ministerial office, was leaked to the press following a sting by a whistleblower in his department who contacted opponents of the Health Secretary's stance on lockdown to help expose his affair, a far more serious breach of security has emerged, writes Gary Cartwright.

The BBC reported on Sunday the “discovery” of classified documents, marked SECRET UK EYES ONLY, found in a "soggy heap" behind a bus stop in Kent early on Tuesday morning.

A “member of the public” having stumbled upon these documents, and after having read through them, realised their importance, and promptly reported the the find to…. the BBC!

The documents in question related to the actions of the British Destroyer HMS Defender in Ukrainian waters late last week, which provoked threats of “bombing” from the Kremlin.

They reveal that the incident was pre-planned, and that this particular episode in what is a major operational deployment involving the aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth, and which has already seen RAF F-35 Lightning bombing targets in Syria, even had its own codename: "Operation Ditroite”.

On Monday, of last week, three potential Russian responses to HMS Defender’s transit through Ukrainian waters - which Russia claims as its own, following the illegal annexation of Crimea - were outlined, ranging from "safe and professional" to "neither safe nor professional”.

Officials justified the move to sail near the coast of Crimea stressing that this was a calculated decision. An alternative route to sail away from the coast of Crimea was considered, one that would have kept HMS Defender away from the contested waters.

That the incident was pre-planned should come as no surprise, indeed many will rejoice that given Russia’s behaviour towards, and within, the UK, London has shown some backbone at last.

But the BBC’s coverage raises many questions:

Why was a hard copy of a document with the second highest security classification - below only Top Secret - allowed to leave government premises? Each individual copy of this document, and there will have been very few, will have had a unique serial number, and the name of every individual who opened it will have been recorded.

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Are MoD employees working from home now allowed to take such sensitive papers home with them?

Is it normal that a person would routinely pick up - or even touch - a pile of “soggy” papers found behind a bus stop?

If the “member of the public” realised the “sensitivity” of the papers, why did he or she not contact the police immediately?

If he or she did understand the importance of the papers one hopes that he or she did not send them to the BBC by email.

Why did the BBC, releasing the story on Sunday morning, publish text from secret government papers?

In its article, the BBC stated that the MoD reported that the employee responsible for the papers had reported the “loss” at the time, and that it would be “inappropriate to comment further”.

The MoD press office did indeed issue such a statement, via social media, but seemingly only two hours after the story was published by the BBC.

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Was this in fact a deliberate leak? If so, it was extremely clumsy, one might even say “incompetent,” but with this, and recent previous governments, that would be about par for the course.

MoD, like all public bodies, is keen to emphasis its “diversity” credentials. But surely this particular body is different from, for example, the BBC itself?

This course of direction might not be so suitable in this case, as the UK is home now for people not only from religious and cultural backgrounds who may not share Britain’s values, and who indeed be openly hostile to those values, but also indigenous persons who for whatever reason who are also keen to see a brave new world in which tradition and common values, let alone accepted reality, have no place.

Membership of the Communist Party, for example, would have previously excluded applicants from military service, and quite rightly so. Likewise, applicants who had made multiple trips to potentially hostile states, or whose lifestyle might leave them vulnerable to blackmail or coercion. Such individuals would have had no place in such an institution as the MoD. Is this still the case? One hopes so, but fears otherwise.

Whatever the reason for this appalling incident, heads should roll. But let’s not hold our breath.

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Gary Cartwright

Gary Cartwright

Gary Cartwright is publishing editor and Brussels correspondent of EU Today.

An experienced journalist and author, he specialises in environment, energy, and defence.

He also has more than 10 years experience of working as a staff member in the EU institutions, working with political groups and MEPs in various policy areas.

In October 2021 POLITICO described Gary as "the busiest man in Brussels!"

He is a of member the Chartered Institute of Journalists, a professional association for journalists, the senior such body in the UK, and the oldest in the world having been founded in October 1884

Gary's most recent book WANTED MAN: THE STORY OF MUKHTAR ABLYAZOV: A Manual for Criminals on How to Avoid Punishment in the EU is currently available from Amazon

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