Author: By Simon Evans and Margareta Pagano
The government papers, left on a train destined for Waterloo station, on
Wednesday, contain criticism of countries such as Iran that are signed up to
the global Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an inter-governmental body
created to combat financial crime and the financing of terrorism.
The confidential files outline how the trade and banking systems can be
manipulated to finance illicit weapons of mass destruction in Iran. They
spell out methods to fund terrorists, and address the potential fraud of
commercial websites and international internet payment systems. The files
also highlight the weakness of HM Revenue & Customs’ (HMRC) IT systems,
which track financial fraud.
The Independent on Sunday has returned the documents, and will divulge no
details contained in them.
This latest security gaffe involving top-level government documents is the
second breach in the past week and is hugely embarrassing to Gordon Brown.
The Government is already investigating the loss of other files by a senior
intelligence officer in the Cabinet Office, who is understood to have been
suspended. This official also left documents, containing a damning
assessment of Iraqi forces and a Home Office report on “al-Qa’ida
vulnerabilities”, on a train. They were handed to the BBC.
The Government has been hit by a series of security breaches in the past year.
HMRC lost two computer disks containing the personal details of 25 million
people, while the details of three million driving-test candidates were
Alistair Darling, the Chancellor, who is in Japan at the G8 meeting, has been
told of the latest debacle, and his department insists steps are being taken
to tighten security procedures.
Last night, a spokesman said the Treasury regretted the latest incident: “We
are extremely concerned about what has happened and will be taking steps to
ensure it doesn’t happen in the future.”
Opposition politicians reacted to the latest news with astonishment. Baroness
Neville-Jones, shadow security minister, said the Government needed to “get
a grip” on the issue of protecting sensitive data, and lamented “yet
another example of a lapse in discipline”.
Chris Huhne, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, said: “This
latest failure is extremely damaging to the Government’s fight against
terrorism as no one knows where the information may have ended up. This is
another appalling embarrassment for an accident-prone government.”
The discovery of these confidential files is all the more embarrassing as they
relate to a week-long global financial crime conference, organised by the
FATF, which starts in London tomorrow.
Sir James Sassoon, the Treasury’s ambassador to the City, is president of
FATF, the Paris-based watchdog, which has 32 members around the world.
The revelations will come as a blow to Sir James, who is hosting this week’s
gathering of 450 of the world’s leading anti-crime experts. He was
unavailable for comment but sources say he is furious about the latest
security breach. It is particularly galling as Britain has had a successful
year holding the FATF presidency.
The files include briefing notes for the closed conference ? to be held at the
Queen Elizabeth II Centre ? and draft speeches to be delivered by British
officials at No 11 Downing Street on Wednesday at a reception for the most
senior FATF representatives. Officials at the reception will include the
Deputy Assistant Secretary to the US Treasury, Daniel Glaser, and Antonio
Gustavo Rodrigues, Brazil’s incoming FATF president.
The FATF has already expressed its concern that Iran lacks an effective system
to prevent money laundering. It wants Iran to criminalise the financing of
terrorism and stop illicit money being diverted to its nuclear programme.
The watchdog says this is a significant vulnerability within the
international financial system.
It is negotiating with countries such as China, Pakistan, Uzbekistan,
Turkmenistan, Burma and the Comoros on their anti-terrorism policies.
Misplaced secrets: Lost laptops, disks and dossiers
The British government has an ignoble history of misplaced sensitive files, in
paper and electronic form. The most serious loss of sensitive data came in
1990 when a laptop containing plans for the first Gulf War was stolen from
the boot of a car in west London. The computer contained detailed
information about how the military planned to remove Saddam Hussein’s forces
from Kuwait. The RAF officer responsible for the laptop was
court-martialled, but the secrets were never leaked.
In 2000 a laptop was stolen from the home of Armed Forces minister John
Spellar, the man responsible for Britain’s nuclear secrets. The burglar
ignored two red boxes containing potentially sensitive documents.
That same year, an MI6 officer left a laptop in a taxi after a night drinking
in a bar. Another was snatched when an MI5 officer put it down while buying
a ticket at a Tube station. A Royal Navy laptop was stolen in Manchester in
2006, and an Army laptop containing data on 500 people was stolen from a
recruiting office in Edinburgh in 2005.
In January 2008, a laptop with details of 600,000 people interested in joining
the armed forces went missing. The theft caused concern in light of a
terrorist plot in which Muslim extremists planned to kill a British
serviceman. The MoD then banned staff from taking home laptops with
In April, a thief stole the laptop of an Army captain from under his chair at
a McDonald’s near the MoD. And only last week, secret files on the threat
from al-Qa’ida were left on a train.
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