Top Secret Al Qaeda Documents Left on London Train

Oops. At least they were found and returned.

Keith Vaz MP, chairman of the powerful Home Affairs select committee told the BBC: "Such confidential documents should be locked away...they should not be read on trains."

You think?

Posted on June 13, 2008 at 6:47 AM • 41 Comments

Comments

Peter GalbavyJune 13, 2008 7:49 AM

I noticed in the BBC reports, the file folder was only accepted back on camera into an evidence bag with no one from the polive touching it.

Anyone want to lay odds on the person who found it and handed to the BBC being prosecuted rather than the "senior intelligence official" who removed it unlawfully from their office and left it on the train.

Whistleblowing is more punishable now then ever.

FairbJune 13, 2008 7:56 AM

As a UK resident I am sorely tempted to send Mr Vaz a copy of the Schneier Motivational Poster. Maybe start a new award along the lines of the doghouse. On the other hand, it's not my face on the poster so best not.

ajdJune 13, 2008 8:27 AM

If this is how incompetent we are with security matters in the UK maybe we really do need to give our police 42 days to detain suspects.

Oh and this is the same lot that want us to believe a national database containing all our personal information will be safe.

BernieJune 13, 2008 8:43 AM

Oh. Documents about Al Qaeda, not documents that Al Qaeda wrote. When I read, "At least they were found and returned," I thought Bruce was giving us a Friday funny.

WaltJune 13, 2008 8:45 AM

I like the rationalization in the last paragraphs:

"We don't believe there is a threat to any individuals in what was in these documents if they had got into the wrong hands."

So, why was it marked Top Secret then, if there is no risk in disclosure?

Not that I believe they were overclassified, just an interesting turnabout to downplay the incident.

DaveShawJune 13, 2008 8:46 AM

Why pass it to the BBC, an international news organisation? Just pass it back to the goverment agency involved; it was marked top secret.

Who thinks "ooh a secret document, I'll give this to a jounalist". Come on people.

My slightly over opinionated 2c's.
Dave

djoJune 13, 2008 8:51 AM

Friday funny: the gov't were reminding everyone that the person who found the notes was liable for prosecution under the official secrets act.

JohnJune 13, 2008 8:55 AM

They now say the person who left them on the train should not have taken them out of the office and he as been suspended pending an inquiry.

CliveJune 13, 2008 8:57 AM

In answer to Peter Galbavy and Dave Shaw: passing the documents to the BBC rather than the government is a shrewd move.

On the one hand it offers anonymity to whoever found them, who might otherwise end up scapegoated; on the other, it means the government doesn't get to sweep their incompetence under the carpet.

And at least they went to a reputable organisation out of a sense of public duty, not a tabloid newspaper who'd pay them money for the story.

SteveJJune 13, 2008 8:57 AM

@Walt: "So, why was it marked Top Secret then?"

I think that "no threat to any individuals" is code, meaning that there are no known people who would face particular increased danger. For example, if the documents contained personal details of British agents then there would be a threat to those individuals, and this statement is saying that there is no information of that sort.

The general increased threat to everyone of al Qaeda getting the documents (and therefore finding out exactly how much the security services know about them) is a separate matter for the purposes of that statement.

So basically, in the jargon, it is possible that there is risk despite there being "no threat to any individuals". Makes no sense on the face of it, but I think it's clear what they mean.

@Dave: "Just pass it back to the goverment agency involved"

Maybe the finder considers the BBC to be an agent of the government (specifically, the propaganda wing).

Andrew GumbrellJune 13, 2008 9:03 AM

Dave,
I think handing the document to the BBC was entirely the right thing to do. If it had been handed to the police or the relevant government department directly we would never have heard of this matter of some importance.
Our officials need to be accountable for their actions and it is the vigilence of the press in all its various forms which plays the major role in ensuring that accountability.

JoshbwJune 13, 2008 9:10 AM

Why can't everyone just learn from the physicist John Wheeler and not leave classified documents on the train? Do we need the ghost of Dwight Eisenhower to come rip into everyone incapable of learning from history about how to secure sensitive government information?

Happiness HackerJune 13, 2008 9:55 AM

We want fair and free elections in November. Corrupt government contractors threaten the integrity of our telephone and email communications systems. It's much more than monitoring.

See http://HappinessHacker.com

Sorry to be off topic, we hope you will address this threat.

Many thanks!!!

ZaphodJune 13, 2008 10:23 AM

What's the betting the person who found the document(s) made a copy of them for personal use. Quick, easy and undetectable by, say, phone digital camera.

I know I would have!

Z.

Clive RobinsonJune 13, 2008 11:33 AM

@ Clive,

Another Clive hmmm maybe I should change my name to "Hay nony mouse"

@ All,

Living in London and regularly traveling on trains that go through Vaxhall and into Surrey you would be amazed by what I have seen and heard from very indiscreate "civil servants" and Senior Police officers.

From chatting on their phones and banging away at their laptops as well as reading plain paper copies of confidential and above documents.

If you look back in this blog you will find I posted a comment about an indiscreat middle aged lady who got off at Norbiton who was complaining to her friend that she had been delayed at work due to the first H5N1 scare in the UK and she actually compared the antics at the ministerial level meeting as being like "Monty Pythons Dead Parrot Sketch".

The simple fact is that most of these people think more of their somewhat limited abilities than the rest of us do.

Also I belive that the contents of the current document concerned where already well known to the BBC journolist.

Unfortunatly one of the failings of "inteligence services" these days is to "cut-n-paste" from the Internet (think back to the "dodgy dossier" and the PhD thesis it was lifted from).

Obviously due to "resourse limitations" this internet information is not subject to the appropriate level of verification to give it reliability. Often it is accepted as fact if it has come from the online pages of a foriegn newspaper (think back to the "uranium yellow cake documents") or been "Confirmed on CNN".

Worse various inteligence organisations trade information and "anonimise" the "sources and methods". So if two organisations read the same Internet document and one trades it to the other. The recieving organisation tends to regard this as confirming the original information...

We know this from Conan Powlles speach to the UN that lifted bits from the draft of the UK's doggy dossier. The dossier was updated to include CP's source as conformation.

Further we know that pre gulf war II various organisations of Iraq bussinesmen etc who had "differences with Sadam" received funding from amongst others the NSA to sow disinformation into foriegn press coverage (Italy amongst others) and that some investagtive jourolists caught them out and published the info.

However quite a bit of it ended up going full circle and being used as indipendent coroberation of the original bogus story...

I would be highly surprised if the likes of terrorist organisations had not yet caught on to this. And further realised that they could start there own "disinformation" program in the same way...

Davi OttenheimerJune 13, 2008 11:35 AM

Ah, obviously the rail authorities need to post signs in every car:

"Do not leave secret terror files"

And they should repeatedly broadcast over the loudspeaker "Keep your secret terror files with you at all times. Documents left behind will be treated as a security breach..."

Educate often and threaten with fines or imprisonment.

That should make it all better.

Philip StorryJune 13, 2008 11:45 AM

As a UK Citizen, I'm pleased that we can now detain all Civil Servants who could have left these documents on the train for up to 42 days, without charge, whilst we investigate whether or not they were potentially assisting terrorists in their negligence.

In that regard, it could only be better if it had been a document left behind by a Member of Parliament...

PavelJune 13, 2008 11:57 AM

Hrmm... there is a presumption a) this is not a cover story by BBC having acquired the documents via a leak or b) someone in the government thinking that transparency of intel is a Good Thing (tm) since Al Qaeda is the current bogey-man in both the UK and US.

Point b) assumes, rather naively, that the leaker's motive is to prevent the government from being able to make claims "They are up no good! Fear! Oooh! Aaaah! Trust us, we have intel. But we can't show you, 'cause it is all, like, Top Secret and stuff".

bobJune 13, 2008 11:57 AM

["]...One Whitehall source sought to play down the impact of the breach: "The embarrassment of the loss is greater than the embarrassment of the contents of the documents.

"We don't believe there is a threat to any individuals in what was in these documents if they had got into the wrong hands." ["]

Really? Then why are they classified?

RoyJune 13, 2008 12:08 PM

Why not have all these officials searched when they try to leave the building? Jail the violators and prevent the documents from falling into the wrong hands. Simple, right?

But that would mean treating government workers as shoddily as the government treats its subjects.

bobJune 13, 2008 12:18 PM

@DaveShaw: Why give ti to the media? For the same reason I wont go anywhere near a child in trouble - the easy answer on the part of government officials is to lock up the first person they see after they realize they need to CYA themselves. Then it takes me the rest of my life to get my life back (if ever).

Ed HurstJune 13, 2008 12:47 PM

What better way to leak propaganda than to let someone "find" it, all properly marked to give it some sort of authority? Al Qaeda was fake from the start, just a front for false flag operations to keep the masses stirred up against the enemy of the week. Maybe the person who passed it to the BBC was part of the setup.

ArtJune 13, 2008 1:50 PM

Interesting that the 'finder' chose to take the papers to the BBC rather than the 'authorities'?

A bigger concern should be how many sets of 'papers' leave the proper place on a daily basis?

I have read lots of interesting court case transcripts and business merger docs on the local public bus as I ride home from work that the person sitting next to me brought home from the 'office'.

As for the classification of the documents that is a policy decision right? wink wink!

SammyJune 13, 2008 1:52 PM

A few comments:

1) The docs were actually marked "top secret STRAP2". This is above TS and a very big deal
2) There's no assertion that he actually read the documents on the train (not that this would make much of a difference, I'm sure).
3) He was authorised to remove the documents from the office, though clearly he didn't follow the "secure container" and handling procedures.

Loads of post stating "if nobody is at risk, why is this TS". Errr, it may contain details of technical measure in place, intel gathering systems etc etc. There are loads of reasons why these documents will rightfully be classified as TS+ without there being a direct risk to an individual.

ForRealJune 13, 2008 2:04 PM

How would one position false documentation so that no one would question it?

AndrewJune 13, 2008 3:16 PM

@ For Real "How would one position false documentation so that no one would question it?"

Easy. Put it in a briefcase handcuffed to a dead body and let it wash ashore.

www.themanwhoneverwas.com

KanlyJune 13, 2008 6:02 PM

> If this is how incompetent we are with security matters in the UK maybe we really do need to give our police 42 days to detain suspects.

British Police need 42 days to interrogate suspects because it takes them that long to remember where they lost their paperwork. :-P

Britain has been a lousy role modern as the Western Liberal Democracy's first Police State. If I saw something like that on the train I wouldn't pick it up for fear some gun-happy English bobbies would shoot me (and get away with it).

MarkJune 14, 2008 6:04 AM

@John
They now say the person who left them on the train should not have taken them out of the office and he as been suspended pending an inquiry.

The real question is why isn't he under arrest and not likely to see sunlight until early July? (Together with an intensive forensic investigation of anywhere they might have lived in the last 10 years or so.)

The British government has been claiming that such things are justified.
Yet when a senior civil servant appears to be spying for Al Quada they don't even get arrested.

MarkJune 14, 2008 6:08 AM

@Andrew Gumbrell
I think handing the document to the BBC was entirely the right thing to do. If it had been handed to the police or the relevant government department directly we would never have heard of this matter of some importance.

Also this person would have been taking a considerable personal risk in not doing things in the most public way possible. Even now they are being threatened with prosecution, whereas a George Cross would be more appropriate.

KashmarekJune 15, 2008 2:38 PM

To Depressed Brit: clearly since the 1st "lost" document was not divulged to the public, it failed to deliver on its potential for mis-information and/or propoganda. Thus, the 2nd "lost" document, though it seemingly failed as well. Similar to "stolen" laptops with confidential information, these documents are likely to have been arranged to be "lost" or "left on the train". Fear mongering.

2NegotiateJune 15, 2008 10:20 PM

President GreatOne is in UK, strongarming Brown. These leaks make it easier.
What really sucks is how some administration engages is Pyschops too much, and too little policy, and unspeakable implementation.
Iraq, Bremmer, not a good move, but reaks of move made on russia, trouble = cheaper oil prices and negotiation.
Not cool. Just like Microsoft.
The lack of enlightenment in the media and other blogs is seriously disturbing.
The lack of experts ..... .... ... .. .
Oh well.

Davi OttenheimerJune 16, 2008 12:26 AM

Wow, I really should go by train in England more often.

Just imagine all the secret information you might see...better than a bunch of boulders in springtime.

Any chance this is a BritRail publicity stunt?

Or was this to help Bush's agenda, as 2Negotiate points out?

Breki TomassonJune 16, 2008 4:10 AM

I travel quite a lot with my job, and it constantly amazes me how often I see people walking around on airports talking on their cell-phones about things that are obviously business secrets. They even fall asleep on airplanes with large "CONFIDENTIAL" binders on their tray tables.

I sometimes feel like walking behind them taking notes about their phone-calls just to clue them in on how insecure they're being.

Clive RobinsonJune 16, 2008 7:31 AM

@ Davi,

Perhaps you have not been in the U.K. for a little while but British Rail (as was) begam split up by Maggi Thatcher into a group of non compeating money vampires.

The Operator in this particular case (Waterloo to Surrey) is most likley to have been South West Trains whos's policy on fines beggers belife and is very probably illegal (call it blackmail for want of another word).

As I indicated earlier it is amasing what you see and hear on SWT trains out of Vauxhall (look up Vauxhall Cross home of SIS/MI6 if you need a clue, or the location of New Scotland Yard/Met Police).

cesar brancoJune 16, 2008 8:28 AM

This looks like an intentional leak, someone did it to make the government look bad and especially to confront the public with the risks of all the new anti terrorist powers in the hands of bureaucrats.

It is not probable at all that 2 sets of top secret documents would be left on trains on separate occasions on the same week. Not even once. I see it very likely that someone would read it in the train though.

TheDoctorJune 16, 2008 9:55 AM

@cesar branco:
Thats it. One time is bad luck, two times is intentional.

2giveitallawayJune 16, 2008 9:30 PM

If the current administration was a arguable good one, then ok, its a game.
However the current SOP is piss poor performance and rock botttom negotiation and stupidity. Whisteblower to coming problems?
I give amends to some in NSA/CIA/private sector who are/have doing/have a good job in the middle of all this.

Leaking some wrong info in juicy stuff helps to traitor trace and sabotage, and push some pieces around. Priceless.
Sorry state of affairs, I have extremely little faith in most of the administration now, and hence, they get no pass from me with how some things are going.
Ugly, tap info, print it out as others negligence, and then get to move your pieces in. GRR.
Schtinker, thats all some in this administration are good for. :)
Hope all works out these days, but prepare for the worst.
Keep up the good work Bruce, I think you are doing a lot of good keeping things in place and getting some facts out.

F. FoxJune 17, 2008 1:56 PM

@Dave

I concur with Clive and Andrew Gumbrell:

1.) The government can't cover up its mis-step;
2.) It helps shield the Good Samaritan from prosecution.

I would say it might keep them out of Gitmo, but this was in England.

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