Thursday, June 12, 2008

"Excuse me, you've left behind your state secrets"

I use public transport and I'm an averagely observant person. Therefore I'm obviously disappointed that I've yet to stumble upon a briefcase full of documents labelled "Top Secret". Yesterday's story about the Cabinet Office official leaving the Joint Intelligence Committee reports about Al Qaeda on a train further boggles a mind already fairly boggled by the previous story about the lost MOD computer that had the personal details of 135,000 people who'd applied to join the Services, the hard drive that had the names of three million driving test candidates and the MOD laptop that was pinched in McDonalds.

The fact that nobody has yet reported finding equally sensitive material from the private sector suggests either that, say, Tesco executives are not daft enough to leave a laptop containing all the name and addresses of their club card members in Burger King or that members of the public are turning up such commercial gold dust all the time and can't be bothered to hand it in.

Can I suggest that until the Civil Service is confident enough that it doesn't have a load of staff who habitually leave stuff on trains or in their cars they cease putting the words "Top Secret" at the top? I've always believed that the easiest way to get anything ignored is to shout it from the rooftops.


  1. How anyone could do this in defiance of the incessant patronising announcements reminding us 'not to leave any personal belongings behind' in this 'period of heightened security' both baffles and infuriates me

  2. It kind of reminds me of the time we went into Iraq and somebody left our WMDs there. Oh how we all laughed. Perhaps the most appalling revelation in this whole sordid affair is the knowledge that MOD staff eat in McDonalds! As any young and impressionable man groomed on exotic (travelling the world and seducing beautiful women) and gritty (killing a man with a ball point pen) tales of spys and life in the learn they eat in McDonalds....well...i just hope the latest Bond film is true to life and has a long scene where nothing exciting happens and Bond just sits there eating a Happy Meal.

  3. Anonymous8:55 am

    I believe it was a file left on the train rather than a briefcase, which makes it much less glamorous. Still, who ever found it knew what they were doing, deciding to give it to the BBC instead of returning it to its owner.
    Apparently the said file doesn’t actually contain that much information – suggesting what we already knew; that when it comes to plans on tackling the threat from Al Qaeda, the government hasn’t really got much up their sleeve...
    Did the government ever locate the CD with details of people in the UK who receive child benefit? It all seems to have gone silent on that one.

  4. Do you think it was just an underhand publicity exercise to remind us all that 'Al Qaeda' is still on the agenda? Adam Curtis made a great documentary series The Power of Nightmares:The Rise of the Politics of Fear a few years ago. It reminds me of that.

  5. I must admit Like RM i always assume it was intentional as a way of leaking stuff to the BBC.
    No one sits on a train flicking through a folder marked top secret.

  6. Anonymous3:01 pm

    The idea that it's intentional, credits the civil service with a level of sophistication otherwise unheard of.

    I've worked in the civil service and, despite what you might think, it's mainly populated by mediocre middle-managers too average to have ever ventured into the private sector. ( Apart from me, obviously, but I was only there for 6 months)

    So far as making sure such sensitive documents are never read I suggest printing 'Chris Moyles Podcast - transcript' at the top of every page.

    That should do the trick.

    PS: Re, the Blue Oyster Cult/Word Podcast David, can I direct you towards the following link, a great sketch about Dont Fear the Reaper from SNL - More Cowbell.

    If you haven't seen it. it's very well worth a look: