Lost laptops, disks and dossiers

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Indy Politics

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 marshalled, 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 unencrypted data.

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.

Mark Taylor

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