Secret al-Qa'ida report found on train

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Secret intelligence reports about the activites of al-Qa'ida in Pakistan and Afghanistan and the insurgency in Iraq were left on a train by a senior intelligence officer based at the Cabinet Office, it emerged yesterday.

Secret intelligence reports about the activites of al-Qa'ida in Pakistan and Afghanistan and the insurgency in Iraq were left on a train by a senior intelligence officer based at the Cabinet Office, it emerged yesterday.

The two sets of documents, one marked "top secret", were part of classified material sent to the Joint Intelligence Committee by the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) and the Security Service (MI5). A passenger on a train from London Waterloo to Surrey found the orange cardboard envelope containing the papers abandoned on a seat on Tuesday.

A search for them had been launched by the Metropolitan Police but the passenger had already given them to the BBC. It broadcast details of the files yesterday as MPs voted on the Government's contentious plans to raise the time limit that terror suspects can be held without charge from 28 to 42 days.

One of the reports, commissioned by the Foreign Office and the Home Office, was classified "UK top secret" and the pages were marked "For UK, US, Canadian and Australian eyes only". Part of the report examined the infiltration of Pakistani security forces by al-Qa'ida sympathisers, Whitehall sources said.

The second document, a report on Iraq for the Ministry of Defence, examined the extent of the threat posed by insurgents and the capabilities of the Iraqi armed forces. According to Whitehall sources, the study would have played a part in deciding a timetable for the withdrawal of British troops from the country.

The reports were handed to Scotland Yard by the BBC last night. The senior officer who lost them was at work yesterday but, last night, the Cabinet Office said that he had been suspended from his job.

A spokesman for the Cabinet Office said: "He is a senior officer who worked on assessment for the JIC and had full authorisation to take the documents out of the building. There are procedures to ensure that such losses do not take place. There has been a breach of security and an investigation is now under way to find out why this happened." There have been several government data and security blunders during the past seven months. On 20 November, computer discs holding personal information on 25 million people went missing from HM Revenue and Customs in Gateshead.

On 11 December, two more discs containing the details of 7,685 Northern Ireland motorists disappeared. On the same day, information about dozens of prisoners was mistakenly sent to a private business.

Details of three million driving test candidates went missing on 17 December. Two days later, a Royal Navy laptop holding information about 600,000 people was stolen.

Inside the intelligence world

*Joint Intelligence Committee

The JIC is the senior intelligence assessment organisation in the UK and briefs senior ministers. It also defines, for government approval, the priorities in the work of the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), the Security Service(MI5), the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) and the Defence Intelligence Staff (DIS).

*Officials in the JIC

Committee members include the heads of MI6, MI5, DIS,the assessment staff, representatives of the Foreign Office, the MoD and the Prime Minister's adviser on foreign affairs.

*Secrecy of the lost documents

The two reports were marked "top secret". But according to security sources, they did not contain information about the UK's domestic security safeguards.

*The range of circulation of the documents

One of them, commissioned by the Foreign Office and the Home Office, was marked: "For UK, US, Canadian and Australian eyes only". The second document examined the threat posed by Iraqi insurgents and the capabilities of the Iraqi army.

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