Security shake-up condemned: The secrecy categories covering state information are to be defined more closely

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The Independent Online
A SHAKE-UP of the Whitehall security system was attacked last night by opposition parties as an attempt to protect the Attorney General, Sir Nicholas Lyell, at the Scott inquiry on arms sales to Iraq.

On the eve of Sir Nicholas's appearance, the Prime Minister said that the status of classified documents was to be more clearly defined to give departments greater responsibility over their security.

The four main categories - top secret, secret, confidential and restricted - will remain, but they are being more clearly defined to give individual departments more discretion in releasing information.

Savings were expected to be 'substantial' on the annual bill of pounds 300m for government security.

The old definitions were: top secret - 'causing exceptionally grave damage to the nation'; secret - 'causing serious injury to the interests of the nation'; confidential - 'being damaging to the interests of the nation'; and restricted - 'being undesirable in the interests of the nation'.

These are to be replaced from 4 April by more explicit definitions:

Top secret - 'likely to threaten directly the internal stability of the UK or friendly countries; lead directly to widespread loss of life; cause exceptionally grave damage to the effectiveness or security of the UK or allied forces or the continuing effectiveness of extremely valuable security or intelligence operations; to cause exceptionally grave damage to relations with friendly governments; cause severe long-term damage to the UK economy'.

Secret - 'raise international tension, damage seriously relations with friendly governments, threaten life directly or seriously prejudice public order or individual security or liberty, cause serious damage to the operational effectiveness or security of UK or allied forces or the continuing effectiveness of highly valuable security or intelligence operations, cause substantial material damage to national finances or economic and commercial interests'.

Confidential - 'materially damage diplomatic relations (cause formal protest or other sanction), prejudice individual security or liberty, cause damage to the operational effectivness or security of UK or allied forces or effectiveness of valuable security or intelligence operations . . . impede investigation or facilitate the commission of serious crime, impede seriously the development or operation of major government policies, shut down or substantially disrupt significant national operations'.

Restricted - 'affect diplomatic relations adversely, cause substantial distress to individuals, make it more difficult to maintain the operational effectiveness or security of UK or allied forces . . . breach proper undertakings to maintain the confidence of information provided by third parties, impede the effective development or operation of government policies . . .'

Positive vetting procedures are to be streamlined to cut the number of people checked before working for the Government and more anti-bugging checks of departments are to be carried out by private firms.

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