The order came from on high. From Gen Sir Charles Guthrie, the commander-in-chief of all British forces, no less. There will be no more leaking, he insisted. And how do we know? His orders were leaked.
The five point order to brigade commanders, headed "Breaches of Confidentiality" and signed by the C-in-C, rages at breaches of confidence that have embarrassed ministers and led to "speculative and damaging" articles in the media.
"I want to make it quite plain that I regard such leaks as very serious disciplinary offences. You are to ensure those under your command, both Regular and TA [Territorial Army], understand the gravity with which I regard such betrayals of trust," he wrote.
"I include not only deliberate contacts with the press or politicians but also idle chatter on social occasions; the latter seem to be the source of much ill-informed conjecture and speculation, all of it damaging."
He reminds his officers that there are rules governing the discussion or disclosure of official business and cites Queens Regulation (Army) Chapter 12 and the Defence Manual of Security. This reference is Gen Guthrie's oblique way of saying that he will prosecute anyone caught leaking under the Official Secrets Act, which binds all serving and former personnel.
Gen Guthrie goes on to say that rumour must be countered by fact and stresses that officers, particularly in the TA, will be told what is happening.
He seems particularly annoyed at the damage being done to morale in the TA, which has undergone swingeing cuts under Labour's Strategic Defence Review.
Geoffrey Hoon, the Secretary of State for Defence, is known to be sensitive about the barrage of adverse publicity he has received in recent weeks. Stories about rifles that don't work, ships without fuel, Kosovo peace-keeping troops living in tents during winter, fighter aircraft that can't carry laser-guided bombs and wrangles over helicopters to Mozambique have taken their toll.
He told the Derby Evening Telegraph last week before he flew to the Falklands on a morale-boosting mission that he had just had his worst week ever in his political career.
He had just been castigated by the Tories for being several hours late for a defence debate because he was attending an informal, therefore not compulsory, meeting of defence ministers in Portugal.Reuse content