By Simon Evans and Margareta Pagano
15 June 2008
Secret government documents detailing the UK's policies towards fighting
global terrorist funding, drugs trafficking and money laundering have
been found on a London-bound train and handed to 'The Independent on
The government papers, left on a train destined for Waterloo station, on
Wednesday, contain criticism of countries such as Iran that are signed
up to the global Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an
inter-governmental body created to combat financial crime and the
financing of terrorism.
The confidential files outline how the trade and banking systems can be
manipulated to finance illicit weapons of mass destruction in Iran. They
spell out methods to fund terrorists, and address the potential fraud of
commercial websites and international internet payment systems. The
files also highlight the weakness of HM Revenue & Customs' (HMRC) IT
systems, which track financial fraud.
The Independent on Sunday has returned the documents, and will divulge
no details contained in them.
This latest security gaffe involving top-level government documents is
the second breach in the past week and is hugely embarrassing to Gordon
Brown. The Government is already investigating the loss of other files
by a senior intelligence officer in the Cabinet Office, who is
understood to have been suspended. This official also left documents,
containing a damning assessment of Iraqi forces and a Home Office report
on "al-Qa'ida vulnerabilities", on a train. They were handed to the BBC.
The Government has been hit by a series of security breaches in the past
year. HMRC lost two computer disks containing the personal details of 25
million people, while the details of three million driving-test
candidates were mislaid.
Alistair Darling, the Chancellor, who is in Japan at the G8 meeting, has
been told of the latest debacle, and his department insists steps are
being taken to tighten security procedures.
Last night, a spokesman said the Treasury regretted the latest incident:
"We are extremely concerned about what has happened and will be taking
steps to ensure it doesn't happen in the future."
Opposition politicians reacted to the latest news with astonishment.
Baroness Neville-Jones, shadow security minister, said the Government
needed to "get a grip" on the issue of protecting sensitive data, and
lamented "yet another example of a lapse in discipline".
Chris Huhne, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, said: "This
latest failure is extremely damaging to the Government's fight against
terrorism as no one knows where the information may have ended up. This
is another appalling embarrassment for an accident-prone government."
The discovery of these confidential files is all the more embarrassing
as they relate to a week-long global financial crime conference,
organised by the FATF, which starts in London tomorrow.
Sir James Sassoon, the Treasury's ambassador to the City, is president
of FATF, the Paris-based watchdog, which has 32 members around the
The revelations will come as a blow to Sir James, who is hosting this
week's gathering of 450 of the world's leading anti-crime experts. He
was unavailable for comment but sources say he is furious about the
latest security breach. It is particularly galling as Britain has had a
successful year holding the FATF presidency.
The files include briefing notes for the closed conference . to be held
at the Queen Elizabeth II Centre . and draft speeches to be delivered by
British officials at No 11 Downing Street on Wednesday at a reception
for the most senior FATF representatives. Officials at the reception
will include the Deputy Assistant Secretary to the US Treasury, Daniel
Glaser, and Antonio Gustavo Rodrigues, Brazil's incoming FATF president.
The FATF has already expressed its concern that Iran lacks an effective
system to prevent money laundering. It wants Iran to criminalise the
financing of terrorism and stop illicit money being diverted to its
nuclear programme. The watchdog says this is a significant vulnerability
within the international financial system.
It is negotiating with countries such as China, Pakistan, Uzbekistan,
Turkmenistan, Burma and the Comoros on their anti-terrorism policies.
Misplaced secrets: Lost laptops, disks and dossiers
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
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.
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