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back to article Stunned commuter finds more secret papers on train

Whitehall was left combing its season ticket loan records this weekend as another set of top secret papers did the rounds of the 5.45pm from Waterloo. Just days after a Cabinet Office worker left a stack of top secret anti-terrorist papers – including an analysis of Al Qaeda - on a train to Surrey, it emerged that a second set …

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Scna available...?

Well, is there? I know crayon on paper doesn't come through very well (and heck, we know its all the government can be trusted with) but with them missing for a tleast an evening.

On a similar note, would it be illeagal to disclose these now seen as it can be argues that they were released into the "public domain"?

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Something I don;t get

THese people always seem to

Find envelope on train/in car park/on park benck - ok,

Open it - Why? it is not yours.

Give to Media outlet - Why? to ensure maximum coverage and receive fat cheque? Why not hand to police and go along on your merry way?

Maybe I am just too much of a goody two-shoes but

1. I would not open it ,even if it did have TOP SECRET on the front.

2. I would take it straight to the cop shop and get a good citizen award (or soundly beaten to get a confession of where I stole it from).

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Joke

Is this a side-effect of greater use of public transport?

both left on trains? Would this have been an issue if the civil servants had driven their high poluting 4x4 to work on Wednesday and left the paper work on the backseat instead?

The more people use buses and trains the more stuff is going to get left behind on them and not just secrets, maybe the odd violin too.

I'm sticking with my car for the moment, if I have to use public transport I just get paranoided I've left something on it.

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Black Helicopters

I don't normally endorse conspiracy theories...

... but I am beginning to wonder if these latest cock-ups are more than just coincidences.

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Joke

I'm all for "Open Government"........

But does anyone else get the feeling this is taking it a little too far?

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Anonymous Coward

i think I can forsee the Civil Service's answer to this

Chauffer-driven government cars for all officials senior enough to handle secret documents.

Trebles all round!

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Black Helicopters

Hmm...

So lacking any serious criminal masterminds they set about leaving what are basically (how to) documents on the very public transport systems that are considered the prime targets detailing how to smuggle arms and money and exploit weaknesses in the HO systems, HMMMMMM....but then again I've long ago learnt not to assume malice when simple stupidity will suffice, which lets face it...it does in spades.

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Linux

Why???

First question is why are they still talking about lesons will be learnt from this?

Second question is why is the people responsible for these papers not fired, forget suspension or ability to resign, give them the boot?

Third question is why are the people finding these papers turning them into newpapers immediately, I would scan the entire lot and then post them on Wikileaks first before they ever get turned over. If this was done then maybe those idiots in Whitehall would be a bit more cautios with supposedly secret papers.

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Sack Jacquie Smith

Apart from being a thoroughly horrible woman, her bending over backwards to take away our civiil liberties are more than enough reason.

Running a department that is that bad, should be enough.

What next, our nuclear launch codes in a mini bus after a drunken night out on expenses??

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Happy

I suppose...

... that is one way to get more openess and honesty from this government; just get civil servants to make dead drops on trains out of Waterloo to any media hacks in the area.

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Perhaps the most shocking thing is...

...that this is a savage critique of state of decor on our privatised rail system.

Such are the horrific colour schemes chosen by the various water companies/banks and market traders running the railways that it is possible for a bright orange folder emblazoned with TOP SECRET to be lost amongst the velour.

Yes SouthWest Trains I'm looking at you...

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Black Helicopters

public class GlassHouse

"Our first duty is the protection of national security. We fail in our duty if we do not take preventive measures. I say in sorrow rather than anger that it is no use having opposition for opposition's sake. We must take no risks with security."

Gordon Brown, PMQ's 11 June 2008

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@Something I don;t get

Who knows how many other secret documents are being left on trains every day, and not being opened or handed to media outlets? By definition we obviously aren't going to hear about those. These are the ones we hear about.

But isn't all this simply in the spirit of public transportation? You know, leave your Metro for the next guy to read and all that. Convenient for the next civil servant who boards the train, he doesn't need to have his own copy thanks to the thoughtfulness of his colleague before him. Saves paper too.

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IT Angle

Tw*t-o-tron alert!

"Sadly, with this government’s record..."

It seems the tw*t-o-tron is taking over the El Reg site: it's editing stories now as well

(I appreciate sarcasm & cynical comments as much as the next person, but vacuous political editorialising isn't going to get you anywhere)

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Paris Hilton

Why hand them into the media?

Good question.. And the good answer is that if they were handed into the police station, then nothing would ever be heard of the incident beyond a civil servant being told to be more careful next time.

In their position, the police would be the last people I'd even consider. Partly because I wouldn't want to miss the chance to embarrass the government, but partly because I don't particularly fancy the risk of being the first to try out the new detention powers.

The HMRC data loss dribbled out over some time, and the level of security was found to be laughable. Entire records instead of anonymous samples which were asked for, everyone having root access, the prohibition on doing such things being in a procedure manual that the person who did the copying and posting was not cleared to see. Not to mention the DWP, military records, and heaven knows what else has been lost or swiped by these twerps.

The really interesting question is... How many top secret documents have been handed into the police and not reported on?

Carlton Browne is alive and well and still working for the civil service.

Paris.. because even she is overqualified for such things.

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Cops?

Open or scan it? Not a chance.

Hand it to the cops? Not a chance.

I want it intact and handled by as many other people as possible to try and stop 'officials' politely asking me if I've read it.

@Eden.

Thank you. I have long thought that we should always discredit malice if stupidity is possible.

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@Darren B

"Give to Media outlet - Why? to ensure maximum coverage [...]"

Yes!

It is absolutely in the public interest that security breaches such as this are publicised. Only in this way can those responsible be held truly accountable*.

*of course they won't be, but I can dream.

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Stop

Missed

mmm..... maybe this is some kind of campaign of mis-information. I find it hard to believe that anyone, in gainful employment, is so absent minded as to leave such sensitive documents lying at their arse. But then again you still get folks filling their cars up with the wrong fuel.

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Sh*t Happens

But when it does......

I note from yesterday's papers that the individual concerned has not been suspended and is back at work.

One reason, I suspect, that our beloved government keeps scoring own goals like this is that accountability is completely lacking.

Firstly he or she should be suspended.

Secondly, if unable to come up with a better excuse than 'I got pissed in the pub after work', he/she should be fired

Thirdly, Jacqui Smith should resign. Supervising one screwup is understandable, supervising two (or more) is not acceptable. She is where the buck stops.....

People moan on and on about how employment legislation means that you cant fire people. But in private industry, idiots like this get dismissed. Its called 'Gross Misconduct'

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Black Helicopters

Eyesight

A comment above:

"The more people use buses and trains the more stuff is going to get left behind on them and not just secrets, maybe the odd violin too"

Now why did my eyes merge those last two words into 'vindaloo'

It would have been equally true, people will be leaving second hand vindaloos on buses and trains I'm sure (not that I ever use either, they're for the common peasants who can't afford to helicopter everywhere)

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Black Helicopters

@Mike Smith

Did it ever occur to anyone that if the government wanted to get certain information in to public light without having to make any formal announcement or authenticate the information, that this would be the perfect way?

Not so much a conspiracy theory, but that certain people in the government wanted this to happen in the first place?

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Unhappy

Irony

There has been a huge crackdown on removable media in Govt after the HRMC and other such scandals. The Irony is that it is now much harder to take something away on a USB stick that you can encrypt, but you can still print it out (and lose it)!

Classic case of not using technolgoy to solve a problem (due to lack of skills)

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Might be deliberate

Could these documents actually be be fakes left in places deliberately as part of a larger disinformation programme? Disinformation and its deliberate spread has been a tactic of the intelligence services for centuries - was this not how the Allies fooled the Nazis into believing that the invasion of Europe was going to be across the Channel rather than the Normandy beaches?

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Anonymous Coward

People make mistakes....

but normally we learn from them.

It's clear that even with the prospective sanction of a severe reprimand and loss of security clearance some folks wont learn.

I'm not normally in favour of exemplary punishment but Government data loss has gone far enough and has to stop. There is no excuse for it and it is inexcusable. I suspect that in similar circumstances I, in common with most non-government employees, would be subject to summary dismisal.

If dismissal is what has to happen to get the care message across then, sadly, do it quickley and fairly - justice delayed/denied and all that.

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Black Helicopters

@Mike Smith

I'm reluctantly coming to a similar conclusion. The number and timing of these "accidents" seem to be more than just coincidental.

I also agree that the people to hand these documents to are the police, not a bunch of hacks.

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Black Helicopters

re: Something I don;t get

You have answered your own question "or soundly beaten to get a confession of where I stole it from".

Besides why should they have the opportunity to cover-up these cockups?

AC for obvious reasons!

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Anonymous Coward

@Darren B

1) Curiosity.

2) Becouse they think the public have the right to know about our Government and institutonal incompitence.

Lets not even get into how much information this government already hoards and how much more they're going to hold in the future, whilst making ever more things illegal without much supportive evidence. Or the whole 42 day thing. Wonder what ever happend to surveillance.

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Surely...

If the document described "weaknesses in how the HMRC’s computer systems can counter fraud", that isn't exactly Top Secret. Common knowledge would be nearer the mark!

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Black Helicopters

Yes, Minister

I've just remembered a classic quote from Yes, Minister (or it might have been Yes, Prime Minister):

"I authorise disclosure, you leak and your subordinate is prosecuted under the Official Secrets Act."

One argument against it being a deliberate leak is that unless someone is publicly hung out to dry for this, it does nothing to enhance the government's reputation for security... my guess is basic cluelessness (which it probably is) or possibly an attempt to embarrass the government. The NO2ID crowd must be loving this.

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Alert

But why should these dcouments even be taken home?

OK, it's easier to read on paper than on a screen. But they should never leave the office in that form. If they have to be sent home or to another department, they should be sent encrypted (on a disk or by mail or sftp).

It's hardly difficult.

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Pirate

I'd read it

And then probably put it on 4chan.

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Joke

@sack Jacqui Smith

"... her bending over backwards to take away our civiil liberties are more than enough reason."

I was just about to eat my dinner! The thought of her bending over....

Ooohhhhhhhh!!!!

I think I need to go and have a wash - I have a cold clammy sensation creeping over me!

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Boffin

Now all we need is ...

to have the national ID database (when and if it becomes law in the UK) left on public transport.

Hey! If anyone is contemplating such an act, I hold the copyright on the idea so there! :)

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Warning?

Firing is probably appropriate as I expect the documents shouldn't have been removed from the office in the first place - but firing probably wouldn't really have much effect as a warning as few people think they would ever do something so stupid as leaving the documents on a train.

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Alert

But...

if you hand in one of these documents in to the local Police won't you be removed from society for the next month and a bit pending them snuffling through all your stuff for being in possession of all kinds of stuff you shouldn't of!

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Alien

It's quite simple

It's Friday, it's the civil service, after 11am it's an empty office, now why would that be? Cut to 5pm Friday evening, cue the sozzled civil service leaving to go home on their Waterloo train, one quick nap later they're waking up almost missing their stop and they find themselves on the platform at the local station sans paperwork, ah well never mind eh?

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@Darren B

"Why not hand to police and go along on your merry way?"

Because we can't trust our police force not collude with Whitehall and cover it up. We are marginally safer now that Whitehall is embarrassed (again). It's only exposure that these people fear - they are quite content to remain completely incompetent right up to the point they are exposed.

If this person had simply handed these papers into the police we wouldn't be having this discussion, the story would never have appeared on El Reg or anywhere else. For all intents and purposes, the papers would never have been "mislayed".

Worse than this is the possibility that the police may want to "question you" for 42 days about how exactly you found them, your exact movements for the last year and your relationship with any muslims you might happen to know. If I was going to hand it in to the police I would feel much better if there were independent cameras filming me at the time.

What with the amount of terror cells in this country (reportedly anyhow) I think it's amazing that these files weren't dicovered by a terrorist and used in the war against the war against terror.

After all these official types spouting "we will learn from our mistakes" isn't about time somebody actually bloody well learnt something?

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Anonymous Coward

"Stunned" commuter

How do you know they were "stunned"?

Have you spoken to the commuter involved? Do you even know if they were a commuter or a cleaner/ticket inspector/train driver?

Anyway - if they had been a Reg Reader, surely they would just have been "unsurprised"?

(Where's the icon for pedant?)

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Ash
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I'd hand them...

... to WikiLeaks.

I don't want to benefit from exposing top secret documents lost by HM Govt, as that's grounds for a case against me.

I do, however, want to expose their weaknesses and help prevent repetitions of the same mistakes, if possible, and currently the only way is "name and shame."

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Flame

Why taken on a train at all?

Why are any working documents taken out of the office? Why should anyone be allowed to work on official business outside their office unless under an official agreement to work from home, as part of their normal working day? Working outside normal times and place of work is usually a sign of inefficiency, bad planning or gross overwork suggesting that staffing is inadequate, badly managed or the staff themselves are inadequate.

If documents must go from one place to another and are too valuable for normal post or even internal post, then use a courier service with full traceability or even, catching up to the late 20th century, encrypted computer file transfer or encrypted email.

Seems to me that management, human resources and the idiot taking papers, CDs or whatever off site all need a stiff review. Who can not be aware of the possibility of car-breakins, house burglaries, accidents, simple theft or human error?

As for this mania for passing all and sundry to the media, as if every media employee was above suspicion: money- or attention- seeking is the only reason I can imagine, or am I just too aware of my responsibilities as well as my rights? The media! After all the lies, betrayal and distortions spread via that wonderful business in the name of money.

Police: a society gets the police force it deserves, or so they say; government too perhaps.

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Black Helicopters

PJ Isserlis

"Working outside normal times and place of work is usually a sign of inefficiency, bad planning or gross overwork suggesting that staffing is inadequate, badly managed or the staff themselves are inadequate."

Yes, you've just surmised the civil service, except the overwork bit.

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Pirate

Something fishy

Ok, I remember from my military days that "Top Secret" documents are remarkably hard to leave lying around. In order to take the documents out of a secure establishment you have to sign them out and have suitable carrying cases for them (locked briefcases etc.). Then you can only do so if you have a suitable place to store them in at home (which means an approved safe - which is big, ugly and expensive).

Now, these rules are only any good if you enforce them, and generally (in my experience), enforcement tends to come from the top. If some civil servant goes to their boss and says, "I need to take top secret documents home, but the rules say I need a safe, and the budget won't run to that." The boss can say one of 2 things. The first is, do your work in the office you lazy overpaid idiot; or, take them home anyway, nothing will happen. Who's betting on which option then?

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Pirate

Fraud, counterfraud

Maybe this is released to divert attention from HMRC admitting to the Public Accounts Committee last week that the "money laundering" regulations' principal aim is revenue protection, but that they haven't actually been very effective at that.

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O - M - _ G

When I read weapons of mass destruction for the purpose of beefing up the story, my respect for el reg went out the window.

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Silver badge

Can't understad why these people read such material in public

I handle a lot of commercially sensitive information for my customers. If I were to read this stuff in an open public place I'd expect to get my arse sued off. Even if I remembered to take it with me afterwards.

I can't understand why these people feel it is OK to read this sort of paper in public. You never know who is sitting next to you and is also reading what you are looking at.

A year or so ago I was unlucky enough to suffer sitting next to Peter Mandleson on a plane. For the entire duration of the flight he was reading through material that I'm sure his office would have considered confidential. I wasn't trying to read this stuff, but it's quite difficult to keep averting you eyes when he puts down printed out emails on your table coz he's run out of space on his.

The problem with these sorts of people is they just don't think rules apply to them.

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Just another way to get 42 day law past...

How else can you get support to take people liberty? Fear! It's all intentional.

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Invisible inkjets

I was about to joke that secret documents should be printed out in invisible ink - I was going to suggest refilling injet cartridges with lemon juice. It turns out you can already buy invisible ink systems.

http://www.hsautomatic.com/index.php?id=135

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RW
Flame

@ P. J. Isserlis; plus bonus comment, "What happened to ministerial responsibility?"

"Why are any working documents taken out of the office?"

The situation is very similar to Walmart and other US corporations that demand unpaid overtime from their employees. I can easily imagine that in Whitehall, the scramble up the ladder of success requires brown nosing in this form; those who do their job strictly at their desks between 9 am and 5 pm on weekdays only are labeled "not team players."

Bonus comment: why hasn't Jacqui Smith resigned? Isn't the buck supposed to stop on ministers' desks? If that twittette can take credit for Whitehall's successes (are there any?), why isn't she taking responsibility for Whitehall's cockups?

Answer: because NuLabour, being a completely ideological organization (or disorganization), considers that since their hearts are pure, the ends justifies the means. IOW, out with all the long-established customs of British government, out with the unwritten constitution, and out with civil liberties: the ideology must prevail no matter what the price. A thoroughly Bolshevik attitude, but we already knew that's how they think.

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Black Helicopters

Rock the boat

I suspect that the whitehall mandarins arrange for at least some of these accidents when it suits them. It embarrasses the government at a high and public level, and this gives them leverage. One could almost imagine threatening a government member with another lost folder of documents incident.

Fortuitous document misplacements have happened in the past - although I can't remember the details there was the case of a senior UK serviceman who took some documents for a walk and dropped them, and as luck would have it the person who found them was a reporter. The leak proved useful to the service, and although the officer received a small telling off, he was very recently given a very senior position.

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Anonymous Coward

@RW

Bonus comment: why hasn't Jacqui Smith resigned?

Perhaps because the documents were lost by the Cabinet Office and HMT, not by the Home Office?

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