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Senior MoD civil servant at centre of investigation into how sensitive military documents turned up at bus stop

Written by on 28 June 2021

A senior civil servant at the Ministry of Defence (MoD) is at the centre of an investigation into how sensitive military documents – including one marked “Secret UK Eyes Only” – turned up behind a bus stop in Kent, Sky News understands.

MoD police began looking into the breach last week after a member of the public found the files, which included classified information on UK plans in Afghanistan and details about the movements of a British warship off the coast of Russia-claimed Crimea.

A Whitehall source said the senior civil servant is thought to have mislaid the documents, which were discovered last Tuesday.

The bundle was passed to the BBC, which first reported on their existence on Sunday.

A map showing the route of HMS Defender Image: A map showing the route of HMS Defender

Sky News has chosen not to name the civil servant for security reasons at the request of the MoD as the investigation into what happened is still going on.

An MoD spokesperson said the employee concerned had reported the loss of the files at the time of the incident.

“The Ministry of Defence was informed last week of an incident in which sensitive defence papers were recovered by a member of the public,” the spokesperson said.

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“The department takes the security of information extremely seriously and an investigation has been launched. The employee concerned reported the loss at the time. It would be inappropriate to comment further.”

The Whitehall source said there was disbelief and anger within the MoD at what had happened.

The gravest concern was around the document, marked “Secret UK Eyes Only”, which set out highly-sensitive recommendations for the UK’s military presence in Afghanistan after US and other NATO forces leave the country by September.

They included a US request for British support in a number of specific areas and tackled the issue of whether British special forces would stay in the country, according to the BBC.

The broadcaster said it had chosen not to report details that could endanger the security of British and other personnel in Afghanistan.

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Most of the other retrieved documents, almost 50 pages in total, were marked “official sensitive”, which is a lower form of classification.

They included discussions about a high-stakes plan to sail a Royal Navy destroyer through waters off Crimea that Russia claims as its own following the annexation of the territory in 2014, but which are viewed internationally as belonging to Ukraine.

HMS Defender made the journey last Wednesday, triggering – as anticipated in the documents – an aggressive response from the Russian military, with more than 20 Russia aircraft and two coastguard vessels shadowing the warship.

But the documents, as reported by the BBC, revealed the behind-the scenes deliberations that had been taking place on the UK side in the run-up to the transit – a revelation that will be seen as embarrassing at a time when London and Moscow are engaged in a briefing contest against each other.

The unauthorised release of any information about the British position could be used by the Russian side as a way to criticise the British action.

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It is unclear yet what action might be taken against anyone found to have breached rules by misplacing the files, in particular the one marked secret.

The BBC said the member of the public found them in a soggy heap behind a bus stop.

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