back to article UK civil servant leaves Top Secret Iraq war intelligence documents on a train

A senior civil servant has been suspended for leaving top secret intelligence documents on a Waterloo to Surrey train. The commuting spook left an orange envelope on a seat when he got off the train. It contained two documents prepared for the Joint Intelligence Committee - one on the capabilities of Iraqi security forces and …


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  1. fred

    download haven

    "The documents were handed in to the BBC which passed them to the police." after being photocopied and made available in a torrent?

  2. Joe K
    Black Helicopters

    Bloody imbecile

    Was he carrying around a big envelope with "Top secret!!" on it, and decided to sit on it for safekeeping?

    How on earth could you leave that on a seat without realising, it should be in a case or bag or something surely?

    I can't leave a paper on a seat without thinking i'm littering.

  3. Suntan
    Black Helicopters

    Captain Cynical

    I cannot believe this is a coincidence after that shambles in parliament last night. "accidentally" left on the train my arse.

  4. Terence Eden

    Should have given them to...


  5. Man Outraged

    Talk of prosecuting the passenger - no, really

    I work in media and a colleague was fortunate to speak directly with a press officer. Aparrently it was pointed out that the passenger had breached the OSA by passing the documents not to the police as required by law but to the BBC. Doesn't matter that the passenger had never signed the OSA the law still applies. Why HMG are allegedly so keen to add this tidbit to press briefings is obviously a diversion. What jury would convict a member of the public keen to see that the security of the security services is improved through press scrutiny?!

  6. Anonymous Coward


    No one is perfect and there are a lot of spooks, it's going to happen every now and then. Its called acceptable risk and its a fact of life.

    Who here hasnt left something (anything) on a train/bus/taxi ?

  7. dervheid
    Black Helicopters


    A security 'leak' and a controversial 'security' vote all on the same day.

    How utterly convenient.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    How Convenient!

    The government were on a knife edge with the 42 day detention vote last night, and surprise, surprise the Home Office have another serious story released about ultra sensitive security documents having been left on a train. And apparently it is a senior civil servant, who will of course never be identified to the public.

    I don't buy it. People who are employed in the security industry, and particularly in a senior position where documents are marked as above secret aren't that daft. I suspect this was a put-up story by a hapless government trying to deflect media attention from the 42 day saga.

    Paris because even she isn't that daft.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I wonder..

    how much it will cost us?

    "There has been a security breach, the Metropolitan Police are carrying out an investigation."

    They will assign a dozen top police officer and spend £1m to find out the cause to be "I forgot to pick it up".

  10. Anonymous Coward

    Potential terrorist alert!

    Is the person who handed the documents going to be persecuted and held for 42 days? After all, they didn't just hand them into the police like a good, honest citizen would...

  11. Anonymous Coward


    It is likely that Gordo used the old "..well if we'd have had these powers back when the IRA were terrorising you lot then we'd have been able to....." line.

  12. Chris G

    National Security

    Intelligence community, Military intelligence,all oxymorons.

  13. Dr. E. Amweaver
    Paris Hilton

    Delusions of competence...

    The phrases "Government Security" and "Government Intelligence" are rapidly becoming oxymorons, largely because the morons running them.

    These were numbered, highly confidential docs that despite their small size had a number of military critical pieces of information in them - not to mention a diplomatically difficult critique of the state of the Iraqi Army.

    Considering how much .gov loves RFID tech, shouldn't all such docs now have RFID stickers that scream blue bloody murder to security if they are let out of the building? This is something my company does for mission critical docs (reasonably large media company, slightly gutted this went to the Beeb rather than us).

    Also, going back to the earlier issues with stolen laptops, why wasn't the data on it auto-encrypted? Fingerprint logon and encrypted partitions are, again, something we use for all mission critical apps, not to mention proper firewalling and AVS.

    You would expect that a government that claims to have a mandate on national and info security would take at least the same precautions you'd expect of a decent-sized business.

    Paris: because (a) she has more of a clue about this bunch and (b) enjoys being secured before confidential debriefings.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    nice little distraction from the 42 days vote, ...

    ... wasn't it?

  15. John A Thomson

    42 days not needed

    There you go... we have a terrorism related incident and the police didn't require 42 days to find the culprit.

    The security services (SS) should be using specially coated paper that can be detected by scanners located at exits. Alarms will sound if any dumpling from the SS tries to leave the building with papers they shouldn't take out of secure conditions... or is that too James Bond?

  16. david

    Good idea...

    ...let's have an enquiry to determine that the folder was left on a train by a commuting civil service numpty and the way to prevent it happening again is to remove all the printers from all government offices and put XKriptor on everything that is slightly portable.

    Could keep a few people busy for a few and cost a bit of a fortune.

    Mines the one with the 8GB usb key on the zip-pull...

  17. Greg


    "The documents were handed in to the BBC which passed them to the police."

    Not before reading them, obviously.

  18. Alan Parsons
    Paris Hilton

    Handed in to auntie

    So why oh why did the discoverer of this hand it in to Auntie? I'd have photographed it on its own, then next to a newspaper, OCR scanned it, uploaded to flickr, emailed it to el Reg, and generally done everything I could to make sure that everyone saw the contents. I'd imagine the bit about the capabilities of the Iraqi Security Forces says "We've trained them well but left sufficient room to overpower them should we need to" and the bit about Al Quaeda says "I can't believe people still believe in the capable, multi-cell, organised axis of evil that we made up"

    meh, Paris 'cos even she'd be better at securing information

  19. John Widger

    Security - Where?

    Not only is your data safe with the government. It appears state secrets are also as safe.

  20. Jamie

    He is lucky.

    The guy that left the documents should have been fired. If this information is so top-secret and confidential what the hell was he doing with it on the tube anyway.

    He is also lucky as if I had found the documents I would not have turned it over to the BBC, instead straight to an internet cafe or some such to have it all scanned and then sent directly to a site like Wikileaks.

    If this information is so confidential then it should not be transported around by some boffin on public transportation networks.

  21. david wilson

    Why did the civil servant...

    ...leave secret paperwork on the train?

    Because he'd already left his laptop in the pub.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Yay. NOT!

    This country is going down the crapper - FAST!

    Wait for the parliamentary ping-pong for this new law... House of Commons votes it in, House of Lords votes it down, House of Commons votes it in again, House of Lords votes it down again. And so it continues until Brown gets fed up, invokes the Parliament Act and in turn turns his government's reputation (the few shreds they have left) into the laughing stock of the world.

    God help Britannia.

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    Just wondering...

    ... exactly how does one get documents of this nature to 'undesirable' types?

    Do they have a 0800 number or PO Box or do you just advertise on Ebay?

  24. FlatSpot
    Black Helicopters

    Nice job for RFID tags

    How about secret stuff goes on paper with RFID tags.. and then if someone tries to walk out the building.. sirens and death rays etc..

    Would seem a good use for the technology rather than spying on my shopping trolleys habits ;)

  25. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge

    Hung, drawn and quartered

    Thats I was told would happen to me while I was in the employ of the MoD if I was careless with any classified material.

    But if the idiot who left that on a train got fired, the civil service unions would all go on strike (not that many people would notice )

  26. Anonymous Coward

    @ Man Outraged re. OSA

    "Aparrently it was pointed out that the passenger had breached the OSA by passing the documents not to the police as required by law but to the BBC. Doesn't matter that the passenger had never signed the OSA the law still applies."

    I haven't signed the act of parliament that makes murder illegal, but that doesn't mean that I'm free to go around murdering people.

    This man found documents, left on a train, that were clearly marked as classified documents. The fact that he contacted the BBC indicates that he knew how serious this was. He should have contacted the police and handed the documents over to them at the first opportunity, then he could have told the BBC what happened. He could even have taken a picture of himself holding the orange envelope to prove it, no problem.

    If you hand any documents over to the BBC, you are making sure that lots of people get a look at them and how do you know that any of those people can be trusted not to pass information to an enemy of the state? (Yes, yes, I know that the biggest enemies of the state are the muppets who are currently running the show). How did the BBC know they were marked as 'UK/US etc Eyes Only' unless they had a look at them?

    I know the Government deserves a good kicking, the civil servant concerned ought to have his career depth charged and the entire sorry mess should not be whitewashed, but what that man on the train did was wrong. Having a free press does not mean that we are all free to look at anything we want to.

    (Stands back and waits for flames................)

  27. Wize

    Maybe it was missinformation

    They could have deliberately left it there so it is leaked to the public/terrorists.

  28. Tony
    Black Helicopters


    "People who are employed in the security industry, and particularly in a senior position where documents are marked as above secret aren't that daft"

    Call me cynical, but yes they are. I've had to work with civil servants (from several departments) and some of them you have to question how they manage to get their shoes the right way around on their feet.

    On one occasion, a couple visited my place of work on a fact finding mission. (i.e. they came for a free lunch) and I found it almost impossible to discuss the technical issues with them. Quite bluntly, a couple of children from the local primary school would have been better prepared.

    Having said that, I can't blame anyone who finds the timing suspicious. And yes again, they are that devious

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    As dumb as rocks

    What was the man who found those documents thinking?

    Like the BBC arent just the media arm of the current government, he might as well have handed them in to the police.

    If I had found them they would have been scanned and uploaded to wikileaks and emailed to all the news site I could think of (via someone elses wi-fi or a cloned cable modem) within the hour. Well assuming the train didnt break down in the middle of nowhere for hours on end.

    AC cause one day I might get lucky and find secrets on a train

  30. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Did you catch Kucinich Impeachment Papers?

    It's appalling:

    "In June 2005 former United Nations weapons inspector Scott Ritter reported that United States security forces had been sending members of the Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK) into Iranian territory. The MEK has been designated a terrorist organization by the United States, the European Union, Canada, Iraq, and Iran. Ritter reported that the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) had used the MEK to carry out remote bombings in Iran."

    "Hersh reported in the New Yorker Magazine that the Bush administration was attempting to stem the growth of Shiite influence in the Middle East (specifically the Iranian government and Hezbollah in Lebanon) by funding violent Sunni organizations, without any Congressional authorization or oversight. Hersh said funds had been given to "three Sunni jihadist groups ... connected to al Qaeda" that "want to take on Hezbollah.""

    "In May 2008, Andrew Cockburn reported on Counter Punch that President Bush, six weeks earlier had signed a secret finding authorizing a covert offensive against the Iranian regime. President Bush's secret directive covers actions across an area stretching from Lebanon to Afghanistan, and purports to sanction actions up to and including the funding of organizations like the MEK and the assassination of public officials."

  31. Rich Bee

    Yeah, right, an accident. . . .

    Strange that the BBC didn’t name the person who found them.

    Also strange that the top civil servant wasn’t named.

    If it really was Top Secret, wouldn’t it be wiser to use a code word rather than big red letters on the front?

    I suppose we hadn’t had the Al Qaida/terrorist mantra pumped at us for a while, gotta keep up the fear factor.

    There was a need to tie Iraq to Al Qaida (western invention, doesn't really exist) to try to gain support for operations over there.

    We should be due an “Al Qaida Training camps in Iran” soon.

    One moment we'll be reducing our troop count over there. Then we're told that the Iraq security forces are inept due to a document being "left" on a train. Soon you'll get the "We can't pull out yet, the Iraqi forces still need our "support".

    The government

    I expect someone to bleat the "oooh, you conspiracy theorist" soon. I expect nothing less from the sheeple. Go ahead believe your mainstream government sponsored media. Or do a little reading of Orwell's life, he worked in a department at the BBC modifying news media for public consumption during the war.

  32. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Self defense

    As to the claim that the finder should not have turned over the documents to BBC but should have contacted the police: it is possible--and prudent-- to essentially do both. Given what has been revealed about security and terrorism event handling (including indiscriminate public killing), such a citizen would be taking a risk by turning over sensitive documents without BBC or other media representative present to view the event.

  33. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    well now

    If I had found them, i would keep them safe right next to the CDs I found.

    I call Govtard® on Gordo and his ilk.

  34. Tom
    Thumb Down


    Completely agree with you chap, they should've been handed over to the police right-away, obviously you'd have a read through first, but that goes without saying. Maybe even telling the BBC you found them, but handing them over... what a cretin!

  35. Mark

    re. OSA

    However, that legislation isn't known about, whereas killing people is quite a well known law.

    They say ignorance of the law is no defense (unless it's a minister who's fallen foul, in which case, we'll just warn you, 'K?) but when the make 300 laws a year and don't tell you a single blessed one of them, how can you keep up?

  36. Jonathan Richards

    @Man Outraged, and others on the Official Secrets Act

    > What jury would convict a member of the public keen to see that the security of the security services is improved through press scrutiny?!

    A judge would be correct in directing a guilty verdict on the facts. Here's the words from the OSA 1911 Section 1, as amended, and with bits irrelevant to this case elided:


    1. Penalties for spying.— If any person for any purpose prejudicial to the safety or interests of the State—

    obtains, collects, records, or publishes or communicates to any other person ... any ... document or information which is calculated to be or might be or is intended to be directly or indirectly useful to an enemy; he shall be guilty of felony

    On a prosecution under this section, it shall not be necessary to show that the accused person was guilty of any particular act tending to show a purpose prejudicial to the safety or interests of the State, ... and if any ... document ... is ... collected, recorded, published, or communicated by any person other than a person acting under lawful authority, it shall be deemed to have been ... collected, recorded, published or communicated for a purpose prejudicial to the safety or interests of the State unless the contrary is proved.


    So, passing a TOP SECRET document on to anyone except the police is a felony, and you have to *prove that you are not* acting prejudicially to the interests of the State. I think this covers the guy who lost it, the guy who found it, the BBC photographer that took the pretty piccy on the website, Frank Gardner, and persons unknown within the BBC.

  37. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    OSA defense

    "...the passenger had breached the OSA by passing the documents not to the police as required by law but to the BBC..."

    Though there is no explicit "public interest" defense for offenses under the OSA, the Law Lords and at least one jury have found for the defendant in the past, and criminal proceedings are reserved for material "seriously harmful to national security"...

    Far safer to contact your lawyer and have *them* accompany you to the station to hand over the found material, and *then* tell the press about it, with your lawyer's backing for your story's veracity. Maybe tell the media that you'll be at the station at a certain time if they want the scoop.

  38. Jonathan Richards

    @Rich Bee

    Do you really think that TOP SECRET is a marking used only in the movies? It exists so that we can clearly mark documents needing the top level of protection. Having a different code word every week would be a bit counter-productive. So yes, Top Secret documents are marked as such, (and in this case, according to the photograph, with its codeword and a multinational eyes caveat too.)

    I understand that you believe you have a special insight that the rest of the sheeple lack, but try to keep a sense of the practical.

  39. Henry Cobb

    Wouldn't we all be safer...

    ... if they simply locked up all of the civil servants?

  40. Anonymous Coward

    @AnonCoward outraged at Outraged...

    Everyone KNOWS the BBC are enemies of the state and the last outpost of dangerous old-school pinko communism. Otherwise our god-fearing American troops from all 51 states wouldn't shoot at them.

    Mind you, if he'd given it to ITV, they would probably have run a 50p-per-call phone vote to see which enemy country's spies it should be given to, and then closed the vote too early because the French rang first and they're convenient for filming.

    (Alien ref: Ant & Dec, obviously).

  41. Steve Mann


    Could not the man's lawyer argue that not having actually opened the envelopes (as I believe is the case) the man didn't know what was inside them and therefore was never actually knowingly "in posession" of any documents whatsoever. after all, anyone could make up such envelopes as a joke, possibly even to film the results for a reality TV show with a hidden camera. The wording "For UK/US/ etc Eyes Only" actually reads more like a TV Show prop or a parody than a real warning to me.

    Furthermore, in the absence of any actual knowledge of what to do in the circumstances, but suspecting that any contents of the (possibly empty, possibly fake) envelopes might be sensitive, wouldn't the BBC, a state run organisation, be a more logical place to begin the process of repatriating them with their rightful owner than the actual first choice of the railway Lost Property office (via on-train personnel)? I doubt most people would think of the police as a proper place to hand in anything found on a railway carriage.

    I think any halfway competent lawyer could get a walk on this one for the guy who found the envelopes whatever the real motive behind the man's actions.

  42. Anonymous Coward

    This going to cost you

    Those of us old enough to remember (and who were in our intelligence services back then) will be reminded of a US cabinet member photographed in a photo op with a Top Secret Codeword document sticking out of his briefcase. As I remember it cost the US gov't about $2 mil in 1970's dollars to cancel that codeword, gather up all the stamps and embossers (world-wide) and issue new ones. Great use of taxpayer dollars!

    The idiot who even thought that he could carry this around needs a vacation in Gitmo. I understand we have ocean view rooms available. :)

  43. Jonathan Richards

    @Steve Mann

    > I doubt most people would think of the police as a proper place to hand in anything found on a railway carriage.

    A sad reflection. Maybe people's first reaction is the playground "finders keepers", and their second reaction to calculate what's in it for them? If this document had been properly carried, it would have been in a folder clearly marked "This document is the property of Her Britannic Majesty's Government, yadda, yadda", and there would have been no doubt in a citizen's mind what he should do with it. Since it was not, I conclude that the finder must have looked at the content at least as far as the security marking before deciding to call the Beeb.

    The multinational caveat is entirely proper, btw. News stories about lost documents frequently headline them as "Top Secret..." when they aren't but this one, judging by the photograph, really was. To have it on the train was either premeditated criminality or mind-bogglingly stupid, umm, criminality.

  44. Jonathan Richards

    Parody or security marking

    Her Britannic Majesty's Government is reluctant to share with the citizenry the precise meaning of its protective markings, but the New Zealand Government appears to be more open. might help if you ever pick something up on a train and think it might be a film prop., or maybe this document from ACPO which is getting elderly but still essentially correct:

  45. Tony Paulazzo

    42 days lockup just in case...

    for the guy that found it; he might have peeked at the info, everyone at the BBC, the policeman it was handed to and the dufus who left it on the train - any one of whom could have unknowingly been in indirect contact with one of the many secret terrorist's who infest the Great British Public at every layer.

    >I'd imagine the bit about the capabilities of the Iraqi Security Forces says "We've trained them well but left sufficient room to overpower them should we need to" and the bit about Al Quaeda says "I can't believe people still believe in the capable, multi-cell, organised axis of evil that we made up"<

    Made me laugh out loud as I'd thought something similar.

  46. Rich Bee
    Thumb Up


    Hi Jonathon. Many thanks for acknowledging my special insight. I am highly cynical about the actions of these people. Highly visible orange binders (I mean, orange)?

    I'm only waiting now for some MP or other to mention that ID cards would stop people losing things in general. Including 14 year old girls and their virginity, so no more teenage mums either!

    If you watch this government with even a withering amount of interest they simply smack of corruption. Although I think all of our previous governments tend to have a large number of self serving members (yup members).

  47. Wayland Sothcott

    Sitting on the fence

    If someone gets up to leave the carriage and I see they have left something, I let them know before they get off. If they have already left then I will pick up the item and hand it into lost property.

    However if I had an orange envelope marked top secret and the person who left it was gone. I would possibly try and return it to it's home to save anyone getting a bollocking. However however there are several other things to consider:

    1. Was it left there accidentally on purpose?

    2. Is there a reward?

    3. Do I read it?

    4. Do I get it published?

    5. Am I in danger?

    I do hope the BBC read this since that would seem to be the point of this event.

    However since David Kelly the BBC have gone all soft, not wanting to get murdered.

  48. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Yes Primeminister

    Do these people think they were the only ones who watched things like this, do they seriously think that television, books and media were just meant for them and no one else had access to this.

    We all know how to do it, no one is impressed, it isn't big and it certainly is not clever.

    An attempt at a distraction headline, looks like they have failed miserably.

    And going after the person who handed them to BBC, oh yes he was the one in the wrong in this instance. How on earth does anyone know the validity of the document, anyone could put together a folder with Top Secret, from Russia with Love on it. Had he gone to the police they would probably have tried to do him for wasting police time.

  49. Anonymous Coward


    Many contributors to this thread indicate they would have no problem passing secret information to a non-governmental organisation. Years ago that would have been unthinkable, and could even have been regarded as treasoness.

    However, these days, the government, quite rightly, gets the respect it deserves. Which is none. It lies, it covers up the truth, it hides evidence, it bends and breaks laws, funds illegal wars and generally tries to outdo Gestapo/KGB/Stasi surveillance methods. All in all it deserves nothing but contempt. Respect is earned. Pity a few more of the 300+ so-called "principled MPs" didn't support David Davis by resigning on mass. That would have earnt some respect.

  50. Ed Gould

    What is Secret ... Depends

    I was in the US Army in the early 1970's and was told I had to get a top secret clearance if I was to help debugging programs that used top secret files. That took about 6 months and I was given a top secret clearance. Two stories pop into my mind about security. The US Army considered the information about how many rolls of bathroom tissue they had in various warehouses over in Germany. Now I can see it being top secret the number of warheads (and the like) but bathroom tissue?? The other bit which is halfway funny was the number of tanks at several bases. One time I counted the number of tanks as I was driving down the autobahn and came up with a similar number that was "Top Secret". So, just beause something is top secret it may not truly be that really important piece of information so just don't clump every piece of information to be really secret. The government is famous for over classifying what is secret and what is top secret. Before being all up set about the incident it might have been information on how many times a day the president sneezes.

  51. Henry Cobb

    The London Underground is a subversive movement

    More secret files found on train

    Go ahead and post it as a follow up news article and I'll try to find something to say, but for the moment words fail me.


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