So the good times keep on rolling for the spook community in the UK. An officer of the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) apparently lost top secret information such as the names of undercover agents while travelling in Ecuador.
SOCA is a relatively new agency set up in 2004 to police organised crime, particularly that revolving around the illegal drug trade. The agency has the misfortune to have as Chairman Stephen Lander, erstwhile boss of MI5; a man whose management style was known as “Stalinesque”.
Even before this latest blunder, concerns had been raised by SOCA staff about ineffective and top-heavy management (shades of MI5 in the 1990s)and recent questions have been asked about whether the agency was producing meaningful results, as the price of illicit drugs has plummeted on UK streets, indicating a glut of recent imports.
This latest blunder will hardly have reassured ministers. Reportedly, the hapless SOCA officer lost a USB stick containing the names of undercover agents involved in the drug war in Ecuador, as well as information relating to 5 years’ worth of investigations. The blunder has reportedly jeopardised operations that have cost in the region of £100 million.
Agent identities are, rightly, the most protected of secret information. This is an unforgivable gaff, and yet the officer is apparently only facing “disciplinary charges”.
So, if you are a whistleblower exposing heinous spy crimes, you are put on trial and sent to prison, even if the trial judge acknowledges that no lives were ever put at risk through your disclosures. However, if you carelessly leave top secret agent information lying around in hostile territory, you don’t even get the sack, let alone face prosecution under the Official Secrets Act.
I would suggest that the next intelligence whistleblower to emerge from the shadows should simply claim to have dropped a USB stick outside the offices of a national newspaper. A rap over the knuckles will then be the worst that they face!