A British agent has thrown the war against drug traffickers into chaos by leaving top secret information about covert operations on a bus in South America.
In a blunder that has cost taxpayers millions of pounds and put scores of lives at risk, the drugs liaison officer lost a computer memory stick said to contain a list of undercover agents’ names and details of more than five years of intelligence work.
It happened when the MI6-trained agent left her handbag on a transit coach at El Dorado airport in Bogota, Colombia. Intelligence chiefs were forced to wind up operations and relocate dozens of agents and informants amid fears the device could fall into the hands of drugs barons.
The incident, which was hushed up by the Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca), the agent’s employer, is an embarrassment for the government. It is another blow for Jacqui Smith, the home secretary, who has ultimate responsibility for Britain’s anti-drugs operations and the safeguarding of criminal intelligence.
Chris Grayling, the shadow home secretary, said: “This is an extremely sensitive part of Home Office operations and is the latest in a series of big data errors. It underlines why this government, and Jacqui Smith in particular, has to get to grips with security protocols.”
The agency yesterday confirmed the data loss but said it had happened soon after Soca had been set up in 2006, “whilst staff were still working to the data-handling policies of precursor agencies”.
----------------------------------Next time she should hang on to that USB stick a bit better...