Pubdate: Sun, 26 Apr 2009
Source: Sunday Times (UK)
Copyright: 2009 Times Newspapers Ltd.
Authors: Isabel Oakeshott and David Leppard


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

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".
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