The senior official who misplaced 50 pages of classified Defense Ministry documents, which were later found at a bus stop in Kent, was queuing up to be appointed UK Ambassador to NATO at the time of the incident, according to two government sources. .
Angus Lapsley’s elevation is now considered unlikely but not definitively ruled out in light of the unfortunate episode, in which the stray documents – some of which were marked secret – dealt with sensitive deployments in Afghanistan and the Black Sea.
It became public because the documents were handed over to the BBC at the end of June, prompting the broadcaster to write a report detailing some of its content.
Lapsley, who has yet to be appointed, has already had his security clearance suspended pending a full review and has been redeployed from the Department of Defense to the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, from where he was on secondment.
Without security clearance, he would not be able to continue in his post at the Defense Ministry, acting as Director General, responsible for NATO defense policy and the Euro-Atlantic area as a whole. But a final sanction has not yet been decided.
The lack of a definitive public sanction and discussions about NATO’s work have left some government security sources unhappy. One of them argued that it would be more difficult for the Defense Ministry or other government departments to strongly penalize junior employees for making a similar mistake. “It used to be that people were put out to dry for something like this,” they added.
One of the documents was, according to the BBC, marked “Secret UK Eyes Only” and included sensitive recommendations for the UK’s future military footprint in Afghanistan, including any role for its special forces, once U.S. operations. United States and NATO will finally be terminated over the summer. .
Such secret documents, printed on pink paper, are not meant to be removed from government buildings unless they are properly disconnected and stored safely. A special case was used to store them when they were retrieved from the BBC, a Whitehall source said. The source added: “The documents should not have been taken out of the building in this way and in this case. “
Former soldier and Conservative backbench MP James Sunderland last month said whoever withdrew the documents “must be held to account” because “the incident must have involved the deliberate withdrawal of documents roses – secrets -om the MOD secure area ”.
Last week, the Defense Ministry said in a written statement to Parliament that “there was no evidence of espionage” and concluded that all classified material had been recovered after the BBC leaked. There “was no compromise of the papers by our adversaries”, added the ministry.
The scrapped documents also revealed that there were two possible routes under consideration for HMS Defender on its recent voyage through the Black Sea, one briefly crossing Russian-occupied Crimean territorial waters and the another sailing several kilometers away.
He confirmed that the decision to sail the warship close to Crimea and provoke Russia was a deliberate choice of the UK.
Lapsley is a long-time respected public servant, who first became a public servant in 1991 and served as Tony Blair’s private secretary early in his tenure before moving to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
The official regularly participates in think tanks on defense and foreign policy issues, and replaced Defense Secretary Ben Wallace at the Munich Security Conference in February 2020.
Last week, the Defense Ministry said it would not comment on the identity of the person who misplaced the documents, citing security reasons. But government sources told The Guardian there was no security reason not to name Lapsley.
The most likely sanction the official will face is the further suspension of his permission to view classified documents, which will likely last for months rather than weeks.
A spokesperson for the Foreign Office said the UK takes the protection of classified information seriously. “The affected person has been removed from sensitive work and their security clearance has already been suspended pending a full review,” they added.