Classified documents from the Ministry of Defense containing details of a Royal Navy operation that sparked a dispute with Russia last week were discovered at a bus stop in Kent.
The newspaper’s find, which spans nearly 50 pages, was found by a member of the public last week who he passed them on to the BBC. The MoD confirmed that the loss of documents was reported at the time by an employee and that the department has now launched an investigation into the security breach.
The discovery comes at a time when UK military operations are under particular control. A British destroyer, HMS Defender, passed goods through disputed waters off the Crimean coast, causing a reaction from Moscow.
Russia has sent 20 aircraft and two Coast Guard ships to warn the British ship away from the waters it has claimed since the annexation of Crimea seven years ago. Russia’s defense minister has said warning shots were fired at the British destroyer and that bombs had been dropped on its way, but the UK has denied this account.
According to the BBC, the document sets out two potential routes for HMS Defender to take from Ukraine to Georgia. A road has been described as a “safe and professional direct transit from Odessa to Batumi”, including a short drive through a “traffic separation scheme” near the southwestern tip of Crimea.
This roadmap, the documents say, “provides an opportunity to engage with the Ukrainian government… In what the United Kingdom recognizes as Ukrainian territorial waters.”
Newspapers have established a range of potential Russian responses, ranging from “safe and professional” to “neither safe nor professional”.
Further documents that are more sensitive, and marked “only secret eyes of the United Kingdom,” discuss plans for a possible UK military presence in Afghanistan following the resumption of the US-led NATO operation, which should be completed by September.
While the BBC has said it has not published details that could jeopardize the security of British and allied troops, it reported that newspapers deal with the question of whether British special forces will remain in Afghanistan once the withdrawal is complete.
“Any British footprint in Afghanistan that persists… Is deemed vulnerable to targeting by a complex network of actors,” the document says, adding that “the option to fully recover remains.”
In response to the discovery of the documents, the MoD said it takes the security of information “extremely seriously” and that an investigation has been launched. “The employee concerned reported the loss at the time. It would be inappropriate to comment further, ”he said.
On the revelation of specific details about HMS Defender, the MoD said that, “as the public expects, it plans carefully.”
“As a routine matter, it includes analysis of all potential factors influencing operational decisions,” he added.
But John Healey, Labor’s shadow defense secretary, said the violation was “shameful as well as worrying for ministers”.
“It is vital that the internal investigation launched by the Secretary of State immediately establish how highly classified documents were taken out of the Ministry of Defense and then left in this manner,” Healey said.
“Ultimately Ministers should be able to confirm to the public that national security has not been undermined, that no military or security operations have been affected and that appropriate procedures are in place to ensure that nothing more happens again.” .