by Peter Franklin
Monday, 31
October 2022
Analysis
15:00

Don’t blame Liz Truss for her phone hack

The soft underbelly of British security isn't the fault of politicians
by Peter Franklin
Who’s watching you? Credit: Getty

It would be nice to move on from Liz Truss, but it seems that we can’t. Over the weekend, the Mail on Sunday reported that, while she was Foreign Secretary, Truss’s mobile phone had been “hacked by agents suspected of working for the Kremlin.” Indeed, the device is said to be so “heavily compromised” that it is now “locked safe inside a secure Government location.” 

The allegations have been neither confirmed nor denied by official sources, but if true this wouldn’t be the first ministerial security breach to emerge in recent times. Earlier this month Suella Braverman (temporarily) resigned as Home Secretary, after sending a sensitive official document from her personal email. Last year, it was discovered that Boris Johnson’s personal phone number had been freely available on the internet over a 15 year period — prompting MI5 to confiscate his mobile.


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Richard Dannatt, the former head of the British Army, is not impressed. Quoted in today’s Guardian, he says: “This, frankly, is not good enough… If these people aspire to be in senior positions, positions of leadership, they’ve got to be disciplined.”

But can this be blamed entirely on the politicians? Isn’t it the job of the security services — and the civil servants who run Whitehall — to keep ministers out of trouble? Let’s not forget that our senior politicians aren’t usually that senior at all — at least not in terms of experience. Rishi Sunak, for instance, has become Prime Minister after just seven years as an MP and not quite five as a minister. And if Keir Starmer becomes Prime Minister within the next year or two, he will have had precisely no ministerial experience.

It seems extraordinary that the security of government communications should be predicated on the capacity of politicians never to use the wrong phone in the wrong place or to always type in the right email address. The fact is that ministers operate within a highly-pressured, always-on culture of politics in which the cult of comms reigns supreme. If mistakes can be made, then sooner or later they will be. And that includes the really stupid mistakes — in fact, the assumption should be that the more elementary the error, the more likely it is to happen. 

The answer therefore is to design stupidity out of the system. It shouldn’t be possible for a minister to use a non-secure means of communication — and for that we need to create a centre of government operations fit for the 21st century. However, this would require the civil service to take the initiative and draw up the necessary plans. At the very least they should be in a position to present the Prime Minister with a series of options (other than continuing to run the country from a row of knocked-through, semi-dilapidated town houses). 

But let’s not forget that it was senior civil servants who presided over the rolling disgrace of Partygate. If the highest officials in the land can’t prevent Downing Street from turning into a bacchanale in the middle of lockdown, then what chance do they have of protecting our political system against sophisticated hi-tech espionage?

This illustrates the problem with blaming absolutely everything on our politicians. These disposable Aunt Sallies take all of the criticism, while the dysfunctions of the permanent government go unchallenged.  

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Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
1 month ago

The government have provided a compliance regime for financial firms but seem to have lamentably failed to provide a compliance regime for government where ministers can rely on their civil servants to keep them free from compliance breaches.

As the article points out much of the covid lockdown shenanigans seem to have been civil servant led that the politicians unwisely went along with. Where was Humphrey Appleby raising a cautionary “ Do you think that wise PM or Minister?” to our modern Jim Hackers? The whole system should be set up so that it is virtually impossible for Ministers to be tempted to use private communication for anything official.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
1 month ago

Does anyone seriously think Liz Truss was responsible for her phone being hacked? How stupid a concept is that? The thought never crossed my mind when i read about it – until this article.
But… if politicians were protected from using the “wrong” forms of communication by civil servants, how would the BBC (in particular, but plenty of other MSM outlets) be able to conduct one witch-hunt after another? Indeed, the Director General of the BBC might be retitled the Witchfinder General! Braverman is, of course, the latest example.
It does beggar belief that there’s not a civil service team dedicated to precisely this type of security issue. Having generalists responsible isn’t good enough, just as having politicians responsible for their own data security isn’t. I’m sure it’d be possible, for instance, to earmark sensitive electronic documents in such a way that they couldn’t be transmitted except through dedicated channels.

Aaron James
Aaron James
1 month ago

Hunters Laptop…… now that is some wild stuff.

Last edited 1 month ago by Aaron James
Tom Watson
Tom Watson
1 month ago

“Earlier this month Suella Braverman (temporarily) resigned as Home Secretary, after sending a sensitive official document from her personal email.”
Oh come on, that was the most transparent excuse for a resignation in history. “Aah, sorry Liz, would love to stay and go down with the ship after we’ve just had a public falling-out over immigration and you’ve become as popular as typhus, but I accidentally sent an email from the wrong address and must therefore do the decent thing. I’ll keep a seat warm for you on the back benches, it’s not like I’ll be needing it for long”

chris Barton
chris Barton
1 month ago

Can we discuss the contents of the leak? a “Its done” text just after the Nord stream pipeline was damaged.