22 December 2002

The FCO confidential memos:


The Sunday Times (UK)
December 22, 2002

Mole hunt at Foreign Office to find internet leaker

Nicholas Rufford and John Elliott

THE Foreign Office is conducting an urgent mole hunt to find out how confidential documents are being leaked on to the internet.

A secret memo describing meetings between a senior aide to Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, and British security chiefs is the latest to appear on an American website, causing intense embarrassment to Whitehall officials.

The memorandum describes highly sensitive meetings between Sergei Ivanov, now the Russian defence minister, and security chiefs at the Foreign Office, Downing Street, the Cabinet Office and the Ministry of Defence. Details of discussions about defence, terrorism and drug trafficking are described in the document.

It accuses Ivanov of “peddling the usual Russian arguments” and of “taking a sideswipe at Nato”. It continues: “Ivanov reiterated Russia’s negative view of Nato and saw little prospect of rapid improvement.” It also describes how one of Ivanov’s staff “launched a diatribe about the threat which the internet . . . posed to world security” during a dinner with the permanent undersecretary at the Foreign Office.

The memo, sent as a secure telegram to the British embassy in Moscow, analysed Ivanov’s behaviour and body language, saying he was “particularly at ease with SIS (the Secret Intelligence Service) although “socially he tended to rigidity in the more formal meetings”. The remarks will anger Russian officials who are likely to seek an explanation from Whitehall.

“It’s not a good state of affairs when confidential talks become available to anyone who’s curious,” said Nikolai Svanidze, a political analyst who presents Russian television’s leading current affairs programme.

It is the second time in a month that confidential Whitehall documents have appeared on the internet. Last month three secret Foreign Office memos listing the names and telephone numbers of 15 top officials in MI5, the anti-terrorist branch of the Metropolitan police, GCHQ, the government eavesdropping service, and the Foreign Office were released on a website which the government has asked The Sunday Times not to name.

The latest memo was written two years ago when Ivanov was secretary of the Russian security council. It describes how, on a three-day visit, Ivanov defended the fact that Russia was co-operating with Iran on nuclear matters; said Russia would not rebuild war-torn Chechnya because of the security threat; and said the country might ignore United Nations sanctions on Iraq so it could reclaim outstanding debts.

The most intriguing aspect of the memo is under a heading Terrorism/Islam which says Ivanov “did not seriously advance the Islamic galactic plot theory”, an apparent reference to a global Islamic terrorist network, an argument that Russia has advanced to gain support for its actions in Chechnya.

The dismissive tone of the note suggests that its Foreign Office authors did not believe the theory, although the events of September 11 and subsequent Al-Qaeda atrocities have largely vindicated Russia’s view of international collaboration between Islamic fundamentalist groups.

The fact that details of such meetings have been leaked will embarrass the Foreign Office. The document was circulated to Robin Cook, then foreign secretary, and a handful of others in London, in addition to the embassy in Moscow.

Ivanov, a former KGB officer, speaks fluent English and lived in Ealing, west London, during the 1970s. He is close to Putin with whom he trained at the KGB’s academy.