Flying to Houston yesterday, I proofread the page proofs for the U.S. edition of Kill Chain, which will be published in November. (Fourteen hours From London, through Dallas. I had time.) This was probably the sixth time I’ve read the book since finishing it. (Editing, rewriting, copyediting UK edition, proofreading UK page proofs, copyediting U.S. edition…) And this time, a line I’d written stopped me cold. Evan Delaney is flipping through some classified documents, illicitly obtained by a former British intelligence agent. She sees a photocopied memo from the Secret Intelligence Service.
I thought: No way. It’s impossible that a British spook could have photocopied secret documents at SIS headquarters.
What had I been thinking, writing that? When I taught at the University of California, we were strictly limited as to how many copies we could make. We had to enter a personal code to activate the copier. The machine knew who we were and how many copies we’d made. And if UC was so ruthless, British intelligence must certainly be ten times more so. Any clandestine service will control access to copiers and keep exacting records of who touches them and how many pages they copy. It must. Damn, I thought — I should have written the sentence differently. Made it a spy camera photo of classified documents. But not a photocopy.
I needn’t have worried. Obtaining Top Secret materials in London is easier than buying Kleenex.
“Top secret al-Qaida file left on train.”
The Metropolitan police has launched an investigation after top secret intelligence documents on al-Qaida and Iraq were left on a train in London, the Cabinet Office confirmed today.
It is understood the two documents, relating to al-Qaida activity in Pakistan and the security situation in Iraq, were lost yesterday.
The files were left at Waterloo station, on a train heading to Surrey, by a senior security official.
So that’s why I can’t find a seat on trains out of Waterloo.
And it gets better. Or worse, if you’re the government. The police launched a search for the documents. But they’d already been found by another passenger, who turned them in — to the BBC.