No doubt I wasn’t the only one whose eyes widened when the United Kingdom’s Ambassador to the United States Sir Nigel Kim Darroch’s assessment of the U.S. president was leaked to media. The President took exception and went to Twitter and it was game on in the political arena. The back and forth which ensued resembled an episode of Big Brother.  What was missing until most recently was the underlying problem: The UK had an insider threat which had become a reality. Someone violated their secrecy agreement and perhaps the U.K.’s Official Secrets Act.

Insider threat becomes reality

The classified cables (messages) which were leaked should have never seen the light of day. An insider took it upon themselves to break trust and exposed the insider threat to the world.

The UK’s Cabinet Office took two investigative paths – was it an insider who had a bone to pick with Darroch, or perhaps a hostile intelligence organization who was attempting to put a spanner in the wheels of the US-UK relationship. The UK intelligence community quickly put to rest the idea that a foreign hand was playing with UK-US relations, which left only the insider operating for their own purposes.

Last week the Metropolitan Police announced that they were opening an investigation.

“Given the widely reported consequences of that leak, I am satisfied that there has been damage caused to UK international relations, and there would be clear public interest in bringing the person or people responsible to justice,” Neil Basu, assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan police, told the UK Guardian. He went on to ask that “those responsible hand themselves in.”  Needless to say there wasn’t a rush to the doors of Scotland Yard.

Insider identified

The UK’s Sunday Times citing “unnamed government sources” just a few days after the initiation of the investigation reported that the Metropolitan Police had identified a suspect, who had insider access. According to the unnamed source(s), the insider “went in and grabbed a range of material. It was quite crude.” The Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) has joined the investigation to provide forensic support in nailing down the file access, emails, phones, etc.

And while the ambassador’s assessment of the U.S. President was the initial leak, the corpus released by the insider also included materials concerning Iran. To that end, a Foreign Office spokesman said: “A police inquiry into the totally unacceptable leak of this sensitive material has begun. The perpetrator should face the consequences of their actions.”

In time we may learn the motivation behind the insider’s actions, for now, their actions evidence the asymmetrical nature of the insider threat and the damage which can be caused when one decides that secrets no longer need to be secret, based on their own criteria.

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Christopher Burgess (@burgessct) is an author and speaker on the topic of security strategy. Christopher, served 30+ years within the Central Intelligence Agency. He lived and worked in South Asia, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Central Europe, and Latin America. Upon his retirement, the CIA awarded him the Career Distinguished Intelligence Medal, the highest level of career recognition. Christopher co-authored the book, “Secrets Stolen, Fortunes Lost, Preventing Intellectual Property Theft and Economic Espionage in the 21st Century” (Syngress, March 2008).