Let’s start by saying I have been through the ‘Developed Vetting’ (DV) process. I can’t tell you why, because then I’d have to kill you (a joke, of course).
As a former Trotskyist (in the 1970s) I found the whole process fascinating and extra-ordinary. I was most amused by the fact that some of the stuff in my security file (yes, I had one) reminded me of things I’d forgotten about. The process was thorough, broad and deep. I even had to supply details of the parentage of my estranged fathers’ three adopted children – not a comfortable experience.
I’d have my reservations about some of the process, but no-one could dispute that our security agencies do their best to try to ensure that people who access top secret information aren’t going to misuse it. I have no problem with that.
Every meeting I attended included a first stage where everyone’s level of clearance was checked, and before I had DV clearance this restricted discussion, sometimes awkwardly. But it was rigorously enforced at every single meeting, without exception.
I am therefore amazed that Andy Coulson, the former News of the World Editor and David Cameron’s ‘communications’ chief, was allowed to attend meetings at which top secret military and other intelligence was discussed without being “DV-ed”.
The original excuse was cost (and DV scrutiny is very expensive), but this has now been dropped. No reason seems to have been given at all. In the absence of an explanation this raises several questions:
- why did the Civil Service permit Coulson to attend such meetings? Was the PM allowed to over-ride normal security protocols? If so, why?
- why was Coulson not DV-ed? Was it because it was thought he would fail and so it was safer not to ask the questions? Whatever the reason, who made this decision? And why?
- Why did the security agencies representatives not raise this as a possible security breach with Sir Gus O’Donnell (then Head of the Civil Service and ultimately responsible for National Security rules) and if they did, what did he do about it?
- What is the message to security agencies and other civil servants who go through often intrusive checks and adhere to onerous security rules when those at the top get away with not “walking the walk”?
This is a scandal. It is not one that falls within the remit of the Levenson inquiry. But this absolutely ought to be investigated.
PS: Worth adding from the Guardian: ”Alastair Campbell and Dave Hill, who ran No 10 communications for Tony Blair, and Michael Ellam, who did the same for Gordon Brown, were all subject to the more rigorous checks which attempt to uncover potentially damaging secrets in an employee’s background. Cameron’s current communications director, Craig Oliver, and his chief press officer, Gabby Bertin – Coulson’s former deputy – have both undergone developed vetting checks.”