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LONDON: A senior British official has risked revealing the locations of elite British and American troops in Afghanistan after leaving secret documents at a bus stop, two months before the country fell to the Taliban.
Angus Lapsley, 52, removed a bundle of at least 50 documents from the UK Ministry of Defense in June without properly saving them, including one marked “Secret UK eyes only”, according to the Times.
The documents contained the exact number and locations of British special forces in Kabul, which served alongside their American counterparts. They also detailed Royal Navy activity in the Black Sea, near the Crimean peninsula.
A member of the public found the documents at a bus stop, where Lapsley dropped them off on his way to work. Although described by one source as “soggy”, the papers were later handed over to the BBC, who confirmed they were top secret in nature – although Lapsley initially denied this.
The BBC said it chose not to publish the story because it “could put the safety of British and other personnel in Afghanistan at risk”.
Lapsley, who had been seconded to the Ministry of Defence, was referred to the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office while he was under investigation.
Despite the seriousness of the issue, which prompted a “furious” response from the US government, he has not been accused of violating the Official Secrets Act.
However, Lapsley saw a bid to become UK ambassador to NATO fail following the breach and had his security clearance revoked.
The FCDO declined to tell The Times why Lapsley was not charged, or whether his security clearance was subsequently reinstated.
In 2008, Richard Jackson, another senior British official, left top secret documents containing information on al-Qaeda and Iraq on a train from London. The documents were also given to the BBC by a member of the public.
Jackson was charged with breaching the Official Secrets Act and fined £2,500 ($3,254).
An investigation into Lapsley’s actions had “independently” confirmed what had happened, but there was “no evidence of espionage”, a UK government spokesman said at the time of the incident.
A Whitehall source added: ‘The documents should not have been taken out of the building in this way and in this case.
Colonel Simon Diggins, a former military attaché at the British Embassy in Kabul, told The Times: “Special forces operations are considered very low key, so for this information to come out I would consider it to be a serious breach of security.
“Disposing of information in the public domain in such a careless manner would be considered a serious security breach.”