Ben Wallace reveals the UK has been unable to contact eight Afghan interpreters who were left behind when the Kabul airlift ended as he apologises for ‘unacceptable’ MOD data breach which revealed names of hundreds of people in hiding from Taliban
- Data breach revealed names of hundreds of Afghan interpreters who helped UK
- MOD error identified interpreters in Afghanistan who are in hiding from Taliban
- A furious Defence Secretary Ben Wallace today apologised for the mistake
- He said an official has been suspended amid a wider inquiry into what happened
- Mr Wallace said the UK has been unable to contact eight left-behind interpreters
Ben Wallace today revealed the UK has been unable to contact eight of the 260 Afghan interpreters who were left behind at the end of the Kabul airlift as he apologised for an astonishing Ministry of Defence data breach.
The Defence Secretary said the MOD has ‘not had comms’ with eight of the interpreters since the end of Operation Pitting which came to a close on August 28.
Mr Wallace said the ‘numbers are changing everyday’ and ‘often when they are travelling they are not in communication’.
However, his comments are likely to spark concerns about the safety of those interpreters who worked for British forces during the Afghanistan conflict as they try to avoid reprisals from the new Taliban regime.
Mr Wallace revealed the numbers as he apologised after blundering MOD officials mistakenly revealed the names of hundreds of the interpreters who are in hiding.
A furious Defence Secretary said one individual has already been suspended after he ordered an immediate investigation into last night’s staggering email data breach.
Mr Wallace said the interpreters were swiftly advised to delete their email and to change addresses, with the MOD now assessing the ‘potential increased risk’ they are facing.
He said those interpreters who are still in Afghanistan after failing to make it out during the airlift had been offered an ‘unacceptable level of service’ which had ‘let down’ veterans.
Ben Wallace today apologised after blundering Ministry of Defence officials mistakenly revealed the names of hundreds of Afghan interpreters who are in hiding from the Taliban
A furious Defence Secretary said one individual has already been suspended after he ordered an immediate investigation into last night’s staggering email data breach. The MOD building in Whitehall is pictured
After years of working for British forces on the front line, the interpreters are eligible to be given sanctuary in the UK after the Taliban swept back to power in Afghanistan.
But many were unable to make it out last month during the hurried exit of US and UK forces from Kabul.
Those stranded with their families were forced into hiding from Taliban fighters who vowed to hunt down the ‘traitors’ who had worked for British forces.
The Ministry of Defence last night plunged them into even deeper peril by inadvertently distributing a list of all their names.
In a shocking gaffe, an official sent an email to about 250 interpreters and other Afghans cleared for refuge in the UK who are still in hiding in Afghanistan, asking them for an update on their situation.
But it included all their email addresses, which in most cases are simply their names. Some of the email addresses had photos attached.
All the information could be seen by every recipient of the message from the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy team (Arap), which has been in contact with them since the Taliban took control of the country.
The unnamed official failed to use ‘blind copy’ – the email feature that stops recipients of a group email seeing who else it had been copied to.
It is feared that if the Taliban captures just one of the individuals they could acquire details of all the rest.
Mr Wallace told the House of Commons this afternoon: ‘It was brought to my attention at 22.00 hours last night there had been a significant data breach.
‘To say I was angered by this was an understatement and I immediately directed an investigation to take place.
‘Initial findings show that an email was sent at 17.44 hours as part of the weekly contact we maintain with Arap currently remaining in Afghanistan and this was copied to all applicants rather than blind copying them.
‘The email was immediately recalled on identification of the breach and then a subsequent email was sent advising people to delete their email and change their addresses, many of whom have done.
‘So far one individual has been suspended pending the outcome of the investigation and processes for data handling and correspondence processing have already been changed.
‘I have directed extensive steps are taken to quantify potential increased risk to individuals in order to take further steps to protect them.’
Email addresses, names and photos of scores of Afghan interpreters were revealed in a data breach yesterday [file photo]
Mr Wallace said the Information Commissioner has been informed of the breach and the MOD will ‘cooperate fully with any of their own inquiries’.
He said: ‘I apologise to those Afghans affected by this data breach and… we are now working with them to provide security advice.’
He added: ‘It is an unacceptable level of service that has let down the thousands of members of the armed forces and veterans and on behalf of the Ministry of Defence I apologise.’
Labour’s shadow defence secretary John Healey said the email ‘needlessly’ puts the lives of Afghan interpreters at risk, adding: ‘It is not the apology but the action which matters most now.’
Mr Wallace also told MPs that of the 260 Afghan interpreters who were left behind by the UK ‘there were eight that we have not had comms with since the end of Op Pitting and we have continued to try’.
He said: ‘The numbers are changing everyday, either because people crop up and say “actually I’m in London already” or in Australia, all because what is happening on the ground and they make it across the border. Often when they are travelling they are not in communication.’
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