MoD data breach reveals 200 Afghan interpreters' names and photos
Hundreds of Afghan interpreters who worked with UK troops are put at risk as ‘unacceptable’ data breach reveals their names, email addresses and photos
- ‘Unacceptable’ data breach revealed photos and names of Afghan interpreters
- Email sent by Ministry of Defence worker failed to ‘blind copy’ in all its recipients
- It meant details of everyone on the contact list could be seen by all other people
- If just one device with the email fell into Taliban hands, everyone would be at risk
Blundering military officials have mistakenly revealed the names of hundreds of terrified Afghan interpreters hiding from the Taliban.
The astonishing error in an email could prove to be a death sentence for all of them if any are caught.
Last night, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace ordered an urgent investigation into the data breach.
After years of working for British forces on the front line, the interpreters were to be given sanctuary in the UK as the Taliban swept back to power in Afghanistan.
Email addresses, names and photos of scores of Afghan interpreters were revealed in a data breach yesterday [file photo]
Blunder: The MoD apologised for the data breach and said an inquiry would be carried out. Pictured: The MoD HQ in London’s Whitehall
But in the chaos at Kabul airport last month, hundreds failed to get on the RAF mercy flights airlifting Britons and loyal Afghans to safety.
Those stranded with their families were forced into hiding from Taliban fighters who vowed to hunt down the ‘traitors’ who had worked for the ‘infidel’ British.
Now the Ministry of Defence has plunged them into even deeper peril by inadvertently distributing a list of all their names.
In a shocking gaffe last night, an official sent an email to about 250 of those in hiding 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.
By only capturing one interpreter, the Taliban could now acquire details of all the rest.
Tory MP Johnny Mercer tweeted: ‘The truth on how we have treated our Afghan interpreters will come out.
‘All the back slapping over Operation Pitting masks a criminally negligent performance by the Ministry of Defence and the Home Office on doing our duty to these people.
Interpreters affected by the data breach ‘will be moving house again tonight’, Johnny Mercer said [file photo]
‘I reiterate, the vast majority have been left behind, probably moving house again tonight.’
The message told the interpreters that Arap was doing everything it could to help relocate them. It also said they should not put themselves or their families at risk if it was not safe for them to leave their location.
However, the MoD sent another email 30 minutes later, marked ‘Urgent – Arap case contact’, asking the recipients to delete the previous email and warning: ‘Your email address may have been compromised.’
It urged the interpreters to change their email addresses.
Rafi Hottak, a former frontline interpreter who was blown up working for the British Army in Helmand, said: ‘This data breach is terrifying and compromises the security of those who are already in fear of their lives. It is hard to believe that someone could have made this kind of mistake.
‘If it falls into Taliban hands then the implications for those involved are extremely serious, possibly life-threatening.
‘We already know that the Taliban have a large number of names of those who worked for the British and other Western forces. This will only help them piece together who they should target.
‘We know, too, that they are carrying out house-to-house searches, always looking for data which will implicate those who worked for the British.’
Former frontline interpreter Musa, 35, who is in hiding in Kabul after being left behind when the RAF evacuations ended, said he was devastated to learn of the blunder, adding: ‘I can’t believe that this can have been allowed to happen.
Ex-veterans minister Johnny Mercer has criticised the MoD
‘We are already terrified that we will be found, and anything that will lead to us being identified is too much.
‘I am very worried and all my colleagues will be, too.’
Labour shadow defence secretary John Healey said: ‘We told these Afghans interpreters we would keep them safe, instead this breach has needlessly put lives at risk.
‘The priority now is to urgently step up efforts to get these Afghans safely to the UK.
‘This is the second major data breach from the MoD this year, after sensitive documents were discovered at a bus stop in Kent in June.
‘Clearly, the Defence Secretary needs to get his house in order.’
Mr Wallace called it an ‘unacceptable breach’ and the MoD has apologised in a statement.
It said: ‘We are aware of a data breach of information from the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy team.
‘We apologise to everyone impacted by this breach and are working hard to ensure it does not happen again.’
A spokesman added that the MoD ‘takes its information and data handling responsibilities very seriously’.
During the six years our award-winning Betrayal of the Brave campaign has been running, the Daily Mail has highlighted the plight of hundreds of translators who risked their lives to serve the British Army. Hundreds have been brought to the UK, but hundreds more are still at the mercy of the Taliban.
Operation Pitting – where more than 1,000 troops, diplomats, and officials were dispatched to Afghanistan to rescue UK nationals and Afghan allies after the seizure of the country’s capital by the Taliban – airlifted more than 15,000 people to safety across just over a fortnight.
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