Ministers are trying to use national security laws to keep evidence secret over a claim that the British ambassador in Washington leaked intelligence to her alleged lover.
Court documents obtained by The Telegraph allege a senior civil servant was arrested on suspicion of leaking diplomatic cables and his home was raided by anti-terror police a day after Lord Darroch, the former UK Ambassador to the US, was warned that his alleged case was ongoing. revealed by a tabloid.
The senior civil servant is suing two Cabinet ministers – Kemi Badenoch and James Cleverly, as nominal heads of the departments involved at the time – claiming his arrest ‘is part of a disinformation campaign aimed at protecting Lord Darroch and maintaining the diplomatic prestige”.
He also alleges that he “was harshly treated to ensure that Lord Darroch’s conduct was quietly and quickly forgotten”, according to details of the complaint lodged at the High Court. Lawyers for the official allege he was “used as a scapegoat” after Lord Darroch “endangered…diplomatic relations” with the United States.
The case threatens to open a very embarrassing episode in UK-US relations involving the leaking of diplomatic cables from Lord Darroch that had been circulating in Whitehall.
It was also alleged that he had an affair with Michelle Kosinski, a CNN reporter. Ms Kosinski denies having had a relationship with Lord Darroch and that he was the source of scoops when she was CNN’s White House correspondent.
Next week the High Court will begin a preliminary hearing in which government lawyers will ask for more time to prepare their defence.
The government will argue next month that the Justice and Security Act 2013 should be triggered, restricting access to sensitive documents. If the government wins the case, only a special advocate can review the documents, and the official and his legal team may never find out what it is.
The law, which can be used in civil cases, is more commonly applied to cases involving terrorism.
If the High Court judge grants the request, the civil servant’s lawyers will not even be able to see certain evidence and other material presented by the government in his defence. Such a decision will further provoke allegations of cover-up.
“Totally inappropriate use”
David Davis, the Tory MP, said: “This is a completely misuse of the Justice and Security Act.
“When Parliament passed this law, MPs expected the state to use it to deal with genuine cases of espionage and terrorism, not to cover up potentially embarrassing stories involving diplomats and officials” .
In a legal letter, sent May 19 to the official’s legal team, a government lawyer wrote: “Please find attached a letter notifying the court that the defendants in the above case intend to make a claim under section six of the Justice and Security Act 2013 that the proceeding is a proceeding in which a closed material claim may be brought before the court.
The case is very sensitive. The saga began in July 2019 with the resignation of Lord Darroch after diplomatic cables highly critical of then US President Donald Trump were published in a Sunday newspaper.
Lord Darroch had suggested that the president “radiated with insecurity” and that his administration was “dysfunctional”, “unpredictable”, “factionally divided” and “clumsy and inept”.
In response, Mr Trump described Lord Darroch as a “very stupid guy” and with their relationship badly damaged, Lord Darroch left his post.
The government announced an investigation into the leaks and called in counter-terrorism police to find the mole.
The arrest of the official, under the Official Secrets Act, was terrifying for him. Court documents allege ’14 fully armed officers from Counter Terrorism Command broke’ into the official’s home in a raid at 5.50am on October 13, 2020 – 15 months after the Mail on Sunday first published the details of the leaking cables. He was never charged.
The official, whom The Telegraph has agreed not to name, points out in his legal claim that at the time he “was seriously ill and recovering from cancer surgery with a post-operative infection, which he told his employers at the Department of International Trade knew about it “but did not inform the police when they coordinated” his arrest.
According to the legal allegation, an NHS assessment said the behavior of senior Foreign Office and Department for International Trade officials at the time was ‘deadly’.
“The entire operation was violent, intimidating, designed to humiliate and cause damage to health and property,” the complaint states.
But it is the timing of the arrest that the official and his legal team say is both suspicious and significant.
Following the revelation of the diplomatic cables in the summer of 2019, a new story about Lord Darroch was about to emerge. This one threatened to be just as damaging. They had been told Lord Darroch was being investigated by US authorities for allegedly leaking sensitive information to a CNN reporter, who it is claimed was in a relationship with him.
Ms Kosinski, who like Lord Darroch is married, has denied any such affair and denied ever receiving classified or sensitive information from him.
The day before the police raided the official’s home, The Sun, which ran the story, had approached Lord Darroch for a ‘right of reply’ to claims The Sun planned to publish.
According to the details of the claim, the very next day the official’s home was raided as part of Operation Asperite, the police investigation that had been launched in July 2019 to investigate the initial leak.
The official has always maintained his innocence and says he believes his name was given to the police by officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Department of International Trade.
The legal complaint states: “Police questioned the plaintiff and asked him why his colleagues in the civil service would accuse him of leaking Kim Darroch’s sensitive official documents if he did not.
“The plaintiff was twice investigated and the Crown ruled each time that the police failed to produce evidence to respond to the statement of evidence of a full code test set out in the Code for Crown Prosecutors.”
A day after the arrest – according to the details of the claim – the police contacted The Sun newspaper to inform the newspaper that the official had been arrested.
“This was a deliberate interference with the freedom of the press,” the complaint states. A day after The Sun published its article, according to the allegation, “the defendants hit back and informed the media that the claimant had been arrested in an attempt to divert attention from Lord Darroch. The story went viral in the whole world.
Lawyers for the civil servant, who denies any involvement in the leaked diplomatic cables, say that unlike the investigation into their client, it is Lord Darroch’s alleged relationship with the journalist which “raises national security issues for which the British authorities refuse to investigate”.
Instead, the lawyers argue, the former ambassador was rewarded with appointment to the House of Lords on retirement from his post.
Ministers – as appointed heads of their respective government departments – are being prosecuted for misconduct in public service, which effectively accuses civil servants and politicians of abusing their positions of power.
Lord Darroch has never commented on the allegations of a relationship with Ms Kosinski. In a Twitter post in October 2020, Miss Kosinski said: “There is a lot of wrong and just plain wrong in what is being reported. A so-called leak investigation revealed no such leaks. This means that for all of these stories listed, this “sensitive” information did not come from the former ambassador.
“Looks like I had good sources and did my job.” She denies any connection.
Paul Diamond, the civil servant’s lawyer, told the Telegraph: “Our position is that national security should not be used as an excuse by the government to conceal information and prevent public scrutiny.
“Protecting Kim Darroch, the government and the civil service from public embarrassment does not justify covering it all up for national security reasons.”
Call for “maximum transparency”
Andrea Jenkyns, a former minister, said: “It is vital that ministers do not go too far in this way to hide potentially embarrassing information about diplomats and civil servants. The public and the press have a right to see the evidence implicated in this case; we must have maximum transparency to get to the bottom of the allegations. »
The case will be followed with interest in the United States, with Republicans believing that British authorities had tried to undermine Mr Trump’s presidency and fearing that US intelligence had been leaked by an ally.
Mike Howell, who heads the surveillance project at the Heritage Foundation, a US conservative think tank, said: “Abuse intelligence and pass it on to regime media to bring down Trump – we’ve seen this ploy before. The global left began to rule this room the moment Trump descended those golden escalators.
“Darroch’s name should be added to the long list of figures who have yet to be held accountable. Shedding light on this sordid affair is a fitting thing for congressional investigators.”
He added: “It is unfortunate that the UK government is keeping its hearings secret, because people deserve to know if US intelligence secrets have again been shared for partisan gain.”
The Department for Business and Trade, which replaced the Department for International Trade, said it “did not wish to comment”.
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