Not a good end to the year for MI6. The news section of their website has a copy of their Christmas card, but it is not reporting the following story: On 27th December, under the front page headline “Skyfail”, British newspaper The Sun revealed that more than one hundred documents and blueprints detailing the alarm systems and floor plans of their HQ at Vauxhall Cross had been lost during work being carried out by the building firm Balfour Beatty and its sub-contractors. Most of the documents have been recovered and are not believed to have left the building, but some are still missing, possibly taken home as souvenirs, maybe sold to interested collectors. They were supposed to be kept in a secure room to which access was strictly controlled, but it appears that the builders, not unnaturally, tired of this arrangement. After all, time is money in the building trade. They removed the documents from the secure room so that they could be consulted more easily by everyone. Astonishingly, MI6 security officers never even noticed until some time later. It is reported that Balfour Beatty have lost their contract as a result of this debacle, but the fault really lies with the Service. Some commentators are asking: if they can’t even protect their own blueprints, then how are they doing elsewhere?

But what is worse for the Service is that someone, probably one of the sub-contractors, revealed everything exclusively to The Sun. MI6 likes to keep a very tight grip on its public image, putting only good, usually trivial, news on its website and only allowing access to stories by trusted journalists who can be expected to the say the right things – no potential troublemakers. They also prefer to release their stories in the “quality” press such as The Times or most often, The Telegraph. The fact that the “plebs” at The Sun got this story first will be mortifying for the “toffs” in the senior management who want to protect their James Bond image at all costs. This attitude to those outside the Service is probably what caused the crisis in the first place: their public school disdain for the popular press mirrors their lack of understanding of how contractors might be tempted to short circuit irritating security rules.

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