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French spooks have access to UK forces' travel data

Also Germans. And Yanks of course

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Contractors working for the Ministry of Defence hold personal information on hundreds of thousands of service personnel and other MoD employees on computer systems located abroad, it has been revealed.

Approximately 180,000 personal records are held in France and more than 310,000 are held in the USA, with thousands more in Germany and Canada. In some cases these records would enable those with access to them to monitor the movements of UK service personnel, MoD civil servants and others.

The revelations come in the form of an answer to a Parliamentary question asked by MP Eric Ollerenshaw (Tory, Lancaster and Fleetwood) yesterday, regarding personal data held overseas by MoD contractors.

Junior Defence minister Peter Luff answered for the government, revealing that 180,000 personal records on UK citizens are held in France under the Defence Travel Electronic Booking Information System contract. At least 310,000 are held in the USA under another defence travel deal.

Under the Air Movements Information System, some 10,000 records specifying flights taken by UK defence personnel are generated and held in Germany each month – though the contractor deletes these 24 hours and one minute after each flight is completed. Another 100,000 movement records are generated in the USA each year, in this case being deleted after seven days.

Analysis

There are just under 200,000 people in the armed forces and approximately 85,000 civil servants in the MoD, so it's plain that almost every MoD employee has at least one personal record held in the USA and many have more than one. However this is probably not a big deal as the UK has long had a strong axis of intelligence cooperation with the USA – including full access for the States to British information much more sensitive than that being discussed here – without any known ill effects.

It's probably of more concern that a majority of our Defence personnel have records held in France, which means that French intelligence services will have full access to that data. The intel relationship between France and the Anglophone world is by no means as cordial as the UK-USA-AUS-CAN-NZ axis: France is known to suspect, probably with good reason, that the UK and US use their privileged access to otherwise-secure BlackBerry communications for intelligence purposes. It would surely not be beyond the Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure (DGSE) to hoover up the MoD's travel database on a continuing basis and learn what they could from it.

Likewise the fact that the German air-movements data is erased by the holder shortly after use means little: the trend is nowadays for spooks – including our own – to demand fully automated access to databases of interest located on their territory. The copy in the German contractor's system may be deleted after 24 hours, but you can bet that the one in the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND) system won't be. As recently as the early 1990s it was known that a senior figure in the German government was being run as an agent by MI6, so one can be sure that the BND will little compunction in making such moves.

There may not be anything particularly incendiary by itself in the fact of all this information – almost certainly – being hoovered up by the secret data miners of France and Germany, but it might combine with other information in interesting ways to the UK's detriment. Furthermore, in some circumstances the French and German spooks might trade this information onward to other parties: this is, after all, a big part of what spies do.

Poor work, MoD. ®

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