Sir Gus O’Donnell, former Britain’s most senior civil servant, has said his successor should trawl ministers emails and phone records to find out who leaked secret information on the new 5G network
Government ministers should have their mobile phone and email records trawled to find out who leaked secret details of plans for 5G, an ex-civil servant has said.
Intelligence chiefs are furious after plans to allow Chinese firm Huawei to build part of the new phone network were leaked following a top secret National Security Council meeting this week.
Suspicion over who released the information has fallen on ministers, prompting a string of top figures, including Gavin Williamson, Sajid Javid, Jeremy Hunt, Penny Mordaunt and Liam Fox, to desperately release statements of denial yesterday.
Now the man who was once the country’s top civil servant, Sir Gus O’Donnell, has called on his successor to use every method within the law to find out who leaked the information.
He told the Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘I’ve been involved in inquiries where they’ve looked at mobile phone records, email records and the like… personally, I would be doing that.’
‘You can imagine Secretaries of State saying “well, it wasn’t me, I didn’t talk to any journalists whatsoever”. Of course, it might well be that they spoke to someone and that someone spoke.’
Sir Gus advised those carrying out the leak inquiry to ‘look people in the eye and find out from them, are they telling the truth’.
There have been calls for Scotland Yard to lead the investigation, but Sir Gus said it would be difficult to find evidence strong enough to satisfy a criminal enquiry.
Sir Gus’s successor, Sir Mark Sedwill, has already demanded those in attendance at the National Security Council meeting to confess or deny if they were behind the disclosure.
The Cabinet Secretary has written to those present at the council on Tuesday to tell him ‘immediately’ whether they were involved.
Sedwill also asked the senior ministers present to agree that their special advisers, and any officials who had access to information about the outcome of the NSC meeting, would also assist the inquiry,
Theresa May is facing calls for a full police inquiry after the disclosure of discussions on whether to grant Chinese telecoms giant Huawei the go-ahead to participate in the UK’s 5G communications network.
Whitehall’s most powerful official Sir Mark Sedwill (pictured) has demanded those in attendance at the National Security Council meeting to confess or deny if they were behind the disclosure
Last night five ministers said to have been present at the Huawei meeting with Theresa May (bottom right) each insisted it was not them. Tory leadership hopefuls Gavin Williamson (centre right), Sajid Javid (bottom left), Jeremy Hunt (top left), and Penny Mordaunt (centre left), as well as Liam Fox (top right), denied they were to blame
MPs have denounced the unprecedented leak as ‘completely shocking’ and called for action to find the perpetrator.
Downing Street refused to say whether a leak inquiry was already under way but insisted the Prime Minister regarded the protection of information concerning national security as a ‘matter of the highest importance’.
Five ministers who were said to have been at a meeting insisted yesterday that they were not to blame for the damaging leak.
Tory leadership hopefuls Gavin Williamson, Sajid Javid, Jeremy Hunt and Penny Mordaunt, as well as Liam Fox, denied they were to blame. Three others believed to have been at the meeting declined to comment.
Dominic Grieve, chairman of the parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee, suggested yesterday that it was someone on leadership manoeuvres.
Former Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon even said the police should be called in to investigate, saying the leak was a ‘threat to our security’.
Mr Hunt was first to flatly deny being the source of the Huawei revelations.
Asked about the leak at a lunch for Westminster journalists, he said: ‘I think it is utterly appalling that that should happen. I have never leaked confidential Cabinet discussions and I never will.’
Cabinet Office minister David Lidington (left) said the matter was being taken ‘very seriously’, while Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright (right), who was also in the meeting, said the Government could not ‘exclude the possibility of a criminal investigation’
Mr Williamson said: ‘Neither I nor any of my team have divulged information from the National Security Council.’ Miss Mordaunt welcomed the inquiry.
‘Asked if she or her officials had leaked any information, she said ‘No’.
Sources close to Mr Javid denied he had leaked any information.
Asked if there would be a criminal investigation into the Huawei leak, Mr Javid said: ‘If there are leaks from government, whether they are being reported or alleged leaks reported in the papers, it’s right the Government looks to see where that has come from and how it happened.
‘For any Cabinet minister or any minister in the Government to share sensitive information in the public domain is completely unacceptable and it should be looked at.’
Sources close to Liam Fox categorically denied he was involved in the leak. Sources close to three other ministers – Chancellor Philip Hammond, Cabinet Office minister David Lidington and Business Secretary Greg Clark – declined to comment.
However, earlier in the day, Mr Lidington told a cyber-security conference in Glasgow: ‘All I can say is that we don’t normally comment on leak inquiries, this matter is being taken very seriously.’
Sources close to Business Secretary Greg Clark (left) and Chancellor Philip Hammond (right) declined to comment
Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright, who was also in the meeting, said the Government could not ‘exclude the possibility of a criminal investigation’.
Responding to an urgent question in the Commons, Mr Wright said members of the intelligence services need to know ministers will ‘treat seriously and keep private’ any advice they give.
‘That is why this is serious, and that is why the Government intends to treat it seriously,’ he added. ‘This was unacceptable and corrosive to the ability to deliver good governance.’
Sir Michael Fallon called for a police investigation, raising the prospect of a minister being charged with breaching the Official Secrets Act.
Such breaches carry a maximum jail term of two years. Sir Michael told the BBC: ‘This is completely shocking.
‘Any leak from the National Security Council can only help our adversaries, whether they are terrorists, whether they are rogue states, and is a threat to our security.’
Asked if that could result in a jail sentence, he said: ‘Ministers are subject to the Official Secrets Act just like anybody else.’
Former minister Andrew Mitchell said Mrs May should order MI5 to conduct a full investigation and question Cabinet Ministers if necessary.
Mr Grieve said the leak was ‘deeply worrying’, adding: ‘I can’t pretend that there aren’t people who appear to be preparing themselves for leadership bids.’
Labour demanded a full investigation. Shadow Cabinet Office minister Jo Platt said: ‘If a minister did leak the information, they are not fit to serve in the Cabinet – and are certainly not fit to be prime minister.’
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman declined to say if an inquiry had been launched but added: ‘The Prime Minister is clear that protection of information on matters of national security is of the highest importance.’