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Politics & press news – Embassy 4 – January 2008

Diplomats divided over whistleblower

A civil servant at the Foreign Office has been cleared of breaching the Official Secrets Act – but diplomats in London are divided over whether the leaking of secrets can be justified.

Responding to an Embassy survey, a majority of diplomats (42%) said only under special circumstances could a diplomat leak official documents.

However, over a quarter (27%) said it was never justified to leak official secrets and a further 21% could not make up their minds.

One diplomat pointed out that Whistle Blower Act (the Public Interest Disclosure Act, 1998) should allow for diplomats to pass on official secrets if they deemed it in the public interest. Another said the circumstances needed to be “dramatic” and that such action would almost certainly ruin the career of the diplomat – or even result in a prison sentence. A third said the question was “tricky”, and said such action could only be justified if it “saved lives or prevented a horrible injustice” but added the integrity of the official would always be held in question.

Derek Pasquill was accused of making damaging disclosures by leaking confidential documents to the New Statesman and the Observer which referred to the policy of extraordinary rendition and secret CIA flights, as well as the UK’s contact with Muslim groups.

The case was dropped after it transpired that officials in Mr Pasquill’s own department held the view that his disclosures had not been harmful.

Although cleared, Mr Pasquill may still face disciplinary procedures.

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