Friday, 29 July 2011
At the risk of boring everyone - all those lovely people who post insightful comments about Louis Vuitton bags, designer watches and porn...
...While the world has been teetering on the edge of a total financial collapse, much much much has been said about Rupert and James Murdoch, Rebekah (that spelling says all it needs to say about the woman, if you ask me. And, BTW, whatever became of the lovely Ross Kemp? Tossed aside like some used rag, poor bloke...) Brooks, John Yates, David Cameron and of course Andy Coulson over the last few days.
Of note was a piece on CiF by the erstwhileTony Blair's communications chief, Jonathan Powell regarding the vexed issue of security vetting (or lack of it) for the NI man chosen to spread DC's message. It so happens that I have some personal experiences in the area of government vetting. Firstly, when I used to work for the boys at Nobel House, I was responsible for a particular function which required its administrators to receive 'SC' clearance. In the hierarchy of clearance - for those unaware - SC is the second highest, with the levels ranging from baseline, through CTC (counter-terrorism check) to SC and then DV - Developed Vetting - for the highest level.
Anyway, obtaining SC clearance for the team I was in charge of proved to be the devil of a job. As background, the original, cleared, staff had all left at the same time, taking the offer of voluntary early severance as part of the seemingly endless attempts to cull numbers in the civil service, leaving the area (which was required to operate 24/7, 365 days a year) effectively without staff. Now this was a relative backwater of Central Government, nothing to do with national security (though there was an oddity around radiation emissions reporting, which was a fairly serious matter. Looking at this link is a bit of a worry, I have to say) and yet the men from Security Branch took the whole thing very seriously indeed. One of the people we brought in had been shown to have some outstanding personal debt, and for this reason - as well as due to the fact that he had not declared it - he was turned down for SC and we had to let him go.
For the others, until the process was resolved, all Secret and Top Secret material was removed from the room, and a member of Security Branch had to stand in the room while any of them were processed. On this basis, given that the information was either home addresses of ministers or data relating to oil seed rape quotas in Northern Europe, it seems hardly credible that the Prime Minister's Director of Communications would not have had to undergo DV clearance. Isn't it? We shall see.
My second experience of vetting was as a referee for a friend - many years ago when I was still living in Oswestry - who was joining the Air Force 'on a secret mission in uncharted space'... Or Belize anyway. Well, he put me down as a referee and one morning the man from the Ministry came to see me. I remember I had had a party the night before, and wasn't particularly fastidious at the time (stop it!) so the place was still strewn with empty cans and torn Rizla papers as we sat at the table and he asked me questions about the probity of my friend. Had he any allegiances to political groups? Had he any propensity for excessive alcohol consumption (ha!) or did he take drugs? Did he owe money to anyone? With the exception of the political question (come to think of it, he wasn't much of a drug user, either) I of course lied about everything, whilst nervously looking at the piles of Bacchic left-overs on the floor. Clearly, I satisfied the spook, because my friend went on his secret mission, so it only goes to show what a load of crap it all is.