Monday, July 09, 2007

The Adventures of Captain Towpath

Many years ago, when I first went to work for the Defence Intelligence Staff, I was told a tale of the man they called 'Captain Towpath'. This was the Navy officer who had 'accidentally' mislaid some classified documents (concerning, if memory serves me correctly, proposed cuts in the Navy). They turned up in the press after being fortuitously found on a canal towpath, where the good Captain had been walking his dog (not that he actually had a dog, it was claimed). Now, you might assume that someone who had committed such a major breach of security would be severely disciplined. Indeed, had they been a mere civilian (like myself) they might well have faced dismissal, possibly even prosecution under the Official Secrets Act. Captain Towpath, however, was merely given a rap over the knuckles and barred from promotion for a couple of years (during which time he wouldn't have been in the promotion 'zone' anyway). The long and the short of it was that he had supposedly been 'acting under orders' when he 'lost' those documents - the Navy's top brass had wanted them leaked to try and embarrass the government and force them to change their minds on the defence cuts.

Now, the reason I'm telling you this nautical tale of naughtiness is that, by an amazing coincidence, someone with the same name as Captain Towpath has been appointed a junior minister in Gordon Brown's government. In another amazing coincidence, he too is a one time naval officer who once served in the Defence Intelligence Staff. Obviously, this can't be the same person; the minister's an Admiral, and they'd surely never promote a security risk like Towpath, and, best of all, he's Minister for Security. Strangely enough, during my latter days in the Defence Intelligence Staff, yet another Admiral sharing Towpath's name was made Chief of Defence Intelligence. I know - it beggars belief that they'd make somebody who left documents on canal towpaths head of the Ministry of Defence's intelligence operation, any more than anybody would appoint him Security Minister. Clearly, Alan West is a very common name for Naval officers. Then again, what would I know, anyway? I'm just a disgruntled ex-employee, aren't I?

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