Hold it right there, Mr Coulson

Bagehot in this week’s Economist:


That, in itself, is not revelatory: most of the UK commentariat has been making much the same noises.

Except … security types were impressed by his grasp of strategy.

The one thing we do know is that Coulson’s security clearance is a very grey area. The closest we have to certainty is the “addendum” from the Cabinet Office (anonymous) “Departmental Security Officer” to the Leveson Inquiry. It’s worth reading in full:

During Lord O’Donnell’s evidence session on 14 May 2012, in response to questions about whether previous holders of Mr Coulson’s post had DV (Developed Vetting), he agreed to provide “information on precisely when previous occupants of the office were DVd.” I am replying as I am the official responsible within the Cabinet Office for security vetting of Cabinet Office staff.

I am replying in respect of both Directors of Communication and PMs’ official spokesmen (6 postholders between January 1996 and May 2010). Three previous holders of the posts (civil servants) already had DV granted by their previous department on taking up their post in No10. Of the others, two (one special adviser and one civil servant) had DV granted around 3 months after taking up post and one (special adviser) had DV granted just over 7 months after taking up post.

There are two categories of clearance for access to sensitive national security information: SC (Security Check) and DV (Developed Vetting).

SC allows long-term, frequent access to secret material, or occasional/controlled access to top secret material. Staff who have long-term, frequent/uncontrolled access to top secret rfiaterial must undergo DV.

Therefore, in practice staff who are undergoing DV will, provided they hold SC, be occasional/controlled access to top secret material.

More generally, special advisers (and other civil servants) around Whitehall are DVd justified for business reasons, and this level of clearance is exceptional.

What that seems to imply is that Coulson did have access to top secret material, albeit occasional (how often is that?) and controlled (by whom?). Yet, according to Bagehot, it was sufficiently often to impress security types.

The other mystery is why every one of Coulson’s predecessors (count the six in the above) required “Developed Vetting”, but Coulson himself didn’t. The only reason that comes to mind immediately  — hat-tip here to Political Scrapbook — is that Coulson “dodged the soap”, knowing that DV would reveal the affair with Rebekah  Brooks (or some other peccancy), which would be potentially open to blackmail.

Or, possibly, just possibly “someone” protected Coulson from the DV process, knowing or guessing that such a revelation was in the offing.

And that really would be the “smoking gun”.




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Filed under Britain, David Cameron, Economist, Political Scrapbook, politics, Tories.

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