The government has become embroiled in another unwanted controversy – this time over leaked information about a meeting of the National Security Council.
It would appear the Council, which is chaired by the PM and is made up of senior cabinet ministers, is anything but secure after details of their talks were passed on to the Daily Telegraph.
The newspaper reported that despite warnings from the intelligence community, ministers had decided to allow equipment from the Chinese telecoms giant Huawei to be used in the construction of the UK’s 5G network.
Fears have been expressed that even letting Huawei help build “non-core” parts of the networks such as antennas could make the UK more vulnerable to espionage.
Huawei is said to be an arm of the Chinese government. It hotly disputes this, but the US among others says it’s not to be trusted and has urged its intelligence-sharing partners including the UK to stay clear of it.
The outrage provoked by the Telegraph story has been all too apparent. Ministers have called for a police investigation into the breach, while the former Attorney General Dominic Grieve has said the person or persons responsible should be “sacked immediately”.
No such thing as “off the record”
If nothing else, the leak reminds one of the need to be extremely careful when handling potentially explosive issues, especially in dealings with the media.
However good your relationship with a news organisation or an individual journalist may be, don’t ever tell them anything you don’t want to be made public.
Remember, there is no such thing as ‘off the record’. Anything you say can and will be used in evidence against you if it’s deemed to be in the general interest or, in the case of some news outlets, will make an eye-catching headline.
Sadly, that is the world we live in. And with the unrestricted growth of social media, the dangers of confidential or highly sensitive information getting out are greater than ever.
So, if you want to keep something under wraps, resist temptation and don’t talk about it, not even to a highly trusted media contact.
If you do, you and your organisation may end up paying a very heavy price indeed.
For more advice about how to deal with the media, do get in contact.