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Real accountability and transparency in action

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CNN reported today the story of Britain’s top terror chief resigning after he inadvertently allowed reporters to photograph the names of terror suspects the police had been monitoring:

Britain’s top counter-terrorism officer resigned Thursday, the London mayor’s office said, a day after he accidentally exposed a sensitive document about a terrorism investigation.

Police rushed to make a series of raids in northwest England after two news photographers at the prime minister’s residence captured Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Bob Quick carrying a document containing the names of those to be arrested.


Terror chief Bob Quick (a very apt name) quickly apologised for his blunder despite the fact it wasn’t him but the journalists who had snapped the sensitive document along with him during arrival:

Quick later apologized for his blunder. “I have today offered my resignation in the knowledge that my action could have compromised a major counter-terrorism operation,” Quick said in a statement.

“I deeply regret the disruption caused to colleagues undertaking the operation and remain grateful for the way in which they adapted quickly and professionally to a revised time scale.”

One of the journalists who had captured the image of the document was apparently unaware of what he captured:

Steve Back, one of the photographers who snapped the image, said he was at 10 Downing Street to cover a breakfast meeting of more than 30 chief constables. He photographed Quick as he arrived towards the end of the meeting, he said.

“I didn’t know what I had until I put it in my computer,” Back told CNN. He zoomed in and was able to read parts of the document, with “SECRET” printed atop the page.

“This is a Security service led investigation into suspected AQ (al Qaeda) driven attack planning within the UK,” the document read.

Now think about this a moment.  If this were Singapore, what should we expect to have happened instead?  It appears most likely the reporter(s) who snapped the document would have been detained by the ISD, their possessions and camera confiscated and the state media would have been quick to criticise the journalist(s) for a major security breach.  Nothing would have been said about the minister who arrived with the clandestine papers in his hand rather than in his briefcase.  If Singaporeans are lucky enough he might make a half-hearted apology.  And Singaporeans would collectively sigh a relief and praise the government’s prompt response and vilify the reporter (despite the fact he didn’t even knew what he had captured initially) as being over-zealous and insensitive to national intelligence.

We can expect the government to mount a full-throated attack on the principles of investigative journalism and contrast Asian values of political stability with Western journalistic standards and deriding the latter as dangerous and ill-suited for Singapore.  Attacking freedom of the press and journalistic standards is a longtime hobby of the government.

Indeed, as yesterday’s post made clear, promoting openness and transparency was indeed the major factor which prompted Quick to resign for fear of a major (and truly independent) inquiry into the matter:

Resigning was the only acceptable option for Quick, counter-terrorism analyst Will Geddes told CNN.

The blunder “does raise major concerns which would have led to a very major inquiry,” Geddes said.

So what can we learn from countries which practise transparency and accountability in governance?  A hell lot.

Note:  BBC carries a report on the above here.


Written by defennder

April 9, 2009 at 9:38 PM

Posted in Singapore affairs

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