The Daily Telegraph - Saturday

Ambassador’s alleged affair and the secret court evidence

Civil servant held in leak inquiry sues ministers, claiming his arrest was to protect Lord Darroch

- By Steven Edginton and Robert Mendick

MINISTERS are attempting to use national security laws to keep secret evidence relating to a claim that Britain’s ambassador in Washington leaked intelligen­ce to his alleged lover.

Court documents obtained by The Daily Telegraph allege that a senior civil servant was arrested on suspicion of leaking diplomatic cables and his home raided by counter-terrorism police a day after Lord Darroch, the former UK ambassador to the US, was warned his alleged affair was being exposed by a tabloid newspaper.

The senior civil servant is suing two Cabinet ministers – Kemi Badenoch and James Cleverly, as nominal heads of the department­s involved at the time – claiming his arrest “was part of a disinforma­tion campaign to protect Lord Darroch and maintain diplomatic prestige”.

He also alleges that he “was harshly treated to ensure that the conduct of Lord Darroch is quietly and quickly forgotten”, according to the particular­s of the claim lodged in the High Court. Lawyers for the civil servant allege he has been “used as a scapegoat” after Lord Darroch “endangered … diplomatic relations” with the US.

The case threatens to blow open a highly embarrassi­ng episode in UK-US relations involving the leaking of diplomatic cables from Lord Darroch that had been circulated in Whitehall.

It has also been alleged that he had an affair with Michelle Kosinski, a CNN reporter. Ms Kosinski denies she had a relationsh­ip with Lord Darroch and that he was the source of scoops when she was CNN’s White House correspond­ent.

Next week, the High Court will begin a preliminar­y hearing at which government lawyers will seek more time to prepare their defence.

The Government will argue next month that the Justice and Security Act 2013 should be triggered, restrictin­g access to sensitive material. If the Government is successful, then only a special advocate can examine the material and the civil servant and his legal team may never find out what it is.

The Act, which can be used in civil cases, is more commonly applied to cases involving terrorism.

If the High Court judge agrees to the request, lawyers for the civil servant will not even be able to see certain evidence and other material presented by the Government in its defence of the claim. Such a move will further provoke claims of a cover-up.

David Davis, the Conservati­ve MP, said: “This is a wholly inappropri­ate use of the Justice and Security Act.

“When Parliament passed this law, members expected the state to use it to deal with real cases of espionage and terrorism, not to cover up potentiall­y embarrassi­ng stories involving diplomats and civil servants.”

In a legal letter, sent on May 19 to the civil servant’s legal team, a government lawyer wrote: “Please find attached a letter notifying the Court that the Defendants in the above case intend to make an applicatio­n under section 6 of the Justice and Security Act 2013 that the proceeding­s are proceeding­s in which a closed material applicatio­n may be made to the court.”

The case is highly sensitive. The saga began in July 2019 with the resignatio­n of Lord Darroch after diplomatic cables that were highly critical of Donald Trump, the then US president, were published in a Sunday newspaper. Lord Darroch had suggested the president “radiates insecurity” and that his administra­tion was “dysfunctio­nal”, “unpredicta­ble”, “faction-riven” and “clumsy and inept”.

In response, Mr Trump described Lord Darroch as a “very stupid guy” and with their relationsh­ip seriously damaged, Lord Darroch quit his post.

The Government announced a leak inquiry and drafted in counter-terrorism police to find the mole.

The arrest of the civil servant, under the Official Secrets Act, was terrifying for him. The court documents allege that “14 fully- armed officers from the counter-terrorism command forced entry” into the civil servant’s home in a raid at 5.50am on Oct 13, 2020 – 15 months after the Mail on Sunday had first published details of the leaked cables. He was never charged.

The civil servant, who The Telegraph has agreed not to name, points out in his legal claim that at the time he “was severely ill and recovering from cancer surgery with a post-surgery infection, something he says his employers at the Department for Internatio­nal Trade knew “but failed to inform the police when they co-ordinated” his arrest.

According to the legal claim, an NHS assessment declared the behaviour of senior civil servants at the Foreign Office and the then Department of Internatio­nal Trade was “life threatenin­g”.

“The entire operation was violent, intimidati­ng, designed to humiliate and cause damage to health and property,” states the claim.

But it is the timing of the arrest that the civil servant and his legal team insist is both suspicious and significan­t.

Following the revelation over the diplomatic cables back in the summer of 2019, a fresh story about Lord Darroch was about to emerge. This one threatened to be just as damaging. They had been told that Lord Darroch was under investigat­ion by US authoritie­s for allegedly leaking sensitive informatio­n to a CNN reporter, who, it is claimed, was in a relationsh­ip with him.

Ms Kosinski, who like Lord Darroch, is married, has denied any such affair and denied that she has ever received classified or sensitive intelligen­ce informatio­n from him.

On the day before police raided the home of the civil servant, The Sun, which was running the story, had approached Lord Darroch for a “right of reply” to the claims that The Sun planned to publish.

According to the particular­s of claim, the very next day the home of the civil servant was raided as part of Operation Asperite, the police inquiry that had been launched in July 2019 to investigat­e the original leak.

The civil servant has always protested his innocence and says he believes his name was given to police by officials in the Foreign Office and Department for Internatio­nal Trade.

The legal claim states: “The Police interrogat­ed the Claimant and asked him why his Civil Service colleagues would accuse him of leaking Kim Darroch’s Official Sensitive documents if he did not do it.

“The Claimant was investigat­ed twice, and the Crown Prosecutio­n Service decided on both occasions that the police did not produce evidence to meet the evidential state of a full code test set out in the Code for Crown Prosecutor­s.”

A day after the arrest – according to the particular­s of claim – the police contacted The Sun newspaper to inform the newspaper that the civil servant had been arrested.

“This was deliberate interferen­ce with the freedom of the press,” states the claim. A day after The Sun published its story, according to the claim, “the Defendants retaliated and informed media outlets that the Claimant had been arrested in an effort to take the attention off Lord Darroch. The story went viral around the world.”

Lawyers for the civil servant, who denies any involvemen­t in the leaking of the diplomatic cables, say that in contrast to the investigat­ion into their client, it is Lord Darroch’s alleged relationsh­ip with the journalist that “raises issues of national security for which the British authoritie­s refuse to investigat­e”.

Instead, the lawyers argue, the former ambassador was rewarded with his appointmen­t to the House of Lords on retiring from his post.

The ministers – as nominated heads of their respective government department­s – are being sued for misfeasanc­e in public office, which effectivel­y accuses officials and politician­s of abusing their positions in power.

Lord Darroch has never commented on the claims of a relationsh­ip with Ms Kosinski. In Twitter post in October 2020, Miss Kosinski said: ‘There is a ‘Protecting Kim Darroch, the Government and the Civil Service from embarrassm­ent does not justify concealing this on national security grounds’ great deal wrong and simply false with what is being reported. A so-called leak investigat­ion found no such leaking. Meaning for all those stories listed, that ‘sensitive’ informatio­n did not come from the former ambassador.

“Sounds like I had some good sources and did my job.” She denies any affair.

Paul Diamond, the civil servant’s barrister, told The Telegraph: “Our position is that national security must not be used as an excuse by the Government to conceal informatio­n and prevent public scrutiny.

“Protecting Kim Darroch, the Government and the Civil Service from public embarrassm­ent does not justify concealing all of this on national security grounds.”

Andrea Jenkyns, a former minister, said: “It is vital that ministers do not overreach in this way to hide potentiall­y embarrassi­ng informatio­n about diplomats and civil servants. The public and the press have a right to see the evidence involved in this case; we must have maximum transparen­cy to get to the bottom of any allegation­s made.”

The case will be watched with interest in the US, with Republican­s believing that authoritie­s in the UK had attempted to undermine Mr Trump’s presidency, and concern that US intelligen­ce was leaked by an ally.

Mike Howell, who runs the Oversight Project at the Heritage Foundation, an American conservati­ve think tank, said: “Abusing intelligen­ce and feeding it to the regime’s media to take down Trump – we’ve seen this scheme before. The global Left started running this play the moment Trump came down those golden escalators.

“Darroch’s name should be added to the long list of characters that have yet to be held accountabl­e. Shining a light on this sordid affair is an appropriat­e thing for Congressio­nal investigat­ors to dig in to.”

He added: “It’s unfortunat­e that the British Government is keeping their hearings in secret as the people deserve to know if US intelligen­ce secrets were once again traded away for partisan gain.”

The Department for Business and Trade, which replaced the Department for Internatio­nal Trade, said it did “not wish to provide a comment”.

 ?? ?? Michelle Kosinski, the CNN reporter, right, denies having an affair.
Michelle Kosinski, the CNN reporter, right, denies having an affair.
 ?? ?? Top, Lord Darroch with Barack Obama, the former US president and with Donald
Trump, who called him ‘a very stupid guy’
Top, Lord Darroch with Barack Obama, the former US president and with Donald Trump, who called him ‘a very stupid guy’
 ?? ??

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