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RAF Innsworth staff at risk after personal data stolen from site

By This is Gloucestershire  |  Posted: September 29, 2008

COMPROMISED? An aerial view of RAF Innsworth.

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THE security of up to 50,000 staff has been put at risk after thousands of personal records have been stolen from RAF Innsworth.

Thieves broke into a high security area of the base last Wednesday and stole three computer disc drives containing records of serving and former RAF staff stored by the Service Personnel and Veterans Agency at Innsworth.

The agency provides support services for some 900,000 serving and ex-service personnel.

Although the base closed its doors to RAF staff in March this year, some administrative units have remained with a few hundred people still working on the site.

In 2010 HQ Allied Rapid Reaction Corps (HQARRC) will move from their current German home to Innsworth.

Two of the drives stolen are believed to have contained sensitive personal data, including MOD email addresses and bank details.

But most of the information is believed to comprise appraisal forms, which included names, dates of birth, service numbers, and bosses' opinions of staff.

A spokesman for the MoD said it was investigating the theft with Gloucestershire police.

He said: "Two of the drives are believed to have contained potentially sensitive personal data relating to personnel who served in the Royal Air Force in recent years; the third hard drive did not contain any personal data. The theft of these hard drives from a secure location, where they were subject to physical protection standards consistent with the Data Handling Review, is being treated with great seriousness.

"An urgent assessment is underway into the detailed nature of the data that was on the drives.

"There is no indication that the theft was motivated by a desire to obtain the data, nor that the data has been exploited maliciously in any way; but personal information on anyone serving or who has served in recent years in the RAF, Regular or Reservist, may have been compromised."

Mark Harper Conservative MP for the Forest of Dean and former shadow minister for defence said: "This breach of security is yet another example of the Government's inability to protect the personal data of our citizens.

"It is particularly worrying that this security breach may well compromise the security of those who are serving or who have served with the armed forces."

Laurence Robertson, MP for Tewkesbury, said: "It is totally unsatisfactory.

"It does seem a bit like somebody inside knows something about it. For someone to walk in off the street, know where to find a certain file and walk in and take it, seems a bit strange.

"There needs to be a full investigation."

Concerned RAF personnel can call a special helpline on 0800 085 3600.

RETIRED Air Vice Marshall Tony Mason has described the theft as a very serious security breach.

He worked at RAF Innsworth from 1982 to 1989 and was in command of all personnel records and promotions.

He was made air officer commanding at RAF Innsworth from 1986-1989.

"All records of all airmen and airwomen since 1918 have been kept at Innsworth," he said.

"I am not sure how many still remain at Innsworth, but the figure of 50,000 has been mentioned.

"The files missing contain service records such as appraisals and details of individuals, for example where they served, what they did, who was promoted and why and what medals they were awarded.

"They could be historical files associated with medals and awards and historical service records. If they are that would be a big loss because they may not be able to be replicated.

"This is an astonishing lapse in security."

He said in the past personal details did not form part of the files.

"I would be very surprised if personal bank details are included in the same files as appraisal reports," he said.

"But it could be that in the new centralised computer age personal details are being included on the same file and this obviously carries increased security risks and there should be increased security protection. If the system has been changed it will be interesting to see if the security provision has been increased."

The files, classified as confidential, are believed to have been taken from a locked security cabinet.

Mr Mason said: "When I was in charge of the files for seven years, to the best of my knowledge not one file went missing.

"The loss is acutely embarrassing. I think it is a very serious breach of security.

"Somebody should be made responsible with serious consequences. If I had still been in command I would be very unhappy today. My career would probably have come to an end."

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    Ex Sergeant, Gloucester  |  September 30 2008, 10:20AM

    This is really quite concerning on a number of levels. 1. The fact they need to find out what was on the drives is worrying. Why don't they know? Is there no process for what goes on these records or is it left to individuals? 2. Why do they not know how they went missing? Were they taken from a locked cabinet or not? perhaps there was a raffle, or they were sold on ebay, or Mrs Miggins took them home! 3. Concerned RAF personnel can call a special helpline! The cheek, surely they should be contacting us! Oh, but then again they probably don't know who we are, as they've lost our records! Nice to know we served our country and then the utmost care is taken with our private details.

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    David Cunningham, France  |  September 30 2008, 8:19AM

    As ex RAF I am very concerned, particularly as this thft was 2 weeks agao yet the help line say thay have no information. What a state of affairs. This government have a lot to answer for.

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    Ex Sergeant, Churchdown  |  September 29 2008, 5:38PM

    Concerned RAF personnel can call a special helpline on 0800 085 3600. Cuts you off! Disgraceful!

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    ian. darlo, darlington  |  September 29 2008, 3:23PM

    No surprise that ex AVM Mason exploits another opportunity for his own publicity

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    Rob, Abbeymead  |  September 29 2008, 3:02PM

    We're all "at risk" if a military establishment isn't secure when the ID cards come online in which data will be held in unsecure establishments. Time to rethink security and the storage of so many records in one place.

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    LOTA, Stroud  |  September 29 2008, 11:47AM

    The marshal in Air Vice-Marshal should only have one L - and a hyphen - or has that been nicked as well?

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    tim, cheltenham  |  September 29 2008, 11:13AM

    Wot no commens or have they been Stolen ?