Friday, April 17, 2009

Vince Cable Accidentally Reveals Whistleblower Details

Tony Sharp has a bit of a coup this morning on his revamped blog. And it's highly embarrassing for Vince Cable and the FT. Let him explain...
The big news this morning is that Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesman, Vince Cable, has made public via the Financial Times an "edited text" of a letter sent to him by a former employee of the Financial Services Authority (FSA), which accuses the regulator of "apathy and complacency" in its regulation of building societies during the boom.

However Cable might not be considered a trustworthy outlet for whistleblowers in the future following the way the letter, published among other places on FT.com in PDF format, has been handled. Because although some parts of the letter have been overwritten with XXXXX to conceal information, significant parts of the letter have been blacked out instead. Only the blacking out does not work and those parts of the letter can be clearly viewed if the text is copied and pasted into Word or Notepad. As a result, potentially sensitive information that was not intended for public consumption, including the names of Building Societies and individuals, can easily be viewed.

The way Cable and the FT have handled this document is frankly appalling and will doubtless make people think twice about relying on them to publish items securely in future. The whistleblower can consider themselves lucky their details were not on the PDF and blacked out in the same way. This error is also likely to cause huge embarrassment to those institutions and people whose names appear when they should have been properly concealed.

What an utter disgrace. Amateur night. Perhaps Saint Vince might like to join the long queue of people saying 'sorry' this week. Or prepare for his parliamentary office to be raided.

UPDATE: If I were a customer of the Principality or the Newcastle and West Bromwich, I would not feel very reassured this morning.

UPDATE 12.22: Jim Pickard, the author of the FT article has been in touch. He feels the headline on this piece is unfair. He also makes clear that the FT converted the PDF and not Vince, and it's not Vince's fault. I think he protests too much. I don't think the headline is unfair on Vince. It was his responsibility, as well as Jim's, to ensure this didn't happen. I also defend the headline. The details revealed make it far easier for the FSA to identify who it was, I'd have thought. I have handled documents like this before when working for DD. First rule is you never let it out of the office unless you are prepared for the whole thing to appear. You do the deletions yourself and don't rely on others. If Vince had done that, this wouldn't have happened.

53 comments:

javelin said...

Another Bank run ... cheers Vince ..

This is Money says ...

http://www.thisismoney.co.uk/saving-and-banking/article.html?in_article_id=453098&in_page_id=7

How safe is...West Bromwich Building Society?

Latest news

• Ratings agency Fitch (November 2008) changed the outlook of the society from 'stable' to 'negative' in November due to falling house prices and rising unemployment, which is expected to weaken its asset quality. West Bromwich's high exposure to buy-to-let mortgages is a particular concern to analysts.

http://www.thisismoney.co.uk/saving-and-banking/article.html?in_article_id=455529&in_page_id=7

Latest news

• Newcastle was downgraded on 15 April (2008?) along with some of the country's leading building societies by ratings agency Moody's on fears they will experience further losses due to the collapsing property market.

• Ratings agency Fitch downgraded Newcastle on November 24 (2009) due to its relatively small size and profitability, as well as the level of risk coming from some of its largest investments.

Rohan said...

Actually if you look at the meta data the PDF was created by Jim Pickard using Acrobat 7 for Word. When the PDF was made he should have prevented copying or printing. So on balance it doesn't look like Vincent Cable can be blamed for this one.

subrosa said...

Oh dearie me. I'm wondering why the FT didn't spot it or did they but it wasn't their responsibility to do anything about it.

Dick the Prick said...

Completely disagree with you on this one bud. There's a wider thang on the move - who could have watched that nurse being struck off last night without considering that there was bullying going on? Data Protection? Pixel out the faces and keep schtum. The BBC interview (commissioners of the Panorama prog) was very robust. There's a decent possibility it was scripted but all very much covering their arses.

Accusing the FSA of apathy & complacency is hardly revelatory. I remember Vince Cable accusing Hislop of ignorance and he does possess a snotty streak but....he's an MP - not a blogger. Calm down Spiderman.

Bearded Socialist said...

I think this is a real shame for whistleblowing, which when functioning well does a great deal of good for our democracy. I personally think Mr Dale's gloating over another's failing does him no favours

Iain Dale said...

Bearded, sorry but Vince portrays himself as the master of the credit crunch. He must expect to be called to account if his actions lead to whistleblowers being revealed. It's sloppy. Are you seriously saying Tony Sharp or I should have kept quiet about this?!

Mr. Mxyzptlk said...

Does anyone actually believe whistleblowers will receive any different treatment under the Tory's.

Im afraid even Iain will be down the plug hole under Tory Hegemony...
Any Blog which continually praises the Government will get very few hits.

still he might get offered a seat on a quango somewhere to keep him onside

Chris Nicolson said...

Companies House are just as useless, they tried (unsuccessfully) to blank out parts of this FOI answer

albertmbankment said...

It seems to have been revamped on ft.com with X's now, more's the pity!

Martin Day said...

As they say in Blackadder the third: Vince has "made the bed up for Mr Cock-Up!"

This is a shocking mistake to make by Mr Cable!

LD's do seem to be plunging through the floor at the moment, they are doomed - DOOMED at the next election!

Vince will soon be dancing to a different tune down the local Derby and Joan..........

trevorsden said...

Whistle-blowers risk being disciplined according to the law and to be subject to employment law.

Thats no matter who is in power.

But there are I believe laws protecting genuine whistle-blowers and they should certainly not normally be subject to criminal let alone anti terror laws.

Jim said...

Iain, your headline is wrong. Firstly the details of the whistleblower have most certainly not been revealed - as you admit further down. Secondly, whatever went wrong is not the fault of Vince Cable.

Bearded Socialist said...

Mr Dale - I'm welcoming whistleblowing, and posted elsewhere today about my being sickened at the treatment of the nurse doing the undercover stuff. And i'm well aware of how Vince Cable paints himself as the master of prophecy. What I am criticising is what I percieve as you gloating about the failings of others, boardering on schadenfreude. I certainly believe that you should publicise this, but not gloat about it.

Sadly, I am in agreement with Mr Mxyzptlk that it will be no better under the Tories when they/you are next in, which I believe is a great sadness for all

Anonymous said...

albertmbankment - It may now be X'ed on FT.com, but the first thing I did when I read it was to save the blacked out version. I'm sure it will appear again in its full glory!

Edwina C Urrie said...

"Any Major Dude" from 1975's Pretzel Logic.

William Blake's Ghost said...

Hurrah I can post again!

Being someone who will not be led to register with the Big Brother of the internet (Google) I would just like to honour our good host for allowing such people as myself to post again.

It's good to see Cable caught out. He's overrated and hopefully this might shake a little of the smugness out of him.

Anonymous said...

Oh dear !

Perhaps they will end up like the 'Panorama Nurse' who must by now be regretting getting mixed up with the BBC...

Nigel said...

Who'd be a whistleblower ?
Clearly disciplinary action isn't sufficient - they must be destroyed. I feel sorry for Vince's source.

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/politics/article6108896.ece
'...Whitehall sources unleashed an extraordinary salvo at Christopher Galley, the civil servant who leaked to Mr Green but was also freed from the threat of criminal prosecution. One labelled him a “complete loser”. Claiming that he had used a term from Star Trek as a computer log-in, an insider said: “That says it all, doesn’t it. The guy was a laughing stock.”...'

Dick the Prick said...

Dear Mr Mxyzptlk

Yes Yes Yes and a cursory whatever from the cheap seats. Whistleblowers are essential - these dudes know more than we'll ever know: every case on its merits ofcourse but every case on its intention also. Too many shit campaigns going on - why ever fight knowledge?

Love & kisses

Dick

Mark Senior said...

Your thread tells us very much more about how much you and the Conservatives fear Vince Cable and the esteem in which he is held by the general public rather than any supposed failing on his part with the issuing of the edited text .

Dexter said...

Did Draper really write this book?

Life Support: Derek Draper: Amazon.co.ukhttp://www.amazon.co.uk/Life-Support-Derek-Draper/dp/1848500440/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1239963603&sr=8-1Seems a bargain at £6.29
(Check out the photos and 'tags')

Iain Dale said...

Mark, you really are the LibDem equivalent of David Boothroyd.

Do you seriously expect me to believe that if this had happened to George Osborne, Mark Pack wouldn't have been on the case?

anonymouse said...

Iain Dale: why are you advertizing Derek Draper's Flow Video company?

Do you endorse it?

http://www.flowvideo.co.uk/belief.html

neil said...

Hey its usually Robert Peston who starts run's on the banks get back to whatever the liberal democrats do Mr Cable.

Just a small question what do the liberal democrats actually do I have spent a long time trying to figure that out......well about a minute at least.

Iain Dale said...

I wasn't aware I was, but so what? I suspect it is a Google Ad.

Tony Sharp said...

I think you are wrong Jim. Yes, Jim Pickard at the FT had the opportunity to remove the sensitive pieces from the letter before publishing (along with any other journalist who used the same PDF technique) rather than allow it to be uploaded in a fashion that made the blacked out comments viewable.

But it was Vince Cable who provided the full text of the letter to a journalist when he could easily have removed sensitive pieces from it. The responsibility rests with him. The names of those institutions and individuals which have been revealed would not have been if Vince Cable had taken proper steps to conceal the information before he gave it to the press.

Cable has shown he is not a safe pair of hands when dealing with sensitive material of this nature. As a result this could have real consequences for the institutions whose names have been revealed.

jeremy said...

Probably about time more of the building societies were put under scrutiny and useful that the names did come to light as quite a few of them appear to be more for the benefit of the directors pay packages than for the members. Chorley for instance gave its non executive directors a 15% pay increase last year and having just announced a loss for the year of £1,494,461 are proposing to increase them again!
Just been looking at the results of all of them and in many cases the payments to the directors seem absurd in comparison to the profits. http://www.carpetbagging.co.uk/uk_building_societies_savings_rates.html
although less so for the ones mentioned in the FT article.

DespairingLiberal said...

Your new defence bit at the bottom is nonsense Iain. This is yet another example of you using inflammatory headlines that later turn out to be utterly false, but which you will not retract.

Smear Central would be a better name for your Diary.

The reason you keep trying to have a go at Vince is of course that you and the other saddo Tories are frit.

Alex said...

OIain

I can't help thinking that you (and others) were wrong to publicise the existence of the PDF file befor ethe FT had a chance to correc it. OK, Vince Cable and maybe the FT may have crewed up, but give them a chance to protect the whistleblowers anonymity before you run the story. The story is still valid and there would be more kudos to you if you had delayed your story.

Wrinkled Weasel said...

Tom Watson is blogging again. What are the chances of his publishing my comment?

http://wrinkledweasel.blogspot.com/2009/04/tom-watson-puts-his-head-above-parapet.html

anonymouse said...

No on his company website (Flow Video) Derek Draper is using your words to try to sell his "video for intranet" consultancy service.

I was wondering if you endorse the company or not.

Iain Dale said...

I hadn't seen that quote. It's not an endorsement. I said it in some article or other.

no longer anonymous said...

"Your thread tells us very much more about how much you and the Conservatives fear Vince Cable"

Oh this is ripe for parody!

There's nothing more amusing than those who are blinkered by partisanship. I usually vote Tory but I have no qualms about slating the party (especially Osborne's latest batch of announcements).

Peter Grimes said...

Tony Sharp is right on the money. Poor old Vince was stupid enough not to pass a photocopy of the document with the information already blanked out. FT were equally negligent/dumb!!

Highly negligent - perhaps Vince will cross the floor to join the other poor technocrats, like minister Tom Watson/Damian McBride and their non-parliamentary colleagues like Draper, or retire gracefully.

Good to see the ZaNuLieBor goons shilling that the Tories would be as bad!

Peter Grimes said...

Tony Sharp is right on the money. Poor old Vince was stupid enough not to pass a photocopy of the document with the information already blanked out. FT were equally negligent/dumb!!

Highly negligent - perhaps Vince will cross the floor to join the other poor technocrats, like minister Tom Watson/Damian McBride and their non-parliamentary colleagues like Draper, or retire gracefully.

Good to see the ZaNuLieBor goons shilling that the Tories would be as bad!

Mark Senior said...

Yes ZanuCon will be just as bad .
Did the Conservatives ever apologise for the personal lies and smears they used in the Cheadle byelection a couple of years ago . I know some activists were so disgusted they refused to deliver the offending leaflets but there was never any apology given by the Conservative leadership .

Anonymous said...

"When the PDF was made he should have prevented copying or printing"

Which would have delayed anybody for about 5 minutes - Google "PDF Password Remover v3.0"

Alix said...

Iain said: "It was his [Vince's] responsibility, as well as Jim's, to ensure this didn't happen."

Absolutely. They're both culpable.

Your headline is unfair. Both should be mentioned.

RW said...

Iain, a word of thanks for being allowed to post freely again.

I'm inclined to agree with Mr Blake's Ghost; Vince Cable is overrated and a bit overexposed as well. But he has been very effective at times, certainly by comparison with his party leader who always makes me think of a sanctimonious, slightly disgruntled, preachy school prefect.

I do think you might have been a little hard on him in this case. New technology can be difficult to grasp at times, and Vince, despite his many strengths, is not as young as he was.

Hamish said...

You worked for Derek Draper?
Please say it isn't true, Iain.
Or did you mean Donald Duck?

Dick the Prick said...

It's something to do with territory - monkeys pissing on the ground. My ground.

Lord Snooty said...

Cable is given an easy ride in many corners of the media and has certainly been over-praised. Nevertheless, I do think his profile on economic issues highlights the Tories' less than stellar performance (given that they've been presented with one of the widest open goals of all time). So I'm never surprised when I see your periodic anti-Cable posts, Iain - I read them as frustrated anti-Osborne posts in code!

Mr photocopier said...

After the typically shabby treatment by the establishment of that whistle blowing nurse, it is a shame that Vince could not have protected his source more.

The truth that, for all its spin, this government is not actually working deserves all the coverage it can get.

righty right wing (mrs) said...

Trust Cable. Not literally, of course.

Rather than tout this information it around to his mates at the "ever so soft on the Lib Dems BBC" he should have thought more carefully before going public.

The housing market is showing a minor revival, a mini recovery - this sort of show boating from the terminally self promoting Cable is just plain wrong.

Yes, by all means make waves - but publicly? Right now?

It is obvious Cable is thinking more of his new found & misplaced liberal lefty Kudos than the greater good.

The man proved is idiocy long ago to me with his nonsense about short selling, & heaven help us in a hung parliament if he gets anywhere near the Exchequor.

The man is not a safe pair of hands at all.

no longer anonymous said...

"Did the Conservatives ever apologise for the personal lies and smears they used in the Cheadle byelection a couple of years ago."

Have the LibDems ever apologised for their dubious election tactics?

The homophobic attacks on Peter Tatchell for instance?

Hardy said...

Het Iain don't confuse financial advice with politics (big P and small P). Moody's and Fitch are hedging their bets because they never saw the collapse of RBS etc. Mutuals have their challenges, but the ratings mean very little as far as joe public is concerned. Just don't save more than £50k and you're safe - rather a building society than a bank!

J said...

Good to see that Cable is so great that he doesn't even know what his job title is!

Eric Edmond said...

Vince is also crap at monetary policy. During the Northern Rock all that crap about £25 billion of taxpayers money was total bollocks. There was not a penny of tax payers money paid by you me or Saint Vince went into the Rock. It was all newly created central bank money. In fact the tax payer will make a stonking great profit out of the Rock as the BoE lent at 100 over Repo. The really sad thing is not one of our elected MPs picked him up on this, they just annointed and canonised him.

norman said...

Vince Cable bores me. I cannot understand his elevation as a guru on economy. The man is a woolly Lib Dem facing both ways. I don't rate him high not after listening in my time in USA to giants like Galbraith, Samuelson and Friedman. Cable rates himself highly which is opposite to the modesty displayed by the above three real gurus of economy.

Wilberforce said...

This is not the first time St Vince has been happy to make others worry so he looks like a soothsayers saviour.

He did exactly the same thing with the Civil Service pension overpayments issue last year, where he was briefed and requested not to go public until all those affected had been written too about their situation, so they did not learn about it in the media and panic. St Vince chose to ask about the issue on the floor of the House, and kept repeatedly asking whether the overpayments would be 'clawed back' even when he had been assured they would not be.

He is the consummate politician, no saint, nor soothsayer.

Watching Them, Watching Us said...

No responsible journalist or political blogger should publish "leaked" documents, if they have not had access to copies of the uncensored originals, which could, perhaps, be forgeries.

They should try to independently check out the provenance and authenticity of such documents, regardless of which politician or whistleblower sent them a copy.

The Financial Times, and all other mainstream media publishers should re-train their staff in some basic document anti-forensic and whistleblower source protection techniques.

Try some of the suggestions and links listed in Spy Blog's Hints and Tips for Whistleblowers:
Technical Hints and Tips for protecting the anonymity of sources for Whistleblowers, Investigative Journalists, Campaign Activists and Political Bloggers etc.

M. Plonquer said...

There are a societal move away from news appearing in traditional media to it showing up first online. However, the real story is that most people trying to do this don't know how to use the tools of their trade.

Jeez. Most why don't you guys take a course on how to use computer software before you attempt to build a creer based on it. Like the clowns in this story you'll be found out fast.

Paul Canning said...

Iain

Vince is in good company. The US Army did exactly the same thing a few years ago http://news.zdnet.co.uk/security/0,1000000189,39197313,00.htm