UK security was not compromised by hoax calls, says minister

Ministers believe Russia was behind hoax calls to Defence Secretary Ben Wallace and Home Secretary Priti Patel.

18 March 2022

A Government minister has expressed confidence that Britain’s national security was not compromised by a hoax caller who managed to get through to two of the most senior members of the Cabinet.

A cross-Whitehall security inquiry has been launched after Home Secretary Priti Patel and Defence Secretary Ben Wallace were targeted in what ministers believe was a Russian plot.

The alarm was raised by Mr Wallace after he became suspicious during a 10-minute video call on Mircrosoft Teams on Thursday, supposedly with the Ukrainian prime minister.

He ordered an investigation into the security breach, but serious questions remain about Whitehall security after Ms Patel said the same thing happened to her earlier in the week.

Armed Forces Minister James Heappey said that Mr Wallace was “very cross” as it should not have been allowed to happen.

But he expressed confidence that the Defence Secretary and Ms Patel would have known not to discuss sensitive security matters on a system such as Teams which the Russians could easily listen into.

“Ben’s suspicions were aroused when somebody if he was who he said he was would have known full well that you don’t discuss military movements on Teams because the Russians are watching,” Mr Heappey told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

“Priti, like Ben, day in day out is dealing with matters of national security. When you deal with matters as sensitive as those great offices of state do, you get an instinctive feeling for what you should be saying on each means of communication.

“I have every confidence that Priti would have known she was on a Teams call. However long it went on, the content would have been appropriate to a Teams call.”

Mr Wallace said he became suspicious and terminated the call after “several misleading questions”.

The PA news agency understands he was put through to the video call which lasted around 10 minutes by officials, rather than being dialled directly on his phone.

Ms Patel later disclosed that she had also been targeted although the Home Office declined to give further details.

Mr Wallace went public because of fears that Russia may try to distort any footage or audio material from the call for propaganda purposes.

The video call was set up after an email, purportedly from an aide at the Ukrainian embassy, was sent to a Government department and then forwarded to the Ministry of Defence.

The Defence Secretary was put through to the “prime minister of Ukraine”, posing with the country’s flag behind him.

After initial introductions and thanks for the UK’s support, Mr Wallace is understood to have became suspicious as the man started asking questions about British policy and eventually urged the Defence Secretary to shout slogans.

The level of sophistication involved in the hoax has convinced Government sources that it was a Russian plot.

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