May 10, 2007 / 7:59 AM / 12 years ago

Secrets-leaker handed prison term

LONDON (Reuters) - A civil servant was jailed for six months on Thursday for breaching the Official Secrets Act by leaking a memo of a top-secret meeting between Prime Minister Tony Blair and U.S. President George W. Bush.

U.S. President Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair at the White House, April 16, 2004. A civil servant and a political aide are due to be sentenced on Thursday after being convicted of breaching the Official Secrets Act by leaking a classified memo of a meeting between Blair and Bush. REUTERS/Larry Downing

David Keogh, 50, a government communications specialist, was found guilty on two counts of making a “damaging disclosure” by revealing the memo, which recorded details of a private meeting on Iraq at the White House in April 2004.

He was also ordered to pay 5,000 pounds in costs to the prosecution.

Co-defendant Leo O’Connor, 44, a political researcher to whom Keogh passed the four-page memo marked secret and confidential, was sentenced to three months in jail.

The three-week trial at London’s Old Bailey attracted widespread attention because of the sensitive nature of the document in question. Much of the proceedings took place behind closed doors to maintain secrecy.

The judge ruled that no details of the document could be reported by the media, apart from those referred to in open court, fuelling speculation that the conversation between Bush and Blair may have been candid to the point of damaging.

The secrecy, and the push to prosecute Keogh and O’Connor, led to accusations that the government was trying to suppress information. The prosecution maintained the case was not about censorship but a disregard for national interests.

“Diplomacy is a delicate and sensitive act and it cannot be properly carried out in our interest when what one government says to another can’t be kept secret or confidential,” the chief prosecutor, David Perry, said during the trial.

While the memo’s precise contents are not known, high-level government witnesses said it was “extremely sensitive” to U.S and British foreign policy. It referred to operations by MI6 in Iraq.

Keogh, who opposed the war in Iraq, said during the trial the memo alarmed him because it suggested Bush was a “madman” and he felt it should be disclosed to parliament.

As a senior government communications specialist, the memo crossed Keogh’s desk in mid-April 2004 because he was charged with distributing it to the very select group of people who had permission to see it.

He made a copy and passed it to O’Connor, who he knew through a dining society in central England, where they both live. O’Connor, a researcher for an anti-war Labour politician, slipped it into his boss’s papers. But when the politician saw it, he immediately called the police.

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