Three German journalists breached the tight security cordon around the April 2 Group of 20 summit in London and managed to eavesdrop on the three-hour discussion between heads of governments.
The revelation, a week after Bob Quick, the UK’s chief anti-terrorism police commander, was forced to resign for unwittingly disclosing details of an imminent anti-terrorism raid, exposes another serious security lapse in the UK.
Despite wearing the wrong identification badges Marc Hujer, Wolfgang Reuter and Christoph Schwennicke walked unchallenged into the G20 “listening room”, where government officials were listening in on talks between government heads such as Barack Obama, the US president, and Nicolas Sarkozy, his French counterpart, said one person present during the incident. “It’s not that they sneaked in, they just walked in.”
The reporters went on to write a detailed account of the discussions, which appeared in Spiegel, the weekly magazine, on April 6, detailing the debate that led to the drafting of the final summit communiqué and repeatedly using verbatim quotes from the discussions.
Some British officials expressed scepticism that the journalists were able to watch the entire proceedings of the meetings. One Whitehall source said he would be “very surprised” if the journalists had broken through to the “listening room” in the way being claimed. He pointed out that a draft communiqué was leaked to Spiegel before the meeting.
However, the Spiegel account included piquant anecdotes, such as bickering between Argentina’s Cristina Kirchner and the German chancellor Angela Merkel, and Silvio Berlusconi’s insistence that the communiqué should mention a forthcoming G8 meeting in Italy.
“As screw-ups go that’s pretty incredible,” said a member of an official delegation, who told the Financial Times he was repeatedly challenged to show his red identification badge before entering the room.
The G20 “listening room” is separate from the main summit meeting hall, where only government heads and one aide each are allowed, yet both are supposed to be “hermetically sealed” from the press room.
Although the German delegation was informed about the security breach on the Wednesday following the summit, it has not passed this information to the British government. A British official on Tuesday said he had “seen no evidence” that security had been breached but such claims would be “taken seriously”.
News of the breach had not transpired until now as Spiegel did not reveal that its reporters had obtained first-hand information on the summit’s proceedings.
Spiegel declined to comment on Tuesday. “We do not talk about our investigation techniques,” the political editor, Hans-Ulrich Stoldt, told the FT.
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