Severance payout: Truss and Kwarteng to pocket up to €19,000 for time …
The Independent

Oh, Liz Truss. Will the negative headlines ever cease?

The beleaguered former Prime Minister has hit the front pages again, this time because her phone was apparently hacked – and this was all before her brief stint at Number 10.

As if the Tory Party didn’t have enough controversy to deal with, this has the potential to be seriously damaging: it’s not about people seeing her WhatsApp messages to her teenage daughters, this is about national – and even international – security.

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So what exactly happened? And why is it so serious? Here, we set out why this alleged breach really matters.

What happened?

Back in the summer, when she was Foreign Secretary, Truss’s personal mobile phone was hacked by spies working for Russian president Vladimir Putin, according to The Mail on Sunday.

These Kremlin agents gained access to sensitive information, including discussions about the Ukraine war with key international partners, the newspaper said, citing unnamed sources.

Private conversations between Truss and close friend Kwasi Kwarteng criticising the then-PM Boris Johnson also allegedly fell into the hackers’ hands, potentially leaving them at risk of blackmail.

When did the Government find out about the hack?

The hack was discovered when Truss was running for the Tory leadership, but Johnson and Cabinet Secretary Simon Case reportedly decided to keep the details under wraps.

So why wasn't the news made public at the time?

A source told The Mail on Sunday that the leak “caused absolute pandemonium,” adding: “Boris was told immediately, and it was agreed with the Cabinet Secretary that there should be a total news blackout.”

Truss allies said she was worried that if news of the hack became public it could derail her chance of becoming the new Conservative leader and Prime Minister (which obviously went so well in the end…). She apparently “had trouble sleeping” until Case ordered everyone to keep their lips sealed.

Whether or not her standing in the leadership race had any bearing on the decision, it’s definitely “not a great look for the intelligence services if the Foreign Secretary’s phone can be so easily plundered for embarrassing personal messages by agents presumed to be working for Vladimir Putin’s Russia,” as the source pointed out.

What’s happened to Truss’s phone since then?

One source told the paper that the phone was so heavily compromised it has now been placed “in a locked safe inside a secure Government location”.

And while the Government itself hasn’t confirmed the reports, it would explain why Truss was forced to change the mobile number she’d used for over 10 years shortly before becoming PM.

What’s been the reaction to the news?

Opposition parties are demanding an urgent investigation into the alleged attack, which will raise questions about the UK’s cyber security, as well as the judgment of Johnson and Case.

Leading Tories have also expressed their concern, with former party leader Ian Duncan Smith telling The Mail on Sunday: "This is what we’re up against. Russia does this all the time. This is their sole purpose – their way to get back at us. We are all far too casual about our phones in general. Ministers should be much more careful and should not be using their personal phones for anything. I assume my private phone is being hacked."

Meanwhile, Labour’s shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said: “There are immensely important national security issues raised by an attack like this by a hostile state which will have been taken extremely seriously by our intelligence and security agencies.

“There are also serious security questions around why and how this information has been leaked or released right now which must also be urgently investigated.

“It is essential that all of these security issues are investigated and addressed at the very highest level and we need to know that the Government recognises the gravity of this and the importance of fully protecting our national security.”

Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesperson Layla Moran said: “We need an urgent independent investigation to uncover the truth. Was Liz Truss’s phone hacked by Russia, was there a news blackout and if so why?

“If it turns out this information was withheld from the public to protect Liz Truss’s leadership bid, that would be unforgivable.”

A Government spokesperson responded to the reports with the following statement: “We do not comment on individuals’ security arrangements.

“The Government has robust systems in place to protect against cyber threats. That includes regular security briefings for Ministers and advice on protecting their personal data and mitigating cyber threats.”

They're going to have to offer up more than that to reassure the nation and our allies.

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