- By Robbie GramerRobbie Gramer is a staff writer at Foreign Policy. He writes for The Cable, FP’s real-time take on all things, well, foreign policy. Before he joined FP in 2016, he used to think in a tank, managing the NATO portfolio at the Atlantic Council for three years. He’s a graduate of American University’s School of International Service, where he studied international relations and European affairs. He has lived in both Washington and Brussels, though he grew up in Idaho and Oregon, so he’s a West Coaster at heart. When he’s not busy reporting, he’s probably busy starting three new books before he has finished the last one or planning a trip to a national park he hasn’t visited yet.
The European Police Office, or Europol, accidentally gave WikiLeaks a run for its money — and now the agency has some explaining to do to lawmakers. On Wednesday, news broke that the European Union’s law enforcement organization inadvertently released online over 700 pages of potentially sensitive information spanning 54 terrorism investigations. Oops.
The incident occurred months ago, when a former Europol employee took dossiers and files home. He then copied the information onto a hard drive connected to the internet with no password protection. That gave any interested parties potentially unfettered access if they were snooping around in the right places.
“This damages confidentiality and is the reason why we have immediately launched an investigation to find out how it happened,” Europol’s deputy director Wil van Gemert told Zembla, a Dutch publication that first broke the story, on Wednesday.
Van Gemert said there was no indication any party besides Zembla had accessed the information. Most of the data pertained to investigations from 2006 to 2008. But it could have included information on active investigations. “The fact that they were ten years ago part of an investigation, can still mean that they are part of an investigation,” Van Gemert said.
Additionally, the leaks contained information on some high-profile terrorism cases, including the 2004 Madrid train bombing and the Dutch Hofstad terrorism group, per DutchNews.nl.
The police agency, which helps the EU’s 28 member states coordinate the fight against serious crime and terrorism, doesn’t suspect foul play. “Current information suggests that the security breach was not ill-intended,” Europol said.
Police officials apparently knew about the accidental breach before the news broke on Wednesday, but they didn’t bother to inform lawmakers. The news broke just days after the European Parliament held a lengthy session with Europol Director Rob Wainwright on new parliamentary oversight and scrutiny of his agency. He didn’t bother to bring the incident up while he was with the lawmakers.
European parliamentary members weren’t too pleased with Wainwright’s omission when the scandal came to light.
“This is extremely shocking. Europol was aware of this security incident since September,” said Sophie in ’t Veld, member of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe party. “This leak damages trust in Europol.”
Photo credit: REMKO DE WAAL/AFP/Getty Images