15 Embarrassing Lapses in National Security
Considering how important national security is — the concept, not the largely forgotten 2003 comedy from Happy Gilmore director Dennis Dugan starring Martin Lawrence and Steve Zahn — the people involved sometimes seem to be farting their way through life.
Every country seems to have a list of embarrassing security mishaps. However sophisticated and clever various security mechanisms get, there’s always some people high up who insist on doing that thing your parents do where they write all their passwords down on a piece of paper. There’s a non-zero chance there’s a nuke out there with the password “password,” or a world leader out there with the red-button PIN saved in their phone as “Secret Bomb Code (work).”
Ultimately, any security system is as effective as the people involved in it. Any chain is as strong as its weakest link, after all, and some of the links in anything to do with any government are likely to be at least slightly useless — poorly-paid low-down employees, doddering old bastards and everything in between.
Obviously if you leave a notebook full of passwords on a bus seat, the odds that the next person who sits there is a foreign spy are fairly slim. But once word gets out that you’re incredibly clumsy, that’s when things can start to go pear-shaped…
The Cabinet’s Cabinet Filled with Secrets
A filing cabinet bought from an Australian thrift store in 2018 contained thousands of secret documents. It was sold locked, because “nobody could find the keys.” The documents themselves revealed earlier, unpublicized security lapses: Nobody had a g’day.
Easy Drives, More Like
In 2000, a pair of hard drives went missing from a Los Alamos nuclear weapons laboratory. The hard drives contained detailed instructions on how to disarm nuclear weapons, which is exactly what people who make them don’t want people knowing.
No Entry to Anyone, Oh Fine, Go for It
In 2012, the Y-12 National Security Complex in Tennessee, a facility with security systems costing millions of dollars, was broken into by a trio of anti-nuclear protesters: an 82-year-old nun, an elderly gardener and a house painter.
We’ve Gotten Things Repeatedly Wrong But Don’t Want to Talk About It
Between 2017 and 2023, Britain’s Defence Nuclear Organisation — a wing of the Ministry of Defence overseeing nuclear weaponry storage — had at least 113 security incidents it refused to share details of, citing security concerns. If you’re that concerned about security…
The Secret Agents So Secret They Weren’t Really Agents
In 2022, two men were charged with impersonating federal agents for two years, including providing real agents with accommodation and weaponry for mysterious reasons. They amassed a giant arsenal of guns while not paying any rent. It’s all very odd.
Putting the ‘Ass’ into ‘Palace’
The late Queen Elizabeth II, who the British Army were supposed to be very protective of, had dozens of incidents involving lunatics breaking into Buckingham Palace using the age-old security-breaching technique of “just kind of swanning in.”
Top Secret Information? I’ve Got It Here Somewhere…
A 2008 audit of the U.K.’s Government Communications Headquarters found 35 laptops — including three filled with top secret information — were nowhere to be found. GCHQ’s attitude toward security as a whole was described in Parliament as “cavalier” and “haphazard.”
Totally Shitty Agency
In 2015, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) was subject to a series of tests where fake explosives and banned substances were sneaked through. Ninety-five percent of these attempts were successful, suggesting the TSA is entirely useless.
Arizona’s Inside Job
In 2007, a Chinese national spent five months working in the Arizona Counter Terrorism Information Center before disappearing back to China with computer equipment filled with sensitive information.
A Seat Back Pocket of Secrets
In 2017, documents detailing protocols for the aftermath of a potential anthrax attack at Super Bowl LII were left in the seat pocket of a commercial flight. They belonged to the Department of Homeland Security, which was less than thrilled.
Breaching Security for Online Cred
A 21-year-old Air National Guard member is currently on trial for sharing classified documents with hundreds of people on Discord, which then spread. He both transcribed and photographed classified documents, possibly more to show off than for nefarious reasons.
Gluts of Googleable Gigabytes
In 2017, a 100-gigabyte hard drive belonging to the NSA was uploaded to the public internet. The top-secret data was, in the words of the person who found it, “two clicks away from anyone.”
The Sozzled Service
Not so much one lapse in national security as an ongoing extremely clear vulnerability, the amount of Secret Service mishaps over the last decade (including drunken agents drinking through an active bomb investigation) doesn’t inspire confidence.
In 2019, then-President Trump tweeted a classified photo of damage to Iran’s spaceport. The photo came from a spy satellite that had remained secure for 35 years, its security breached on purpose by the most powerful man in the world.
Magical Missile-y Tour
In 2007, a B-52 bomber was mistakenly armed with nuclear missiles and flown across America by an Air Force pilot with no idea what he was carrying. This was blamed on the war in Iraq requiring so much work everything else suffered.