Unidentified whistleblower uncovers that Whitehall’s ‘work from-home’ culture hampered Afghan rescue flights.
The junior civil servant claims that – despite lives being at stake – he was at times the only person dealing with thousands of emails from those desperate to flee the Taliban.
Raphael Marshall revealed that foreign office officials refused overtime and had to send soldiers in to help with desk work.
Dominic Raab is being accused by the former foreign secretary of helping to delay decisions and undermining rescue efforts.
Boris Johnson also asserts that thousands of pleading emails had been opened but not handled, in order that Boris Johnson could assure MPs that no messages were unread.
The allegations raise ‘questions about the leadership of the Foreign Office’, says Tom Tugendhat, Tory chairman of the Commons foreign affairs committee.
A dossier of 39 pages was published today by the panel. It is written and edited by Marshall. Marshall worked in Kabul as a civil servant, handling mercy flight requests for Afghans.
Marshall estimated that between 75,000 to 150,000 individuals applied for assistance through the “special cases” team, less than 5% of them received it.
Raphael Marshall, a junior civil servant claims he handled thousands of emails sent by those trying to flee from the Taliban.
It was packed with evacuees as they flocked to the cockpit of a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III transport airplane, which carried some 640 Afghans, from Kabul, Afghanistan on August 15.
He said, “It is evident that some of the left behind were since murdered by Taliban,” He tells us how, in a string of surprising revelations.
- He was the sole person who processed the email during the evacuation attempt of two weeks.
- At any one time, there were over 5,000 messages unread in the inbox. Some of these had desperate subject lines like “Please save my children”;
- The Foreign Office had a staff crisis. This was made worse by the fact that civil servants worked from home including team leaders.
- In a deliberate drive to ensure a balance between work and life, officials were permitted to not work overtime or nights.
- Staff members who worked beyond their eight-hour work hours were encouraged to leave.
- Soldiers who were drafted in the Foreign Office shared one computer with eight others for nearly a whole day.
- Because the criteria to evacuate was vague, only cleaners and cooks employed by BBC could be rescued. They were not able to rescue interpreters from other countries who had served with UK soldiers.
- Raab caused delays unnecessary by refusing a decision to be made on the list of extraordinary cases, which was not reformatted.
In August 2008, the Taliban overtook Kabul and thousands of people in desperate need appealed for help from the British.
More than 15,000 Afghans and British were lifted by the UK during a one-week-long operation. Many were still missing when the last mercy flight left August 28.
An inquiry is being conducted by the foreign affairs committee into how Afghanistan was dealt with.
Marshall gave the MPs a written explanation of the response by the department.
Crowds of chaotic people converge on Kabul Airport, as hundreds desperately try to flee this country.
Un whistleblower said that at times, he was responsible for receiving thousands of emails about Afghan refugees trying to escape.
His participation in the’special cases team’ looked into the claims made by those who were at greatest risk due to links with the UK. These included Afghan soldiers and politicians as well journalists, journalists civil servants, activists, aid workers, judges and civil servants.
It was distinct from the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy program for people who work directly for the UK Government such as military translators. Marshall claimed that officials were unable to handle the large volume of email and did not prioritise any cases due to staff shortages.
According to the 25-year old, who came straight from Oxford University and joined the Foreign Office, no one on the case team had any detailed knowledge about Afghanistan.
According to the evidence, junior officials were “scared” by being asked to make hundreds life- and death decisions that they didn’t know anything about.
Marshall stated that Marshall was the “only person responsible for monitoring and processing the emails within the Afghan special case inbox” on the afternoon of August 21.
He stated in his statement to the MPs that “in my view, staffing shortages have been exacerbated” by certain staff who work from home. This hampered communication.
Tugendhat stated that these allegations were serious, and they go right to the core of the failures in leadership surrounding the Afghan disaster.
The evacuation has been described as a success by some, but these allegations point to a very different story – one of lack of interest, and bureaucracy over humanity.’
According to a Government spokesperson, the UK Government had worked hard for more than 15,000 Afghans in less than a week.
It was also the country’s second-largest evacuation. Still working with others to assist them.
“More Than 1,000 FCDO employees worked during Operation Pitting to assist British citizens and Afghans eligible for leave.
Because of the scale and complexity of the situation, decisions about prioritization had to be taken quickly in order to help as many people possible.
Civil servants’ obsessive about You can have a work-life balance Afghans left at The mercy of the Taliban
By John Stevens, The Deputy Political Editor
Raphael Marshall, today’s author, exposes the utterly pathetic state of the Foreign Office following Kabul’s fall to the Taliban on 39 pages.
Many families and thousands of Afghan workers were in desperate need of safety, so Britain was requested to airlift them.
Yet, sometimes the junior diplomat was the only one left to handle hundreds and hundreds of emails. Nearly all were pleas for help.
In a detailed written statement to the Commons foreign affairs committee, published today, Mr Marshall – described by the committee as a ‘whistleblower’ – outlines how chronic staffing shortages at the department were compounded by colleagues working from home, refusing to work weekends and sticking to the culture of eight-hour shifts ‘despite the urgency’ of the situation.
According to the junior diplomat who is now out of the Foreign Office’s Foreign Office, the delay in making decisions by Dominic Raab, the former foreign secretary, impeded the ability to evacuate.
The Foreign Affairs Committee met in September to ask Dominic Raab, Britain’s former foreign Secretary, questions regarding the Government’s policy towards Afghanistan.
Taliban fighters pose in a photo taken in Kabul (Afghanistan) on August 19, earlier this year.
John Stevens exposes the infuriating claims of Marshall regarding the performance of his old department during one the greatest crises of its recent past.
SO MANY LEFT BEHIND BEING MURDEREDBY THE TALIBAN
Marshall, a graduate of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office in Whitehall, is assigned to the Special Cases group.
It was distinct from the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy program that dealt with the cases of Afghans working directly for the UK Government (e.g. translators).
Instead, the Special Cases dealt with the claims of those at risk because of their links with the UK – including Afghan soldiers, politicians, journalists, civil servants, activists, aid workers and judges, as well as guards and others who worked through sub-contractors.
His statement estimates that 75,000-150,000 people (including their dependents) requested evacuation through the Special Cases team. However, he concludes with a damning conclusion that less than five per cent of those who applied for assistance ‘have received any assistance.
He wrote: “It’s clear that some of the left behind were since murdered by Taliban.”
UNREAD MESSAGES: 5,000
According to the whistleblower, many emails sent by Special Cases were not read. There was a total of 5,000 email addresses that had been unread during the worst of the crisis.
According to him, many people pleading for assistance detailed the ‘grave violations of human rights’ of Taliban including murders and rapes as well as burning down homes.
His explanation was that although automated replies were sent to the emails, they weren’t ‘logged’. This is a common misconception.
A SINGLE CIVIL SERVANT CAN READ TOUSANDS OF E-MAILS
On the afternoon of Saturday August 21 –halfway through the two-week effort to rescue Afghans from Kabul – Mr Marshall reveals he ‘was the only person monitoring and processing emails in the Afghan Special Cases inbox’.
He added: “No email from Friday early afternoon was read.” Unread email count was in high numbers, I think it reached over 5,000 and is increasing daily.
Four other individuals had been assigned to the Special Cases team, but they had not yet arrived on their shifts. Although I hadn’t been originally assigned, I felt morally obliged because the team wasn’t fully staffed.
It’s possible, however unlikely, that I would have sent the emails to no one.
He continued, “These emails are urgent and desperate.” It was striking to see so many titles with phrases like “Please save my children!”
British Paratroopers desperately tried to maintain contact with him at Kabul airport.
Thousands of people tried to flee the airport that weekend.
Afghan people are seated in an American military aircraft as they get ready to fly out of Afghanistan.
Afghans are unable to get to the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, August to prove their eligibility to leave the country.
A 8-HOUR CULTURE AND HOME WORKING
Marshall writes that he believes staff shortages were made worse by staff who worked from home. This impeded communication.
“This was sometimes significant when policy was not clearly defined or the situation was unclear.”
According to him, on the two nights of the evacuation no one was assigned to the night shift in his team that dealt with requests for assistance.
He said, “Despite the dire situation, it was still expected that FCDO employees would be available for eight hours each day and five days a weeks.”
Only staff were asked to do the shifts they had volunteered for. Because these shifts are less in demand, this likely led to fewer night shifts and less weekend coverage. This is likely due to the FCDO’s deliberate effort to prioritize ‘work-life harmony’.
According to him, staff working beyond their hours were ‘often encouraged by colleagues to quit’. Senior leaders also suggested that employees who work more than the designated hours are ‘inefficient’.
One COMPUTER SHAREN BY EIGHT SOLDIERS
The Foreign Office, London, sent soldiers to process appeals for assistance. This was despite the fact that the department employed more than 17,000 diplomats around the world.
These passwords weren’t given so, for close to a day, ‘the soldiers used one computer shared with roughly eight people’.
Marshall states that the result was a reduction in their efficiency and speed.
Taliban forces patrolled the runway one day after US troops departed Hamid Karzai International Airport (Kabul) in August
MISLEADING CLAIMS OVER EMAIL RESPONSES
One week of e-mails was processed. They were marked once they were read and not entered into the Foreign Office’s Database of People requesting to evacuate.
He stated that the Whistleblower believed that this was done to let the Prime Minister (and the former foreign secretary) inform Parliament that there had been no unread emails.
Marshall says all messages that were received received an automated response that said the request for help had been logged.
“This was often false.” Emails were often not read in thousands.
BBC CHEFS HAD PRIORITY OVER INTERPRETERS
Marshall claims that the Foreign Office’s “process of selecting Afghan applicants for evacuation was insufficiently credible”.
“It was not common for applicants to explain a risk to their lives, such as death threats or received death threats. It wasn’t easy to distinguish between those who included a risk and those who simply spoke of the risk that the Taliban would rise to power.
He added that’some decisions are unlikely to be justified. So, for example, we have evacuated BBC staff members responsible for cleaning up after the Taliban cooking.
While I do wish them all the best, it’s impossible to understand why interpreters were given priority over others who are at greater risk or have provided greater service to the UK.
A blast at the airport that occurred on August 26 killed 13 people, including children.
LACK OF COORDINATION WITH MOD OR THE USA
Marshall claims that there were very few or no effective discussions between the Foreign Office, Ministry of Defence and Marshall. One colleague commented that failure to coordinate could have disastrous consequences for the rescue mission.
Also, there wasn’t any coordination with US authorities. This may have contributed to duplicate visas.
One official opposed attempts to share evacuation list information, suggesting that it might have violated European data protection laws.
The email that he sent to warn people about possible death was criticized for its’shrillness’.
Pen’s pet DID place mission Soldiers at Risk
By Daniel Martin, Policy Editor
The whistleblower claimed that British soldiers were placed at risk when they decided to evacuate Afghan animals.
Pen Farthing is a former Royal Marine. He convinced the Government that he could evacuate 170 animals and cats from Kabul.
He had taken care of the animals through his charity Nowzad.
Raphael Marshall, however, stated to MPs that he agreed that the military was incorrect in giving Mr Farthing’s charity priority while translators were left to their fate.
According to his statement, the ex-Foreign Office civil servant said that there is no reason to believe that the Taliban will target animal rights charity. It was not possible to prove that Nowzad’s personnel were at risk.
“By contrast, many others would invariably be left behind who were at high risk of being murdered. In Afghanistan, the UK didn’t have an objective to defend domestic animals.
Former Royal Marine Paul ‘Pen’ Farthing persuaded the Government to help him evacuate 170 dogs and cats from Kabul
Marshall says that the tradeoff was between Nowzad’s animals being transported and Afghan nationals being evacuated.
It is possible that soldiers who had been assigned to lead the dogs through the crowds into the airport could have supported the evacuation of British or Afghan nationals.
“The insufficient number of British soldiers to assist UK citizens and visa holders was a significant limiting factor to our ability to evacuate people.”
He stated that he wishes Nowzad’s staff all the best for their future in the UK, but that they were not eligible to be evacuated or for special assistance. British Army interpreters had priority.
British soldiers, I think, were at great risk for Nowzad’s animals to be brought into the airport.
Marshall continues to state that an American charity for animals is still in Kabul, and it hasn’t been mistreated by the Taliban.
He wrote, “This supports the MoD/FCDO’s belief in the safety of Nowzad and its animals as well as its staff from Taliban attacks,”
The ‘Her Majesty’s government transported the animals, which were not at danger of injury at direct cost of British nationals being evacuated and those at immediate risk of death including interpreters.
Raab “delayed Rescue” over email formatting’
By John Stevens, The Deputy Political Editor
Dominic Raab delayed an evacuation decision from Afghanistan by complaining about email formatting, the whistleblower claimed.
Raphael Marshall, an ex-civil servant claims the former foreign secretary took’multiple hours’ in approval of cases of desperate people to be airlifted, despite the speed against time.
A list of possible evacuees was sent to Mr Raab on August 25th, three days before the final mercy flight from Kabul. It included Afghan soldiers as well as women’s rights activists.
According to Marshall, however, Marshall testified that the minister needed to see all the relevant cases in order to take a decision.
After the Taliban tookover, Stowaways climbed on board the plane to flee Kabul.
The whistleblower wrote that ‘For Foreign Secretary to request this suggests he didn’t fully understand’ the situation.
One case that was affected involved a family member and a senior Afghan soldier. Marshall states that he believes the family was unsuccessful in getting into the airport.
He claims that submissions detailing “exceptional cases” were submitted to the Foreign Secretary in order for his approval during the last days of airlift.
“It took the Foreign Secretary several hours to respond to any of these notes.
“In the context, I’m not sure why. His private secretary responded to the question by saying that he was unable to decide on any individual cases. Instead, he needed to review all of them in one place to be able to make decisions.
“I understood that he had said to his private secretary that he couldn’t take any information without all the facts contained in a table.
“We reformatted it and sent it back the foreign secretary.”
Marshall added: “I believe that the request by the foreign secretary suggests that he does not have a complete understanding of the situation. There was not enough time for anybody to get into the airport. Therefore, the delay caused by the foreign secretary suggests that he doesn’t understand the dire situation at Kabul Airport.
He said, “I believe it is more likely that decisions the foreign secretary originally declined to take were less confusing than decisions made later by relative junior FCDO employees.”
Last night, a source close to Raab stated that they had evacuated 500 specific cases (journalists, women’s rights activists, and very vulnerable people).
It was the verification of identity, safe passage to airport and safety that were the most difficult aspects of evacuation. This is more important than the speed at which decisions are made. The team was focused on saving lives at all times.
After widespread criticisms of Raab’s handling of Afghanistan, the September cabinet reshuffle saw him removed as foreign secretary.
According to The Daily Mail, the man was on vacation and did not make the crucial call to Afghan foreign minister for help in airlifting the translators from Afghanistan.
But the minister, who was at a beach resort in Crete, did not make the call and it was delegated to a junior minister – but it never took place.