The ministry sent the mail to Afghans who have worked for the British armed forces and are still in Afghanistan or other countries. E-mail addresses and profile pictures of recipients could be seen by everyone who received the message.
A recipient reacted to the BBC with shock at the blunder. “This mistake could cost interpreters their lives. Especially if they are still in Afghanistan.” Some interpreters would also not have immediately realized that something was wrong. “They emailed everyone back explaining the situation they are in. That is very dangerous.”
The ministry would have quickly realized that a mistake had been made and emailed a warning after half an hour. The interpreters were asked to delete the first email and the message: “Your email address may be unsafe”.
The leak sparked angry reactions in British politics. MP Johnny Mercer of the ruling Conservative Party called the way interpreters are treated “incredibly shameful”. He concluded that many people “will be looking for a new place to live again tonight”.
John Healey of opposition Labor Party said that “lifes have been needlessly endangered” by the data breach. He called on Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government to do more to transfer interpreters left behind to the United Kingdom.
The Ministry of Defense was deeply concerned about the mistake. “We apologize to everyone affected by this leak,” a spokeswoman said. “We are committed to ensuring that nothing like this can happen again.”
Western countries withdrew their troops from Afghanistan this year after two decades. The extremist Taliban seized power last month. In addition to the United Kingdom, countries such as the Netherlands and the US have also evacuated civilians and local former employees on a large scale.