13 June 2015
Russians and Chinese Allegedly Access 1 Million Snowden Documents
The Sunday Times, 14 June 2015
British spies betrayed to Russians and Chinese
Tom Harper, Richard Kerbaj and Tim Shipman Published: 14 June 2015
RUSSIA and China have cracked the top-secret cache of files stolen by the fugitive US whistleblower Edward Snowden, forcing MI6 to pull agents out of live operations in hostile countries, according to senior officials in Downing Street, the Home Office and the security services.
Western intelligence agencies say they have been forced into the rescue operations after Moscow gained access to more than 1m classified files held by the former American security contractor, who fled to seek protection from Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, after mounting one of the largest leaks in US history.
Senior government sources confirmed that China had also cracked the encrypted documents, which contain details of secret intelligence techniques and information that could allow British and American spies to be identified.
One senior Home Office official accused Snowden of having “blood on his hands”, although Downing Street said there was “no evidence of anyone being harmed”.
Sir David Omand, the former director of GCHQ, said the news that Russia and China had access to Snowden’s material was a “huge strategic setback” that was “harming” to Britain, America and their Nato allies.
Snowden, a former contractor at the CIA and National Security Agency (NSA), downloaded 1.7m secret documents from western intelligence agencies in 2013 and released details of sensitive surveillance programmes to the media.
In an interview filmed in Hong Kong in which he unmasked himself as the source, Snowden said he acted out of a desire to protect “privacy and basic liberties” and claimed the NSA and GCHQ were operating mass surveillance programmes that targeted hundreds of millions of innocent people.
Last week a report by David Anderson QC, announced after Snowden’s disclosures, concluded the intelligence agencies should retain their powers for the “bulk collection” of communications data, but that the power to issue warrants for intrusive surveillance should be stripped from ministers and handed to judges.
Two weeks after his initial leak in June 2013, Snowden fled Hong Kong for Moscow where he claimed political asylum. He has remained under the protection of Putin’s regime since.
In an email to a sympathetic US senator in July 2013 Snowden claimed that “no intelligence service” could “compromise the secrets I continue to protect”, saying he was trained in techniques that would “keep such information from being compromised even in the highest threat counter-intelligence environments (ie. China)”.
However, since he exposed western intelligence-gathering methods, the security services have reported increasing difficulty in the monitoring of terrorists and other dangerous criminals via digital communications including email, phone contact, chat rooms and social media.
And last night David Cameron’s aides confirmed the material was now in the hands of spy chiefs in Moscow and Beijing.
A senior Downing Street source said: “It is the case that Russians and Chinese have information. It has meant agents have had to be moved and that knowledge of how we operate has stopped us getting vital information. There is no evidence of anyone being harmed.”
The confirmation is the first evidence that Snowden’s disclosures have exacted a human toll. “Why do you think Snowden ended up in Russia?” said a senior Home Office source. “Putin didn’t give him asylum for nothing. His documents were encrypted but they weren’t completely secure and we have now seen our agents and assets being targeted.”
A British intelligence source said: “We know Russia and China have access to Snowden’s material and will be going through it for years to come, searching for clues to identify potential targets.
“Snowden has done incalculable damage. In some cases the agencies have been forced to intervene and lift their agents from operations to prevent them from being identified and killed.”
Omand said the leaked information would enable China and Russia to plug any of their intelligence capability gaps and warned that could spark “a global intelligence arms race”.
“I have no doubt whatever that programmes are being launched and money is being spent to try and catch up,” he said. “That’s probably true not just of China and Russia but a number of other nations who have seen some of this material to be published.
“I am not at all surprised that people are being pulled back and operations where people are exposed are having to be shut down, at least for the moment.”
A US intelligence source said the damage done by Snowden was “far greater than what has been admitted”.
It is not clear whether Russia and China stole Snowden’s data, or whether he voluntarily handed over his secret documents in order to remain at liberty in Hong Kong and Moscow.
David Miranda, the boyfriend of the Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, was seized at Heathrow in 2013 in possession of 58,000 “highly classified” intelligence documents after visiting Snowden in Moscow.
During the ensuing court hearing Oliver Robbins, then deputy national security adviser in the Cabinet Office, said that the release of the information “would do serious damage to UK national security, and ultimately put lives at risk”.
Eventually the High Court ruled there was “compelling evidence” that stopping Miranda was “imperative in the interests of national security” and publishing the documents would endanger lives.
Google real-time coverage: