14 June 2015
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 Snowdens material was a huge strategic
setback that was harming to Britain, America and their
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 Snowdens
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 Putins 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 Camerons 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 Snowdens disclosures have
exacted a human toll. Why do you think Snowden ended up in Russia?
said a senior Home Office source. Putin didnt give him asylum
for nothing. His documents were encrypted but they werent 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 Snowdens 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. Thats 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
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 Snowdens 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.