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Snowden leaks put secret operations at risk

t9MdF1-pageLONDON – Britain’s intelligence chiefs used their first ever

joint public appearance to complain that documents by former US

intelligence operative Edward Snowden had put secret operations

at risk and were being “lapped up” by al Qaeda.

In an unprecedented evidence session before parliament

that local media likened to a scene from a James Bond film, the

heads of Britain’s three main intelligence agencies said Snowden’s

disclosures about the mass surveillance they undertake had

prompted them to consider being more open about what

they do.

But they said parts of their work had to remain secret for

national security reasons and that the data leaks, which detailed

Britain’s close cooperation with the U.S. National Security Agency

(NSA), had caused huge damage.

“The leaks from Snowden have been very damaging, they’ve

put our operations at risk,” John Sawers, the head of MI6,

Britain’s foreign intelligence service, told parliament.

“It’s clear that our adversaries are rubbing their hands with

glee, al Qaeda is lapping it up.”

The robust nature of his comments underlined how angry

intelligence chiefs are about Snowden and what they believe is

the irresponsible way some newspapers published his information

despite warnings not to do so.

The leaks have put intelligence chiefs under pressure to be

more open about what they do and have prompted a debate

about the balance between security and privacy which has led to

calls for greater oversight of the agencies’ work.

Iain Lobban, the director of GCHQ, Britain’s electronic

eavesdropping agency, told lawmakers that intelligence chiefs

were “actively considering” whether more information should

now be shared with the public as a result.

Visibly emotional, he argued however that “certain methods”

should remain secret and cited what he said were specific

examples where the Snowden data leaks had harmed Britain’s

national security.

“We’ve seen terrorist groups in the Middle East, in

Afghanistan and elsewhere in south Asia discussing the revelations

in specific terms,” he said.

“We have actually seen chat around specific terrorist groups

who, even close to home, discuss how to avoid what they now

perceive to be vulnerable communications methods, or how

to select communications which they now perceive not to

be exploitable.”

The fact that the three intelligence chiefs even appeared in

public – the head of MI5, Britain’s domestic security service, was

also present – was a first in Britain.

In the past, such hearings have been behind closed doors and

it was not until 1992 that the name of the head of MI6, formally

known as the Secret Intelligence Service, was publicly known.

Sawers, the current head of MI6, wore a green tie, a nod to a

quirky tradition which means that the person doing his job writes

in green ink and is known internally as “C”.

The hearing, which lasted about 90 minutes, was televised,

albeit with a short delay for security reasons.

Civil liberties groups, parts of the media and lawmakers from

all parties have argued that Snowden’s disclosures about the

scale of GCHQ’s monitoring activities show it has become too

powerful and needs to be reined in.

Prime Minister David Cameron has rejected calls for greater

oversight, arguing that it is already subject to proper scrutiny and

that its work needs to be kept secret to protect national security.

Angered by Snowden’s disclosures, Cameron has accused

the American and British newspapers that have published his

information of assisting Britain’s enemies by helping them to avoid

surveillance by its intelligence agencies.

He has also threatened to stop future publications if necessary.


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