Terrorists are 'lapping up' Snowden leaks, warn spy chiefs
TERRORISTS are "rubbing their hands with glee" over the leaking of tactics used by security services, the UK's three leading spy chiefs warned.
Subversives around the world are already changing their methods because of the disclosures by 'The Guardian' newspaper, MPs were told.
Al-Qa'ida and other fanatics were "lapping up" the exposing of UK spying techniques, which had put operations at risk and caused damage that would last for years, the leaders said.
The GCHQ files were stolen from the US National Security Agency (NSA) by a former CIA contractor, Edward Snowden, and exposed in 'The Guardian'.
The warnings were made during a historic parliamentary hearing in which the heads of the three spy agencies, MI5, MI6 and GCHQ, gave evidence in public for the first time.
They used the session to attack the ongoing revelations, adding that their job was now "far, far harder" than it was five months ago.
During the 90-minute session before the intelligence and security committee (ISC), Andrew Parker, the director general of MI5, disclosed that 34 terrorist plots against the UK had been foiled since the July 7 outrage in 2005 but there were "several thousand" extremists still in the UK.
John Sawers, the chief of MI6, stressed his spies were not "James Bonds" who operated in isolation in the field.
And Iain Lobban, the director of GCHQ, rejected claims that the security and intelligence agencies wanted sweeping surveillance powers so they could snoop on every citizen.
The GCHQ leaks have drawn criticism from the prime minister, deputy prime minister and home secretary, all of whom warned they have made the country less safe.
Last month, Mr Parker said the leaks had been a "gift" for terrorists that allowed them to attack the UK "at will".
But yesterday was the first time his two colleagues, and in particular the head of the agency at the centre of the row, had spoken publicly on the issue.
Mr Sawers said: "What I can tell you is that the leaks from Snowden have been very damaging; they have put our operations at risk. It is clear that our adversaries are rubbing their hands with glee. Al-Qa'ida is lapping it up."
He said, as a result, "it becomes more difficult to acquire the intelligence that this country needs" and questioned whether journalists were "particularly well placed" to make judgments about the effects of their reports.
Mr Lobban, who as head of GCHQ is feeling the direct fallout from the row, warned there was evidence terrorists were already reacting to the disclosures, making it harder for them to be detected.
"What we have seen over the last five months is near daily discussion amongst some of our targets.
"We've seen terrorist groups in the Middle East, in Afghanistan and elsewhere in south Asia discussing the revelations in specific terms; in terms of the communications packages that they use, the communications packages that they wish to move to," he said.
'The Guardian' columnist Jonathan Freedland told BBC Radio 4's PM that the newspaper had published just 0.07pc of the Snowden documents and the whole cache could have appeared on the internet had it not run the story. (© Daily Telegraph, London)