Critics question 'convenient', 'ridiculous' Sunday Times story
A SUNDAY TIMES story that the lives of British and US spies may be in danger because Russia and China have hacked into the secret cache of Edward Snowden files has been described as "ridiculous" and a "spectacular coincidence".
The Sunday Times - quoting anonymous senior officials in the British Government and security agencies in Britain - said that British agents have had to be withdrawn from live operations after the two countries hacked into the American whistleblower's files.
But the director of a major human rights group and privacy campaigner Shami Chakrabarti has questioned the timing of the report - which appeared just days after a major report on terrorism legislation was published in Britain.
David Anderson, the official reviewer of terrorism legislation, called for comprehensive legal reform of British Government surveillance and new judicial oversight in a move which has been welcomed by Mr Chakrabarti's group, Liberty.
The review - commissioned in the wake of the Snowden revelations - said the framework allowing spy agencies' powers to collect communications data in bulk was "undemocratic" and must be entirely rewritten.
Writing in the Guardian today, Mr Chakrabarti says: “Rumblings from No 10 immediately betrayed they were less than happy with many of Anderson’s recommendations – particularly his call for judicial oversight. And three days later, the empire strikes back…
“Low on facts, high on assertions, this flimsy but impeccably timed story gives us a clear idea of where Government spin will go in the coming weeks.”
And the American journalist Glenn Greenwald, who worked on the Snowden story for The Guardian, said on Twitter: "If you're someone who believes anonymously voiced self-serving govt claims, you're dumb. If you're a journalist who prints it, you're worse.”
Mr Greenwald also went on CNN to criticise the story.
“This is the kind of reporting that single-handedly destroyed the credibility of journalism around the world," he said.
“People are smart enough by now to know that when you read in the paper accusations and smears from the Government who are too cowardly to put their names to it, this is all anonymous officials…
"People know by now that’s completely unreliable, shoddy journalism.”
He said it was a “ridiculous story” which was also “filled with lies”.
The Sunday Times front page said Snowden downloaded 1.7m secret documents when working as a contractor for the US National Security Agency - but that Russia and China have 'cracked' the encryption on the files and this has forced the intelligence agency MI6 to take agents out of hostile countries.
Mr Chakrabati adds:"... [When] it comes to responding to criticism, the approach of the Conservative leadership has been the same for some time: shut down all debate by branding Snowden – or anyone else who dares question the security agencies – as an enemy of the state and an apologist for terror".
Snowden triggered a wave of controversy when he leaked tens of thousands of documents about surveillance programmes run by the NSA and foreign counterparts in 2013.
He fled to Hong Kong where he met journalists to co-ordinate a series of articles that exposed mass surveillance programmes such as the NSA's Prism and GCHQ's Tempora, which involve "hoovering up" vast volumes of private communications.
Once Snowden's identity was revealed, he fled to Russia, and he remains wanted by the US authorities.
In his review, Mr Anderson called for security services and police to keep intrusive powers to combat terrorism and serious crime but urged the Government to draw up "comprehensive and comprehensible" new legislation - including switching authorisation from ministers to judges.
The Sunday Times quoted a senior British Home Office source as saying: "(Russian president Vladimir) 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 was quoted as saying: "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."