Russia 'could expose British agents to its allies after Snowden files cracked'
British intelligence agents have been moved "to prevent them from being identified and killed" after Russia and China managed to decipher files taken by Edward Snowden, according to reports
Russia may expose British intelligence agents to its allies around the world after Kremlin spies have reportedly cracked the top-secret cache of files stolen by the fugitive US whistle blower Edward Snowden, a former security minister has said.
The British intelligence agency MI6 has been forced to pull agents out of live operations in hostile countries, after Moscow gained access to more than 1 million classified files held by the former American security contractor.
Senior government sources say China has also cracked the encrypted documents, which contain secret intelligence techniques and information that could allow British and American spies to be identified, the Sunday Times reported.
As well as potentially endangering agents in Russia or China, Lord West, a former security minister and First Sea Lord, said the intelligence could be shared with Russian allies such as Bashar al-Assad in Syria.
“The Russians would do that if it was of benefit to them,” he said.
Agents in the Middle East are at risk one Russia expert said, because of long-standing intelligence sharing with the Kremlin’s allies and proxies in the area.
The disclosure came days after a review ordered in the wake of Mr Snowden’s allegations about the extent of Britain’s eavesdropping called for a complete overhaul of rules surrounding surveillance powers.
Andrew Mitchell, the former Tory cabinet minister, said it was "no accident" it had come in the wake of last week’s review by David Anderson QC, and amid controversy over the revival of communications interception legislation dubbed a "snoopers' charter”.
Asked if the disclosure of Russia and China breaking the Snowden files was part of a Government propaganda drive, he said: "Well, there is a big debate going on, you know.”
Sir David Omand, a former director of GCHQ, said Russia and China gaining access to Snowden’s material was a "huge strategic setback" that was "harming" to Britain, America and their Nato allies.
While Downing Street said there was no evidence of “anyone being harmed” by the intelligence, a senior Home Office official accused Snowden of having “blood on his hands”.
A British intelligence source added: "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."
Snowden has previously said his files were encrypted and could not be uncoded by any intelligence agencies.
Lord West described Mr Snowden as “a slightly foolish traitor”. He added: "If it was wartime, he would have been shot".
He said the information would be also be vital in Eastern Europe. He said Vladimir Putin would now be seeing “all sorts of intelligence which will enable him to see what we are doing, how we are doing it and enable him to be one step ahead”, he said.
Dr Igor Sutyagin, a Russia expert at the Royal United Services Institute, said he expected that British agents in the Middle East could have been affected.
He said: “I suspect that now when Britain says that they pull people out of hostile nations, that’s not Russia or China, that’s something like Lebanon or Syria.”
He said there had been a “very, very close connection between Russia, Syria and Hezbollah” in the past.
“In Russia, most probably the security agency would never kill British agents, but somewhere in the unstable Third World, they might use their proxies or allies and say, look this agent is British, as a kind of present.”
Shami Chakrabarti, director of campaign group Liberty, said: "Last week, David Anderson's thoughtful report called for urgent reform of snooping laws – that would not have been possible without Snowden's revelations.
"Days later, an 'unnamed Home Office source' is accusing him of having blood on his hands. The timing of this exclusive story from the securocrats seems extremely convenient."