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Out from the cold: Snowden leaks forced British spies’ pullout from Russia, China - report

Out from the cold: Snowden leaks forced British spies’ pullout from Russia, China - report
The British MI6 secret service had to suspend operations of its field agents due to imminent exposure in “hostile” countries such as Russia and China, caused by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden's leaks, the Sunday Times reports.

The Sunday Times alleges that both Moscow and Beijing have succeeded in cracking top-secret encrypted documents leaked by Snowden and thus learnt MI6’s methods.

The British media outlet cited unnamed officials in Prime Minister David Cameron’s office, the Home Office and national security services.

An official in PM Cameron’s cabinet said that as far as he knew there was “no evidence of anyone being harmed,” although allegedly Britain had been deprived of the opportunity to get the information it wanted.

READ MORE: Desperately seeking spies: British intelligence is advertising for Russian-speaking spooks

“It is the case that the 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,” the Sunday Times was told.

At the same time, another senior British official said Snowden had “blood on his hands.”

Russia and China will be going through Snowden’s material “for years to come,” in order to find clues to identify potential agents, a British intelligence source told the media outlet.

“Snowden has done incalculable damage,” he said, saying evacuation of agents was a forced necessity because otherwise they would have been “identified and killed.”

Russia and China gaining access to Snowden’s material became a “huge strategic setback” that harmed Britain, America and other NATO member states, said Sir David Omand, the former director of GCHQ.

READ MORE: GCHQ more dangerous to privacy than NSA – Snowden

The damage caused by Snowden was “far greater than what has been admitted,” a US intelligence source told the Sunday Times.

In an email to a former US Senator written in July 2013, Snowden said one of his specializations was “to teach our people at DIA how to keep such information from being compromised even in the highest threat counter-intelligence environments (i.e. China).”

“No intelligence service—not even our own—has the capacity to compromise the secrets I continue to protect,” the fugitive whistleblower said.

The Sunday Times reports that not only British agents, but spies of other Western agencies were evacuated from the countries they operated in on security grounds.

READ MORE: US, UK officials worry Snowden still has ‘doomsday’ collection of classified material

Former US National Security Services contractor Edward Snowden, who fled to Russia via Hong Kong in June 2013, is believed to have collected some 1.7 million documents from US government computers. He has leaked them to journalists in order to secure "privacy and basic liberties" worldwide.

Edward Snowden was granted asylum in Russia in August 2013.

Scandalous revelations about indiscriminate global mass surveillance sparked mass outrage from people and governments around the world. As a result of this unprecedented intelligence leak, the NSA and British GCHQ became the most affected agencies. They had to completely rethink their information security procedures.

'Attempt to gag Snowden, other whistleblowers'

Lode Vanoost, the former deputy speaker of the Belgian parliament, said the so-called report is speculation used every now and then to make sure public opinion is influenced against Snowden’s revelations.

The only thing I wonder about when I hear these so-called revelations is why now? This is absolutely no surprise, it is standard procedure when you attack the messenger and not talk about the message,” he told RT.

“If they claim that agents had to be replaced or were put in harm’s way, well agents and spies are being moved all the time for lots of reasons, so is it any different from before? We don’t know that, it’s merely speculative,” he added.

READ MORE: Assange: NSA, GCHQ’s ability to surveil everyone on planet ‘almost here’

Matteo Bergamini, from the alternative news network Shout Out UK, said these allegations are harmful only to one person and that is Snowden, “who has done a service to democracy.”

“The British and US governments can’t spy on their own citizens as easily as they did beforehand. I don’t see how he has blood on his hands. It’s about making the person [Snowden] seem like a criminal and other whistleblowers, and stopping them doing this again,” he told RT.

The former British ambassador to Uzbekistan and whistleblower, Craig Murray, who was fired in 2004 over his claims of British complicity in torture, rejected the Sunday Times’ claims as nonsense, saying that even the source the paper is citing looks somewhat fake.

“The argument that MI6 officers are at danger of being killed by the Russians or Chinese is a nonsense,” Murray wrote in his blog. “Agents’ – generally local people, as opposed to MI6 officers – identities would not be revealed in the Snowden documents. Rule No.1 in both the CIA and MI6 is that agents’ identities are never, ever written down, neither their names nor a description that would allow them to be identified.”

Moreover, Murray says the alleged Downing Street source quoted by the Sunday Times made a “schoolboy mistake” confusing officers and agents. “MI6 is staffed by officers. Their informants are agents. In real life, James Bond would not be a secret agent. He would be an MI6 officer. Those whose knowledge comes from fiction frequently confuse the two.”