Snowden leaks ‘polluting ongoing investigations’

AP Photo/dpa,Wolfgang Kumm
AP Photo/dpa,Wolfgang Kumm

Intelligence leaks by Edward Snowden had a negative impact on the effectiveness of the UK’s security bodies to fight terrorism and organised crime, a new report has stated.

In the first analysis since the US computer professional leaked classified information from the National Security Agency to the mainstream media, the Henry Jackson Society has found that terrorist suspects are harder to detect, emails take longer to penetrate and operations at GCHQ had to be aborted, the Times reports.

Now instead of using technology such as emails and mobile phones, terrorist suspects are using human couriers in what one US intelligence officer described as the “most significant” change in terrorist behaviour since June 2013 when the files were leaked.

The author of the report, Robin Simcox, said intelligence-gathering strategies had to be altered to counter the information which the terrorists now had available to them.

He wrote that “by revealing information concerning intelligence-gathering techniques”, Snowden had “polluted ongoing operations.”

“As they can no longer be run safely, due to fear of discovery and/or attribution, such intelligence gathering has had to stop.”

And it had had a detrimental effect on the willingness of technology companies to cooperate with requests by security services for data on private communications. A British security official was quoted as saying that due to Snowden’s behaviour, the companies were “disengaging from the security apparatus after years of being helpful within the law.”

According to one official, the public would be ‘shocked’ to learn the limited access the state now had to intercept potential terrorist communications because the big technology companies no longer offered automatic encryptions.

The report backs up the Home Secretary Theresa May who said that Mr Snowden’s behaviour had impacted badly on the operations of the security services. Speaking to the Home affairs select committee, she said “I think it would be fair to say this had an impact not just on agencies in the UK.”

The report details how the head of America’s National Security Agency, Admiral Mike Rogers, had said that the leaks and printing of information across the globe had prompted three al-Qaeda-affiliated organisations to change the way they communicate, hampering the ability of intelligence agencies to monitor their chatter and flag up potential activities.

An issue of an English-language magazine, Inspire, produced by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) provided a public key to access their encryption software programme. Yet the issue after the leaks, it stated that ‘due to technical and security reasons they had ‘suspended their email addresses’.

“If we were previously accessing those emails in order to help track AQAP’s attack planning in both Yemen and the US, that was lost,” Mr Simcox said.