Britain's intelligence chiefs used their first ever joint public appearance together to complain that documents leaked by former U.S. intelligence operative Edward Snowden had put secret operations at risk and were being ‘lapped up’ by al Qaeda, posted from Reuters today.
In an unprecedented evidence session before parliamentarians that local media likened to a scene from a James Bond film, the heads of Britain's three main intelligence agencies said Snowden's disclosures about mass surveillance had prompted them to consider being more open about what they do in order to make the public aware of the great risks being secured by them.
Britain’s intelligence work of MI6 and their joint work with the NSA were essential to remain secretive for their effectiveness to defeating terrorist attacks. In reference to the Snowden leaks, ‘They’ve put our operations at risk,’ John Sawers, the head of MI6, Britain's foreign intelligence service, told a parliamentary committee on Friday.
‘It's clear that our adversaries are rubbing their hands with glee, al Qaeda is lapping it up,’ added Sawers.
The robust nature of his comments underlined how angry intelligence chiefs are about Snowden and what they believe is the irresponsible way some newspapers published his information despite warnings not to do so.
Iain Lobban, the director of GCHQ, Britain's electronic eavesdropping agency, told lawmakers that intelligence chiefs were ‘actively considering’ whether more information should now be shared with the public, while certain methods should remain secret. He cited specific examples where the Snowden data leaks had harmed national security.
‘We have actually seen chat around specific terrorist groups who, even close to home, discuss how to avoid what they now perceive to be vulnerable communications methods, or how to select communications which they now perceive not to be exploitable,’ stated Lobban.
He also defended the use of surveillance. Lobban said that the GCHQ did not spend its time listening to the phone calls or reading the emails of most Britons, saying it would be illegal to do so and that it only acted in very specific cases.
What made this a highly rare occasions to be noted is that never before have the three intelligence chiefs even appeared in public, The head of MI5, Britain's domestic security service, joined MI6 and GCHQ at the meeting which has never occurred in Britain.
In the past, such hearings have been behind closed doors and it was not until 1992 that the name of the head of MI6, formally known as the Secret Intelligence Service, was publicly known.
Sawers, the current head of MI6, wore a green tie, a nod to a quirky tradition which means that the person doing his job writes in green ink and is known internally as ‘C’.
The hearing, which lasted about 90 minutes, was televised, albeit with a short delay for security reasons.
Interestingly, Andrew Parker, the head of MI5, told lawmakers there were ‘several thousand’ people in Britain who supported or were engaged in violent extremism, saying that some were interested in committing ‘spectaculars’ - a term for attacks causing mass casualties.
Britain according to Parker had thwarted over 34 terrorist attacks since 2005, he added that the vast majority of those plots were planned by British residents.
Close to home the IRA was a ‘bygone’ era and threats were related to Al Qaeda according to Parker.
To view more articles on Snowden, Cyber-attacks and other related articles, see the list in the Author’s suggestions below and the video atop this with British Prime Minister David Cameron.