Snowden leaks 'worst ever loss to British intelligence'

Sir David Omand Sir David called the leaks the "most catastrophic ever"

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Leaked surveillance programme details have been the "most catastrophic loss to British intelligence ever", a senior UK security expert has said.

Former No 10 adviser Sir David Omand said he assumed data leaked by ex-US intelligence worker Edward Snowden was being analysed by Russia and China.

He said the breach was worse than that by the Cambridge spy ring in the 1950s.

The Guardian has said it will continue to publish leaks by Mr Snowden, who is now in Russia.

Meanwhile, Business Secretary Vince Cable said the newspaper had performed "a very considerable public service" - appearing to contradict his party leader Nick Clegg who described the publication of the leaks as damaging.

But former Home Secretary Jack Straw hit out at the Guardian saying its stance was "indulgent irresponsibility" which did not help protect the public.

'Proper oversight'

Sir David, the former head of the UK's communications surveillance centre GCHQ, told the Times: "You have to distinguish between the original whistleblowing intent to get a debate going, which is a responsible thing to do, and the stealing of 58,000 top-secret British security documents and who knows how many American documents, which is seriously, seriously damaging.

"The assumption the experts are working on is that all that information or almost all of it will now be in the hands of Moscow and Beijing.

"It's the most catastrophic loss to British intelligence ever, much worse than Burgess and Maclean."

Donald Duart Maclean and Guy Burgess were among a group of British officials who met at Cambridge University and passed information to the Soviet Union during World War II and into the 1950s, other notable members being Kim Philby and Anthony Blunt.

In May, Mr Snowden leaked information to the Guardian about mass surveillance programmes such as the US National Security Agency's Prism and GCHQ's Tempora operations.

Cambridge Spies Donald Maclean, left, and Guy Burgess, right Maclean, left, and Burgess passed western secrets to the Soviet Union.

Mr Cable told BBC Radio 4' Today programme: "I think Mr Snowden's contribution is two-fold. One is a positive one - the whistleblowing, the other is more worrying which is a large amount of genuinely important intelligence material does seem to have been passed across.

"We do need to have proper political oversight of the intelligence services and arguably we haven't until now."

On Thursday, Deputy Prime Minister Mr Clegg said stories in the Guardian about GCHQ "would have been of immense interest to people who want harm".

There was however a legitimate debate to be had about the use of mass surveillance programmes, he added.

Earlier this year, the government's Intelligence and Security committee's powers to scrutinise the work of the security services were increased.

But a source close to Mr Clegg denied a suggestion made by Mr Cable on Today that the deputy prime minister was seeking a specific review of the system of political oversight of the intelligence services.

He said that in the coming months there would only be discussions within government about some of the issues thrown up the Snowden case.

Mr Straw's comments came in an interview to be broadcast on the BBC's Sunday Politics Wales.

He said the Guardian had a "sense of power of having these secrets and excitement... about these secrets has gone to their heads".

"They are blinding themselves about the consequence and also showing an extraordinary naivety and arrogance in implying that they are in a position to judge whether or not particular secrets which they publish are - are or not - likely to damage the national interest," said Mr Straw.

Temporary asylum

On Tuesday the director general of the security service MI5, Andrew Parker, warned in a speech the disclosure of the "reach and limits" of GCHQ's capabilities was a "gift" to terrorists.

Mr Parker dismissed suggestions that the agencies were trawling through people's private lives for anything that looked interesting as "utter nonsense".

Asked about Mr Parker's suggestion, Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger said: "They will always say that. You read histories of intelligence and you go back to the 1990s and the security people were saying the same."

Mr Snowden has been given temporary asylum in Russia. In the US, he faces charges of theft of government property, unauthorised communication of national defence information and wilful communication of classified intelligence.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 1041.

    I wonder if the US and GB govts would be so up in arms about such a disgraceful act of treason if it had been a Russian or Chinese person giving us their secrets?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1040.

    Do people really thing that each and everyone of their emails, online food orders, message board posts, ebay purchases etc..and their post and telephone calls are being read by GCHQ? Even with the technology we have now it would be impossible for this to happen for each and every one of us. If this was true, then there would be no unemployment...and much much more "leaks"....

  • rate this

    Comment number 1039.

    Anyone leaking secret documents should be prosecuted with the potential of long prison sentences. The same should also apply to the press.

    Some leaks will put peoples in danger and this cannot be allowed.

    If you work with classified information you sign the official secrets act and you should obey the act.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1038.

    1014.internet opinion analyst
    Try downloading from EZTV oh hang on our government shut the site down to UK visitors at the behest of American TV companies, information is not free online have you tried the times website without a subscription recently?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1037.

    Seems that Snowden has been funded by WikiLeaks. But who is funding WikiLeaks? It seems a shame, according the WSJ, that -

    "WikiLeaks's lack of financial transparency stands in contrast to the total transparency it seeks from governments and corporations."

  • rate this

    Comment number 1036.


    "The system has a fault when i pressed a negitive vote for Simon 182 it went up 3 points so I pressed it again and it went up 3 again to 6 both times it changed with my vote"

    BBC.Gov often shows unusual disparities in the comment rating system. However, be prepared to be labelled a conspiracy theorist for raising the truth.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1035.

    Yes Stuart 1022

    Both times I pressed it for negatively for1 it went up 3 points at exactly the same time ,you do have blind faith and call ME an idiot !!

    Ill bet you would even agree with 982

  • rate this

    Comment number 1034.


    "Politicians, both US and UK,use 'on my watch,' ashmoreth.
    They regard a 'democratically' elected condition as a military rule.
    What do you think they want all this personal data on citizens for?
    Join the dots."

    Oh my god, you're right !

    But that probably means they've worked out by now that I have Coco Pops for breakfast and not Shreddies !

    Run !

  • rate this

    Comment number 1033.

    @993.Come the Glorious Day

    I actually I'm working too, 5 days a week. That I'm capable of doing more than one thing at a time shows my intellectual superiority on top of my moral superiority. The point of me claiming this superiority is to show that actually I'm not that left wing, in general they insistance all men/women are equal. Things are more complex than you think.

  • Comment number 1032.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1031.

    I worked at GCHQ for a while...I cannot tell you what I was doing otherwise I would have to kill you all..but I will now reveal an astounding secret.

    The Pasties they served in the canteen were absolutely magnificent and the best pasties I had ever had...they even provided the HP sauce...wonderful.
    I have never seen their like again!

    Do I have to go to Russia now?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1030.

    Why is it ok for governments to invade our privacy with no debate from us, yet, it is illegal of civil servants, who should be answerable to the general public, to report their information to us ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1029.

    What would it be like to be the possessor of infinite, absolute control? The first thought is that it would be akin to being a god, at least as gods are normally perceived. With a good deal more thought and more intuition it hit me like a bolt out of the blue. It would be death. Absolute, perfect control is in the coffin. Control requires denial of life.

    Dee Hock

  • rate this

    Comment number 1028.

    Politicians, both US and UK,use 'on my watch,' ashmoreth.

    They regard a 'democratically' elected condition as a military rule.

    What do you think they want all this personal data on citizens for?

    Join the dots.

    Cf. new US/UKlegislation now in the stack which allows arrest by NCA on suspicion only.

    Democracy and secrecy are antithetical.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1027.

    Now that Vince Cable, a member of the cabinet, has come out in support of Snowden and The Guardian, this discussion is effectively closed.

    Sorry Mr Dacre !

  • rate this

    Comment number 1026.

    "Even Snowden's revelations in The Guardian that British intelligence had spied on delegates at two G20 summits passed under most editors' radars, though The Times did cover the story. Most papers, however, turned a blind eye."

    Belgacom Attack: Britain's GCHQ Hacked Belgian Telecoms Firm

    -- ┬┤The Island of the Uninformed`--is the only logical conclusion.

    --sad but true.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1025.

    The guardian and the beeb are vindicated, Vince agrees with them. I'm not sure he actually does, but that is what the headlines says anyway. So it must be true.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1024.

    Makes me laugh that very low level employees such as Bradly Manning & Edward Snowden were able to download vast amounts of US state secrets & yet people still believe that the US government is capable of maintaining cover ups over consparacy theories such as 9/11.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1023.

    Total c**p, The Cambridge spies disclosed content, Snowden is talking about process, entirely different. The Cambridge spies should have been executed under the treason laws, all Snowden will get is media stardom and some money , a lot of money... Anybody with a brain can figure out that all internet traffic can be read by the authorities if they want to.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1022.


    You are an idiot. You are not the only person voting.


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