MI5 chief Andrew Parker: Edward Snowden's GCHQ leaks gave terrorists 'the gift to evade us and strike at will'

MI5 chief Andrew Parker has spoken out about the damage caused to national security by the publication of secret data

Leaks of secrets by Edward Snowden, the former US intelligence official, have gravely endangered national security and given terrorist groups like al-Qa’ida “the gift they need to evade us and strike at will”, the head of MI5 has warned in his first public address since taking office.

Andrew Parker, the director-general, said that the information given away by Mr Snowden - much of it to The Guardian newspaper - posed a particular threat to the work of GCHQ, the government’s communications intelligence gathering centre. “What we know about the terrorists and the details of the capabilities we use against them together represent our margin of advantage. That margin gives us the prospect of being able to detect their plots and stop them,” he stressed.

“But that margin is under attack. GCHQ intelligence has played a vital role in stopping many of the terrorist plots that MI5 and the police have tackled in the past decade. It causes enormous damage to make public the reach and limits of GCHQ techniques. Such information hands the advantage to the terrorists.” Mr Parker, who led the investigation into the 7/7 bombings, has decided to focus on this issue of leaks because he is said to believe it was one of the most crucial being faced on matters of public safety. In doing so, he has become one of the most senior officials to speak out in robust terms about the extent of the damage the government and Britain’s security and intelligence services hold has been caused by the publication of material supplied by Mr Snowden.

The undermining of security from the leaks comes, said Mr Parker, at a time when the terrorist threat to the UK has “become more diversified… more diffuse; more complicated; more unpredictable”. He added: “It remains the case there are several thousand Islamist extremists here who see the British people as a legitimate target”.

Jihad in Syria has become a major source of concern, Mr Parker continued. “A growing proportion of our casework now has some link to Syria, mostly concerning individuals from the UK who have travelled to fight there or have aspired to do so. Al Nusrah and other extremist Sunni groups there, aligned with al-Qa’ida, aspire to attack Western countries.”

Speaking at the Royal United Services Institute in London, Mr Parker pointed out the statistics of the threat from terrorism faced by the UK. The “plain facts”, he said, were that “from 11 September 2001 to the end of March this year, 330 people were convicted of terrorism related- offences in Britain… In the first few months of this year, there were four major trials related to terrorist plots. Since 2000, we have seen serious major acts of terrorism in this country typically once or twice a year.”

The Director-General of MI5, Andrew Parker, describes the leaks as a 'gift' to terrorists The Director-General of MI5, Andrew Parker, describes the leaks as a 'gift' to terrorists  

Mr Snowden, a former consultant with the CIA and NSA, claims that he disseminated vast amounts of material, believed to be 58,000 items, to expose secret mass surveillance by the state. The US and British governments dispute that leaks were in the public interest; one senior Whitehall official maintained that it amounted to “providing a handbook for terrorists on avoiding detection”.

Mr Parker insisted: “The law requires that we only collect and access information that we really need to perform our functions. In some quarters there seems to be a vague notion that we monitor everyone and all their communications, browsing at will through peoples’ private lives for anything that looks interesting. That is, of course, utter nonsense.”

Even when it came to suspects, Mr Parker said: “Knowing of an individual does not equate to knowing everything about them. Being on our radar does not necessarily mean being under our microscope: the reality of intelligence work in practice is that we only focus the most intense intrusive attention on a small number of cases at any time.”

The UK “has one of the most developed and effective set of counter-terrorist capabilities and arrangements in the world”, Mr Parker added, and it was “not the product of some clever consultant on a management away-day with a marker pen”.

The director-general insisted that checks and balances were in place against excesses by the security service and also stressed the need to ensure there is no political interference. “The idea we either can or would want to operate intensive scrutiny of thousands is fanciful. This is not East Germany, or North Korea and thank goodness for that”, said Mr Parker. “ It is critically important to the sort of country we all want to live that organisations like this do not have free rein and equally that we are not politically directed. I am in charge of operations, but [I] am accountable to the Home Secretary. She in turn is accountable to Parliament and the British people.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive / Business Development Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity to develop an ...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Middleweight

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: One of the South East's fastest growing full s...

Guru Careers: Marketing Manager / Marketing Communications Manager

£35-40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Communicati...

Recruitment Genius: Commercial Engineer

£30000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Estimating, preparation of tech...

Day In a Page

Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor