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Reaction: Spy chiefs claim Snowden leaks led to ‘sudden darkening’


The heads of MI5, MI6 and GCHQ yesterday told MPs that the information leaked to the press by Edward Snowden, a former employee of the NSA, had significantly compromised their operations.

Appearing in front of the Intelligence and Security Committee, MI6 chief Sir John Sawers said that the revelations had been "lapped up" by Al-Qaida, while Sir Ian Lobban of GCHQ added that they had caused a "sudden darkening" of intelligence, as suspects changed their communication habits.

Today's papers had this to say:

In The Independent Donald Macintyre wrote "sessions like these often leave unanswered questions. But this left unasked ones too".

As expected, the spy chiefs would not reveal which aspect of their work had suffered from the information leaked by Snowden. They said they would discuss it only in private.

But Macintyre probes further; "In the face of Sir John’s denial to Labour’s Hazel Blears that MI6 was complicit in torture – while admitting that “our people were not trained” for the new threat after 9/11 – no one on the committee was indelicate enough to raise the case of Binyam Mohamed, in which the High Court evidence told a different story."

"Perhaps this was because this very same committee had failed to uncover the truth about rendition."

The Telegraph praised the conduct of the intelligence chiefs in an editorial:

"Overall, they gave a good account of themselves and will have helped to puncture the notion that simply because something is secret it must also be sinister."

"Furthermore, when it comes to a choice between their public-spirited attitude and the sanctimony of self‑appointed security guardians such as Snowden and his mouthpiece Glenn Greenwald, we know where the sympathies of most people lie."

The Guardian, which broke the Snowden story and has been filtering the leaks ever since, takes an opposed view, defending the paper's conduct in an editorial:

"The intelligence agencies were saved from true catastrophe by only one thing: the fact that Snowden didn't dump the material on to the web, but handed it instead to journalists.

"Together with the New York Times and Washington Post, we have worked carefully and responsibly (in consultation with governments and agencies) to disclose a small proportion of what he leaked."