Russia and China have been able to access the top-secret documents stolen by Edward Snowden, and Britain has been forced to pull back some of its spies to prevent them from being exposed or even killed, The Times of London reports.
A senior Home Office official said Snowden has "blood on his hands," though Prime Minister David Cameron's office insisted there is "no evidence of anyone being harmed," the Times reported.
Sir David Omand, former director of British intelligence agency Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), called Russia and China's access to the documents a "huge strategic setback" that was "harming" to Britain, the United States and all of NATO.
Snowden, a former National Security Agency contractor, walked away with up to 1.7 million documents detailing the NSA's spying program in 2013, U.S. officials have said. He was in Hong Kong when he revealed what he had done through journalists Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras and currently is living under asylum in Russia after the United States revoked his passport as he was attempting to go to Ecuador.
He has since set off a debate within the United States on whether he helped protect Americans' privacy or hampered spy efforts against terrorists. The bulk collection of telephone metadata has become such a thorny political issue that the Patriot Act, which has been used to justify the collection, was allowed to expire at the end of May and was replaced with rules that are more restrictive on what the government can collect and access without a specific warrant.
"Why do you think Snowden ended up in Russia?" a senior Home Office source told the Times. Russian President Vladimir "Putin didn’t give him asylum for nothing. His documents were encrypted but they weren’t completely secure and we have now seen our agents and assets being targeted."
The source said Snowden has done "incalculable damage" and that "In some cases the agencies have been forced to intervene and lift their agents from operations to prevent them from being identified and killed."
The Times quoted a U.S. intelligence source as saying the damage done by Snowden was "far greater than what has been admitted."
Greenwald, who helped Snowden get his story out, blasted the report on Twitter and in an lengthy article in The Intercept.
He said it contained multiple inaccuracies. He also was critical of journalists trusting anonymous sources inside the government.
"Unless he cooked an extra-juicy steak, how does Snowden “have blood on his hands” if there is 'no evidence of anyone being harmed?'" Greenwald wrote. "As one observer put it last night in describing the government instructions these Sunday Times journalists appear to have obeyed: 'There’s no evidence anyone’s been harmed but we’d like the phrase ‘blood on his hands’ somewhere in the piece.'"
"The whole article does literally nothing other than quote anonymous British officials," Greenwald continued. "It gives voice to banal but inflammatory accusations that are made about every whistleblower from Daniel Ellsberg to Chelsea Manning. It offers zero evidence or confirmation for any of its claims."
Snowden insisted in 2013 that "no intelligence service" could "compromise the secrets I continue to protect," the Times noted, but added that since then western intelligence agencies have said they have found it harder to monitor terrorists and other criminals.
"From the documents that Snowden has it will be possible to identify those very brave people in countries where if you spy for Britain you get killed," Professor Anthony Glees of the University of Buckingham's Centre for Security and Intelligence Studies told the BBC.
"Edward Snowden is not only a villain, he's a villain of the first order."
Shami Chakrabarti, director of the U.K. civil liberties group Liberty, said that if Snowden had been pardoned "for doing what many in the United States (consider) to be a public service in revealing the sheer extent of mass surveillance he wouldn't have needed to go to Russia."
Snowden has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for the past two years and is a hero among many civil libertarians. GOP presidential candidate and U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, has said Snowden deserves leniency and that his actions have led to reforms, but has stopped short of calling him a hero.
Downing Street told the French Press Agency on Sunday that they "don't comment on intelligence matters" while the Foreign Office said: "We can neither confirm or deny these reports."
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