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British spies in danger?

June 14, 2015

Britain has moved some of its spies after Russia and China accessed top-secret documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, media reports say. No one is thought to have been harmed.

Snowden Unterstützer in Berlin 04.07.2013
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

British media reported on Saturday that Britain's intelligence service MI6 has moved some agents for their own protection, after Russia and China cracked top-secret information contained in the files stolen and leaked by American intelligence whistleblower Edward Snowden.

The Sunday Times cited senior government officials as saying agents had been pulled out of live operations in hostile countries, after it became apparent that Russia had managed to decrypt more than one million files. It quoted other government sources as saying that China had also accessed the documents, which contain information that could allow spies to be uncovered.

"It is the case that Russians and Chinese have information. It has meant agents have had to be moved and that knowledge of how we operate has stopped us getting vital information," a Downing Street source told the paper.

However, the paper quoted the source as saying that there was "no evidence of anyone being harmed."

Disturbing revelations

Snowden took the documents while working in the USA as a contractor at the CIA and National Security Agency.

The information he leaked to the press in 2013 about the extent of the NSA's surveillance of citizens' telephone and internet records caused worldwide indignation and prompted some reforms in the US.

But US officials have long warned that some of the documents obtained by Snowden could also endanger national security, despite his previous claims that "no intelligence service" could crack the documents "even in the highest threat counter-intelligence environments."

The US wants Snowden to stand trial for espionage. He is currently living in Russia after being granted asylum there in 2013.

German repercussions

Snowden's revelations about the widespread nature of NSA surveillance have also unleashed considerable controversy in Germany.

A parliamentary committee is currently looking into the extent of the cooperation between the NSA and Germany's own intelligence service, the BND, after media reports that the two agencies spied on European targets and government officials.

tj/jr (AFP, Reuters, dpa)