China and Russia have decoded intelligence secrets contained in the cache of documents held by the whistleblower Edward Snowden, leading to British spies being recalled from dangerous postings, according to government officials.
Whitehall aides said operatives have had to be moved after Moscow gained access to more than 1m intelligence documents held by Mr Snowden, who fled to Russia after leaking some of those documents to the Guardian newspaper. They added that Beijing had also cracked the encrypted documents.
Officials said moving agents had prevented the UK getting important information, although they added that nobody had been harmed by the security breach.
One home office official told the Sunday Times newspaper that Mr Snowden had “blood on his hands” as a result of the leak. Downing Street and the Home Office official told the Sunday Times: “His documents were encrypted but they weren’t completely secure and we have now seen our agents and assets being targeted.”
Mr Snowden, who worked for the National Security Agency, triggered a manhunt by the American security agencies after leaking information about the mass collection of online data by agencies in both the US and the UK.
The ramifications of those revelations continue to be felt. This month, the US Senate voted to bar the government from collecting phone records from millions of its citizens, while still awarding security agencies tools to collect other online information for terrorism-related investigations.
The news about the Russian and Chinese decryption comes days after a report by David Anderson QC into the government’s terrorism legislation, which recommended that British intelligence agencies should be allowed to continue to collect bulk internet data as long as warrants are approved by judges rather than ministers.