Did Russia, China hack Snowden files?

Did Russia, China hack Snowden files?
© Getty

The British government is under pressure to explain a controversial report over the weekend that claimed Russian and Chinese hackers had cracked a secret cache of intelligence files held by government leaker Edward Snowden.

According to a bombshell story in the Britain-based Sunday Times, United Kingdom officials have pulled intelligence agents out of operations in “hostile countries,” fearing that undercover British and American spies could be identified using the documents.

ADVERTISEMENT

One official even told the paper that Snowden has “blood on his hands” for allowing the hack, although the government said there was “no evidence of anyone being harmed.”

But many are pushing back against numerous details in the piece, which cites unnamed “senior officials” within the British government.

Some have even suggested the article is a government plant to build support for an upcoming surveillance bill. Officials are also facing calls to reform their snooping programs after a government-commissioned independent report concluded the existing oversight system was inadequate.

“We have to treat all of these things with a pinch of salt,” Conservative Party Member of Parliament David Davis told The Guardian about the Times story. “You can see they have been made nervous by [the oversight report]. We have not been given any facts, just assertions.”

Davis is one of two UK lawmakers who filed a lawsuit against the British government over a recent surveillance law that requires Internet companies to retain and decrypt user data at the government’s request.

Glenn Greenwald, one of the journalists who initially met with Snowden, published a response to the Times report, calling it as “shoddy and unreliable as it gets.”

“Worse, its key accusation depends on retraction-level lies,” he added.

The Times story states: “It is not clear whether Russia and China stole Snowden’s data, or whether he voluntarily handed over his secret documents in order to remain at liberty in Hong Kong and Moscow.”

Snowden initially went to Hong Kong to discuss his stolen intelligence files with journalists.

Greenwald pointed out that Snowden “has said unequivocally” that he handed all his files over to journalists during those meetings, taking nothing with him to Moscow, where he now resides in exile.

Already, the Times has removed from the online edition a line about Greenwald’s partner, David Miranda, being detained in late 2013 at Heathrow Airport in London after visiting Snowden in Moscow.

“David did not visit Snowden in Moscow before being detained,” Greenwald said. “As of the time he was detained in Heathrow, David had never been to Moscow and had never met Snowden.”

The files Snowden leaked to journalists in 2013 set off two years of heated discussion in Washington over privacy, civil liberties and surveillance powers.

Congress recently passed its first surveillance reform law, known as the USA Freedom Act, reining in some of the spying programs exposed by the Snowden documents.