UK says Snowden leaks hurt its national security, could expose spies

Copies of the Guardian newspaper are displayed at a news agent in London August 21 2013. REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett

LONDON | Fri Aug 30, 2013 10:46am EDT

(Reuters) – Leaks by a fugitive U.S. intelligence contractor have damaged Britain’s national security, and the data he gave journalists includes information that might expose the identities of British spies, a government official told the High Court in London.

The official said Brazilian David Miranda, the partner of a Guardian newspaper journalist, was carrying a computer hard-drive containing 58,000 highly classified intelligence documents when he was detained at Heathrow airport earlier this month.

Miranda’s partner Glenn Greenwald has led the Guardian’s coverage of leaks from Edward Snowden, a former contractor at the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA), about U.S. and British surveillance of phone and Internet users.

In a written statement to the court at Friday’s hearing, Oliver Robbins, Britain’s Deputy National Security Adviser for Intelligence, Security and Resilience, said media stories about the documents seized from Miranda had already caused harm.

“It is worth reiterating the point that real damage has in fact already been done to UK national security by media revelations,” he said.

“A particular concern for HMG (the British government) is the possibility that the identity of a UK intelligence officer might be revealed. It is known that contained in the seized material is personal information that would allow staff to be identified, including those deployed overseas.”

He also said that Miranda and others had shown “very poor judgment in their security arrangements” by making passwords to the material easily accessible.

Miranda’s lawyer, Gwendolen Morgan, accused UK authorities of making “sweeping and vague assertions about national security.”

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David Miranda was carrying password for secret files on piece of paper

A journalist’s partner who was detained carrying thousands of British intelligence documents through Heathrow airport was also holding the password to an encrypted file written on a piece of paper, the government has disclosed.

A senior Cabinet Office security adviser said Glenn Greenwald, left, and David Miranda had 'demonstrated very poor judgement in their security arrangements'

A senior Cabinet Office security adviser said Glenn Greenwald, left, and David Miranda had ‘demonstrated very poor judgement in their security arrangements’ Photo: RICARDO MORAES/REUTERS

In a written statement handed to the High Court in London, a senior Cabinet Office security adviser said it showed “very poor judgment” by David Miranda and other people associated with him.

Senior judges agreed to issue a court order which allows Scotland Yard to continue to examine data from nine electronic devices seized from Mr Miranda on August 18.

But the terms of the order were widened so police have specific permission to analyse whether Mr Miranda, and others, have breached the Official Secrets Acts or a section of the Terrorism Act 2000 which make it an offence to possess information which may be useful to terrorists.

Mr Miranda is the partner of Glenn Greenwald, a journalist with the Guardian newspaper who has made a series of controversial disclosures on US and British spying capabilities based on information from the former US intelligence employee Edward Snowden.

Scotland Yard announced last week they had launched a criminal investigation.

The government’s statement claims possession of the documents by Mr Miranda, Mr Greenwald and the Guardian posed a threat to national security, particularly because Mr Miranda was carrying a password alongside a range of electronic devices on which classified documents were stored.

Keeping passwords separate from the computer files or accounts to which they relate is a basic security step.

Oliver Robbins, the deputy national security adviser for intelligence, security and resilience in the Cabinet Office, said in his 13-page submission: “The information that has been accessed consists entirely of misappropriated material in the form of approximately 58,000 highly classified UK intelligence documents.

“I can confirm that the disclosure of this information would cause harm to UK national security.

“Much of the material is encrypted. However, among the unencrypted documents … was a piece of paper that included the password for decrypting one of the encypted files on the external hard drive recovered from the claimant.

“The fact that … the claimant was carrying on his person a handwritten piece of paper containing the password for one of the encrypted files … is a sign of very poor information security practice.”

He added: “Even if the claimant were to undertake not to publish or disclose the information that has been detained, the claimant and his associates have demonstrated very poor judgement in their security arrangements with respect to the material rendering the appropriation of the material, or at least access to it by other, non-State actors, a real possibility.”

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